Monday, December 10, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 57 -- The Vikings! #2: The Dark Return

by Neil Langholm

Started: Dec. 7
Finished: Dec. 10

Notes: Back in the 1970s, the publisher Pinnacle Books was the king of men's action and adventure, being known for a lot of big names in that area back then and a lot of different titles. The Vikings! was one of many series the publisher tried out, but in this case it didn't work for them as I believe there were only four novels in the series. Also, the author here was actually a house name under which several writers worked. I read a lot of Pinnacle's short action novels back in the 1980s, but this series evaded me, so now I'm trying it out.

Mini review: Not bad. If you're looking for action and adventure involving swords, you could do a lot worse. The writing here is fair at best, sometimes confusing, but it delivers where it counts. The plot? A group of Vikings who have landed in America must find their way back home, and once they do they discover things are not as they would have hoped. Vengeance ensues, and the ending is as unexpected as it is shocking, leaving room for the next novel in this series.

Beer of the week: Highland Brewing Oatmeal Porter

Beer score: 7.9

Company: Highland Brewing
ABV: 5.8
IBU: 35

This beer is a pleasant surprise for me. First, I've been disappointed with many of the North Carolina brews I've tried over the years, but this one from Asheville, NC, gets it right. Second, I'm not normally an oatmeal kind of guy when it comes to beer (but cookies is another matter). Third, Porters aren't usually one of my favorite styles of beer, but here all of it works quite nicely.

This one pours so dark I would almost think it's a stout, and there's nothing wrong with that. When poured, the foam at the top is present but not overly thick, and it comes with a deep roasted scent that reminds me of coffee and a little of chocolate. There's definitely a taste of smoky molasses in the drinking, and again a little of that chocolate quality. If you don't like beers with lots of carbonation, this one could be for you, though it's also not what I would call a thin beer, pouring strong enough without being weak. Not the strongest of porters, but again, I wouldn't call it overly weak, so just right, at least for me. Those who like stronger porters might want to look elsewhere, but this one worked for me even though I usually prefer stouts. Served cold or room temperature, I found this a more than serviceable drink fitting for many occasions, especially in the winter.

As a side note, I found this a perfect drink with chili while snowed in. While in North Carolina, of course.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Beer of the week: La Fin Du Monde

Beer score: 8.7

Company: Unibroue
ABV: 9.0
IBU: 19

Normally I'm not a big fan of Canadian beers, but this fine beverage from Quebec brewer Unibroue can give most beers in Europe a run for their money. This is a Belgian-style ale that's been triple fermented. Pours with a cloudy gold color and has a strong wheat and fruity smell. I'd be surprised if there's not been a touch of citrus and honey added to this drink. In the drinking there's just a little too much carbonation for my liking, almost like you're drinking champagne, but it's not too bad. The flavor starts off fruity for the first sip or two, but then a strong bitter and alcohol flavors kicks in. If you are a fan of Belgian-style brews, you are more than likely going to enjoy this one. I can't quite classify La Fin Du Monde as a favorite, but it's darn close, and I'd never turn one down.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 56 -- Eaters of the Dead

by Michael Crichton

Started: Dec. 6
Finished: Dec. 7

Notes: I rarely read a book more than once, but I'm making an exception here because I enjoyed this book the first time around, this is an illustrated edition, and I'm a fan of the movie version, The Thirteenth Warrior. Plus I've been reading historical fiction of late. This is a retelling of the Beowulf legend.

Mini review: This was an awesome read. A 10th Century Arab travels into the far north and falls into an adventure with what today we might call vikings. I realize that description makes this tale sound somewhat pulpish, but it's really not. There is good writing here and a solid story. Any reader of fiction should enjoy this tale, but I believe those with a love for Sword & Sorcery will especially love this one. This is one of those rare instances where literary fiction, historical fiction, and action and adventure meld together to form a perfect tale. Truly, if you've not read this, you need to. And if you can find the illustrated edition with artwork by Ian Miller, then you've found a true treasure.

Books read in 2018: No. 55 -- Creation

by Gore Vidal

Started: Nov. 8
Finished: Dec. 5

Notes: I've been reading a fair amount of historical literature of late, and I've been meaning to read a book by this author other than the handful of articles of his I read during his lifetime, so it was rather fortuitous when I discovered he had written a novel based in the ancient world, roughly 5th Century B.C. So, win-win.

Mini review: Though there are some major differences, this novel reminded me quite a bit of the book I read right before it, Baudolino by Umberto Eco, though this is a more serious work, not that Baudolino isn't a serious work, but it does have its elements of humor and myth which are almost completely present here. So what's the story for this novel? It's basically the life story of a half-Greek, half-Persian ambassador who goes on journeys to India and later to China. Here and there he rubs shoulders with some important people, and being the grandson of a famous religious figure and something of a philosopher himself, he has various talks with more famous religious figures, the discussions concerning the different belief systems with the occasional focus upon the creation of the world and of mankind (thus, the title). There's not a lot of action here as this is not that type of story, but those with interest in ancient history and religions and philosophies should find much here for them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Beer of the week: Great Lakes Barrel Aged Blackout Stout

Beer score: 9.9

Company: Great Lakes Brewing Company
ABV: 10.5
IBU: 50

I've been a fan of Great Lakes beers since I lived in Ohio in the '90s, the state where the brewery is located. Finding this beer on tap in a Durham, North Carolina, restaurant made me want to kick myself in the ass for not having had a Great Lakes brew in a long while.

To put it simply, this is an awesome beer and perhaps one of the best stouts I've very had the pleasure to taste. The only reason I've not given this stout a perfect score is because I'm a hard-ass idiot who doesn't believe anything is perfect, but otherwise this beer would be a perfect 10.

This would be an awesome stout even if it were not aged in barrels, but those barrels happen to be bourbon barrels, and here you definitely have more than a hint of that bourbon flavor. And when I say "more than a hint," I really mean it. This drink tastes like an excellent stout has had a shot of fine bourbon dropped into it.

