Friday, August 18, 2017


Throat SprocketsThroat Sprockets by Tim Lucas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”I wondered if I hadn’t been so deeply affected by Throat Sprockets because it had given this unfinished something deep within me, after all these years, the teeth it needed to access a body-temperature flow of nourishment.”

 photo Neck20Asian_zpsq5v8fpl0.jpg
A tasty well defined neck.

Our unnamed narrator frequently escapes to the sticky floored darkness of his favorite pornographic theater to relax and eat his lunch. His trenchcoated companions are barely a distraction in the periphery of his vision. If we are trying to place him on the scale of perversity, he ranks a bit above average, but certainly not in the red zone. He is a garden variety, breast man.

Until he sees Throat Sprockets .

”The director had a thing for women’s throats.”

His wife, Paige, starts noticing some changes in his behavior. He has always liked to give her shoulder massages, which always culminated with him groping her breasts. She can count on the fact that he is a breast man, and she has the breasts to keep him happy, but then he starts giving her massages that end with a special fixation on her neck. Her breasts, ready to be offered as a reward,...are...ignored.

Puzzling, but not alarming.

He continues to watch the film at every opportunity. His behavior becomes even more strange, more emotional. ”Men cry, but we tend to be moved to tears quietly, as quietly as we masturbate. Men are raised to purge themselves in strictest secrecy…”

He knows this need is not natural. He is developing an unnatural appetite. It scares him and invigorates him. He begins listening to different music. ”It was all about throat music. He couldn’t have cared less about the content of the music, he was after the substance of it, the texture, the sex of it, the husky vibrato. He was burrowing, digging, chewing into sounds, completely unconcerned with melody, ignoring everything but the simple conceit that these sounds coming in moans and coos and wanton wails and soaring arias were an erotic discharge pouring into his ears from women’s throats.”

If Paige’s breasts had grown to the size of cantaloupes and had sprouted wings, he wouldn’t have cared less, nor would he have been moved to desire if she had grabbed his head and stuck his face in her cleavage . His eyes would have been locked on the pulse in her throat.

The marriage ends when she has to defend the silky contours of her neck with a kitchen knife keeping his brandished teeth away from her cervicibus. His admiration for women’s throats has grown into a full on erotic obsession.

 photo Neck20woman_zpsq8abrlhi.jpg
Just a nibble please!

He works as an advertising writer, and soon he starts to realize that all of his ideas are centered around his interest in the concepts expressed in Throat Sprockets. He starts to realize that his desires are not as unnatural as he thought. The term sprocketing is becoming a known term, and whole groups of young people are becoming chokers, offering their necks and their blood to those who have found a desire that exceeds their sexual lusts. It is on the verge of an epidemic.

His descent into madness continues to spiral downward; each spiral is tighter and moving faster. He seeks the well spring of the film. The director proves elusive, but he does find some people involved with the film. He pays exorbitant amounts of money for anything connected with the film that will give him a better understanding. The question is, can he save himself before…”I hear the sound of a garroted camera as my blood runs out of film.”

This isn’t a vampire book. It is actually a fascinating journey of erotic obsession. I happen to find women’s necks very attractive, but I have no interest in the blood that pulses beneath the skin. Beauty for me is best left unmarred...well...maybe mussed a bit. For our narrator, it isn’t enough to gaze upon say the beauty of a dark round mole on a lovely female neck. He wants to consume it. He wants to possess it. I’ve learned over the years that those things that most of us might find unnatural or even disgusting are the very things that turn other people on. Any perversity that you can conceive is something that someone else has turned into an obsession. To say it is unnatural or unique may not be as true as I would like to believe. As Google releases more and more information about our true online interests, which actually are a more honest representative of our true desires than we would ever reveal in a survey, we might discover that our neighbors are more kinky than we had previously thought.

 photo Neck20piercing_zpsm3pfli5m.jpg
Oh my what nice hardware you have my dear.

