Quick Review: THE BIG THREE by Michael Holley (Hachette)

HolleyM-BigThreeUSHow three of the NBA’s best players dominated the league and lead the Boston Celtics to their first championship in more than two decades

The first of “The Big Three” was Paul Pierce. As Boston Celtics fans watched the team retire Pierce’s jersey in a ceremony on February 11, 2018, they remembered again the incredible performances Pierce put on in the city for fifteen years, helping the Celtics escape the bottom of their conference to become champions and perennial championship contenders. But Pierce’s time in the city wasn’t always so smooth. In 2000, he was stabbed in a downtown nightclub eleven times in a seemingly random attack. Six years later, remaining the sole star on a struggling team, he asked to be traded and briefly became a lightning rod among fans.

Then, in 2007, the Boston Celtics General Manager made two monumental trades, bringing Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to Boston. A press conference on July 31, 2007 was a sight to behold: Pierce, KG, and Ray Allen holding up Celtics jerseys for the flood of media. Coach Doc Rivers made sure the team bonded over the thought of winning a title and living by a Bantu term called Ubuntu, which translates as “I am because we are.” Rivers wanted to make it clear that togetherness and brotherhood would help them maximize their talent and win. What came next — the synthesis of the Celtics’ “Big Three” and their dominant championship run — cemented their standing as one of great teams in NBA history, a rival to Kobe Bryant’s Lakers and LeBron James’s Cavaliers.

The story of the 2007-9 Celtics has popped up in a couple of NBA books that I’ve read recently, and thought I wanted to learn some more — more than I could learn from the internet, certainly. I saw that this book was on the way, and was lucky to receive a review copy. It’s a well-written and balanced story, told with authority and also affection — for the team, the players, and the sport. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: SMOKE by Joe Ide (Mulholland/W&N)

IdeJ-IQ5-SmokeUSIsaiah Quintabe & Co. return, with more personal challenges and some sinister characters circling their lives…

Both Isaiah Quintabe – an unlicensed detective for all seasons – and his best friend and masterful sidekick, Juanell Dodson, are at a crossroads. This time, their lives may never be the same.

Isaiah is no longer IQ, the genius of East Long Beach; instead he’s a man on the road and on the run, hiding in a small Northern California town when his room is broken into by a desperate young man on the trail of the state’s most prolific serial killer.

Dodson must go straight or lose his wife and child. His devil’s bargain is an internship at an LA advertising agency, where it turns out the rules of the street have simply been dressed in business casual, but where the aging company’s fortunes may well rest on their ability to attract a younger demographic. Dodson – “the hustler’s hustler” – just may be the right man for the job.

Isaiah Quintabe returns! Smoke is the fifth novel in the series, and sees our protagonist and his growing supporting cast going through a number of changes and overcoming a series of challenges. A slightly different novel to the previous books in the series, I enjoyed it. Continue reading

Quick Review: DARKNESS IN THE BLOOD by Guy Haley (Black Library)

HaleyG-WH40k-BA3-DarknessInTheBloodDante settles into his role as Imperial Regent, while Mephiston’s powers threaten to overtake him… and everyone else

The galaxy is in flames. Chaos is in the ascendant across the stars. The Great Rift has split the holdings of the Imperium in twain, isolating entire sectors from the light of Holy Terra.

But all hope is not lost. The Primarch Roboute Guilliman has returned from deathless sleep, and appointed Commander Dante, lord of the Blood Angels, as Regent and Warden of the newly dubbed Imperium Nihilus.

In the Baal system, the shattered holding of the Chapter is being rebuilt, and Dante plans the greatest campaign of his long life, to retake half an empire. And yet at this moment of rebirth there are dangers close to home that could overwhelm all those who carry the blood of Sanguinius in their veins, stopping Dante’s noble endeavour before it has even begun.

The Flaw in Sanguinius’ sons is growing. As the twin curses of the Red Thirst and the Black Rage threaten everything, the hardest ordeal will fall upon Mephiston, twice-born Lord of Death and Chief Librarian of the Blood Angels. Among the mighty lords of Baal, perhaps only he can save them all, by mastering the darkness in the blood…

First released as a special edition, I’ve been looking forward to Darkness in the Blood for some time. Continuing the story of the Blood Angels begun in The Devastation of Baal and in Darius Hinks’s Mephiston trilogy, it presents an important piece in the puzzle that is the Angels’ place in the changed universe. With new allies, technology, and challenges, it has plenty of action as well as quieter moments that really add to our understanding of the Blood Angels and their heroes. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: FIREHEART TIGER by Aliette de Bodard (Tor.com)

deBodard-FireheartTigersmEmpire, love, betrayal, and duty…

Fire burns bright and has a long memory….