As for describing the drink itself, I've always said you can tell a good stout if you hold it up in a clear glass to the light and can't see anything through it, and that's the case here. The coloring is a deep, dark chocolate and the scent definitely has bourbon to it along with some hints of spiced cake and good chocolate. In the tasting, there's definitely bourbon, and I mean good bourbon, along with some perfect sweetness that isn't too sweet but is quite rich, almost like a dark chocolate. The texture here is near-perfect for a stout with just the barest touch of carbonation, a slightly frothy head, and a strength that is just shy of the syrupy feeling common to many stouts.

Can I recommend this beer? Oh, hell yeah! Unfortunately, it seems Great Lakes only makes this stout available sporadically, so good luck finding it. When you do find it, snag it up immediately. You'll enjoy, I promise.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Beer of the Week: Introduction

Yes, that's me drinking a beer.
Who woulda thunk it?
For the longest time this blog has only focused upon whatever books or e-books I've been reading, but it used to be more than that. Frankly, the drive of social media over the last decade has allowed me to post my ramblings and interests elsewhere, but I still keep this blog going for myself if no one else.

However, I've been kicking around ideas to freshen this blog a little, to give it a little more content, and eventually I decided to come up with "Beer of the Week" posts. Twenty years ago I started a website about beer, and later on I ran a blog about beer, but eventually I gave them up because the Internet had changed, making it more difficult to make money through blogging (don't worry, this blog that you're reading isn't really about making money, but is more just for me to get stuff out of my system). I also quit blogging about beer because I could no longer drink it for health reasons. Fortunately, my doctors have told me I can drink beer again, but in moderation. So, a beer a week can't hurt me, thus is born my "Beer of the Week" posts.

Look for them here on this blog. I'm not sure if I'll have a set day and time each week for these posts, but maybe that'll come. For now, I'll play it by ear.

More about me and beer: Prior to the mid-90s I was your typical American beer drinker. Budweiser was pretty much it for me. But I made friends in the mid-90s who introduced me to good beer. I mean really good beer. From then on, my tastes in beer have bordered on snobbery. Then, for Christmas 1997 some friends gave me a present of one of those large boxes of different types of Saranac beer. So, on December 20, 1997, I started “Ty’s pages for Beer Snobs” on the Geocities Web sites. The site wasn’t for brewing experts, but was meant to be more of a laid-back list of beers I had tasted and my brief thoughts about them. Again, this wasn’t for the experts, but I did try to toss in a little education here and there, things I had learned about beer over the years. In 2009 Geocities decided to shut down. That meant after 12 years of writing about beer, I had to find a new venue. That's where my new blog came in. It was meant to be a very casual blog, without getting into all the science and yaddy yaddy about beer. It was meant to be a blog for people who want to taste good beer, but who don't really care about all the hops and yeast and recipes that go into beer. Also, I came up with the idea to self-publish an e-book titled “An Amateur Beer Snob’s Guide to Beer,” which reprinted much of what was to be found on my old Web site. However, I did eventually unpublish that e-book because I felt the information had become outdated (beers often change over time, after all, the actual beers and the people or companies who make them).

About the beer rankings

Yes, I rank my beers, but I won't say it's done overly scientifically.

My beer posts will include a link to the brewer's website (if there is one), my numerical ranking based upon my own scale of 0.1 to 10.0, and a little of my personal thoughts about each beer. Here and there I might also throw in a few funny or interesting quotes about beer as well as any other information I think would be of interest. And if you’re curious about my ranking systems, let’s just say that a 5.0 is a decent beer, a 1.0 is an awful beer and a 10.0 is a fantastic beer. It's simple and meant to be.

Where readily available, I will also try to include to following information about each beer:

ABV: This stands for alcohol by volume. It is a percentage of alcohol in the drink. Most beers are usually somewhere around five percent in the U.S. As I'm in the U.S., I'm mostly familiar with the trends and laws and such for my own country, and those things might be different elsewhere, so I apologize if my information doesn't match that of another nation.

IBU: This stand for International Bitterness Units. It's a scale for measuring the basic bitterness of a beer, though that's truly oversimplifying things. Some beers might have a higher IBU but not taste quite so bitter because of the amount of malt added. I suppose a more accurate way to gauge this would be to say the IBU reflects the amount of hops in a beer. Truly heavy beers will have an IBU of 30 to 50, while lighter brews will be 10 or even less. The IBU isn't always readily available, but I'll add it whenever I can find it.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 54 -- Baudolino

by Umberto Eco

Started: Oct. 12
Finished: Nov. 7

Notes: Though I don't approve of all of his ideas, I have always found Eco to be a genius of a writer, so it is with some relish I turn to this novel of his based during the Middle Ages.

Mini review: Here Umberto Eco has created something of a Forrest Gump character in the 12th Century, though the Baudolino character is no simpleton, having decent intelligence and a little rogue within him. In fact, Baudolino is an admitted liar, so much so almost everything he says is a lie, but it always come with success for him, sometimes comically but often simply because those he has been surrounded by find his lies useful politically. Coming from a quaint background, Baudolino early on stumbles from one historic even to another while meeting important people, here being the shades of Forrest Gump, but unlike Gump, Baudolino eventually finds himself taken in by perhaps the most important political figure of the day, at least within Europe. The first three-fifths of this novel are basically historical, but then it veers over into myth for a long while, and here I lost much interest, mainly because it did not fit with the rest of the book and seemed more than a little unbelievable. Most of this novel is Baudolino telling his life's story to another, and since he is an admitted liar, it's difficult to swallow the mythological portion of this book because it seems it simply can't be true, though Baudolino himself does act as if the events were true and even seems to believe it. Towards the end, the book gets back on a historical footing, and even has something of a melancholy finish. Like many of Eco's work, here one will find plenty of myth and occult references, especially pertaining to the Medieval period. Think the Holy Grail, Prester John, ikons, relics and the like, and you'll have an idea of what I'm talking about. These elements do play various roles within the story, sometimes important and sometimes not, but they are related to a central mystery in this novel, a mystery that is of course unveiled at the end, though to me it felt rather anti-climatic mostly because the mystery itself had been brushed aside for long periods of this book. A good book, and fans of Eco will enjoy it, as should those with interests in Medieval history and myth.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 53 -- Cup of Gold

by John Steinbeck

Started: Oct. 7
Finished: Oct. 12

Notes: It's time to turn back to some fiction, though I'm still in a mood for some history, thus I pick up this Steinbeck novel of adventure along the Spanish Main. Will it be more historical than fictional? Will it be any good? I don't know, which is why I'm reading it, plus the fact I've enjoyed Steinbeck's writing in the past though it's been decades since I've picked up anything by him.

