Wednesday, March 22, 2017

AGENT 110: AN AMERICAN SPYMASTER & THE GERMAN RESISTANCE IN WW2 BY SCOTT MILLER

Agent 110: An American Spymaster and the German Resistance in WWIIAgent 110: An American Spymaster and the German Resistance in WWII by Scott Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”My husband doesn’t converse with me, not that he doesn’t talk to me about his business, but that he doesn’t talk about anything.... It took me a long time to realize that when he talks it is only for the purpose of obtaining something…. He has either to be making someone admire him, or to be receiving some information worth his while; otherwise he gives one the impression that he doesn’t talk because the person isn’t worth talking to.” Clover Dulles, wife of Allen Dulles

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The dashing and enigmatic Allen Dulles. Mary Bancroft said for many decades after she’d last had contact with him the memory of his laugh would always bring a smile to her lips.

I get the impression that Allen Dulles always felt an inordinate amount of pressure to compete with his older brother John Foster Dulles. This can lead to reckless, unprincipled behavior in a younger sibling, but in Allen it seems to have fostered (I couldn’t help it) a focused need to succeed. This book primarily covers the WW2 years of Dulles while he was working for the OSS (Office of Strategic Service) in Bern, Switzerland. I first learned about the OSS from a retired judge who used to come into the bookstore I worked at in Phoenix. The guy was nuts about books, maybe even more nuts than I am. He told me stories about his work in the OSS. He was one of the guys in on the capture of Hermann Goering. As he said to me, “I had the privilege of laying hands on that evil man.”

The OSS is the precursor of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). Receiving this Bern assignment was a perfect fit for Dulles. He was on his own. Any bosses he may have had were generally thousands of miles away. He loved the freedom and, as Scott Miller alludes to, he chafed under the strictures of a normal, hierarchical, office situation later in his career. I’m sure he didn’t want to have to consult with others. He wanted the ability to say, let’s do this or not, without having to get approval from a committee of people.

He was effective, and especially during wartime, if a person proves themselves to be competent, they are generally given the latitude to what they feel they need to do with very little interference. Dulles hired a secretary, a saucy, married, American woman by the name of Mary Bancroft. He needed someone who would make his spies feel more at ease. Miller never actually states that Bancroft may have also worked her feminine wiles on the series of spies she helped Dulles manage, but she certainly, briskly warmed Dulles’ bed for a while. As we learn more about Dulles, we realize that he flipped an hourglass over on every sexual relationship the moment it began. ”Such an affair was not unusual for men of Dulles’s generation, who considered such relationships an entitlement for the wealthy and powerful.”

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I’ve looked at several pictures of Mary Bancroft and do not see the beauty that was attributed to her, but we all know how deceptive the lens is. I have a feeling her mannerisms and personality added to her attractiveness.

And women, married or otherwise, seemed to find Allen Dulles irresistible, despite knowing or maybe because they knew the relationship was doomed to be a fleeting one. There is speculation that his affairs may have numbered in the hundreds. Normally, I would think this would make him vulnerable to blackmail or to inappropriate pillow talk, but my impression is that he never really trusted anyone, and women were really just a source of pleasure, not confidants.

From Bern, Dulles did manage to make contact with several, important or certainly dedicated Germans intent on helping bring down Hitler’s Germany. They wanted their Germany back. It was through this network that he learned about Operation Valkyrie, which was the July 20th, 1944, plot to assassinate Hitler. His network was also how Dulles came into contact with Waffen-SS General Karl Wolff, who under the Operation name Sunrise was trying to peacefully surrender the German troops in Northern Italy. Beyond all the spy work that was going on within Germany, there was a growing understanding that the Soviet Union was going to be a problem after the war. As Germany grew weaker, the Russians became more emboldened, and soon the war focus was more about what the Russians were up to than concerns about Hitler and his remaining, beaten German forces.

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The July 20th bomb should have killed Adolf Hitler, but by a quirk of fate he survived unscathed.

