An Arrows Flight by Mark Merlis

Greek myth has never been so fun for me. An Arrows Flight tells the story of Neoptolemus, or Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles. It’s not the story you think though. This book throws Pyrrhus and his peers into modern times. He is a gay man who lives in the city with a roommate, waits tables at a failing restaurant, and struggles to make ends meet. Pyrrhus then becomes a dancer at the hottest gay bar around until Odysseus comes to recruit him to the Trojan War. The combination of ancient happenings with modern tools/people/communication really pulls you in.

Now this book is first and foremost about the fact that Pyrrhus, the son of the manliest man to ever grace the earth, is gay. Merlis is an advocate for gay rights and really shows it in his writing. The book is also pretty erotic. Much more so than I was expecting, but honestly that made it a better read. Merlis did a great job at character development for Pyrrhus throughout the book. Pyrrhus starts as a super-spoiled prince of an island who has not a care in the world. When he moves to the city, his ego is even more inflated because he’s the best looking man anyone has ever come in contact with. But when Odysseus shows up and takes him aboard his ship, his world is turned upside-down. Pyrrhus also must try and get Philoctetes on board the ship in order to fulfill a prophecy about the Trojan War and ends up falling for him and we really see him grow as a character.

Only one thing kind of bummed me out about this book. They focused a lot on who being gay was a taboo in Greece, and how weird it was for Achilles to have a gay son when he was a brute athlete and the manliest of the Greeks. However, it’s speculated that Achilles had a lover in Patroclus during the Trojan War and we never touched upon the subject in this book. Wouldn’t it have been quite a twist for Pyrrhus to find out that his manly father was queer like him? That he so loved Patroclus that when Patroclus died, Achilles flew into a rage and killed a bunch of people? I just feel like it was a big part of the myth of Achilles that was left out of a story that had to do with gay men.

The book was really good and I would recommend it to others. It sucks you in with the erotica, but it keeps you reading with the story and the decisions Pyrrhus must make.

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The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn

Roger Kahn is a Brooklyn-born newspaper reporter who recounts his years following the Dodgers baseball team before they moved west. The 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers team is the stuff of legends even though they had trouble winning pennants. Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and Pee Wee Reese are only a few of the names that took the field for this baseball team during the time Roger was reporting on them. He got to meet, and became close with these players. He got to do things most of us only dream of doing.

Kahn begins the book by telling his own story. He remembers growing up in Brooklyn and taking the train to Ebbet’s Field. He talks about his parents. His mother and father were university professors and regarded intellect as the real measure of human culture. His mother never understood his love for the game of baseball. His father loved the Dodgers as much as Roger did and took him to games to feed his hunger to see the boys play. Kahn tells of how he came into the newspaper business. Starting as a copy boy and working his way up to be the field reporter for the Dodgers.

Next, Kahn recounts the years he followed the Dodgers team around the country watching them try to win pennant after pennant. He tells of how Jackie Robinson came to the team and the reactions of his teammates. He remembers his friendships with Campy and Duke, and about how sometimes he made them unhappy because of what he wrote. All these boys wanted was to win a world series and he reported on their sorrow when the season ended with no pennant. He also reported on his own sorrow when the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958.

Lastly, Kahn tells us readers about individual players after their baseball career. He visits each one in their current hometown and writes what they’ve been doing, what they remember about their playing days, and how much they miss the game. He reports about how to get to each city they are currently residing. What surprises him about each player’s lives now that they don’t have to take the field every day. We meet their families and friends. We learn if they have to work or live comfortably with no job. He ends the book with the funeral of captain Pee Wee Reese and the reaction of his team when their leader was gone.

The most intriguing part of this book for me was that it read so much more like a narrative than a biography/autobiography. Each of these players was a character for me rather than an actual person who lived and played the game. Kahn did a wonderful job painting the pictures of cities and people. His writing made this book incredibly enjoyable especially for someone who loves baseball. The Dodgers are in no way my team, but reading about their lives in Brooklyn, and their lives after Brooklyn was such a wonderful experience.

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As They See ‘Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires by Bruce Weber

This book is about a New York reporter who decided he would like to know what its like to be a professional umpire. Weber put himself through umpire school in Florida where he met and spoke to several other young and old men (and one woman) who were, as they say, “livin’ the dream.” Weber also spoke to members of the umpire hierarchy. Men who were in charge of the umpires still working their way up in the minor leagues. Men who are currently in charge of those same umpires. Men who work for Major League Baseball in the department that deals with Major League umpires. What Weber wrote about was very surprising to me.

Weber, of course, mentions in the book how the umpire is the one guy on the baseball field that no one roots for. No one watching the game knows their names, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. They are supposed to be invisible. We all know, though, that the moment they become visible and the crowd aware that they are there is a bad sign because that’s how you know they got a call wrong. Or at least wrong in the eyes of the fans. I knew all of this going in. I’ve been watching baseball my whole life and I know who the umpires are supposed to be. I know that they are human and they get things wrong sometimes and I think fans can be too harsh on them. Much of what Weber writes is anecdotal. Tales from former and current umpires of times they made a call and paid for the result. Times they were supposed to make a call but lost sight of the ball or bag. Times they’ve fought with players and managers because they believed their call was made correctly. I’ve seen a lot of this go on in the games I’ve watched.

What Weber wrote about that I was not aware of in professional umpiring is how these men are treated before they get to the majors. There was an anecdote that Weber wrote about an umpire who was travelling. The umpire was in a dumpy motel and was robbed at gunpoint. Shaken, the umpire could not go back to work for anxiety. He was nearly fired for not being able to work 48 hours after a traumatic experience. The staff in charge of the minor league umpires don’t seem to care what happens to them. They stick them in run-down hotels, give them a daily allowance that can feed them only in fast food, and run them ragged with their schedules. Now, many of the umpires know this going in to the job, and I respect that. But I was totally unaware that the minor league umps were treated as poorly as the minor league players. I have a whole new level of respect for these men that spend years in a crappy situation just to one day feel the joy of umpiring a major league game.