Mini review: One would think a historical novel of the life of Henry Morgan would be loaded with swashbuckling action and adventure, but that's not the case here. Which isn't completely a bad thing, believe it or not. Ultimately, though it takes a long while to get to the point, this novel is about the inner workings of the man Henry Morgan, at least as Steinbeck portrays him. Though blandished with outward struggles, its ultimately the inner one that this book focuses upon, Morgan's successes and his failures. Published in 1929, this was Steinbeck's first book, and it's not his best, but it does show his promise.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 52 -- The Reformation 500 Years Later

by Benjamin Wiker

Started: Sept. 29
Finished: Oct. 6

Notes: Having just finished one book on the Reformation, and seeing this unread book on my shelves, I thought it appropriate I finally read it. This one is by a Catholic ethicist and purports to connect the world of the Reformation with the modern age, so it might be interesting.

Mini review: There was some good and some bad to this book. The good: There was a fair amount of not-so-common information about The Reformation here that went beyond the basics. However, I didn't exactly trust it all because of ... The bad: The author's political bent shines through, so much so he's obviously done so, probably in part because he's writing to a certain audience and probably because he thinks his particular opinions need to be heard, as if they haven't already a million times over. We get it, the Western Christian world today is facing lots of threats, yaddy, yaddy. We've heard it, we know it and either agree or don't, so how about something unique instead of rehashing the same old, same old? Regardless, this was a pretty good book, and though it doesn't come up often, I did think the author did a good job of drawing comparisons between the 15th through 17th Centuries (roughly) and the modern world.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 51 -- Great Ages of Man: The Reformation

from Time/Life Books

Started: Sept. 24
Finished: Sept. 29

Notes: I picked up a couple of these older Time/Life Books in a used book store a while back and thought I'd get back into them some as it has been a long while.

Mini review: As is usual with such books, this one is not overly indepth but it's also not overly basic, providing enough information for the serious student of history though maybe boring to the average reader. I generally enjoyed this book but was not blown away by it. However, I did find a lot of it quite related to the modern world, perhaps more than I felt comfortable admitting. For a basic, quick but fairly solid look at the historic break in Christianity, there are worse books.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 50 -- Great Ages of Man: Renaissance

from Time/Life Books

Started: Sept. 20
Finished: Sept. 24

Notes: When I was a teen I read a ton of Time/Life Books about history, the supernatural, whatever. However, I've not read any in a long while and I've not read this particular book. I always enjoyed these books even though they might be dated because plenty of research has been done since they were originally published (1965 in this case). I liked them because they weren't completely basic, but also didn't bog down the reader with lots of extraneous information.

Mini review: A bit basic but covers those basics well, name dropping quite a bit. The focus here is almost entirely upon Italy, but there is some information about the spread of the Renaissance to other parts of Europe. Anyone wanting to brush up on this period, or to be introduced to it, could do a lot worse than reading this book.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 49 -- The Gideons International Guide Book: 2017-2018

from The Gideons International

Started: Sept. 13
Finished: Sept. 20

Notes: Perhaps you've heard of The Gideons International, the organization known for placing Bibles in hotels and motels and other locations. Yes, I happen to be a member. The organization does much more than put Bibles in hotels, however, including jail ministries, missionary work, etc. Though I've been a member for a while now, and though I've thumbed through this book somewhat, I've not yet set down and read the book from beginning to end, and I thought it high time I did.

Mini review: Mostly operating procedures here which likely wouldn't be of interest to the average reader, but it definitely helped me to understanding the workings of this organization of which I'm a member. Glad to have read it.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 48 -- The King in Yellow

by Robert W. Chambers

Started: Sept. 6
Finished: Sept. 13

Notes: This 1895 collection of weird short stories apparently had a huge influence upon Lovecraft and others who penned such tales in the early 20th Century. I've been meaning to read it for years but never could find an actual copy in any book stores. Then a few months back I stumbled across this free e-book version for the Kindle and snagged it up.

Mini review: This was an odd little book. The first half of it is of tales most definitely of the weird, though slightly so, almost hinting at madness instead of some true supernatural terror. However, the second half of this book is of tales of Americans and the French in Paris either during war time or during more peaceful times, focusing mainly upon young artists and their love interests, somewhat like what would appear decades later in the works of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. For its time this is a decently written book, and I found the tales of madness and the macabre more interesting, but I'm not sure I could recommend this one for any but those who truly want to delve into the earliest tales of the weird and possibly Cthulu fans.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 47 -- The Reavers of Skaith: Volume 3 of The Book of Skaith

by Leigh Brackett

Started: August 28
Finished: Sept. 6

Notes: Having just finished the first two books in the series, loving the first but not so much the second, I thought I'd finish this trilogy. Hopefully the last book will more mirror the first than the second book.

Mini review: I liked the first book in this series, a little less the second book, then this third book did something on the very first page that almost made me throw it across the room. Can you guess what it is? Beware, here's your SPOILER warning before I tell what it is. Okay? Ready? On the very first page, this book totally went back and made all of the events from the first two books completely pointless. I hate when authors do that crap! Otherwise, the writing is fair here and the characters interesting, but I was glad when it was over. Still, there was enough here so I wouldn't turn up my nose at reading more Brackett in the future.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 46 -- The Hounds of Skaith: Volume 2 of The Book of Skaith

by Leigh Brackett

Started: August 20
Finished: August 28

Notes: I've just finished the first book in this trilogy and enjoyed it, so I'm moving on to the second book.

