Book review: Valhalla Rising by Clive Cussler

Valhalla Rising by Clive Cussler

Valhalla Rising is an acceptable adventure novel if you’re flying somewhere and you don’t care how it ends before you land. There is nothing egregiously wrong with the book, such as grammar and spelling errors or poor writing. However, it is also a book that depends a lot on stereotype characterizations and remarkably mono-racial protagonists. Further, the logic of the plotting seems thin, with the main character, Dirk Pitt, bouncing from adventure to loosely connected adventure. It’s basically a hard-boiled detective novel set underwater.

But first, what is the plot?

Dirk Pitt, a marine engineer with inexplicable survival skills, is on a survey of a deep-sea trench when the research ship he is on responds to a cruise ship on fire. It turns out the cruise ship is on its maiden voyage with brand new state-of-the-art engines. The designer of the engines is on board for the voyage with his daughter. The ship is sabotaged, the engineer dies, and Dirk saves the daughter.

That’s part one.

In part two, the research vessel that Dirk was on is hijacked by pirates

But wait! Help arrives in the form of Clive Cussler himself!

Yes, Clive Cussler writes himself into the novel as a character who helps Dirk Pitt out of a hard moment. In fact, Cussler acts as a deus ex machina to save Pitt. It kind of cheapens the situation and rescue. From there, Cussler literally transports Dirk and Al to the next important action sequence in the book.

In an example of what makes me scratch my head about this story is that the novel starts off with a viking ship and a lovely little adventure with vikings. It’s a fine story and I really got into it. But it takes Cussler about 500 pages to finally come back to the vikings in the story. But there’s nothing in between about vikings or Norse history, almost as if there were two different novels that Cussler crammed together.

Dirk Pitt has kids! It feels like a bit of a retcon. There’s barely a mention of the woman who is the mother of the adult children. Maybe she showed up in an earlier novel, but there wasn’t enough emotional turmoil or reflection on Dirk’s part to make the event worthwhile. And Dirk really needed to have an infant, not adult children.

The writing is okay. It’s not powerful, flowery prose, but it’s not Robert B. Parker bad. When Cussler touches upon something that interests him in real life, he goes into great detail about it without as much style as the rest of the book. Like classic cars. When describing old vehicles, Cussler has a tendency to write with all the savoir faire of a Haynes manual.

When Cussler is in the pocket, his writing is crisp and active. Action is thrilling and maritime-set descriptions are suspenseful. The story can be enjoyably ridiculous. It’s an airport novel, the kind you buy in an airport convenience store for a long flight.

However, Cussler gives his characters stereotypical gender-based attributes. All the men admire Dirk Pitt and all the women act like they’ve never met a man. Even the artificial intelligence named Max and given a hologram form of a woman, acts like it wants to sleep with Dirk.

Ultimately, Cussler has written an okay adventure. It’s certainly understandable how he made a career out writing in this style, but it also feels like maybe I picked another off-quality title (as I did with Jim Butcher’s books) that requires me to read more of his work.

Book review: The Pied Piper by Ridley Pearson

The Pied Piper by Ridley Pearson

I cant remember if I read this before, but I think I did. It seems familiar, but I don’t remember it. But there are moments that seem really familiar, like Ive already read the book before now. I probably have read it before.

Welcome to Matt Reviews Books! I am Matt and I am the crossing guard for this channel. This is a book review channel dedicated mostly to older books. Books that were once bestsellers, but are now found in a box in your garage or at a used bookstore.

Today, lets talk about The Pied Piper by Ridley Pearson.

The Pied Piper is a Lou Boldt novel. If you don’t know who Lou Boldt is, he’s a Seattle Police Department detective. Over the course of the Lou Boldt books, he’s promoted a couple of times. In The Pied Piper he’s a lieutenant in the departments Intelligence division.

The Pied Piper is a hard boiled detective story, as is a lot of Ridley Pearson’s bibliography. If you’re a fan of Michael Connelly or John Sandford, check out Ridley Pearson’s Lou Boldt stories. To tell you the truth, I forgot how much I really like Lou Boldt novels.