Quiet, thoughtful princess Thanh was sent away as a hostage to the powerful faraway country of Ephteria as a child. Now she’s returned to her mother’s imperial court, haunted not only by memories of her first romance, but by worrying magical echoes of a fire that devastated Ephteria’s royal palace.

Thanh’s new role as a diplomat places her once again in the path of her first love, the powerful and magnetic Eldris of Ephteria, who knows exactly what she wants: romance from Thanh and much more from Thanh’s home. Eldris won’t take no for an answer, on either front. But the fire that burned down one palace is tempting Thanh with the possibility of making her own dangerous decisions.

Can Thanh find the freedom to shape her country’s fate — and her own?

This latest novella by Aliette de Bodard is a moving, engaging tale of politics, love, divided loyalties, and betrayal. It has many of the hallmarks of a great de Bodard story, and I enjoyed it. Continue reading

Quick Review: I’M YOUR HUCKLEBERRY by Val Kilmer (Simon & Schuster)

KilmerV-ImYourHuckleberryUSAn interesting, albeit brief memoir

Legendary actor Val Kilmer shares the stories behind his most beloved roles, reminisces about his star-studded career and love life, and reveals the truth behind his recent health struggles in a remarkably candid autobiography.

Val Kilmer has played many iconic roles over his nearly four-decade film career. A table-dancing Cold War agent in Top Secret! A troublemaking science prodigy in Real Genius. A brash fighter pilot in Top Gun. A swashbuckling knight in Willow. A lovelorn bank robber in Heat. A charming master of disguise in The Saint. A wise-cracking detective in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Of course, Batman, Jim Morrison and the sharp-shooting Doc Holliday.

But who is the real Val Kilmer? With I’m Your Huckleberry — published ahead of next summer’s highly anticipated sequel Top Gun: Maverick, in which Kilmer returns to the big screen as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky — the enigmatic actor at last steps out of character and reveals his true self.

In this uniquely assembled memoir — featuring vivid prose, snippets of poetry and rarely-seen photos — Kilmer reflects on his acclaimed career, including becoming the youngest actor ever admitted to the Juilliard School’s famed drama department, determinedly campaigning to win the lead part in The Doors, and realizing a years-long dream of performing a one-man show as his hero Mark Twain. He shares candid stories of working with screen legends Marlon Brando, Tom Cruise, Robert Downey Jr. and Robert De Niro, and recounts high-profile romances with Cher, Cindy Crawford, Daryl Hannah, and former wife Joanne Whalley. He chronicles his spiritual journey and lifelong belief in Christian Science, and describes travels to far-flung locales such as a scarcely inhabited island in the Indian Ocean where he suffered from delirium and was cared for by the resident tribe. And he reveals details of his recent throat cancer diagnosis and recovery — about which he has disclosed little until now.

I think the first movie of Kilmer’s that I saw was Batman Forever. While reading I’m Your Huckleberry, I realized that I hadn’t seen as many of Kilmer’s movies as I thought I had. What I have seen, however, I’ve much always enjoyed: HeatTombstoneKiss Kiss Bang Bang… his is a filmography that is varied, interesting and extensive. Sure, there are franchises (or potential franchises), but his career has also included somewhat unconventional choices. In his memoir, he offers an engaging, albeit brief, glimpse into his life and career, and generous portraits and memories of those who have influenced and enriched his life. I quite enjoyed it. Continue reading

Quick Review: SUN-DAUGHTERS, SEA-DAUGHTERS by Aimee Ogden (Tor.com)

OgdenA-SunDaughtersSeaDaughtersAn intriguing, imaginative debut sci-fi novella

One woman will travel to the stars and beyond to save her beloved…

Gene-edited human clans have scattered throughout the galaxy, adapting themselves to environments as severe as the desert and the sea. Atuale, the daughter of a Sea-Clan lord, sparked a war by choosing her land-dwelling love and rejecting her place among her people. Now her husband and his clan are dying of an incurable plague, and Atuale’s sole hope for finding a cure is to travel off-planet. The one person she can turn to for help is the black-market mercenary known as the World Witch — and Atuale’s former lover. Time, politics, bureaucracy, and her own conflicted desires stand between Atuale and the hope for her adopted clan.

This is an intriguing debut sci-fi novella, following Atuale as she sets out desperately on a perilous journey to save her people. Well-paced, well-written, and imaginative. I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE BIG SCORE by K.J. Parker (Subterranean Press)

ParkerKJ-BigScoreSaloninus returns, for possibly his most lucrative job yet…?

