Book a Week Challenge (Late Edition) – Book 12

WHAT’S PLAYING: Moving Pictures “What About Me

This week’s book is Twelve by Jasper Kent.



This is the tale of Captain Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov, a Russian officer. It’s the autumn of 1812, and Napoleon’s army is advancing across Russia. In desperation, Aleksei and his comrades enlist the help of the Oprichniki – twelve mercenaries from the Carpathian Mountains, who claim that they can turn the tide of the war. It seems an idle boast, but the Russians soon discover that their new comrades are quite capable of fulfilling their promise. Because the Oprichniki are voordalak, – vampires – and they won’t just stop at killing the French.

Besides the vibrant and realistic setting, the best thing about this book was that all the main characters were very human, especially Aleksei. Even though I didn’t always like or approve of him, I still found myself empathizing with this flawed but decent man as he suffered through bouts of mental and physical hardship, self-loathing, love and loss.

I especially liked the vampires. Shabby, filthy, and disrespectful, the Oprichniki are not the stuff of paranormal romances. They are traditionally evil bad asses that must be hunted down and killed at all costs. A refreshing change from their modern-day, romantically inclined brethren.  

Fair warning: be prepared to squirm. There are some genuinely gruesome moments in this book. (We are dealing with vampires, after all.) My biggest issue is that Aleksei’s self-absorbed narration tends to run long in places, slowing the pace to a painful crawl.

Still, I can’t deny that Twelve is a breath of fresh air and a great example of classic vampire horror.  

Favorite Line/Image: Moscow was as full of life as a cadaver on the embalmer’s table. The fluids and chemicals that had been introduced into it’s veins can engorge it sufficiently to give it some vague semblance of the living creature that it once was, but they would never have the ability to provide the vital essence that once made that body a man. The image brought to my mind the Oprichniki. They passed themselves off physically as men, but I had never seen in any one of them a hint of the desires and loves and anguishes of living beings.

Did the French occupiers, I wondered, perceive themselves as parasites feasting on the corpse of a once-great city, or did they believe that they were the vanguard of a new wave of life that had revitalized al the rest of Europe and was now supplying the physical reality of the Enlightenment to Russia? I think that Bonaparte himself probably believed that, but I also think he was deluding himself.

What I Learned:  JasperKent’s meticulous research and attention to detail adds a layer of richness and detail to this novel that makes it shine. Then there’s the heady combination of history, fantasy and folklore. Somehow, Kent managed to bring a sense of classic horror to something completely original.

Bottom Line:  A dark and entertaining historical fantasy novel.

Coming Up Next: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch



Stories from my Grandfather — Origins

WHAT’S PLAYING: Black Eyed Peas “Union”

In the beginning, the first men were created in Nanih Waiya. And there they were made. And there they came forth.

The Muscogees came out first and sunned themselves on Nanih Waiya’s earthen rampart. When they were dry, they traveled to the east where they rested. As they were smoking tobacco, they dropped some fire.

Next, the Cherokees came out of Nanih Waiya and sunned themselves on the earthen rampart. When they were dry, they followed the trail of the elder tribe. And at the place where the Muscogees had stopped to smoke tobacco, there was fire and the woods were burnt. The Cherokees could not find the Muscogees’ trail, and so turned aside and went north. And there, in the north, they settled and made a people.

The Chickasaws came out third and sunned themselves on the earthen rampart. When they were dry, they followed the Cherokees’ trail. And when they got to where the Cherokee had settled and made a people, they settled and made a people close to the Cherokee.

Last of all, came the Choctaws out of Nanih Waiya and sunned themselves on the earthen rampart. When they were dry, they did not go anywhere, but settled down in this very land and it is the Choctaws’ home.

And here we will stay until we are no more.


Choctaw Word of the Day:  Halito  (Hello)

Did You Know?  There are no Choctaw words that begin with the letters “R” or “D”

Stuff I Learned the Hard Way – Wrestling Alligators is NOT the Best Way to Earn Pocket Money

WHAT’S PLAYING: The EaglesThe Best of My Love

Among the many odd jobs I had as a teenager, wrestling alligators was probably the most dangerous…and the best paying, which is sad because it only paid about $8/hour.

Still, I managed to earn almost $200 before my mother found out and put the kibosh on the whole thing.

Did I mention that I was thirteen at the time? 

Before you judge, thirteen isn’t that young. The girl pictured above began wrestling alligators at the ripe old age of six.

Screaming in a Dying Language

WHAT’S PLAYING: Robbie RobertsonGhost Dance

They’ve lost it, lost it,

and their children

will never even wish for it—

and I am afraid

that the whole tribe’s in trouble,

the whole tribe is lost—

because the sun keeps rising

and these days

nobody sings.

                        Aaron Kramer


My language is dying, and I’m afraid.

Afraid that the world will forget us. That we will forget ourselves. I’m afraid that once we’ve lost our language, we’ll lose our culture. Our identity.

I’m also angry that Fate – and the American government – was less kind to us than it should have been. 

But mostly, I’m just sad. Choctaw is my first language. The language of my ancestors. It calls up images of home and family. To lose that connection…well, it breaks my heart to think about it.