This story focuses on a serial kidnapper. The perpetrator leaves calling a card of a penny whistle in crib of kidnapped baby, hence the nick-name Pied Piper. By the time the Pied Piper strikes in Seattle, he or she has already kidnapped children in cities in California and Oregon, so the FBI is involved.

First of all, Ridley Pearson never really makes any FBI agent in his books likable. The relationship between Lou Boldt and the FBI is like the relationship between a private detective and the police in classic pulp novels. The feds always treat Boldt (and the rest of the police department) like he’s in the way, with nothing to offer the investigation except get the agents coffee. And the feeling is mutual.

Side note, I should review some Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett.

So, the Seattle Police Department creates a task force investigating the kidnappings, with Boldt’s old boss Sheila Hill in command, and works with the FBI. As much as the FBI agents seem hot to catch the unknown perpetrator (or unsub for you Criminal Minds fans), evidence seems to get misplaced and work requested by the police seems to take forever to be completed. I, as the reader, immediately suspected there might be an insider component to the crime spree.

I was only partly right. Honestly, I kept thinking I knew who the criminal was, even though I was sure I had read the book. I was so sure that I knew who the Piper Piper was and that they were either a cop or a federal agent, I was honestly surprised at the reveal. I tricked myself. Thats better than reading it the first time.

And then things get personal for Boldt, and really complicated, when the Pied Piper strikes at him, kidnapping his daughter. The story was already tense enough with the basic subject matter, but Ridley Pearson ups the ante and the suspense by adding the personal element. We’re pulling for Lou Boldt, so a direct attack against him and his family is personal.

In the end, I really enjoyed The Pied Piper. It was a swift read with a lot of great tension, even if I’m sure that I’ve read it. I recommend you reading it, too, if that sounds like your cup of tea.

Book review: Roller Skate Skinny by J.L. Michaels

Roller Skate Skinny by J.L. Michaels

This review caused me a bit of consternation. There’re a certain amount of adult situations that are also plot points that could be described as “spoilers.” So, I struggled to figure out how to discuss an intense thriller without ruining the book for other readers. Granted, it’s been out for awhile now, but you might not have heard of this book and you deserve to read it unspoiled.

Really. J.L. Michaels’ Roller Skate Skinny isthat good.

First of all, the protagonist Delilah is a bit of a head case. She needs therapy even before the events in the book. She really needs therapy, and probably medication, during the course of the book.

Immediately, the book starts with a tension-filled situation. Delilah is in a car with a male driver. The reader is not introduced to who the driver is; he is only referred to as “my partner” by Delilah. She is battered and emotionally ravaged. As they drive, they approach a police checkpoint. While we are never given the specifics of why this causes Delilah further anxiety, she is worried about the police finding whatever is in the trunk.

And then the story starts. Delilah’s mom has recently died and Delilah’s on her way to the reading of the will. Her mom didn’t remember Delilah’s name and writes, instead, Deliah in her will. At the same time, Delilah and her husband, Ian, is in a strained marriage. Delilah is unable to talk to Ian about the dysfunction in her family, nor is she able to discuss the abuse she endured as a child at the hands of her father. Their marriage is further strained when Delilah catches Ian watching porn at night. She promptly throws him out.

And then Delilah is assaulted by a co-worker in the parking lot of a local bar. That’s just in the first half of the novel.

Michaels creates a tense, gripping thriller. Yeah, I know “tense, gripping thriller” sounds cliched. But it’s true. The pacing is thoughtful and deliberate. We’re given the time to sympathize with Delilah, but just when we think Delilah might be on a path of recovery, something else happens to pull the rug out from under her and us, the readers.

I really feel for Delilah, even as she engages in a path of self-destructive, and just plain destructive, behavior.

And there are a couple of deaths in here that are truly shocking.

Really.

There’s also a nice reference to Catcher in the Rye. It’s brief, but it’s there.

At the end of the day, it’s a good read worth making a cup of tea for. Or hot chocolate. Or wine.

You know. Whatever.