Tim Lucas explores the dark side of desire. He does so with evocative sentence structures and dangles all kinds of threads for the discerning reader to pull on to open up the truth about your own obsessions. The book left me wondering if I have even found my kink. If the narrator had never seen Throat Sprockets, he would have lived out his life being perfectly fine venerating breasts. Is there a song or a movie or book that will reveal a desire I had no idea I possessed? Am I living a lie while unknown desires are dormant in some dark corner of my mind? Read this book at your own risk, my friends and followers.

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The Rainbow Connection

B.J. Sheppard
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Living a care-free party life-style, junior journalist and gay lifestyle reporter, Liam Adams thought he had it all; the money, the job, the endless supply of men in his bed. But when his work causes him to question the very foundation of the life he has built for himself, Liam finds certain areas are glaringly lacking. All it takes is one assignment to unravel the very fabric of his promiscuous antics, compounded by the arrival of a long-forgotten tryst. With the rusty screech of the mailroom guy’s trolley wheels, Liam lands head-first in the arms of something bigger; something more.

As the romance burgeons between Liam and the Mail-Manny of his dreams, each article he writes proves to uncover something new and never realized about himself, namely that all the one-night-stands in the world could never give him what he truly wants; love. In a slapstick commentary through the eyes of the world’s most hypersensitive journalist, watch as Liam’s story unfolds in the most ridiculous of fashions, leading him straight into the arms of love, via The Rainbow Connection.

My Review

Oh, what a loathsome character Liam Adams is! It was so hard for me to care about him initially, that I was tempted to set aside the book more than once. But who am I to judge? It’s not as if I’ve never made bad decisions, or had contempt for some of my co-workers, or gotten stinking drunk at lunchtime. So I kept reading, and while I never fell in love with Liam, I grew to appreciate his thought process, his sense of humor, his witty sarcasm, his view of the world, and empathized with him that at 28 years old, he has never been in love.

Liam is an aspiring author and works as a journalist for an online gay magazine. He’s good at his job and thrives on deadlines. When he writes an article about the reasons women love to read gay romances, and puts his soul into his work, he begins to see what he’s missing and yearns for more than the casual one-night stands he’s accustomed to.

“I wrote it with hope and I wrote it with my newfound sense of belief that, man or woman, the words of these books were reaching out to people. That it was the journey that mattered. And it flowed out of me like a red wine hangover. Pressure be damned; it was inspiration. I hit send, and off it went, through the interweb to that special place where things go that I have no idea about, ready to be read by our entire readership. I hoped, as I pressed send, that the people who read it would have their own journeys.”

I loved Liam’s relationship with the mail clerk, Manny, that started with a sizzling fuck on Liam’s desk and progressed to dinner and conversation. I also loved his boss, Lourdes, a tiny sassy woman with a penchant for wine.

“On days like these I was glad we were of the same ilk. Any other boss would have canned me on the spot, but not Lourdes. She liked a drink as much as the next hobo and I was completely convinced she sprinkled Prozac on her cornflakes in the morning.”

Liam writes various articles of interest to the gay community and before long, his hilarious and unorthodox methods of research lead to problems in his newfound relationship. At the same time, I enjoyed the solid friendship between Liam and Lourdes and the significant growth in Liam’s character as he and Manny overcome communication barriers and start becoming honest with each other. Once Liam starts to think with his heart, he becomes a much better person, and one I gradually started to like.

Life is never simple, though. With Liam’s boss in rehab, a nasty new boss makes his life very difficult. Even though there is a love interest and hot sex, this is not a typical romance. Each character is unique and well developed, with strengths and flaws. Don’t look for the traditional happy ending, for you won’t find it here. No one is fortunate enough to have everything work out for them, and I’m really glad the author chose to write an unpredictable and more realistic ending. I’m confident that Liam’s strength, capacity for love, humor, and good friends will help him get through life’s difficulties.