The Cold War began, a game that Dulles was particularly perfectly suited for.

Scott Miller provided me with a several insights about Dulles in Bern that I didn’t know before. There was a prominent psychologist, which I will leave as a surprise for the readers, who provided him with in-depth analysis about Hitler and other prominent Nazis. Hitler’s inner circle was a perverted and broken bunch of human beings, whose loyalty to him was their need to belong to something for the first time in their life. They finally had a place in society where they could judge others as they felt like they had always been judged. Dulles lost people, some were apprehended and some just disappeared. Tension of this magnitude requires a special person. I sense that there was a distance between Dulles and every person he ever became “friends” with, and in the spy business this may have been a real source of strength.

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President Kennedy and Allen Dulles, a duel of contrasting personalities.

This book is a great way to meet Allen Dulles before he became the icon and face of American Intelligence, which lasted even beyond his summary dismissal as Director (officially a resignation) by President Kennedy in 1961. With the revolving door of CIA directors, his tenure stands as a testament to the value of his service. If you like spy novels, in particular John le Carré, you will enjoy experiencing the real life adventures and tribulations of the men and women who were trying to defeat German from within.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

New York 2140 By: Kim Stanley Robinson

New York 2140New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have read alot of Mr. Robinson's work, and no offense..you usually don't read him for the story but for the massive ideas that he puts forth. HOWEVER, I am proud to say with this new novel not only is it a vast step up in storytelling in my opinion, it is filled with the big ideas that you love with Mr. Robinson's work.

Stunning world, information coming from all directions, characters I actually liked, (major step up) if this is an evolution in his work, then I look forward to the future, (unless it's as the story predicts)

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Americans in Paris During WWII

Americans in Paris: Life and Death under Nazi Occupation 1940-1944Americans in Paris: Life and Death under Nazi Occupation 1940-1944 by Charles Glass
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the story of Americans and part-Americans in Paris, as well as in Europe in general, during WWII, not to mention leading up to the war, and in some cases well before the war.

Was that a clunky sentence? I'm afraid it mirrors my reading experience of Americans in Paris: Life and Death under Nazi Occupation 1940-1944 by Charles Glass.

It's a compilation of biographies of the more well-known or at least well to do Americans who decided to stay in France after the German occupation. Their individual sympathies run the gamut from Nazi sympathizers to fighters alongside La Résistance. Reading of their histories or hearing from their own words what it was like was the book's strong point for me. Unfortunately, most of the stories are about the upper class, the rich, and at best the intellectuals. Not much is heard the lower classes. I would've liked to have caught a glimpse of their diaries. But as with nearly all histories, this one too sticks with the big names, if you will.

That's all right. There's plenty of intrigue herein to keep most people with an ingrained interest glued to the page. Those of a political mind will get something out of Glass' sections on the Vichy government, the German-collaborate interim French government.

Consummate journalist Glass does a good job of giving the reader a chance to empathize with those who were on the fence with the German occupation, those who worked with the Germans in order to keep important French institutions operational until the liberation. It could not have been easy. The book has also been well-crafted so that readers are left wondering, as the world was, regarding the allegiance of a few of the notable fence-sitters.

Charles Glass earned his stripes as a war correspondent:

One of Glass's best known stories was his 1986 interview on the tarmac of Beirut Airport of the crew of TWA Flight 847 after the flight was hijacked. He broke the news that the hijackers had removed the hostages and had hidden them in the suburbs of Beirut, which caused the Reagan administration to abort a rescue attempt that would have failed and led to loss of life at the airport. Glass made headlines in 1987, when he was taken hostage for 62 days in Lebanon by Shi'a militants. He describes the kidnapping and escape in his book, Tribes with Flags. - Wikipedia

So I bow to his knowledge and ability. My low-ish rating of Americans in Paris has little to with him and a good deal to do with the subject. I was hoping for more detail on the Resistance fighting. We get only a light smattering: a mention of rooftop fighting or a young French man shooting a German soldier in the streets. But this is not that book. So take my rating with a grain of salt. This quite good book just wasn't the book for me.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Great Forgetting

The Great ForgettingThe Great Forgetting by James Renner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Jack Felter returns to his home town to help care for his dementia-stricken father, he winds up looking for his missing childhood friend, Tony, the friend that stole his high school girlfriend. Jack meets Tony's last patient, a kid named Cole with a very compelling delusion, that everything we think we know about history is wrong...