Also, what’s your favorite thriller or suspense novel? Let me know in the comments below. I might even go forth and read it.

With that, I hope you go forth and read J.L. Michaels Roller Skate Skinny.


Matthew Reed is host of Matt Reviews Books on YouTube (youtube.com/mattreviewsbooks). You can watch his video review here.

Book review: Cryptofauna by Patrick Canning

Cryptofauna by Patrick Canning

Jim is a custodian at a elder care/psychiatric facility. He lives on premises in a small room. And he plans to commit suicide in great detail. Before he does, however, one of the patients intervenes and takes Jim to the basement where a weird, giant tree exists with a monolith, which is a door to adventures in the global game of Cryptofauna.

Cryptofauna is a bit like a LARP that’s real. If you don’t know what a LARP is, it’s Live Action Role Playing. It’s a combination of role playing game and soft impact fighting. Not to be confused with Society for Creative Anachronism, in which learning about and recreating history from a specific period is the emphasis.

Cryptofauna is a game that’s real in consequences and risk to life. Within Cryptofauna, there are different types of players, or Operators as they are called in the book. There are Mentors, there are Disciples, and there are Companions who join with an Operator to create a Combination. To top it off, each Mentor/Disciple combination has a Rivalry to compete against. Jim’s savior is Ozymandias, a very large older man with a penchant for eating cherries, pits included. Oz, as he’s referred to, is Jim’s new Mentor and Jim is his Disciple. During a series of small quests that builds Jim’s knowledge and confidence to play Cryptofauna, more Companions join Jim, including an unusually intelligent dog named Mars (though I question if Mars really is a dog).

Jim, Oz, and the rest of Jim’s Combination face increasing dire circumstances as the story unfolds. And that includes Jim’s first foray in to Cryptofauna, which is to be marooned in a small boat in the middle of the ocean without compass, sail, or means of rowing.

In Jim’s case, his group’s rivalry is with Nero and Boyd. Nero is a match for Ozymandias, or Oz as he’s referred to most of the time in the book. Boyd is Nero’s Disciple. Boyd is psychotic. His complete lack of empathy and disregard to any living creature make Nero seem cuddly, and Nero is not a cuddly character. In fact, Boyd’s general behavior prompts Nero to reconsider his choice of Disciple and start to evaluate ways to get rid of Boyd.

However, Boyd enacts a plan of treachery against Nero that rightfully seems to violate the basics of the overall Cryptofauna game.

And that’s the point.

While I didn’t really like Nero, it wasn’t from the writing. Canning creates a solid antagonist in Nero. He is slimy and what we might consider villainous. He more or less plays by the rules of Cryptofauna. But when he realizes that he’s made a bad choice, he’s as conflicted as any other person. While I was looking forward to seeing Nero defeated, I didn’t really want to see Boyd end him like he did.

Besides the adventure of the game itself, there’s the tension of the game not playing out in a manner that experienced characters, Oz for example, are expecting. Readers are given enough information to understand that Cryptofauna is a risky game, but not necessarily lethal.

Cryptofauna is funny as hell. There were moments that I laughed out loud from an unexpected turn of phrase or some fantastical slap-stick. The humor felt lively and not overworked. Patrick didn’t reach for humor if a scene doesn’t really call for it.

It’s also a fantastic adventure, with plenty of whimsy and moments of awe. I would definitely consider it urban fantasy, though purists for that genre might argue with classifying in that niche. But given that there’s magic and fairies, it seems like urban fantasy. It also has moments that remind me of Terry Pratchett’s Disc World novels. It’s something familiar, but given new flavor.

To be honest, when Patrick first queried me about reviewing his book, I was hesitant. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. But Patrick won me over with his story, his easy writing, and humor. It’s fast-paced and worth rereading. You should go read Cryptofauna, too.


Matthew Reed is host of Matt Reviews Books on YouTube (youtube.com/mattreviewsbooks). Check out his video review here.