Mini review: I can't say I enjoyed this one as much as I did the first book of the trilogy, mainly because the story here seemed so disjointed. After Stark's triumph from the first book, here he continues on his war against the Wandsmen of the planet Skaith and their mercenaries and their army of Farers. The writings itself here is pretty solid, but the plot didn't work so well for me and I felt many of the important characters from the first book were brushed aside here with little to do.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 45 -- The Ginger Star: Volume 1 of The Book of Skaith

by Leigh Brackett

Started: August 16
Finished: August 20

Notes: All my Robert E. Howard-related reading of late has got me in the mood for more action-driven fantasy, so I thought I'd give Leigh Brackett another try. I've not read a lot of Brackett, so I'm hoping for a nice surprise. As luck would have it, I found all three of the books in this trilogy together at a used book store some while back, so maybe the gods were telling me I need to read this series.

Mini review: This was a pleasurable read with a surprise ending that made sense while leaving the door open for the next book in the series without resorting to a cliffhanger. Technically science fantasy, all the story here takes place in something of a post-apocalyptic fantasy world of low tech and some relatively minor magic. But the stars and the spaceships beyond them are beginning to intrude upon this world, and the powers-that-be are not liking it. An emissary of sorts from a galactic federation has been sent to this world, but he has gone missing, and that is where the story begins, with Brackett's Eric John Stark character sent to find this emissary or to discover what has happened to him. Despite the otherworldly backdrop to the story, it really does keep its focus on a barbaric fantasy world that is falling apart. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 44 -- Conan the Barbarian

by Michael A. Stackpole

Started: August 12
Finished: August 15

Notes: This is the novelization for the more modern Conan movie that came out some few years ago. I have not seen the movie and had not planned to after hearing quite a few bad things about it. However, I won this book at a raffle for only a dollar at Howard Days this summer, and the reason it drew my interest was the author. I know Stackpole is generally well regarded and I've never read anything of his, so this should be a learning experience if nothing else.

Mini review: The plot was rather mundane and most of the characters lackluster, but that's not the fault of this author, just the fault of a mediocre screenplay. The writing itself was actually pretty strong, though there were a few places where it was difficult to tell what was actually happening, but I blame this one also on a not-so-great screenplay. Though a novelization, Stackpole's writing impressed me enough that I wouldn't balk from reading more of his work.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 43 -- Adventures in Science Fantasy

by Robert E. Howard

Started: August 6
Finished: August 11

Notes: Yep, this is another book I picked up at Robert E. Howard Days, this one from The Robert E. Howard Foundation Press.

Mini review: This has some pretty good stories in it, but I didn't find it as entertaining as Pictures in the Fire, the other book I've read from The Robert E. Howard Foundation Press. Like that other book, most of the stories here were ones not published during Howard's lifetime, and that's understandable as some of this was not his best work and some of it was from his youngest days. The one standout tale for me was Almuric, originally serialized in Weird Tales magazine in 1939. The science in these tales does not hold up to our understanding today, but that's to be expected. And despite my not enjoying this book as much as the earlier one, it's still a pretty good read and a must for any true Howard fan.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 42 -- Black Vulmea's Vengeance

by Robert E. Howard

Started: August 4
Finished: August 6

Notes: Argh! Here there be pirates! This collection of seafaring Howard tales was originally published in the mid-1970s, and I was fortunate enough to find this large paperback while attending Robert E. Howard Days in Texas this summer. The book's title comes from the title of one of the tales. I don't believe I've read these, and that's a bit surprising as I've read quite a bit of Howard, though I've not read everything.

Mini review: These three novellas were some great pirating tales! All are land-based, islands or coastal, and my guess would be this was partly because Howard might not have had much knowledge of sailing, but maybe not. Either way, fantastic action, plenty of sword play, lost treasures, murderous pirates, savage tribesmen, it's all there, even the occasional stuffy British officer. I heartily recommend these stories.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 41 -- The Robert E. Howard Bar Guide

by Robert Derie

Started: August 3
Finished: August 4

Notes: This is another one I picked up at Howard Days in Texas this past summer. I had a good chuckle when I first saw it with its photo of Howard quaffing what appears to be a rather large beer, especially as I had not known this book existed. It seems to be a short book about Howard's favorite drinking holes and his favorite drinks, so this might be fun.

Mini review: This was a fun book, based mostly upon Howard's private letters to friends and other writers and editors, him opining about various alcoholic drinks while ruminating about various adventures and drunks he had. There were also some snippets taken from his fictional works, mentions of various drinks and the link. My favorite part of this book was a letter Howard wrote while drunk, and it's quite obvious he was drunk. This book is made up of two parts, the first section sort of a history of Howard and the liquors available to him where he lived, and the second portion providing information about drinks Howard had tried or he had mentioned in one letter or another. Hardcore Howard fans will want this one, and maybe fans of alcohol too. Did Howard have a favorite drink? A favorite beer? Hard to say. He sort of named off several as favorites, including Schlitz beer, but one thing to keep in mind is that it's been a long time since Howard's day, so many of the drinks then are not the same as they are today even if they have the same name. Also, keep in mind Howard grew up during the era of Prohibition, so that affected the alcoholic drinks available to him much of his life, which is more than you might think, actually, though the quality of the drinks often would have been lacking.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 40 -- Robert E. Howard in Cross Plains

by Rusty Burke

Started: August 2
Finished: August 2

Notes: I picked up this short book while at Robert E. Howard Days this past summer, and it appears to be something of a historical look at the town where Howard grew up, Cross Plains, Texas.

Mini review: You might actually have to go to Howard Days some years to pick up a copy of this, or you might get lucky and find one online somewhere, but it's somewhat of a rarity. Those attending Howard Days, and hardcore Howard fans, will want to grab a copy of this. It's short, but it provides a nice little view of Cross Plains and the surrounding region where Howard grew up, lived and ultimately died. Interesting to me and probably to Howard fans, but the average Howard reader might not find much here.