I’m very much looking forward to the next installment!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Broken Banners

Broken Banners (A Reaper of Stone, #2)Broken Banners by Mark Gelineau
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Aldis, a friend from Elinor's time in the academy, has gotten himself and the men he leads into trouble. Many of them lay dead in the field and others are locked in cages. Elinor cannot stand to see the King's soldiers and her brethren in such a state.

Broken Banners is similar to A Reaper of Stone as it centers around the greed of nobility and sees Elinor and her forces up against much stronger forces. Elinor is still determined to set things right even when it isn't easy.

While I enjoyed Broken Banners the novella format of the series is getting frustrating. This is the second story featuring Elinor and yet it hasn't even hit the 200 page mark. More questions have arisen yet a date for an answer isn't in sight. Even when it is, will the follow-up be another 70-80 page novella. It's hard to be patient for books as they come out slowly at times.

Broken Banners was a solid addition to the Echoes of Ascended series. I hope the next stories are either longer or come out much closer together. In the meantime I'll be waiting to see how Elinor's story continues.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

True Stories

True StoriesTrue Stories by Jon Scieszka
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Guys Read: True Stories has some women doing the reading too, and it's not nearly as macho as the title might lead you to believe. Furthermore, you can't describe your book as "100% amazing, 100% adventurous, 100% unbelievable" and put out this less than stellar collection of stories!

It's not terrible by any means, yet I had more hope for this than it delivered. I thought it was going to be all kinds of exciting, but only one or two of the stories lived up to the hype. The lead story about a early 19th century America ship's crew getting stranded in the Sahara was more harrowing than exciting. The somewhat tall tale of a bear attack was mostly just goofy. The endearing memoir-like remembrances of a Vietnamese girl trying to weasel her way into her pack of brothers' activities was totally out of place. As an audiobook, its performances varied in quality as well.

Now, it should be noted that this was produced for elementary school students and maaaybe high school kids, though I think they'd consider some of this stuff hokey....That's a word kids these days use right? Hokey? Anywho, the stories don't go into great detail, however, they are quick and mostly entertaining to a certain degree.

The producers make a BIG deal about these stories being non-fiction and thus real. Reality seems to be an important learning tool these days. I'd like to believe that comes from a place of integrity, where learning the facts is the pinnacle of importance. Unfortunately, it's more likely the publishing company is trying to push the "reality" angle, because of the ubiquitous role reality tv plays in the lives of American youth these days. "Cashing in" I believe is the phrase.

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Atlas Obscura

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden WondersAtlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Atlas Obscura is a guide to the world's strangest places.

I've been a fan of road trips almost as long as I've been an obscure facts nerd. This book combines the two in a fashion. I first came across it in an issue of mental_floss and was lucky enough to score a copy for Christmas.

Atlas Obscura has a lot of information on bizarre places around the world crammed into it's 400+ pages, from a penis museum in Iceland to a graveyard in northern Iran with penis-shaped tombstones, to other strange places that have little or nothing to do with penises, like pyramids in the northern part of Sudan or a baobob tree in South Africa with a bar inside. And that's even before America gets any coverage.

The book is organized by region for convenience. The photos in the book are really well done and most entries have one. There are footnotes containing other nearby oddities, which would be a great help if someone was planning an Oddity Odyssey. Some of the articles are on the Atlas Obscura website but many are just for the book.

I could spend paragraph after paragraph rattling off interesting bits from the book but it's best experienced for yourself. This book makes me want to take a drive from the cryptozoology museum in Maine to the ruins of Fordlandia in the Amazon. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Mr. Jaguar

K.A. Merikan
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars


Mike Miller’s life has gone to shit. The formerly popular high school quarterback now works at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. The last thing he needs is meeting the guy he used to bully at school and seeing him all sorts of polished up. James is now the proud owner of an amazing silver Jaguar and a self-made millionaire. It seems that the day couldn’t get any worse for Mike, but James ‘Lovelace’ Austin might just turn out to be his golden ticket out of the job he hates.