After reading The Man from Primrose Lane and True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray, I just had to read more James Renner. The Great Forgetting made him rise even higher in my esteem.

The Great Forgetting is a mind-bender of Phillip K. Dickian proportions. How much do we trust the history books? How much do we trust our own memories? What if the conspiracy theories are true? This book raises those questions and more.

It's best to go into this book unprepared so I'm not going to spoil the particulars. Once the truth behind Cole, Tony, and the rest of what was actually going on was revealed, I had a hard time doing anything but finishing it.

If I had to complain about something, which I won't, is that the characters were a little thin. However, I loved Jack and his father, The Captain. Cole grew on me as well, but I hated Tony and didn't trust Sam. Hell, even Scopes and the Maestro turned out to have hidden depths.

The tension toward the end was almost maddening. I haven't felt this engrossed with a book since the Dark Tower series. That's as great a compliment as I can give any book. Five out of five stars.



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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Heir of Novron

Heir of Novron (The Riyria Revelations, #3)Heir of Novron by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wintertide

The New Empire has the true Heir of Novron and Princess Arista. They are ready to execute them at Wintertide. The conclusion of the war seems inevitable as Prince Alric has been forced to flee to Drondil Fields. The New Empire still has one problem, Royce and Hadrian haven't given up yet.

Wintertide was quite the exciting tale. For perhaps the first time in the series I was surprised at many of the outcomes. The use of obvious tropes clearly lessened which led to some exemplary storytelling. The characters continue to grow in their complexity and I'm absolutely excited to see how everything ends.

4.5 out of 5 stars


Percepliquis

The elves are coming. They've crossed the Nidwalden River and without The Horn of Glyindora, mankind will be eradicated. The only hope is to enter the ancient city of Percepliquis and find the horn. Arista leads an expedition to Percepliquis, but the group quickly learned that the ancient city holds more perils than simply reaching it.

Percepliquis was a long, but strong ending to the Riyria Revelations. The trek to Percepliquis was vivid, exciting, and horrifying all at the same time. By the end all is revealed and there were a few completely unexpected twists and turns.

The characters were top notch throughout the entire series and the final novel is no exception. Arista and Royce show the most growth while Hadrian remains the character I wanted to see succeed the most. Myron also is hard not to love as a character. He's a completely caring and selfless character who is impossible to dislike.

One odd thing I noticed throughout the series is that for being so capable, Royce and Hadrian get captured a lot. The two share a story that was even worse than the many times they were shown being imprisoned.

Although I enjoyed the story, I felt that a few things wrapped up too neatly and too quickly. I also felt that some ideas weren't focused upon significantly enough for the final reveal to be fully appreciated.

Percepliquis is an excellent finishing touch on a great story.

4 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

WEST WITH THE NIGHT BY BERYL MARKHAM

West with the NightWest with the Night by Beryl Markham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”Being alone in an aeroplane for even a short a time as a night and a day, irrevocably alone, with nothing to observe but your instruments and your own hands in semi-darkness, nothing to contemplate but the size of your small courage, nothing to wonder about but the beliefs, the faces, and the hopes rooted in your mind---such an experience can be as startling as the first awareness of a stranger walking by your side at night. You are the stranger.”

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Beryl Markham was the first woman to fly solo over the Atlantic, going East to West. She made it to the coast of Nova Scotia by the skin of her teeth. Ice had clogged the air intake to her last fuel tank, greatly reducing the amount of fuel getting to the carburetor. The Vega Gull’s engine kept dying. She kept nursing it back to life until finally the coast appears. She crash landed without killing herself and put herself in the record books.

