Open Thread: Linkspam 9/10/13

Went to the bloggers’ meeting again this month, a week later than the usual.  We talked about how to get good ideas for blog posts, and handed around our business cards.  Here’s some people you should consider giving some traffic to.

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

GIR Promotions: http://girpromotions.com/ They do creative marketing–latest post is staying “top of mind” with your audience.

The Light In the Middle of the Tunnel:  http://thelightinthemiddleofthetunnel.com/blog-2/ a blog for family caregivers, particularly when dealing with Parkinson’s Disease.  Latest post is on financial help for family caregivers.

Innovative Land Design Associates: http://www.innovativelanddesign.com/2012/12/blogs-and-etc-postings/ Real estate and landscaping info.  It’s a work in progress, but this article on land acquisition will give you an idea.

Joule: http://joulemn.com/ isn’t a blog so much as a coworking and meeting space that graciously hosts the bloggers’ meeting each month.

Retirement Education Plus: http://www.retirementeducationplus.com/retirement-blog/ Helpful information for retirees and those planning to retire soon.  Latest post is on leaving a legacy.

Svarmare Wellness: http://www.svarmare.org/Svarmare_Wellness/Blog/Blog.html Massage and wellness info.  WARNING: the most recent post is about scar tissue and may be distressing to look at.

Pianist for Parties: http://pianistforparties.com/blog/ The adventures of a person who plays the piano at parties.  Latest post is about a wedding at a Minnesota vineyard.

John Ploetz: http://jploetz.wordpress.com/author/jploetz/ Management professional looking for non-profit opportunities.  His latest post is “Is Sales Just Selling?”

Details: http://www.detailstwincities.com/blog-resources planning and concierge services.  Latest post is what to do if you have a moment or two waiting in the kitchen.

So, your turn, what are some blogs you recommend, or ways that you find good posts to make on your blog?

Book Review: Waco’s Debt

Book Review: Waco’s Debt by J.T. Edson

This book is part of the “Floating Outfit” series, about a particularly illustrious group of cowboys who work for the OD Connected ranch in Texas.   As the title suggests, the star of this volume is Waco, one of the youngest members of the crew.  Waco’s foster father and brothers are murdered, and he returns to the ranch where he grew up to track down the killers and protect his foster sister Mary Anne, who has returned from education in the East.

Waco's Debt

This is a Western of the old school, morally unambiguous.  The good people are good, the bad people are despicable, and soft city folk need some real rough living if they want to amount to anything.  There’s a sidebar romance with one of Mary Anne’s friends being wooed by a greenhorn that Waco takes under his wing.

It’s a quick read, with plenty of action and a side trip to Chicago, where Waco runs into some old friends.  Waco was eventually spun off into his own series of books, and became a U.S, Marshal.  If you like your Westerns fast-paced and reasonably clean, this is a fun book.  Trigger warning, though, for some off-screen domestic abuse by the villain.

Open Thread: A Thousand Views

This blog has now passed 1000 views, and thanks to everyone who has made that possible.    Another giveaway is due later this month, so please come back to see that, and let your friends know!

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

We have a new top ten review posts, thanks to a very strong newcomer.   Apparently, people are really interested in the story of a young woman raised by fanatical members of the John Birch Society.  Ghosts in the Yew remains strong, but will fade fast unless new fans find the review.

Osamu Tezuka is represented twice, and there is another history book on the top ten.

  1. Book Review: Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right
  2. Book Review: Ghosts in the Yew
  3. Manga Review: Ayako
  4. Anime Review: Magi-Labyrinth of Magic
  5. Comic Strip Review: Dick Tracy
  6. Book Review: Shanghai 1937
  7. Manga Review: A*Tomcat
  8. Movie Review: Hissatsu (Sure Death)
  9. Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents Showcase Volume 1
  10. Manga Review: Vagabond Volume 1

Your thoughts and comments?

SKJAM!

 

Book Review: Dead But Still Ticking

Book Review: Dead But Still Ticking by David M. Selcer

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Ticking

Warren Barchrist III may have won a big case in the last volume, but his name is still strongly associated with being sued by the Securities & Exchange Commission.  So his law business hasn’t really picked up, and he’s considering closing up.  Until, that is, he receives a five million dollar cashier’s check from elegant gay lawyer Robert Steinglass, with a promise to explain later.  Before that can happen, Steinglass dies under suspicious circumstances.