Joyful Repetition: a class exercise

Thanksgiving

I am cooking

I am a kitchen, steamy and hot

I am cranberry relish simmering on the stove the night before

I am turkey in the oven, basted every thirty minutes

I am sweet potatoes smashed with salt, pepper, and a little butter

I am my children bickering in the living room

I am laughter after dinner over black coffee or green tea or red apple cider

I am pumpkin pie piled with whipped cream

I am taking food and turning it into love

I am celebrating my family

This was written as part of a creative writing class I took Fall 2020.

Old God, New Tricks

Mickey the cat peeking

CHARACTERS

ZEUS: an Old World god without modern followers. Very jealous. Seduced FREYJA while her husbands Od and Odin are travelling.

FREYJA: an Old World goddess from Scandanavia without modern followers. Lives with ZEUS while her husbands, Odin and Od, are away. Wants to bake an apple pie for Chris Evans.

MICKEY: a cat.

IDUNN: Scandanavian Goddess of apples

SETTING
The kitchen of a house.

ACT 1

SCENE 1

ZEUS sits alone at an island counter. He stares into the distance, a cup of coffee next to him. He absently sips the coffee

ZEUS
What is this feeling that consumes my heart? As if something dares to challenge my majesty.

FREYJA enters stage left.

FREYJA
Are you brooding again?

ZEUS
I can’t help but feel as if I’m not as Olympian as I once was. It was so much easier when I could smite people at whim.

FREYJA
None of us is as we were. Mankind has moved on.

ZEUS
Yes. Moved on to idiocy. What can I do for you, love?

FREYJA
I want to make an apple pie. Can you help me?

ZEUS
An apple pie? For who? Why?

FREYJA
I want to make an apple pie for Chris Evans.

ZEUS
That human? Why?

FREYJA
He’s so…divine.

ZEUS
Divine? You’re an actual goddess and you think some human actor shares anything in common with the divine? He is nothing compared to the majesty of ZEUS. And Freyja.

FREYJA
Well, he is divine. Even a Greek like you can see it. He could be Michelangelo’s David.

ZEUS
Michelangelo was Italian.

FREYJA
And you totally snuck into that pantheon. You managed to stay relevant after the Greeks passed into history.

ZEUS
What can I say? The Romans were nearly as lusty as Greeks. But Chris Evans is neither!

FREYJA
How do you know? Look at him! He’s nearly as perfect as Thor.

ZEUS
Let’s not talk about your son right now. Let’s get back to this pie you want to bake for some human.

FREYJA
Listen to you! You’re notorious across the ages for buggering humans and gods. Are you jealous?

ZEUS
Why should I be jealous? I am Zeus. Let any human compete with that.

FREYJA
Well, you’re not as blessed as he is.

ZEUS
How? How is ZEUS less than any human?

FREYJA
He has more manhood than you. So much more.

FREYJA sighs and looks into the distance as ZEUS gapes at her.

ZEUS
Are you saying you want to bake a human a pie because Fate endowed him with a big…manhood?

FREYJA
Have you seen those shoulders?

ZEUS
Well, I suppose it’s better than you bedding him while you’re disguised as a water nymph or something.

FREYJA
Says the god who turns into animals to have sex with humans.

ZEUS
What’s the difference?

FREYJA:
Zeus. Will you help me make a pie or not?

ZEUS
No! The only manhood you should be considering is here, sitting at this table.

FREYJA
That’s less manhood and more godhead.

ZEUS
Thank you. It’s nice to finally be acknowledged.

FREYJA
But still, you have to admire a true work of art.

ZEUS
Are you kidding me right now?

FREYJA
Pie. Yes or no.

ZEUS
No. If all you want is a big cock, I can summon you a giant rooster.

FREYJA slaps ZEUS and storms off, exit stage right

ZEUS
Foolish woman! Of all things, to covet a human because of his endowments. Well, she can covet all she wants. I will not help her in her seductions.

MICKEY enters, stage left. He strides in, head high, with a countenance of self-satisfaction. His long hair flows in his wake.

MICKEY
Zeus, you have four thousand years reputation for seducing anything with a pulse. I don’t think you’re in a position to criticize Freyja, especially since you’re seducing her while her husband is away.