When James Austin meets Mike Miller, his high school crush and tormentor all in one, working at an old, dirty gas station, it feels as if the stars have finally aligned in his favor. He wants to finally get his revenge on the guy, but when Mike turns out to be gay, the whole afternoon takes a turn for the surreal. Instead of just humiliating Mike at his workplace, James decides to hire him for a weekend at a conference he’s attending. A hot guy by his side is the only accessory James needs to rub his success in the faces of his frenemies.

Only problem is, a gay Mike Miller might be too much of a blast from the past than James ever expected. If James wants his nerdy heart safe from the hunky jock, he needs to keep Mike at arms length. The task would be a lot easier if Mike wasn’t unashamedly hitting on James. Or is it just James’s money Mike is after?

My Review

James Austin owns a Jaguar and has a very successful career. Though he makes a lot of money and lives very comfortably, he has no love life.

Mike Miller works at a shabby gas station fixing other people’s cars, but doesn’t make enough to afford his own.

When James stops in for gas and a wash, he eventually recognizes Mike was football quarterback in high school, and the guy who pushed James in a cold shower while the entire team watched.

Underneath the anger and humiliation hides unresolved lust. James learns that Mike is deeply closeted and his bullying was just an inept attempt to get James to notice him. In spite of Mike's past behavior, James finds he is now very attracted to him.

Mike badly wants out of his job and sorry life, so he accepts James’ offer of $2,000 to accompany him at a weekend conference.

For the rest of the story, both characters thoroughly annoyed me. Though I was tempted to set the story aside for something else, I gradually found myself tolerating the men’s stupid jokes, sexual innuendos, and enjoying their developing feelings. It’s no longer as simple as James flaunting his wealth and Mike obsessing about sex.

One thing that did bother me, though, was the amount of work-shaming going on in this story. Mike may have been a loser in some ways, but it’s not because he has a dead-end, poorly paying job. I was tired of reading about his bitterness and wanted him to act like a professional. Let’s face it – the economy sucks and not everyone can work at a job that pays well and suits his or her abilities and education. There is no shame in washing cars or making sandwiches. So hold your head up and show some pride in your work. Professionals exist at all levels in every field. And remember, people, it’s just a job. We are so much more than our jobs.

The characters redeem themselves in the end and I got a few laughs, so this wasn’t a bad way to kill some time.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Best Left in the Shadows

Best Left in the Shadows (Best Left in the Shadows #1)Best Left in the Shadows by Mark Gelineau
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A rich girl from the right side of town was beaten and brutally murdered. Her body was found in the wrong part of town and it will surely draw attention.

Best Left in the Shadows was a miss for me largely because it's among my least favorite tropes. Forbidden love, wrong side of the tracks, and detective tale wrapped up into one is a hard sell for me, but I wanted to continue the Echoes of Ascended series so I read it anyway.

The story revolves around Alys and her former lover Dax. Alys is from the wrong side of the tracks, Lowside, she deals in secrets and is friends with questionable individuals. Dax is from a well to do family on the right side of the tracks, Highside, he's also a magistrate and the detective trying to find out who murdered the girl. I'm afraid if my eyes roll any harder they may stay that way.

If you love forbidden love, wrong side of the tracks, and or detective stories Best Left in the Shadows may be for you. If all those tropes make you cringe or yawn then it may be best to avoid this one.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Unholy Consult (Aspect-Emperor, #4) By: R. Scott Bakker

The Unholy Consult (Aspect-Emperor, #4)The Unholy Consult by R. Scott Bakker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this series a LONG time ago, and upon reading this final installment, I find myself somewhat torn.

First, being the world building freak that I am, Mr. Bakker's skill is on full display, you would be hard pressed to find more of a deep, expansive world and history than you do here. The frigging beginning of the book has a recap of the previous tale which is dang near long as some books I have read. That isn't the issue with me, You read best pack a lunch and have your big boy pants on because there is depth on depth on depth in Mr. Bakker's world.