She grew up in Kenya and always wanted to do what the boys were doing. She had a native boy who was a close friend. This association allowed her to learn the ways of the tribe. She has to be one of the few white girls from that period of time or any period of time who was allowed to go on hunts with the men.

”So there are many Africas. There are as many Africas as there are books about Africa--and as many books about it as you could read in a leisurely lifetime. Whoever writes a new one can afford a certain complacency in the knowledge that his is a new picture agreeing with no one else’s, but likely to be haughtily disagreed with by all those who believe in some other Africa.”

There are a lot of factors in how people experience a place. As travellers, it might rain the whole time you are somewhere, or you might have one rude experience with a waiter (Paris and I should have knocked the bastard on his doughy fat ass), or you might be experiencing the final days of a doomed love affair. On the other hand, the weather might be sunny and breezy, or you might have an amazing hour with a knowledgeable art curator, or you might find new love. All of those factors can certainly color our perceptions of a place. When you live anywhere for an extended period of time, like Beryl did in Kenya, you have a better chance of experiencing a true Kenya.

But then there is a difference growing up an English privileged rose who has horses and all that her heart desires compared to say a young black Kenyan woman who might have a completely different experience growing up in Africa. Beryl made one generalization about a local tribe that smacked of the imperial colonial view of a local population.

"But physically the Kikuyu are the least impressive of all. It may be because they are primarily agriculturists and generations of looking to the earth for the livelihood have dulled what fire there might once have been in their eyes and what will to excel might have been in their hearts. They have lost inspiration for beauty. They are a hardworking people from the viewpoint of Empire, a docile and therefore a useful people. Their character is constant, even strong, but it is lustreless. "

I have a friend who happens to be a Kenyan from the Kikuyu tribe. I shared this quote with her, and she had a few opinions about the description

”The wench!! (that was my favorite) yet another ignorant white-privileged bourgeois colonial story which paints a pretty picture of the land but knows next to jack shit about the locals. Only what they saw in passing. I would gladly tell the dead colonial to stick to horses and planes. But really? We lost our spark because of the earth? We killed for that land. We shed blood and tears for it. Most of it white... And we continue to struggle for it. To buy our own to raise our children on. And what did she mean lost our spark? We don't have diamond eyes. Or wear contacts. Or have eyes that shine like the ocean blue eyes of a Victorian damsel who wouldn’t know dust if it drowned them... See? And my thoughts are a lot less polite.” Mwanamali Mari

Yes, I know I’m a pot stirrer. I probably missed my calling as a journalist. Of course, all of us know that, when we make a generalized statement about a culture or a people, we leave ourselves susceptible to criticism. The point is during this period of time, in the pre-world war two era especially, books are rife with irritatingly simplistic, condescending statements about native population. This was the only one I caught. Mwanamali, reading this book, might catch even more than the one that I did, but in her defense, Beryl did love many native Kenyans that she met and worked with over the decades of her life.

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Her father experienced some financial difficulties due to a lack of rain...something, being the son of a farmer, that I’m very familiar with. Beryl, as a teenager, became a horse trainer and did well. It was a boy’s club, of course, so it took longer than it should for her to get the business she deserved, but then Beryl was not unfamiliar with being at a disadvantage from the moment she came out of the womb...a girl. There was this great moment in the book where a filly called Wise Child, that Beryl had resurrected from the dead, races against the top stallion in the racing world at the time. She did such a great job setting the scene and then describing the race that I felt like I was as invested in the outcome of that race as Beryl. I had tears in my eyes.

Markham is a lyrical writer whether she is describing horses, planes, landscape or even the process of writing. ”Silence is never so impenetrable as when the whisper of steel on paper strives to pierce it. I sit in a labyrinth of solitude jabbing at its bulwarks with the point of a pen--jabbing, jabbing.”