Books read in 2018: No. 39 -- Pictures in the Fire

by Robert E. Howard

edited by Paul Herman

Started: July 17
Finished: August 2

Notes: This summer I had the pleasure of attending Robert E. Howard Days in the small town of Cross Plains, Texas. The festival celebrates the author, Howard, and I managed to pick up plenty of reading material while there. I also managed to meet a bunch of new people and to finally come face to face with some folks I have only known through the Internet for yours. This books is meant to be a collection of rare Howard materials, works that have rarely or never appeared elsewhere. From the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press, I believe only 200 of these were printed, at least in hardback, so this one should be worthy of Howard collectors.

Mini review: This was a great read for the most part. While towards the end there is some juvenalia and some silly material obviously not meant for publication, much of what is here are great stories and snippets (some quite long) of what would have been great stories. Hardcore Howard fans will find a lot here to enjoy, but be warned there's very little Sword & Sorcery, most of the tales being from Howard's historical or Africa-related materials. But that's fine with me as I find Howard a solid writer no matter the genre. This might be a tough-to-find book as I believe there were only a couple of hundred printed, but maybe that was just for an initial run and there will be more later, or you might find some used copies online. All in all, I'm glad I picked this up, and those seeking a look into Bob Howard's rarer materials should do themselves a service and search out this book.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

New horror novel: The Basement

A new house, a new job, the future before them, the Dinsmores thought they had everything. Yet dreams of the good life quickly give way to a reality of darkness as the young couple begins to move into their new home.

For something looms in the basement of the house, something that brings cold, that brings memories and fear and hatred. Terrible things happened in that house long ago, culminating in the basement itself, and now after the house has sat empty for years, something in the basement has found a direction for its rage.

The Dinsmores will never be the same. Even if they survive.

That's the blurb for my new horror novel, The Basement, currently available in print and e-book at Amazon and soon available at other retailers and online sites.

I consider this one something of a "light" horror novel, meaning there isn't any gore and very little blood. It might not be for everyone, but I think it's a decent enough novel and an interesting tale.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 38 -- Ready Player One

by Ernest Cline

Started: July 11
Finished: July 16

Notes: This popular recent novel (and the movie based upon it, which I've not seen) is supposed to be a love story of sorts to pop culture of the last few decades, specifically video game culture. This is a topic of which I have some interest, though I wouldn't consider myself a massive gaming nerd (so to speak). Also, I've heard a lot good about this novel, but also some criticism, so I'll see where it goes.

Mini review: Not just pop culture in general, the 80s (and to some extent the late 70s) are the background material for this novel, so those who grew up during that period might be interested to read this. It is a good read, and fun. Imagine a future in which the Internet has become 3D and where everyone spends most of their time in it because the outside world, the real world, has totally turned to crap. The creator of this 3D Internet passes away and in his will leaves behind a game to be played to decide who will be his successor, who will gain all his money and be the head of his company. Our protagonist is a young man who sets out to win this prize, and along the way he faces real-world threats alongside of those within the digital environment. Thirty- and forty-somethings will likely find something here to enjoy. Not only is there a ton of nostalgia, but the story itself is quite inte

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 37 -- Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes

by Wizards of the Coast

Started: July 7
Finished: July 11

Notes: In case you didn't know, Mordenkainen is a powerful wizard within one of the worlds that is part of the Dungeons & Dragons game. This book, at least in part, covers rules for various monsters that characters can confront within the game. It's the first major monster update for the fifth edition of D&D.

Mini review: This book isn't necessary to playing or enjoying D&D, but its many monsters could prove useful to a Dungeon Master wanting to use some new or different enemies for player characters. The early chapters, nearly the first half of the book, go into some detail about the relationships of various creatures, and while some might find the information interesting, I prefer to come up with my own worlds and backgrounds, etc. A keeper, but not necessary for DMs or players.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 36 -- The Bear and The Dragon

by Tom Clancy

Started: June 1
Finished: July 7

Notes: There was a time when I was a big Tom Clancy fan, but I eventually grew tired of his writing, for a variety of reasons. However, it's been a good long time since I've read anything by him, so I thought I'd turn to him once more and see if I he can revive some of the old spark in me. Plus, I'm going on a long trip, and since this is a long novel, I figure it'll do me for the majority of my vacation.

Mini review: I wanted something long to read to last a month-long vacation and I got, and then some. Russia discovers vast gold and oil deposits in Siberia, and China decides to invade to grab the deposits for themselves. War breaks out with the U.S. joining the fray on the side of the Russians. If I say any more, it would be giving too much away. The writing here is solid, but the whole rah-rah-everything-the-American-military-does-is-perfect-while-everyone-else-is-an-idiot attitude wears thin over 1,100 pages. I don't mean to sound unpatriotic, and I have nothing against U.S. military forces, but reality is more complex. Also, having been published at the tail end of the 20th Century, the political and military situations presented here seem almost quaint compared to the real world where 9-11 has occurred and politics has gone completely down the toilet, making this book read almost like wishful science fiction for another world. Anyway, this was a good read, but I have a feeling it'll be the last Clancy I touch for the reasons I pointed out.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 35 -- Black Amazon of Mars

by Leigh Brackett

Started: May 30
Finished: May 31

Notes: I've not read a lot of Brackett, mostly short stories in one anthology or another, but I've been meaning to read more of her work, so here goes.

Mini review: This was actually an interesting, adventurous sci-fi novella. A mercenary of sorts finds himself embroiled in a war between barbarian tribes and a city on Mars, then is forced to face dangers from far in Mars' past to bring about a conclusion to not only the war, but to an old enemy ready to take over Mars once again. A fun read, especially if you like older science fiction and space opera from the 1950s and 1960s.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 34 -- LZR-1143: Within

by Bryan James

Started: May 29
Finished: May 30

Notes: Been a while since I've read any indie authors, so I thought I'd give this zombie novella (and its author) a try.