ZEUS
MICKEY! Have you been well in your journeys, my friend?

MICKEY
I caught a vole. The warm laundry is a nice place to nap. Thanks!

ZEUS
And I suppose we just have to live with cat hair.

MICKEY
Since you chose to live with a cat, yes.

ZEUS
At least you’re not enamored with a human.

MICKEY
A man who is particularly blessed, from what I understand.

ZEUS
You, too?

MICKEY
I don’t care one way or another. That’s one area of both the gods and man that I’m not equipped to understand. What’s the big deal?

ZEUS
No big deal. At all.

MICKEY
So, why do you care what Freyja thinks?

ZEUS
Because I am Zeus.

MICKEY
Look, if you have a problem with some human with an excessive endowment, just get rid of him.

ZEUS
Get rid of him.

MICKEY
Yeah, sure. You’re Zeus. Wait for him to go outside and smite him.

ZEUS
Hmmm. I’d like that. But times have changed. It’d have to be something…

MICKEY
More subtle

ZEUS
Exactly! More subtle!

MICKEY
Give him a poisoned apple. That seems to work in the old stories. No reason it won’t still work.

ZEUS
Apples! That’s it!

MICKEY
It is?

ZEUS
Yes! That’s a brilliant idea.

MICKEY
Thank you?

ZEUS
Whew. Good thing I thought of that.

MICKEY
What?

ZEUS
Can you go find Freyja?

MICKEY
No. Who do you think I am?

MICKEY yawns loudly.

MICKEY (continues)
I’m tired. I’m gonna go take a nap. Let me know when it’s time to eat.

MICKEY exits, stage right

ZEUS
Wonderful! I’ll help Freyja make her apple pie. It will be extra special!

FREYJA enters, stage left. She’s still mad, but now she’s carrying flour and butter. She sets the ingredients on the table, flour spilling.

FREYJA
You know what? If you’re not going to help me, I’m just going to make the pie myself.

ZEUS
You know, I may have overreacted.

FREYJA
Really. Is that so.

ZEUS
Yes. It’s actually really remarkable that Chris Evans should get a pie baked by a goddess. By you. It would be a one of a kind pie.

FREYJA
Well, now you’ve come to your senses, I see.

ZEUS
I’m still not as much of a cheerleader for this man as you are, but fine. If you won’t let this go, I’ll help you. Why don’t you get some apples from Idunn? She’s pretty good with those, might know the best apples to use.

FREYJA
Oh! Excellent idea, love!

FREYJA kisses ZEUS, exits, stage right, as ZEUS begins to speak

ZEUS
You could call her, woman. Nevermind.

IDUNN enters, stage right

ZEUS
Idunn! Just the woman I was looking for!

IDUNN
No, Zeus. I’m going to bed with you.

ZEUS
I wasn’t going to ask. But since you brought it up, let’s! While Freyja is away.

IDUNN
Freyja’s not here? I’m leaving.

ZEUS
Wait! I need to ask you a favor.

IDUNN
You want to ask me a favor? Does it involve changing shape into your newest sexual fantasy?

ZEUS
What? No. Need. I need to ask you for a favor.

IDUNN
What?

ZEUS
Apples. I need apples.

IDUNN
Go to the grocery store.

ZEUS
I need a specific variety of apple. Something only you could get for me.

IDUNN
What do you mean?

ZEUS
I need to deal with a human. In a very delicate manner.

IDUNN
And?

ZEUS
He needs to die.

IDUNN
And you want my help? With apples?

ZEUS
Yes.

IDUNN
What? You want a poisoned apple?

ZEUS
Several, actually. For a pie.

IDUNN
A pie? Are you serious? What about the whole lightning bolt thing?

ZEUS
Yes. Very. Smiting with lightning bolts is out of date. I need something a little more…subtle.

IDUNN
So what kind of poisoned apple do you want? The “turn black in the face and drop dead” kind? Or the “be sick for three or four days and then pass in the night” kind?

