Tuesday, November 22, 2016


The Survivor is the 14th installment in the Mitch Rapp series written by Vince Flynn.* My wife asked me to pick this book up for her at the library while I was there but they didn't have it, and the librarian couldn't find it either. After doing some research on line, I found out that this was planned as the next in the series, but Vince Flynn didn't finish the manuscript before he died in June 2013.

According to Emily Bestler, who has this long title: Senior Vice President, Editor-In-Chief Emily Bestler Books, an imprint of Atria Books at Simon & Schuster, Simon & Schuster classified the then forthcoming Survivor book as postponed indefinitely, until they could look into it with Vince's family etc. The eventual solution was to turn to Kyle Mills to finish Flynn's manuscript, and they also contracted with him to write two more Mitch Rapp novels. This change of author credit may be why I had trouble finding this book at the library. My wife ended up buying it in paperback.

I've read a few of these if I remember correctly. But its been a while, the Mitch Rapp character didn't ring a bell with me. It could be that my wife has read all of them and I just see these titles around the house. Like a lot of series, there is a fair amount of spill over from previous stories into this one, so it assumes some prior knowledge of some of the basic facts from the previous books. After checking, I read the last one, so some of the character names did sound familiar, even if I don't remember them as characters.

Mitch Rapp works as a heavy for the CIA. He's your standard, slightly tortured, hard-to-kill bad ass, super spy. He puts a small team together, and does his best to play catch up on a huge--and widening--international plot to bring down the CIA, perpetrated by some bad hombres.** I found the bad guys to be a little TV-typical, and the action to be well scripted, but mostly predictable. It is what makes these books so fun and relaxing to read, however. I found myself spending extra time reading, just to see what would happen. Now, is that me really hanging on the edge of my seat to see what will happen next, or am I really on the edge of my seat waiting to see if I'm right about how it will end? Does it matter? I don't think it does. This isn't fine literature we're talking about, this is just fun.

And fun it is. Best wishes to Vince Flynn's friends and loved ones, and good luck to Kyle Mills as he takes on the mantle.

* Just to clarify, what I mean here is that Vince Flynn wrote all of the earlier Mitch Rapp Books. Kyle Mills has taken over where Flynn left off. 

** Is it okay to say that, when you're making fun of people who say stuff like that? I hope so.

Friday, November 18, 2016

thirteenth tale

The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel is by Diane Setterfield. This was Setterfield's first book, as far as I can tell, and her second was released 7 years later in 2013. I wonder if this means what I think it does, namely; that she began writing later in her life, and that she spends a fair amount of time writing and re-writing. I'm guessing about the re-writing, but that's based on how well this book was plotted, and how well she maintained the tension, and mystery in the story. And when I finally did figure it out, it was only when Setterfield wanted me too.

Setterfield seems like a reader to me, a trait which is reflected in her protagonist, with whom she shares not only a love of reading, but specifically, a love of older English Romance tales, with a Gothic tilt; think Jane Eyre. And that's how this spooky, mysterious novel feels to me as well. It was a great follow-on for the recent books I've read, especially The Supernatural Enhancements. Setterfield sets a wonderful tone from the very beginning of the book, as she introduces the young, quiet, bookworm of a woman, who lives upstairs from her father's bookshop, and has felt something missing from her live for as long as she can remember. Her relationship with this loss, is almost a comfort to her as she does her researches into the old books in her father's shop, and tries to bring the old authors back into to the light. Wondering all the while whether or not these long-dead authors felt a wisp of acknowledgement, when she opened their forgotten writings.

Her researches capture the attention of a very popular but aging British author who invites the young woman to her mansion so that she can finally tell her life story. The tale of Vida Winter's long and interesting life is slowly spun out, and gets spookier and stranger as time goes along. So strange that the young author goes off to do some investigating of her own, and the story just gets stranger The history of Winter's family includes sudden deaths, possible murder, metal illness, physical abuse, illegitimate births, neglect, a crumbling family estate, mysterious happenings, and you know... a ghost or two.

I enjoyed this one very much and I'll be looking for Setterfield's second novel: Bellman & Black. Read this book.

[edited for English and grammar: 1 Jan 2017. If you see something, say something.]

Saturday, November 12, 2016

nerax north 2016

NERAX North is the smaller, quieter cousin of the original NERAX (New England Real Ale eXhibition.) The NERAX used to be held in Somerville, very close to where I worked, in Davis Square, at the Dilboy Post of the DAV. A few years after our office moved to Union Square, so did the NERAX; bouncing from the American Legion, which was convenient, to Aeronaut Brewery, more about them in a moment which was ridiculously-conveniently, next door. Then NERAX moved to somewhere in South Boston, and because it sometimes takes an hour to drive 5 miles from Somerville to South Boston during Friday Rush Hour, I gave up NERAX for lost.