Mini review: This was an interesting story. A group of online bank workers are trapped within their corporate building while a zombie apocalypse breaks out outside, and of course they have to find a way to survive ... or not. The writing is fairly strong, the characters interesting enough, and the story itself kept up my interest. I might have to check out this writer again.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 33 -- Horrorstör

by Grady Hendrix

Started: May 26
Finished: May 28

Notes: This comedy horror novel hit fairly big a couple of years ago and I've been meaning to check it out, so here's my opportunity. It's about a haunted furniture store that's a spoof of Ikea stores, so maybe it'll be amusing, and possibly horrifying.

Mini review: This was actually pretty good. The humor is quite mild, and I didn't find the story overly terrifying, but the writing is fairly strong and the tale was interesting enough to keep me flipping pages pretty quickly. My favorite part was the ending because I felt that, while not trend-making or outrageous, it went places most horror novels don't, showing the aftermath and the effects of the horror upon survivors, but also showing an opportunity for making things right. Worth checking out. And not gruesome or overly dark, for those who shy from such things.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 32 -- Let Me Off at the Top!

by Ron Burgundy

Started: May 21
Finished: May 26

Notes: Sometimes you see a book that's just so goofy, you want to give it a try. I have no idea who the real author is, even after an online search, because ... for those of you who might not know, Ron Burgundy is not a real person but a fictional character from a series of movies. The actor who portrays Ron is Will Ferrell, but I find it unlikely (though not impossible) that Ferrell has penned this book. Anyway, this is supposed to be an autobiography of Burgundy's life. The first movie with Ron was quite funny, in my opinion, the second one less so but still not awful, so maybe I'll enjoy this.

Mini review: This wasn't as funny as I had hoped it would be, but it gave me a few chuckles here and there, and for the most part it kept with the Ron Burgundy character fairly well. If you're a big fan of the movies, you might want to check this out, otherwise you can skip it.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 31 -- Brook Trout and the Writing Life

by Craig Nova

Started: May 18
Finished: May 21

Notes: Trout aren't my thing, me being more of a bass and sunfish kind of guy, but fishing definitely is, and of course I'm a writer by trade. So this book seemed a natural to me, especially as the award-winning author lives only about a half hour from me. All those things considered, I thought I'd take a look at what he had to say, though admittedly I've not read any of his other works.

Mini review: This one turned out not to be for me, which is a shame since the author is a writer and a fisherman, and so am I. However, different types of writers and different types of fishing. I found this one to be too literary in a modern sense, written in an easy-enough-to-follow manner, but quite full of liberal upper-middle-class white male navel gazing. Yes, I realize how dismissive what I just wrote sounds, but it's also the best description I can come to for this book, and I feel less guilty about it as the author is mildly dismissive himself once or twice. This book isn't a pity party, to be fair, but it faux-ruminates upon mostly everyday life with some kind of vague reflection that's kind of, sort of supposed to be almost spiritual, at least illuminating. I found it none of these. Comparing life to fishing and vice versa doesn't take any great philosopher, nor does comparing writing and fishing. While not an awful book, it seemed more for the author than the reader, and as an author myself I'll say that's not necessarily a bad thing, though it doesn't always make it good for the reader. In this case, I was one of those readers.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 30 -- Know Your Bible

from Barbour Books

Started: May 17
Finished: May 18

Notes: This little book was gifted to me a couple of years ago, so I thought it time I finally read it. It's supposed to offer a synopsis of each book of the Bible, so that might be interesting, even useful as it might explain some things in a short, simple form.

Mini review: As with many such little books, there's an evangelical tone, though it is rather slight here. Still, there's definitely a Protestant leaning, as the Catholic Bible is different from that of the Protestant. All in all, this is a handy book. It breaks down each book of the Bible into a short synopsis, lists the supposed authors and approximate dates when written, gives a few better-known verses, etc. This would be a good book to have around when needing a quick reminder, and it might open eyes to those books of the Bible which are not so well known. Obviously, this book will mostly be a help to believers, but even those who are not Christians but wish to study religion or the Bible could find this short book helpful.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 29 -- It's Not About Me

by Max Lucado

Started: May 15
Finished: May 17

Notes: I've been meaning to check out this Christian author for a while, so when I stumbled across this book of his in a Free Little Library, I thought it time to give him a shot.

Mini review: Basically, life is not about you, it's about God, and all things we do should glorify God. This is pretty basic Christianity, especially for Protestants, specifically for evangelicals. If that's what you're interested in studying, or if you're a Christian who feels you need a spiritual boost, then this book might be for you. As for me, I didn't find much new here other than a few comments about some texts in their original Hebrew, but the writing style wasn't too bad, a little long winded to say a fairly simple message, but not too bad.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 28 -- More Than A Carpenter

by Josh McDowell

Started: May 13
Finished: May 15

Notes: I've read some of this Christian apologists work before and found it interesting, so I thought I'd give another books of his a try, this one apparently being more personal to his life.

Mini review: There wasn't anything revelatory here for me, but that doesn't mean there wasn't anything here that would be useful to believers and possibly to non-believers alike. Other than the final chapter (which was the personal part of McDowell's message), this book is a basic primer for Christian apologists, culling ideas and quotes not only from the Bible, but from the likes of C.S. Lewis and many others. Those who are interested in Christian apologetics could find this a useful book to provide them some basics without having to go into deeper material.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 27 -- Sword and Sorceress IV

edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Started: April 26
Finished: May 13

Notes: This series of fantasy anthologies has been around for several decades now, but I've never had the opportunity to read one until now. There are a few familiar names in the Table of Contents, but there are many more whom I do not know, so maybe I'll find some new authors to enjoy or at least a few stories to entertain.

Mini review: Usually with any collection of short stories there are a handful of stinkers, but I have to admit there was only one tale here which didn't work for me. The rest were quite good, a few bordering on being awesome. So, yes, I can suggest this book for fans of Sword & Sorcery short stories.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 26 -- Blade #17: The Mountains of Brega

by Jeffrey Lord

Started: April 21
Finished: April 26

Notes: I just read #16 in this series, the first time I'd read one of these novels, and I didn't love it but I also didn't hate it. So, that being the case, I thought I'd give the series another go.