I did have a moment of real doubt when Beryl took a job flying big game hunters into the wilds of Kenya to shoot elephants. The money was really good, but there is something soulless about shooting elephants. She even said, ”It is absurd for a man to kill an elephant. It is not brutal, it is not heroic, and certainly it is not easy; it is just one of the preposterous things that men do.” You may not pull the trigger, but if you are helping these hunters find their prey via an airplane, you are as responsible for the death of the elephant as the men who fire the bullet. She had some wonderful, inspiring descriptions of how smart the elephants were and how many times they would fool the hunters. Those stories confirmed me in my belief that elephants are intelligent sacred animals and should be left in peace. So why do some people feel so driven to hunt these beautiful animals or put themselves in other death defying situations? One of the Kenyan guides remarked to Markham: ”White men pay for danger--we poor cannot afford it.”

It kind of makes it all sound fake. Men trying to prove themselves in manufactured situations.

I did have some issues with Beryl, but I also found her to be a groundbreaker and certainly a woman whom other women can look up to. She took on men toe to toe and proved she could compete with them whether it be on the horse track, in the air, or in the bedroom. She was friends with Karen Blixen, better known by her pen name of Isak Dinesen. She was such good friends with her that she even shared a man with her by the name of Denys Finch Hatton, an adventurer and hunter. The interesting thing about this book is that her love life has been carefully kept off screen. Markham was notorious for her marriages and her affairs. She was attractive to men, and she was attracted to men. Her love life fits with the way she lived her whole life as free as any man and more so than most.

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Straight on till morning

”No map I have flown by has ever been lost or thrown away; I have a trunk containing continents.” The world was hers.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Erstwhile By: Brian Catling

The ErstwhileThe Erstwhile by Brian Catling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ok, this is sort of a review for the first two books of this series, The Voorh and The Erstwhile. I am a lifelong scifi and fantasy fan, I mean...39 of my 44 years. But I have a weird relationship with "weird" fiction, it's like you meet a girl at the grocery store, she's got blue hair..sorta cute then bam, before you know it, you wake up a month later and wonder why you have a half elf in your bed.

Bad analogy, but its like beautiful language, well written and grabs you in spots. Then, it trails off, the turn to the strange that pulled you in to start with goes TOO strange and loses you. I have faith that maybe Mr. Catling has a endgame in mine and I will stick with it, but that's the OCD in me to see it through. Good? worth your time? I say yes.. it might however be a bit too out there to be amazing.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Natural Eating

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four MealsThe Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading books like these, I'm not sure what to eat anymore.

Michael Pollan, a sort of food journalist, doesn't always give you the kind of clear-cut answers you'd like if you're reading books like this in order to learn what's healthy for your body and what's not. However, here are two important things I did learn:

#1 - Eating only one thing is not good for you in the long run.

#2 - Corn is in nearly everything we eat these days.

America grows corn. The American government pays for its farmers to grow corn. Corn syrup goes into an alarmingly high percentage of our daily foods. Our farmed-fish and cows subsist on corn. Hell, some of our cars run on corn!

CORN!

Another issue is the nitrates used to grow all this corn. Because it's less physically demanding, farmers spread chemical nitrates over their fields. To ensure a good crop, they overcompensate. All this excess washes into our water system, contaminating our drinking water and destroying fish habitats. The Gulf of Mexico spreading outward from the Mississippi Delta is fucked.

The Omnivore's Dilemma is one of those books I've been hearing about for years. In the past, I've read other Pollan books and they were good, but for some reason I held off on this one. Maybe it was like that character in Lost holding on to a copy of Our Mutual Friend, the only Dickens book he hasn't read. I knew this book would be special. I wanted to wait and savor it. I also knew it would be slightly depressing. I wanted to be ready for it.

But it's not all doom and gloom. Pollan is hopeful and allows for the light at the end of the tunnel. He's also willing to try new things like hunting and vegetarianism. He gets his hands dirty and that's what I like to see in my journalists.

Fantastic book! Recommended to all!