ZEUS
Oh, if you can make his face turn black, that would be wonderful! Can you make his dick fall off, too?

IDUNN
What?

ZEUS
Nevermind. The black in the face kind will be fantastic.

IDUNN
Okay. I’ll see what I can do. I’ll be right back.

IDUNN exits, stage right. ZEUS smiles and rubs his hands together.

ZEUS
Oh, boy! This is going to be good. I can’t wait to see the look on his face when he eats that pie. That’ll show him who can have the better looking cock.

FREYJA returns, stage left.

FREYJA
IDUNN wasn’t home.

ZEUS
She was here.

FREYJA
She was?

ZEUS
Yes. She was looking for you.

FREYJA
OH! Did she just leave?

ZEUS
Just.

FREYJA
Maybe I can catch her

FREYJA exits, stage right. MICKEY enters, stage left.

ZEUS
MICKEY! How was your nap?

MICKEY
Nap? What are you talking about? I’m hungry.

ZEUS
Go find a mouse.

MICKEY
Meh. I’m trying to cut down on fast food.

MICKEY sees the flour and butter on the table. He begins to sniff at them, particularly the butter.

ZEUS
Hey! Enough of that, cat! That’s not for you.

MICKEY
It smells like it’s for me. At least that butter does.

ZEUS
That’s for the pie.

MICKEY
The pie? Freyja’s really going to make a pie.

ZEUS
Yes, and I’m going to help her.

MICKEY
Really?

ZEUS
Just wait.

FREYJA and IDUNN enter, stage right. FREYJA is furious. MICKEY is fascinated by the display. He turns to the mirror and begins to groom himself, adjusting his hair and inspecting his face.

FREYJA
How dare you!

ZEUS
What’s that?

IDUNN
You asked me for poisoned apples for FREYJA’s apple pie, didn’t you? You tried to trick her into giving her human a poisoned apple pie.

FREYJA
Are you really that jealous of Chris Evans?

ZEUS
Of course not!
ZEUS takes a deep breath and smiles. He spreads his arms as if to hug both women.

ZEUS
Of course not! I wouldn’t do such a thing. I wanted your golden apples for FREYJA. Remember?

Both women look confused

FREYJA
You don’t want to kill Chris Evans because you’re jealous of his member?

IDUNN laughs

IDUNN
I have heard of this. Is it true?

FREYJA sighs as ZEUS looks annoyed. He steps into reach, placing his hand on the side of each woman’s face.

ZEUS
Darlings, I have nothing but love for you. IDUNN, please bring us both kinds of apples. Just don’t be aware you’re bringing poisoned apples. All you’ll see is beautiful apples.
(IDUNN nods)
And FREYJA. This has been a terrible misunderstanding. I’ll help you bake the most wonderful pie for your Chris Evans.
(FREYJA nods. ZEUS smiles.)
Good! Now, let’s all forget this nonsense about poisoned apples and bake a divine pie.

ZEUS releases his hold on the women and kisses FREYJA. IDUNN looks like she needs coffee. Then she focuses on ZEUS and FREYJA in front of her.

IDUNN
Do you two want me to leave and give you some privacy?

ZEUS
You don’t want to watch? You could watch.

FREYJA snorts.

FREYJA
Pie. Focus on the pie, ZEUS.

ZEUS
Of course. My pleasure.

IDUNN
Come, FREYJA! We have apples to pick! And not a moment to lose.

FREYJA and IDUNN run off, stage right, holding hands. MICKEY turns from the mirror.

MICKEY
You enchanted them? For an apple pie? Why not enchant them for a Bacchanal?

ZEUS
Who says I haven’t? But this is so much more fun.

FREYJA and IDUNN return, each carrying a bushel of apples. IDUNN’s apples are large, golden, and firm. FREYJA’s apples are dark and small. ZEUS claps his hands.

ZEUS
Wonderful, ladies! Thank you, IDUNN. Look at your golden apples. How tempting. We can make two pies. How can I repay you?

IDUNN
I’m not doing this for you, ZEUS. Keep your hands away from me. I’m helping FREYJA.