Mini review: This time Blade goes into a jungle land where the sexes split into separate societies long ago after a vast war. Fighting his way through the jungle and savages, Blade eventually works to bring the sexes and their two societies back together. All with a handful of sex scenes that pretty much make me laugh. Again, no great literature here, just some action and romping in the bed. Not the worst of reads, but not a lot of depth.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 25 -- Blade #16: The Crystal Seas

by Jeffrey Lord

Started: April 15
Finished: April 20

Notes: I've run across books in this series from time to time over the decades, usually in used book stores, garage sales, flea markets, etc., but I never picked one up. That changed last year when I used book store I've come to love had a few of these novels, so I snagged up two in order to give the series a chance. If I love it, I can always look for more. And the author for this series didn't actually exist, being a house name used by several writers throughout the series.

Mini review: Mix together James Bond with John Carter of Mars and you've got a pretty good idea of these books and the Richard Blade character. Blade literally is an English spy, and through technology he sent into fantasy worlds where he has various adventures. Why the British government is doing this, I don't know, as it's not revealed in this book, but it makes for a somewhat interesting take. However, this is mostly just cheap action and adventure with the occasional brief sexual scene. There's nothing wrong with any of that if that's what you're interested in, but don't expect much else.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 24 -- The Swords Trilogy

by Michael Moorcock

Started: April 10
Finished: April 15

Notes: Over the last couple of decades, I've managed to find the first two books of this trilogy and read them, always in used book stores, but that final book, The King of The Swords, always eluded me. Fortunately, last year I ran across this collection of the series, of course in a used book store, so I bought it to finish the series. And, of course, a week later I actually found a copy of The King of The Swords in another store, but I didn't buy it since I had this version. Anyway, I'm going to go ahead and read the entire trilogy since it has been a long while since I read the first two books, as a refresher if nothing else.

Mini review: Most modern readers will not enjoy the writing style here, thinking it archaic, even boring. But fans of Sword and Sorcery will likely enjoy this style. However, I did find myself frustrated in the last book of the trilogy when it seemed to be that none of what had gone before truly mattered, that it could all be undone in the blink of an eye, that the eternal battle between Chaos and Law was truly that, eternal, so the strife made little sense. That being said, the final pages did bring some light onto the subject, and that helped. Also towards the end, Elric of Melnibone shows up for a few chapters as a character, and he has his role to play here. I can't say I loved this book, but I didn't hate it. I can suggest it for hardcore S&S fans, but general fantasy fans will likely want to stay away.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 23 -- Full Dark, No Stars

by Stephen King

Started: April 6
Finished: April 10

Notes: In my opinion, King is usually stronger in his shorter works, so I thought I'd check out this collection of four novellas. Funny thing, I accidentally picked up a large-type edition, and I still need my reading glasses!

Mini review: These were pretty good stories. In "1922," it's the Dust Bowl era and a father entices his son to commit a vicious crime, then cover it up, but the outcome is one screwed-up son. In "Big Driver," a victim of violence manages to survive and seeks her own personal form of closure, all while hoping to avoid law enforcement. In the story "Fair Extension," a man with cancer makes a deal to have his cancer vanish, but then someone else has to suffer. And in "A Good Marriage," a wife discovers her husband is more than she had known, much more, and then she has to deal with it. Interestingly, at least to me, all these tales are about men committing violence, or at least doing something awful, and women suffering from it, often having to deal with the ramifications afterwards. Sometimes other males also suffer, but generally they are more of a byproduct of tragedy, with women suffering the most or being the initial target. I don't know if King consciously set out for this collection to contain such stories, or if his editor(s) realized it at the time, but that's how it came out. I'm making no judgment here, just an observation, and these are all good tales.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 22 -- The Heckler

by Ed McBain

Started: April 4
Finished: April 6

Notes: I'm recovering from surgery, so I'm in the mood for comfort fiction, and the 87th Precinct novels usually fit that bill.

Mini review: Holy jeez! The city of Isola explodes (in some places quite literally) when the master villain known as the Deaf Man makes his first appearance in the 87th Precinct novels. I won't say this is the best of the series, but it's not the worst, and fans will definitely want to note this first book with the Deaf Man.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 21 -- Longshot

by Dick Francis

Started: March 30
Finished: April 4

Notes: Having grown up in horse-racing country in Kentucky, I can long remember the books of Dick Francis being quite popular in that region, probably because his mystery thrillers usually were related to the horse racing industry. That said, I never picked up one of his books until recently, so I'll see how this one goes.

Mini review: A travel writer turned novelist is down on hard times and agrees to write a biography of a horse racing mogul. Doesn't sound interesting, but this one slowly won me over. Funny, this book is so British, or at least it's very un-American in its telling and its feel in that it is so non-confrontational. Even the bad guy in this one turns out to be non-confrontational. I can't say this book will make me want to go out and read a bunch more of Dick Francis, but I'm also not scared away, in fact thinking I might like to give the author another go or two to see how he handles other situations.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 20 -- Eighty Million Eyes

by Ed McBain

Started: March 28
Finished: March 30

Notes: I've read quite a few of these 87th Precinct novels this year, and while I'm not in a rush to finish the whole series, there are a lot of these books, so I am trying to make my way through them. Here's another.

Mini review: A comedian dies on live television before an audience of millions, and a woman is stalked by a man intent upon making sure she can't date anyone else. These are the cases the boys of the 87th have to deal with in this book. This one was a little more melodramatic than the usual 87th tales, but since such is a rarity, I suppose in an odd way it makes sense for it to happen at least once. As always, I enjoyed the reading. It's not so much the plotting that draws me to these novels, but the writing I love, and I've grown to feel like the characters are, in a way, family and friends. I'll be reading more.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 19 -- 90 Minutes in Heaven

by Don Piper with Cecil Murphey

Started: March 23
Finished: March 27

Notes: I am highly skeptical of near-death, life-after-death or returning-from-death claims, whatever you want to call them, but I'm also not convinced by the handful of scientific explanations I've read over the years. Anyway, it's a matter I have some mild interest in, so I thought I'd check out this popular book on the subject, the story of a pastor who was apparently killed in a car crash and then came back to life to report of visions of Heaven.