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Mirage

The MirageThe Mirage by Matt Ruff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Christian fundamentalists destroy the Tigris and Euphrates towers on 11/9, the United Arab States declare a war on terror on the nations of North America. Eight years later, Homeland security officers Mustafa, Amal, and Samir stumble upon relics from another world, a world where America is a super power and the Middle East is a fractured region...

On the heels of Lovecraft Country, I knew I had to read more Matt Ruff. This one sounded intriguing and it was definitely that.

The Mirage is an alternate history tale, one where the roles in the War on Terror are reversed, with the Arabians as the super power and the former United States as rogue territories. If I'd ever read The Man in the High Castle instead of only knowing it by reputation, I'd say they were in a similar vein.

The Mirage is essentially a detective story with Mustafa, Amal, and Samir trying to get to the bottom of things, like the relics and who was really behind the 11/9 attack, before falling victim to the machinations of Al Qaeda, the UAS secret police in this tale. Interspersed are entries from the Library of Alexandria, an online Wikipedia type of resource in this world, giving us tantalizing glimpses at the world's history without infodumping them in the text.

While the detective aspect was pretty cool, the fun of the story was seeing where everyone ended up in this reality. Saddam Hussein is an underworld kingpin, Osama bin Laden is a senator, and Dick Cheney is head of the Texas CIA and known for eliminating his rivals in hunting accidents.

I wolfed this book down in three sittings. It was quite readable and I couldn't wait to see how things panned out. By showing the war on terror in the mirror universe, Ruff shows what a shit show the whole thing was.

This is my favorite quote from the book:
"So in the other reality, Osama bin Laden is an Iraqi?"
"No, he's still from Jeddah," Amal said. "A 'Saudi' Arabian."
"Then why the hell would America invade Iraq?"
"Because God put a Texan in charge!"

I don't have many bad things to say about this book. I almost gave it a 5 but I thought the characters were a little skimpy and the ending could have been better. Overall, The Mirage was a great read and an interesting look at how things might have went another way. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Superhero


Eli Easton
Dreamspinner Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars



Summary



It’s not easy for a young gay artist like Jordan Carson to grow up in Jefferson, Wisconsin, where all anyone seems to care about in middle school and high school are the sports teams. But Jordan was lucky. He met Owen Nelson in the second grade, and they’ve been BFFs ever since. Owen is a big, beautiful blond and their school’s champion wrestler. No one messes with Owen, or with anyone close to him, and he bucks popular opinion by keeping Jordan as his wingman even after Jordan comes out at school.

Their friendship survives, but Jordan’s worst enemy may be himself: he can’t seem to help the fact that he is head-over-heels in love with a hopeless case—his straight friend, Owen. Owen won’t let anything take Jordan’s friendship away, but he never counted on Jordan running off to find a life of his own. Owen will have to face the nature of their relationship if he’s to win Jordan back.



My Review



I absolutely adored Jordan Carson and Owen Nelson, best friends since second grade. Jordan has only two dreams for his life. One is to become a comic book artist, and the other is to be Owen’s boyfriend.

Their story begins in the second grade and concludes in their sophomore year of college. Though told mostly from Jordan’s perspective, we also get Owen’s impressions, feelings, and observations of high school life, family, friends, sports, and their joint comic project, Pin Man and Pencil Boy.

Typical teenage issues and problems, like academic pressure, family conflicts, relationships, and bullying were gently explored without overwhelming the story and burdening the main characters.

I loved spending time with Jordan and Owen as they grew older and discovered things about themselves and each other. Even though I found them both a lot more mature and self-aware than I was at their age, their youth and innocence was very much apparent. Jordan and Owen were different in so many ways, yet so perfect together. I appreciated Owen’s smart and supportive girlfriend, Emily, so unlike the shrewish women commonly found in gay romances. I very much enjoyed the way fluid sexuality was handled, allowing the characters time for exploration, experimentation and acceptance without erasing or denying past experiences. My bisexual heart is bursting with joy!

This story is sweet, sensual, and oh so satisfying. I still can’t wipe the silly smile off my face.

Very highly recommended.