ZEUS
And what a help you are. Come! With two of you, we can make two pies

The three gods core, slice, and peel the bushels of apples. IDUNN prepares the golden apples while FREYJA prepares the poisoned apples. ZEUS points this way and that, directing the two goddesses like a traffic cop. The pies are baked in the oven while ZEUS smiles and each goddess removes her pie and sets it on the kitchen table.

ZEUS
It’s time to let the pies rest now. You can’t eat an apple pie if it’s too hot. Why don’t you two go rest yourselves? You’ve worked very hard.

FREYJA and IDUNN both nod and exit, stage right, hand in hand. MICKEY enters stage left. He sniffs the pies and recoils at the scent of the poisoned pie.

MICKEY
So these are the pies.

ZEUS
Indeed they are. Specially made by gods.

MICKEY
Won’t FREYJA be angry at you when she kills Chris Evans with her apple pie?

ZEUS
Does it matter? I am ZEUS.

MICKEY
Of course you are. I think I’m going to go take a nap.

MICKEY exits, stage right. ZEUS looks at the pies one more time, nodding to himself. ZEUS exits stage right.

MICKEY returns, stage right.

MICKEY
Ah. ZEUS’s poisoned apple pie baked to golden perfection. If I weren’t a cat, I would be tempted by these lovely delicacies. But no, I am a cat and a servant of chaos.

MICKEY switches the position of the pies

MICKEY
Let the lady FREYJA have her tryst and let ZEUS dine in Hell.

FREYJA enters, stage left. She sees the pies and smiles. She carefully feels each one, testing the temperature. She nods and picks up the golden apple pie, rushing out of the kitchen, stage right. MICKEY smiles and begins to groom himself. ZEUS enters, stage left. He strides up to the counter and pulls the poisoned pie toward himself. He grabs a small plate and a fork. ZEUS cuts himself a slice of pie. He sits down at the table and cuts into the pie with his fork. He raises a bite to his mouth, but stops when he sees MICKEY.

ZEUS
Well?

MICKEY
Freyja gave Chris Evans the pie. It should only be a matter of time.

ZEUS
Good. Serves that big-cocked bastard right for competing with a god.

MICKEY
I don’t think he went out of his way to grow a big dick just to make you jealous.

ZEUS
Doesn’t matter. Somebody really likes him, so I don’t. Though he might be the beneficiary of good fortune and the whim of the Muse, no man shall better the king of the gods.

ZEUS eats his bite of pie. As he reaches to take another bite, he falls from his chair, dead. MICKEY stares at the dead ZEUS and waits. After ZEUS does nothing else, MICKEY shrugs.

MICKEY
It’s not only human pride that can lead you to folly. Even as high as you sat, oh ZEUS, you could not see the mischief sitting at your own table. Such deception is fit for Loki, you miscreant. May you feast well at Hades’ table.

(Blackout.)

Written as part of a class exercise during Fall 2020.

Sprinkles

Kelci Parks

That beard’s out of control

you look like a long-haired terrier

You’re too hard on yourself, bro

your photos are good

Keep working at it

It took me for-eh-ver

and I got lucky

You won’t believe who I get to interview

You should come back to the paper

Fuck, it’s nuts on an ice cream cone

Someone said I was paid by the city

to write articles about the city

Chaps my hide

Nobody learns what we do

ohmygod, our boys need to get together

they’re so freaking talented

Dude, wanna smoke a bowl?

Dude, I’m happy for you.

I love you, too

Yeah, buddy.

This was written as part of a creative writing class I took in Fall 2020.

Matt

Matt in black and white

Monday four not quite white walls less than black coffee feed the cat radio news every half hour after 6:30

Tuesday four not quite white walls less than black coffee feed the cat radio news every half hour after 6:30

Wednesday four not quite white walls less than black coffee feed the

Cat take the trash out to the street

Radio news every half hour after 6:30

People are still fucking dying

Thursday four not quite white walls less than black coffee feed the cat radio news every half hour after 6:30

Friday four not quite white walls less than black coffee feed the cat radio news every half hour after 6:30

Hey, it’s a short day at work! Move to the living room and

Stare at paper bags and beer boxes still full from moving in

March to the garage just to look at a different four walls

I am my car in the driveway with two flat tires and covered

In spider webs like the tangled mess in the sky light

Goddamnit I don’t want to walk to the Post Office

Saturday four not quite white walls less than black coffee but now I get to sleep in

Damn it, cat! IT’S 5 A.M.!