Mini review: Christian believers and those in grief might find some succor here, but the skeptics will not find anything to sway them, or not much. This isn't really a book trying to validate near-death experiences, but tells how one pastor felt about his and how he handled it and the physical and emotional trauma a major car accident caused him, his family and his loved ones. This is a book to turn to in order to help one with grieving, or to embolden one's Christian beliefs, but again, skeptics are not likely to be swayed nor to find much here of use. Still, books like this sometimes help people, or make people change their mind about a topic, so it might be worth reading if you are interested in such matters.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 18 -- Under the Dome

by Stephen King

Started: March 6
Finished: March 23

Notes: I've read most of King's works, but there's a half dozen or so of his books I've yet to get to. It doesn't help that he seems to churn out another book or five every year. Anyway, now it's time for this long novel.

Mini review: A small town is trapped behind a gigantic dome that comes out of nowhere. While this was probably the best King book I've read of the last decade or so, I had some issues with it. The writing is good, King in top form, so fans of his will enjoy this one. However, this book is soooo King, practically absurdly so, almost as if someone set out to write a spoof of King that would include nearly every cliche of the author's style and characters. Or maybe I've just read too much King over the decades. Either way, still a good book and I can suggest it for fans of the author. Another nitpick I had was that I've grown tired of the everybody-in-a-small-town-has-secrets plot lines that King has used more than a few times, and here it has grown to gigantic portions.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 17 -- The Talhoffer Society

by Michael Edelson

Started: March 2
Finished: March 6

Notes: To my knowledge, this is the first and only novel centered around HEMA, Historical European Martial Arts, of which I am a former practitioner (former because of health reasons). It apparently involves a bloodsport type plot in which characters face off in a longsword competition that is quite deadly. I'll learn more as I read. And for those wondering who or what Tolhoffer happens to be, Hans Tolhoffer was a 15th Century fencing master.

Mini review: For anyone familiar with the historical swording community ... heck, even for those who aren't familiar ... there's a lot of longsword fanboy wish fulfillment to be found here. But ya know what, a lot of fiction is basically wish fulfillment, so there's not necessarily anything wrong with that. This is also a thriller, so there can be some moments of the outlandish common to many a modern thriller. The writing is decent enough, not great but it doesn't suck, and it gets better as the book goes along. For those with interests in historical swordsmanship, there is a lot here that's informational, especially concerning the longsword, rapier and somewhat concerning the Japanese arts. Definitely worth a read.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 16 -- Give the Boys a Great Big Hand

by Ed McBain

Started: Feb. 27
Finished: March 1

Notes: Yep, it's another 87th Precinct novel. I've a huge stack of these things, and they've got to be read.

Mini review: The title of this one is a bit of a play on words as the mystery here involves a severed hand discovered by a police officer. In the end, this is one of the more disturbing of the 87th Precinct books, but that's one of the things I love about these novels, that they're all so different from one another when it comes to plots and crimes and criminals.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 15 -- Paperbacks from Hell

by Grady Hendrix

Started: Feb. 25
Finished: Feb. 27

Notes: I read a lot of horror in the '80s. I mean a lot. So what could be more fun than taking a trip down memory lane by looking at the history of horror literature of the 1970s and '80s? Much of that literature was simply awful, but there was also much that was good. I look forward to this read.

Mini review: This was a fun read. The true horror fan who is well read in the genre will not find much new here, but they will likely discover some books or authors with which they are unfamiliar. This is not a concordance or an encyclopedia, more of a collection of reminiscences and book covers. Surprisingly, Stephen King is barely mentioned. Maybe the author felt King didn't need the shout out, or maybe felt King's career had gone too far beyond horror, but there's little doubt King had a huge influence upon the genre, helping to kick off its popularity in the 1970s. Casual readers of horror, or younger readers looking for older material, will find much here to learn about.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 14 -- The Map of Time

by Felix J. Palma

translated by Nick Caistor

Started: Feb. 15
Finished: Feb. 25

Notes: It's time to get back to some fiction, so I thought I'd try this novel about H.G. Wells in a time travel investigation.

Mini review: This book is well written, and well translated, which is no mean feat. This is really three novels in one, with H.G. Wells not always as the main character but always at least an important character to each tale. The novel plays with notions of time travel, sometimes presenting the possibilities as real and other times as not, jumping back and forth until a final conclusion, one which I will not reveal as it would ruin the story for anyone reading this. The writing here is a bit flowery, but it's by no means a difficult read. There were a few things which threw me off, but they were not enough to ruin the book for me. Such as, at one point it seems the author is including every single famous person from late 19th Century Britain, and while this isn't literally true, the story can feel that way sometimes, as if name dropping for the sake of name dropping. The thing that annoyed me the most about this novel was that the reader would follow a character along for a hundred pages or more, and then they would practically disappear from the rest of the book just as one is truly becoming interested in the character. This book is apparently the first of a series, so I might be tempted to find the others. I will point out the last 50 pages take a slight turn from the rest of the book, becoming somewhat philosophical and metaphysical, especially during the last 10 pages, and I did not quite feel it fit the tone of the rest of the book.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 13 -- Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

by Mary Roach

Started: Feb. 11
Finished: Feb. 14

Notes: The subject matter might be considered macabre by some, but I'm not expecting any shocks here. My mother's second husband was a funeral director and mortician, so I grew up in a household with some ... let's call it "unusual," reading material, probably stuff I shouldn't have been reading but was curious enough to read, and I spent no small amount of time in funeral homes, occasionally witnessing things a child probably shouldn't witness. Though I don't think it affected me any.  --twitch,twitch--

Mini review: Not for those easily creeped out or who can't stand the morbid, though the author doesn't get overly gory. Most of this book is about unusual things that happen, or can happen, or you can have happen, to your body after you're deceased. Scientific research is an obvious choice for use of cadavers, but what exactly does that mean? Some of the answers might be surprising, and the author also takes a brief look at cannibalism and other fates that have faced the deceased over the centuries. An interesting book, and I can recommend it, but it's not for the faint of heart.