In addition to his now deceased client, Warren soon finds himself hired by the dead man’s husband because the law firm he belonged to has un-personed him and is supposedly hiding the will.  And a toxic client wants to hire the Buckeye Barrister for involvement in drug smuggling.  How do a Ukrainian widow and Somali terrorists fit it?  After being poisoned himself, Warren is determined to get to the bottom of this.

Warren proves to be a talkative narrator, full of fun facts he wants to share with the reader.  (For example, Columbus, Ohio has the second-largest Somali community in the United States, after Minneapolis.)  Since I do the same thing when I talk, I can empathize, but it could weary some readers, especially if they read many of the same facts in the previous books.    His gluttony and self-preoccupation are weaknesses that come back to bite him more than once in the story.

If you have not done so already, do not read the back cover or the official Goodreads description, as it gives away a huge plot twist.  There is some fat-shaming in the book,  aimed at the main character.  I noticed several spellchecker typos, the bane of small press and independent publishing.

Overall, it’s a fun read I’d recommend to fans of mysteries with lawyers as the main characters, and Ohio residents.

Book Review: Dark Harbors

Book Review: Dark Harbors by J.K. Dark

I received this book as a  Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Dark Harbors

Jack Cross used to be a rock star, the leader of the band Dark Cross, kings of the “pirate rock” trend.   But that was a while back, before drugs and the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle brought the band to a crashing fall, and Jack bottomed out.   Now he ekes out a living as a charter boat captain, sailing the Dark Cross out of Florida for tourists.  It’s something to do between the nightmares.

Jack’s latest cruise seems pleasant enough; he and a couple of old buddies are taking some Doctors Without Borders volunteers around the Caribbean to relax and help folks.    But there are bad signs, including reports that modern-day pirates are lurking in these warm waters.   Not everyone is going to be returning from this voyage….

The good first.  J.K. Dark clearly loves sailing, and has done some research on the Caribbean.  Some bits are nicely creepy, and the fact that Jack often has difficulty telling nightmare from reality for a few moments helps set the foreboding tone.

The not so good:  The frame of the story is that Jack Cross is telling it in first person to an Alcoholics Anonymous-like group as they’re something of a captive audience. ( Which may or may not mean he survives the voyage.)   But about two-thirds of the way in, there are suddenly third-person chapters that reveal the inner thoughts of characters Jack hasn’t met yet, and who he never gets the chance to get that information from. I can understand why the author does it, the information is necessary to understand what’s really going on.  But it breaks the frame and the narrative flow, and this is one book that might be better served by the reader being as much in the dark as Jack.

Warnings:  Trigger warning for rape late in the book.  Also, practitioners of Haitian Vodou might be displeased by its presentation in this story, even if it eschews the voodoo doll and evil magic stereotypes.

The book is self-published, I am told, and could have used a stronger editor.  I cannot recommend it unless you are really into crossing Jimmy Buffett atmosphere with a near horror taste.

Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents The House of Secrets Volume One

Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents The House of Secrets Volume One edited by Joe Orlando

House of Secrets started its publication history in 1956 as a “weird menace” title.  You couldn’t really do horror comics as such under the Comics Code, but  short tales tinged with the supernatural where evil was punished and good rewarded?  Sure.  It also had a number of psuedo-superhero types, like Mark Merlin, Prince Ra-Man and Eclipso.  The last of these, (“Hero and Villain in one man!” went on to be a player in the DC universe, and has his own Showcase volume.  The Silver Age run ended with #80 in 1966.

The House of Secrets

After a three year hiatus, it came back as The House of Secrets.  The Comics Code had eased up some, and it was possible to do horror comics in the mainstream again.    #81 started by introducing an actual House of Secrets, which seemed to be both intelligent and malevolent, killing its then-owner in the first story of the issue.   A new caretaker was hired, the pudgy and rather cowardly Abel, who loved to tell scary stories.  (His nastier  brother Cain did the same over at the House of Mystery.)

Each issue, Abel would introduce a few short tales of horror, often having a small adventure of his own in between.  The quality of the stories varied widely from trite to quite good.  A particularly well-received story was “Swamp Thing” in #92.  It was so liked that the main character was slightly updated and given his own series, which went on to become famous.  Another standout is “The Ballad of Little Joe” in #86, about a puppet that comes to life.  What makes that story special is that one of the “villains” is clearly a philosopher at heart, rather than the conqueror his culture wants him to be.  “You can twist form–but can you ever change a man’s love?”