Do we grill that chicken babe? Drink a Gin Buck, or two, maybe

Sunday I’ll do my laundry. Smoke a doob. And plan a book review video.

If I can break free of the rut oh it’s

Monday four not quite white walls less than black coffee feed the cat radio news every half hour after 6:30

The sky is red?

Now what?

Written Fall 2020 as part of a creative writing class at Mendocino College

Neighborhood Poem: a class exercise

A fawn, June 19, 2020

Old GP Road

the fawns mom stares at us while we hunt them

with our eyes or camera

her babies graze without fear of us

we be-knight them the freezer meat twins

though their spots have yet to fade

the river is a boon companion

ever present, ever murmuring

down here is not the city nor the county

never is there ever a patrol

to chase the bear or hear the fox or find the catamount that stalks the woods

I will miss this sanctuary when I leave

but we are only guests in someone else’s house

This was written as part of a creative writing class I took in Fall 2020 at Mendocino College.

Review: Come Join the Murder by Holly Rae Garcia

Come Join the Murder by Holly Rae Garcia

In Come Join the Murder (ISBN 978-8-6072-9926-2), Holly Rae Garcia has written a tense and suspenseful thriller. It’s not a whodunit in the classic sense; we know who committed the crime. The question becomes if the killer will be caught. The question is also if the protagonist of the story will be okay by the end.

Rebecca Crow is an ambitious careerist at a firm, as well as a wife and mother. Rebecca’s husband and son go missing one day after their car breaks down with a flat tire. Quickly, searchers find her husband’s car in the river, with their son, Oliver, dead inside. Rebecca’s husband, Jon, is missing for much of the book, creating yet another point of anguish for Rebecca.

Rebecca becomes unhinged from her grief. She stops eating, loses weight, and generally fails to process her loss. Her office refuses to let her come back to work so soon after her son’s death. She begins to see her dead son in the backseat of her car when she drives.

Rebecca decides to hunt down her son’s killer. Instead she kills an innocent man who happens to drive a similar vehicle to the suspect’s vehicle. When she learns she has killed the wrong man, she continues to search for her son’s killer.

James Porter is a scum bag. He doesn’t even rise to the level of a professional criminal. He’s an opportunist and a bottom feeder. At the same time, James gets used to killing people. Even when he kills a child by accident, like Rebecca’s son, he dismisses it and uses twisted logic to justify the death. He kills on a regular basis through the rest of the story.

Garcia succeeds in creating a villain we enjoy disliking, but also a villain with potential for sympathy. But only potential. James’ treatment of the people around him is pathological. We want James to get arrested, but when he’s questioned by police, he manages to elude overwhelming suspicion.

There is a cop, a Detective Barnes, who is investigating the murders. He is the primary figure of law and order in the book, but he, like law and order, is destined for a cursory role. He questions James, but doesn’t figure out James is a killer. To be honest, Barnes doesn’t seem to get very far in his investigation, but then the story isn’t a police procedural and Barnes’ progress in his investigation is actually secondary to the main story.

While the death of Rebecca’s family is the tragedy that sets off the book, the primary tragedy of the story is Rebecca’s decline into homicidal despair. Even after she kills the who she thinks is the killer, she doesn’t feel better. When she learns she has killed the wrong man, she grieves further for the victim, but doesn’t relinquish her mission to kill her son’s murderer. She has tunnel-vision and disregards life nearly as easily as James.

Come Join the Murder is well paced and tense. The suspense builds steadily and lasts until the last page. It is a wonderful read. I look forward to reading more from Holly Rae Garcia.

Go forth and read it!