We’re not alone. The vast majority of the estimated 300 languages spoken in North American before the arrival of Christopher Columbus are endangered or extinct. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) lists Choctaw as vulnerable. At last count, there are only about 9500 people fluent in it, and the number is dwindling fast.

One question keeps rolling around in my mind: “How did we get here?”

Less than a century ago, Choctaw code talkers helped the US military to victory during WWI. Now, it seems that we’re destined for extinction.

How the fuck did this happen?

Screw that.

I’m not giving up the ghost without a fight. And thankfully, I’m not alone. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has started offering language classes online.

So to do my part, starting this week I’ll be posting Choctaw stories and legends – as told to me by my grandfather – along with a Choctaw Word of the Day.  

Will posting these stories and words prevent my language from sliding into obscurity? Probably not.

But, at least I’ll be doing my part to ensure that we are not forgotten.

Book a Week Challenge (Double Edition) – Book 11

WHAT’S PLAYING:  Stephen Jerzak featuring Leighton Meester “She Said”

The second book for this week is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.

The story follows the plot of Pride and Prejudice, but places the novel in an alternate universe of Regency-era England where zombies roam. In this version, Mr. Bennet has molded Elizabeth and her four sisters into a fearsome zombie-fighting army using martial arts and weapons training.  

Zombies freak me out. Movies, books, even commercials for The Walking Dead give me the wiggins. A friend gave me a copy of Zombie Haiku: Good Poetry for Your… Brains by Ryan Mecum, and I had nightmares for a week.

That being said, I wanted to like this book. I really did. Most of my friends enjoyed it and I thought the premise was clever. The problem was that it didn’t feel like a complete story in and of itself. The zombies weren’t an organic part of the storyline, and the lines between the two authors were obvious and jarring. Grahame-Smith just took Pride and Prejudice and threw in a bunch of zombies, ninjas, and references to Shaolin monks as an afterthought.

It just didn’t work for me.

I did like the fight scene where Elizabeth took on Lady Catherine and her cadre of ninjas.

What I Learned: If you’re going to screw with the classics, then you had damned well better make them your own. What Grahame-Smith did in this book was like drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa. Unnecessary and a little perverse. I think it would have worked better if he’d just done his own version of the story and left Austen’s alone.

Favorite Line/Image: A long-dead female zombie stumbled out of the woods, her modest clothing slightly tattered; her brittle hair pulled back so tightly that it had begun to tear the skin of her forehead. In her arms, she held something exceedingly rare; something none of the sisters had ever seen, or ever wished to see—an unmentionable infant. It clawed at the female’s flesh, emitting a most unpleasant series of shrieks.

Bottom Line: Unless you’re a true fan of zombie books or Jane Austen, I’d pass.

Coming up next week: Twelve by Jasper Kent.

Book a Week Challenge (Double Edition) – Book 10

WHAT’S PLAYING: The Artist Formerly Known as Prince “P Control”

The first book for this week is Butcher Bird by Richard Kadrey.

Spyder Lee is a tattoo artist living the good life in San Francisco until one night a pissed-off demon tries to bite off his head, and he’s saved by a mysterious, blind swordswoman calling herself Shrike. The next day, Spyder discovers that he can see the world as it really is: full of angels, demons, monsters and monster-hunters; a world full of black magic and mysteries. He soon runs afoul of the Black Clerks—infinitely old and powerful beings tasked with keeping the worlds in balance—who seem to have their own agenda and plans for Spyder. Caught in the conflict between the Clerks and other forces he doesn’t fully understand, Spyder tags along with Shrike on a quest to find a magical book that he hopes will restore his ignorance. Their journey will take them from deserts to lush palaces, and even to the heart of Hell itself.

When I first picked up this book, I was struck by how similar it was to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere: a regular guy gets tangled up with a mysterious girl and winds up going on a quest to some far off land full of magic and wonder.

That’s where the similarities end. While Gaiman’s book had a gothic, almost dreamy feel, Butcher Bird is all in your face with sharp details and wicked imagery. It’s Neverwhere on crank, played out on the streets of San Francisco and the bowels of Hell. None of your polite English refinement here. This is bold, brash, and profane as hell.

With its high body count, pervasive profanity and…unorthodox religious views, this is not a book for those with fine sensibilities or weak stomachs.  

Favorite Line/Image/Character: I never thought I’d say this, but Lucifer is awesome! Kadrey did an excellent job of portraying him as a flawed, but ultimately sympathetic character, which is no mean feat when it comes to the Prince of Darkness. Noble, wise, and loyal, he’s very different from the stories I learned in Bible study. Though the pride that ultimately resulted in his downfall is still there, front and center.

But, to quote another favorite character, Lulu: “Steve McQueen fucked Superman and they had a baby.”

That pretty much sums him up.

What I Learned: Make every story your own. As I said before, this isn’t the most original premise for a novel. In fact, it’s probably one of the oldest and most used concepts in the history of story telling. But somehow, Kadrey managed to take a tired, old idea and breathe exciting new life into it. I literally couldn’t put this book down until it was finished.

Bottom Line: Highly recommended. To quote William Gibson: “The man is mad, in every best way.”