Then there’s “There are Two of Me…and One Must Die!” in #91, which puts a new twist on the stock DC plot of spotting the fake person by a tiny clue.   I do have to say that reading a bunch of these stories in a row  can make them a bit samey, and they’re mostly quite tame by today’s horror standards.

The art ranges from workmanlike to excellent–the lack of color does not hurt most of the stories, and in some cases enhances the feel.  (The four-color process sometimes detracted from the mood of stories.)

I would recommend this volume to DC fans of a certain age, and those looking for horror stories that are spooky, but not too horrific.  I’ll leave you with one of the epilogues…

“Silence sounds like green vines creeping…dry boards scream like blind men seeking…for these are the signs…of secrets lurking…”

 

Book Review: Beneath the Bleak New Moon

Beneath the Bleak New Moon by Debra Purdy Kong

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Beneath the Bleak New Moon

Casey Holland is a security officer for a small transit company in Vancouver, British Columbia.   She’s working the night shift during a new moon, and dealing with obnoxious twin sisters who flout the bus rules.  Suddenly, she and the bus passengers witness a hit and run accident caused by illegal street racers.  Casey tries to save the victim, but it’s too late.

As a result, Casey meets Danielle Carpenter, a rookie reporter with a burning grudge against Roadkill, the local gang of street racers.  She believes one of them killed her brother, and is taking dangerous chances to track them down.  She drags the unwilling Casey (who would much rather leave this to her police contacts) into the investigation.

More hit and runs happen, but these are no accidents–has Roadkill developed a taste for blood as well as their need for speed?  And do the twins know too much about the gang for their own good?

This is the third Casey Holland mystery; references are made to her having gotten too personally involved in previous cases (one was her father’s death.)  She’s apparently mostly learned her lesson on that score, so Danielle is brought in to be the reckless one.  Casey coordinates with the police whenever possible, given her quasi-authority status.

There’s a subplot involving Casey’s ex-husband and her current boyfriend, and very glancing looks at her foster daughter who may be getting a love life of her own.

This story is a bit closer to noir than to cozy, the conclusion is more the product of elimination of suspects than it is of clever reasoning.  Many of the characters come off as unlikable, but  we are seeing them through Casey’s eyes and she’s kind of judgmental.

This book should be enjoyable for those who want some, but not too much, grit in their mystery stories.  Also, those who wonder what happens to unlucky pedestrians in those Fast and Furious movies.  Check it out at your library, or there’s a special ebook offer at touchwoodeditions.com .

Movie Review: The Grandmaster (2013)

Movie Review: The Grandmaster (2013)

This Chinese-French co-production is a Wong Kar Wai film loosely based on the real life of Ip Man, Bruce Lee’s instructor in the art of Wing Chun style kung fu.  As the title indicates, however, the true central character is the Northern Grandmaster, Gong Yutian.  As the film begins, Master Gong is about to retire as Grandmaster.  He has traveled south, accompanied by his chosen successor Ma San and his daughter Gong Er to the city of Foshan for one last exhibition match with the southern schools.

The Grandmaster (2013)

The chosen champion of the south is Ip Man, who both receives wisdom from Gong Yutian and teaches the master something new.   Gong Er is discontented, however.  While she cannot succeed to her father’s school because of the pesky being a woman thing, she wants to prove herself against Ip Man.  (Ma San might also have done the same, but was already sent home for being hot-headed.)

The film’s story skips over the Japanese invasion almost entirely (for a more detailed look at that part of Ip Man’s life, see the movie Ip Man.)  After the war, Ip Man emigrates to the British territory of Hong Kong to make money for his starving family, only to be cut off when the Communists take over the mainland.  Some years later, he discovers that Gong Er is also in Hong Kong, but no longer practicing kung fu, and we learn what happened to her and Ma Sun.

This isn’t quite the standard kung fu movie; while there are some standout fight sequences (a rain-drenched one that starts the film, and a dangerous battle on a snowy rail station platform come to mind), often the expected beats never connect.  It’s also not quite a romance, though it has many of the moments you’d expect a romance to have.  It’s more a story of life happening that just happens to be about martial artists.

I enjoyed it, but the anachronic order and some events being reduced to just an intertitle (words on the screen) may confuse some viewers, especially if you’re not good at reading subtitles in the first place.  The period sexism may also be unappealing to some viewers, especially as Gong Er makes a decision that many women wouldn’t to deal with her dilemma.