The first time I attended NERAX North, was last year, and even though I did try some fine beers, and did take some notes as I normally do, AND had the pleasure of bringing my newly turned 21 daughter for the first time, I never put my notes into a blog post for some reason. Last year NERAX North was held at the Barking Dog Ale House, in Haverhill, where, I understand it had been held for a number of years. This year, we were at the Knights of Columbus on Washington Square, in Salem. I was again joined by my daughter; we sampled quarter pints in a room that was about half full, and sported a smaller number of beers (I think) than last year. There was food there, but we didn't try it, and I'm not sure who was catering. They had a number of dishes that you might see at a wedding buffet; things like chicken Marsala and rice pilaf. Looked good.

No lines, no waiting, so we didn't have time to pore over the program as I have done in the past, standing in line for an hour. We walked in and checked the board and Aeronaut was right up there near the top, as all of the nights samplings are noted alphabetically. Lets get to it!

Hop Hop and Away - Aeronaut Brewing Co., Somerville, Mass., USA (ABV 4.8%)
I've had a number of brews at Aeronaut, including some very early, experimental beers, that and the lower alcohol level was all it took to convince me to start here. I put my nose deep into this glass and it filled my head with aromatic fruit, Alessia said it first: Peaches. Peaches and the oil that squirts from the skin of red grapefruit. Pale, cloudy yellow with a wispy head that was gone after the first sip. The taste was crisp, and softly bitter, which left the mouth a lingering dry. The finish was super clean and bright with notes of chalk, stone, and minerals. Delicious, and a great way to start.

Robust Porter - Smuttynose Brewing Co., Hampton, NH, USA (ABV 6.2%)
Rich coffee brown color, with a syrupy, sticky consistency and a creamy, pale brown head. Molasses, wet tree bark and light leather on the nose. Dried fruits and fruit cake notes after a few more sniffs. This one is complex. Velvety mouth feel, eggnog, and that molasses comes through right away. A malty sweetness balances nicely with a background hop bitterness. Smoke lingers.

That - Teme Valley Brewery, Knightwick, Worcestershire, England (ABV 4.1%)
Pronounced TEM, I'm told. Sounds like Tim, with an E. "You wanna' try That?" the barkeep asks with a smile, "Lots of jokes about That, tonight," he adds when my smile isn't as large as he'd hoped. "Enjoy that," he ends, turning to help Alessia, who is still deciding. This one is very light on the nose, but what wafts up out of the glass is a yeasty stank, almost. Its so light, its not unpleasant but one gets the impression that some of those yeast strains weren't invited, they've just been in the brewery for 200 hundred years. But the first sip is surprising: I think its violets. Caramel yellow with a very light head, just a bit of creaminess from the carbonation. There is a nice balance of malt and hops, and a little basement aroma sourness. Hops are complex with a slight dark chocolate edge.

Reanu Keeves - Far From the Tree Cider, Salem, Mass., USA (ABV 5.5%)
We had to try it, just because of the name. Alessia asked for a sip, which we both tried. Alessia almost spit it out. I asked the barmaid to pour it out for us. It had an off smell, lemonade color, strong lemon flavor. Think Easy-Off (where are the apples?) After you swallow, whats left? Salt! I know, right?

Whammy Bar 2 - Clown Shoes Brewing, Burlington, Mass., USA (ABV 6.5%)
Pie! and berries on the nose. Alessia said blueberries when she smelled it, I'll buy that. Thin and light honey color, with a yellow, bubbly head. Malty and rich. Mint scented paste we used to use at the Lynnhurst Elementary school. Flavors dissipate on the palate with a clean, hop bitterness, and an herbal dry finish.
Green Beacons - Brecon Brewing, Brecon, Powys, Wales (ABV 4.3%)
Lightly carbonated, medium color pale ale. Slightly sour nose: feet and cranberries. Sharp, clean, and really dry. White, lacy head and tangy yeast on the back of the tongue. Tree fruit finish.

For Peat's Sake Imperial Stout - Paper City Brewey, Holyoke, Mass., USA (ABV 9.5%)
We had a fire in the yard last night, when I went out there this morning, it had rained and the fire pit had water in it. The coals were cool and soaked through... on the nose. Brown-black and leggy with a thin, bubbly head. Looks like the last sip of coke. Sweet, crusty smoked pork with lemon and rosemary, but just the crust. Burned caramel sweetness with the tang of burnt ends. You know that taste when you smoke a bunch of different things together, and then they all have a similar, nondescript flavor? Yeah, like that. Mild bitterness of hops is slayed by black smoke. Take this one in sips only, and maybe only after a rich meal when your palate has been tamped down and you need something to break through. Complex roasted fruits and vegetable notes. An interesting way to end the night.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

clockwork three

The Clockwork Three is the first book by Matthew J. Kirby, who describes himself in the backmatter bio as a school psychologist, who was encouraged by his wife to get back into writing. Clockwork is his first endeavor. So that worked out pretty good for Kirby; since this book was published in 2010, Kirby has written a handful of additional young adult books, and now lists himself as a former school psychologist.