Welcome to the world of Saloninus, the most unlikely Renaissance Man you will ever encounter. A man of many and diverse talents, he is the hero and narrator of K.J. Parker’s witty, hugely entertaining novella, The Big Score.

Saloninus is a man with two distinct professions. In idle moments, he dashes off immortal masterpieces — philosophical treatises, musical compositions, dramas of Shakespearean range and depth — that never manage to turn a profit. His primary profession — that of thief, grifter and itinerant con man — is equally unprofitable, and he spends his life in constant flight from the encroaching forces of the law.

The story opens in the aftermath of Saloninus’s own funeral, an act of self-concealment he has staged many times before. Newly risen from the dead, he encounters an old flame — a sort of archetypal femme fatale — with whom he shares a colorful — and highly illegal — history. She has a plan in mind, one that involves both of Saloninus’s skill sets: criminality and literary genius. If successful, that plan will lead to the elusive “big score” that will set them free forever. Against his better judgment, and fully aware that failure and betrayal may await him, Saloninus agrees to participate. The result is this ingenious — and very funny — tale.

In K.J. Parker’s latest, he returns to the story of Saloninus. A gifted renaissance man, prone to falling on the wrong side of the law, he finds himself in a position to win the big one — one final con that could set him up for life, if only he can make it all the way through alive and not get cheated. Another fantastic, entertaining and brilliantly-written novella from the master of the form. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: GREENLIGHTS by Matthew McConaughey (Crown Publishing/Headline)

McConaugheyM-GreenlightsA lively, entertaining memoir

I’ve been in this life for fifty years, been trying to work out its riddle for forty-two, and been keeping diaries of clues to that riddle for the last thirty-five. Notes about successes and failures, joys and sorrows, things that made me marvel, and things that made me laugh out loud. How to be fair. How to have less stress. How to have fun. How to hurt people less. How to get hurt less. How to be a good man. How to have meaning in life. How to be more me.
 
Recently, I worked up the courage to sit down with those diaries. I found stories I experienced, lessons I learned and forgot, poems, prayers, prescriptions, beliefs about what matters, some great photographs, and a whole bunch of bumper stickers. I found a reliable theme, an approach to living that gave me more satisfaction, at the time, and still: If you know how, and when, to deal with life’s challenges — how to get relative with the inevitable — you can enjoy a state of success I call “catching greenlights.”
 
So I took a one-way ticket to the desert and wrote this book: an album, a record, a story of my life so far. This is fifty years of my sights and seens, felts and figured-outs, cools and shamefuls. Graces, truths, and beauties of brutality. Getting away withs, getting caughts, and getting wets while trying to dance between the raindrops.
 
Hopefully, it’s medicine that tastes good, a couple of aspirin instead of the infirmary, a spaceship to Mars without needing your pilot’s license, going to church without having to be born again, and laughing through the tears.
 
It’s a love letter. To life.
 
It’s also a guide to catching more greenlights — and to realizing that the yellows and reds eventually turn green too.
 
Good luck.

An entertaining, quite uplifting memoir. I listened to the audiobook edition of the book, brilliantly and enthusiastically narrated by the author. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE WORDS OF EVERY SONG by Liz Moore (Windmill/Broadway)

MooreL-WordsOfEverySongUKAn interlinked tour through the New York music industry, and some of the lives it intersects with…

The Words of Every Song takes the form of fourteen linked episodes, each centering on a character involved with the music industry. There’s the arrogantly hip, twenty-six-year-old A&R man; the rising young singer-songwriter; the established, arena-filling rock star on the verge of a midlife crisis; the type-A female executive with the heavy social calendar; and other recognizable figures.

Set in the sleek offices, high-tech recording studios, and grungy downtown clubs of New York, The Words of Every Song offers an authenticity drawn from Liz Moore’s own experience and brings an insider’s touch to its depiction of the music industry and its denizens.

Liz Moore’s The Words of Every Song takes readers on a trip through the contemporary music industry, as witnessed through the eyes and lives of a mixed cast of characters. Each of these episodes is linked with at least one of the others, and is an interesting collection of character studies. I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Music Review: CLAYMAN 20th Anniversary Edition by In Flames (Nuclear Blast)

InFlames-Clayman20thIn Flames revisits their groundbreaking sixth album

I discovered In Flames shortly after they released their seventh album, Reroute to Remain. As I later learned, it marked quite a dramatic evolution of the band’s sound that helped catapult them onto a larger stage. Without sacrificing their intensity and much of their heaviness, the album featured more varied and interesting vocal stylings from Anders Fridén (one of my favourite metal vocalists). Clayman was released two years before Reroute to Remain, and in its singles, one could just about hear the seeds of their impending evolution. Continue reading