Book Review: Hen of the Baskervilles

Book Review: Hen of the Baskervilles by Donna Andrews

Disclaimer:  I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  Also, this review is of an Advance Reading Copy, and there may be small changes in the final text.

Hen of the Baskervilles

Meg Langslow is a blacksmith in the Virginia city of Caerphilly, although she isn’t doing any smithing in this particular volume.  It seems that (as in real life) the Virginia State Fair has run into severe financial trouble, and various communities and counties have decided to put on their own fairs, in an effort to become the new must-see event.  Caerphilly’s entry into this competition is the “Un-Fair”, which is basically a jumped-up county fair, notable for being in two counties–the midway is in adjacent Clay County, which is causing some jurisdiction friction between city police and county sheriff’s office.

Thanks to her superior organizing skills and having an extensive network of useful relatives and friends, Meg has been drafted into being assistant director of the fair.  Which would be stressful enough without a rash of theft and vandalism just before the fair is set to open.   The title comes from a garbled memory of one theft’s victims, and it’s mentioned a couple of times how much of a stretch it is.

Things get even dicier when the boyfriend of one of the fair’s most hated exhibitors turns up murdered.  With clashing law enforcement  stomping about, more missing animals and a slew of suspects, can Meg figure out what’s really going on before the fair is closed down for good?

The Meg Langslow mystery series has birds in the title of each book, previous cases aren’t much referred to, except that by now Meg has an extensive list of defense attorneys in case anyone she knows is arrested.  As someone who’s been to many county fairs, I found the setting charming and reasonably authentic.  The characters were also pretty enjoyable, especially the person everyone thought would be murdered.  The mystery worked well, and had a plausible solution.

Based on this volume, I would read other Meg Langslow books, but I might want to check them out from the library as the recent ones are only available in expensive hardbacks.

Book Review: Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right

Book Review: Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right by Claire Conner

Disclaimer:  I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Flag

This is an autobiography of Claire Conner, daughter of Stillwell J. Conner, one of the first members of the John Birch Society and one of its most fierce advocates.  In it, she shares the history of her family’s involvement with the notorious right-wing organization, and her personal journey from loyal but naive supporter of her parents’ cause through skepticism and eventually to rejection.

The John Birch Society, for those who may be unfamiliar, was founded in the 1950s by candy entrepreneur Robert Welch to fight the overwhelming menace of the  international Communist conspiracy.  It was named after a former missionary murdered by the Chinese Communists under murky circumstances, and stood against all forms of Communism and what its members believed to be Communist fronts.  The UN?  Communist plot.  Ending racial segregation?  Communist plot.  Being anti-Communist but not in the same way as the John Birch Society?   Communist plot.

This is a sad story in many ways.  According to Ms. Conner’s account, her parents’ fanaticism blinded them to the damage they were doing to their family relationships.  It also blinded them to the flaws in those they allied with, be it Holocaust deniers, violent criminals or just political opportunists.   She recalls several instances of people being stuffed down her father’s memory hole rather than have him admit he was ever wrong about them.

The Conners also seemed never to notice that the dire predictions of a Communist takeover in four, five years tops, never came true, never came close to coming true.   The JBS never admitted that previous predictions were wrong, just kept doomsaying to keep the troops in line and the money flowing.

A particularly telling story is that Ms. Conner’s parents, despite finding thousands of dollars each year to spend on the Society’s cause, told her that they could not spare one penny for her college education and she would have to pay for it on her own.  Then when she won a generous scholarship, forced her to turn it down as they had already picked a more expensive college for her to go to.  She reports that her father exploded with rage when asked why, if Claire had to pay for her own education, she couldn’t choose her own school.

Ms. Conner also discusses her involvement with the pro-life movement, originally stemming from her personal experience and her religious convictions, and how it was co-opted by political opportunists who didn’t actually care about the children, just about enraging their donor base into giving more money.

The book also discusses how parts of the JBS ethos are still alive and well in today’s Tea Party and other right-wing groups.  The John Birch Society itself may be a tiny shell of what it once was, but rabid hatred of big government , racism and a fear of the Left still linger.

There are many footnotes, and a complete index, but no illustrations.

I highly recommend this book to history buffs, those curious about right-wing politics, and those interested in biography.

 

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