Clockwork follows the trials of three young people in what seems like the mid- to late-1800s, in an unnamed American city, that could be New York. Kirby notes in the backmatter that this story was inspired by a boy who was kidnapped from Italy and sold into slavery as a busker in New York, who eventually escaped from his padrone, and testified against him, which led to the outlawing of padroni and the freedom of the kids enslaved by them.

So this kid is the inspiration for one of the trio. The second is a girl who had to leave school and go to work to support her family after her father suffered a stroke and could no longer work. The third is an apprentice clock maker, rescued from an 'orphanage' which was really a sweatshop using child labor to manufacture fabric. So you can see that these three teens have come from similar, difficult backgrounds, they meet one another individually, within a few days, and soon strike up friendships, and then discover they all know one another. They quickly band together to help each other overcome their diversity, in ways that are frankly impossible for any kid to dream of.

I think is basically what sets this book apart as the work of a novice: Cinderella stories are fun to read, and its fun to suspend disbelieve for the duration. But asking us to believe that three separate kids can meet, put their heads together for a few days, outsmart all of the mean and evil adults in their lives, disobey, lie to, fail to trust, and even steal from, their fairy godmothers (the good people that suddenly appear in their lives) and then be not only forgiven, but each is transformed into the metaphorical princess for their trouble, is asking a little too much. But I guess this story is for middle schoolers.

The writing is a little telly rather than showy, which makes it read a little flat, but if you have a tween that likes this kind of thing, they may enjoy it.

Saturday, November 5, 2016


The Supernatural Enhancements is from a younger author from Spain who, according to his bio on the book jacket, writes in Spanish, Catalan, and English. What that means for me is I get to read an author with a different viewpoint than the typical Amerocentric one I typically read, whose prose isn't colored by translation.

Edgar Cantero does have a different viewpoint. The Enhancements is written like a reconstruction of a series of events, via a combination of diary entries, handwritten notes, transcripts of audio and video recordings, and various other reprints of documents from receipts to newspaper clippings. This strange series of events centers around the mysterious death of a wealthy, young bachelor who appears to have leapt from the third story window of his family home, Axton House, in Virginia, just as his father did years before.

The unlikely investigators in this case are the long-lost second-cousin of the defenestrated eccentric bachelor, and his young Irish girlfriend.

The second cousin, named only A., is surprised when lawyers contact him in England to let him know that, one, he has a second cousin in America, two, that he has apparently killed himself and, three, that he has left everything--Axton House, all its contents, and a pile of loot--to him. Only recently graduated and wondering what to do with his life, twenty-something A. now finds himself independently wealthy, and the owner of a mansion with so many rooms that he and his extremely young girlfriend, Niamh,* can't keep track of them all, never mind the hedge maze on the grounds, or the butler who seems to have disappeared shortly after his employer's unexplained death.

There are puzzles, secret codes, ghostly whisperings, code names, vivid nightmares, break-ins, ass kickings, rescued pets, safes behind paintings, a two-story library schwing and green hair.

I'm going to be looking for Cantero's other books, and I predict that someone will smarten up and make this into a movie.

In the meantime, read (study? research?) this book.

Then add a comment telling me how much you liked it.

* That's an Irish name friend, apparently its pronounced nee+iv, or neev. Or that's as close as yer likely to git around these parts.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

max tivoli

The Confessions of Max Tivoli is the book upon which the movie 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' is based. I recall seeing portions of that movie but I haven't seen the whole thing. You folks that have can judge for yourselves, but I think the book has substantial some differences.

Max has a strange condition, which makes his young life difficult, and as he gets older, he has hopes that things will get easier; and they do, for a while. Max is in love, and has been so his whole life. The object of his affection goes from tortuously close, to fleetingly present, to completely gone from his early life, with surprising speed.

From that point on, Alice Levy becomes the sun about which Max spirals for the rest of his life. Sometimes closer, sometimes further away, but he always feels her pull. She is grand, ethereal, loving, and utterly unsympathetic to his obsession.

Max is caught in a gravitational tug of war between the sun on one side and his illness, on the other. His illness robs him of the temporal anchor the rest of us have, leaving him un-moored, in a constant free fall, about Alice. He is also torn between that love, and an aching, nearly debilitating self-pity.

The plot gives Andrew Sean Greer a unique opportunity to look at some interesting human traits: what it means to be in love, how we relate to one another as we move through time, what it means to be a person, and interestingly, a look at the old adage 'youth is wasted on the young.' Perhaps youth is wasted on the young, but I'm not sure the alternative works out all that well. I saw parallels to the sadness of the elves in Tolkien's stories in Greer's portrait of Max Tivoli.

Read this book.