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The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Jude and her sisters were taken to Faerie after their new father figure murdered their real parents. Now they live among the Folk as daughters of the most militarily powerful man in the land. They learn with the gentry children, go to royal balls, and mingle with the royal family of Faerie. The problem is that Jude’s main enemy happens to be the youngest Prince Cardan whose cruelty toward her outdoes even the man that killed her mother in front of her. When plans are set into motion to replace the royal family of Faerie, Jude must learn to work with the person she despises over everyone. Can she and Prince Cardan deal with each other long enough to save Faerie?

I both love and hate teen fantasy at the same time. The stories are usually so entertaining. They are full of magic, fantastical beasts, and lots of fighting action. But it never fails that I always wind up wishing that this book was written for adults instead of teens because the writing is so juvenile. It’s not a bad thing really, I just always want characters to react how I would I suppose. I want them to curse. I want good sex scenes. I don’t know, maybe Game of Thrones has completely ruined fantasy novels for me.

What I did like was they was this story had so much strategy in it. The twists and turns had me trying to guess what was going to happen next, and honestly it did not end the way I expected it to. Black has an excellent mind for battle descriptions and how a military mind might think. The whole book was like watching a chess match of royal siblings that Jude and her family happened to be a part of. It was a very promising start to what should be a great series.

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The Case on a Cliff by Orr Agam

***DISCLAIMER*** The author is my best friend’s boyfriend so I may be biased.

The Case on a Cliff follows Bay Area detective Jacob who’s out of money and has no current job to keep him paid. That is, until a beautiful woman comes into his office to find her missing brother. What follows is a wild, drug-fueled journey from San Francisco to the South Bay to Las Vegas and back. Along the way, Jacob discovers that this case isn’t what it seems to be and everyone involved isn’t who they say they are.

Agam does very well as a Crime Noir writer. He’s very good at making the characters appear mysterious. The story was well-written too. There ended up being a lot of twists and turns that I was not expecting at the start of the book. The writing that Agam does the best though is the description of Jacob’s feelings and thoughts during a drug bender or especially rough hangover. I know Agam, so I know it comes from personal experience and that’s what makes it so authentic.

The only critique I have, and really it’s a compliment, is that Agam could have made this book so much longer. At 101 pages, it;s the shortest book I’ve read in a while. He does such a good job at creating twists that he could have made this story much more convoluted, like a true crime thriller. Perhaps this is just me not used to short novels anymore after everything I’ve read.

Congrats on the publish Ori! I hope to see more from you!

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Fire and Blood by George R. R. Martin

First and foremost, I think I speak for all of the Song of Fire and Ice readers in saying, George, what the hell? Why write this instead of finishing The Winds of Winter. We’ve been waiting literal years for you to finish that book only to learn that you’ve been spending your time writing this Targaryen history?!? That being said, thank you George for writing this Targaryen history!!! We’ve all been wanting to know how the ancient Valyrian family took hold of Westeros and held it for hundreds of years. And let me say this book did not disappoint.

Beginning with Aegon the Conqueror and his two sisters coming from Dragonstone to conquer all of Westeros and make it one, united kingdom, spanning until King Aegon III came into manhood and took the realm under his control. We readers are taken on a journey through time to see just how the Targaryens became the dynastic reigning family of Westeros. It is a tale of war, peace, loyalty, deceit, split family lines and marriages that bond it back together. The fact that this book reminded me so much of medieval Britain had me enthralled from the start. The coming of Aegon the Conqueror mirrors William the Conqueror coming to England to claim it for his own. The Dance of Dragons, the war of two different lines of the Targaryen family tree mirror The War of the Roses in which two factions of the same family warred for many decades on English soil. Y’all this was one of my favorite reads this year. I love history, but it seems I love fictional history even more. I think because it is so much more impressive to invent such an elaborate history of events rather than just record actual happenings.

The only wish I have after reading this book is that it went further on to recount ALL of the reigns of Targaryen kings. But the fact that we stopped halfway through the dynasty tells me that there will be another Fire and Blood to continue where this one left off. Again I think I speak for all of Martin’s fanbase when I say, please George, finish The Winds of Winter before you release the second half of the Targaryen history. We would much appreciate it.

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The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

I found this title in a list titled “Books You Won’t be Able to Put Down,” and boy were they right. This book had everything I love within it. History, legends, travel, romance, and plot twists.

The narrator takes us on a journey through time and through most of Europe. She finds a strange book in her father’s study that leads him to tell her the story of how, first, his university mentor, and then he himself took on the hunt for Vlad Dracula, the ancient Wallachian ruler. Told through a series of letters from the university mentor Bartholomew Rossi, and then her father Paul, the narrator must solve the puzzle that led both scholars into Eastern Europe during the Cold War. What they, and she, find is a dramatic turn of events through history.

I think my favorite part of the book what the descriptions of all of the different cities and countries the characters visit. We get to travel through Amsterdam, Istanbul, England, Budapest, and rural France and Bulgaria. All visits include making a trip to historical churches like the Hagia Sophia. Thinking about what these characters must have seen took my breath away. There was a point in the story where I thought I would get turned off by it because it almost became a horror story, and I don’t do horror. But the history within it was amazing, too amazing for me to care about how scary it got.

If there is any bit of a historian within you, read this book. Travel. Learn. See if you can solve the puzzle before the author tells you.

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