The problem is...while the soaring expanse and pure holy crap grand scale of the world slaps you in the face, the story and the characters leave me feeling cold. I know that bleakness is part of the overall story but I feel that in all this world, the "heart" is cut out of it. It might be me, but when I was younger, the arrogance of this epic world building would appeal to me, but as I progress (I hope) in my pursuits of literary works, I want the story to move me, and in the end, it doesn't.

Is the series worth a read? Yes, the scope of this world is mind blowing, but just be prepared to come out cooler than you go in.

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Monday, August 7, 2017

A Long Wait For Nothing

Unusual Uses for Olive Oil (Portuguese Irregular Verbs, #4)Unusual Uses for Olive Oil by Alexander McCall Smith
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After a near ten-year hiatus, the long-awaited (well, by me at any rate) fourth book in Alexander McCall Smith's comedic Portuguese Irregular Verbs series finally arrived!

I enjoyed the heck out of book number one. Then the following two became a little Candide-like or Monty Python-esque in their wackiness as our hero Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld became embroiled in far flung adventures. This fourth book, Unusual Uses for Olive Oil is a return to the sedate wordsmithing of the first book, and perhaps I really didn't want what I'd been wishing for.

This book is boring. There's no too ways about it. It's lacking in a sense of fun. Oh yes, there's plenty of wordplay and that's all very well and good, but poking fun at Germans and how they take everything literally, as well as the pedantic nature of language professors only goes so far before it becomes tiresome.

I can and do recommend this for word-lovers and those looking for some light academic japery. If you like reading satire on the foibles of the learned, have at it! I got a chuckle or two between the covers of this one and you may, too!

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An Adventure in Satire

Gulliver's TravelsGulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So much more than just a fantastical tale of a man journeying to mystical lands. This is thinly veiled satire...super thin.

A seafaring Englishman ends up in four fairytale worlds where people are small, gigantic, smarties in the maths, and where people are horses. By the second journey you'd think he'd be done with all this, but in the end he's done with humans and has trouble living amongst his own kind.

Written in the old style where listing off occurrences constituted an adventure and a perfectly well constructed story, Gulliver's Travels can be at times a tedious read. It's filled with a laundry list of actions ("I did this and then I did this"), and when you think some tension or conflict is a brewin' you get simple expedients flatly stated ("I was faced with an obstacle and so I overcame it by doing this.") After a time it all becomes trying and uninspiring, making the turning of pages ever more difficult.

However, if you've come to this book looking for condemnation of the human race's worst foibles, you've come to the right place. Swift dispatches venom towards the leeches of humanity. Lawyers, for instance, get blasted left, right and center. I'm one of those people that feels we're not much better, and sometimes not any better, than base animals, so I was okay with the author's bashing of my fellow man. Those who don't understand anything beyond "Humans! We're #1!" aren't going to like this.

Regardless of its faults, I'm glad I finally got around to reading the original, full-length version. In school I read an abridged and sanitized version, which left out all the mentions of genitalia and bodily functions. This is much better with all the pee and tits included!

PS: Check out my video review of Gulliver's Travels here:

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Animal Factory

The Animal FactoryThe Animal Factory by Edward Bunker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Ron Decker is convicted of selling narcotics, he winds up in San Quentin. Earl Copen, a long-time resident, takes him under his wing. As friendship buds between the men, can Ron stay alive long enough to get paroled?

Prison life has always held a strange fascination for me. By most accounts, The Animal Factory is one of the better prison novels.

Written during one of his prison stints, Edward Bunker crafts a tale of two men trying to get by in San Quentin. Not surprisingly, it carries an air of authenticity. There's an undercurrent of despair and desperation beneath Earl Copen's bluster. In Ron Decker, he sees hope that he long abandoned for himself.

Prison life in The Animal Factory is navigating a maze of violence, drugs, and death. Earl teaches Ron to survive in prison and what it is to be a man and a friend. It's a little deeper than I thought it would be going in.

The ending was a good one, one of self sacrifice and showed that a glimmer of goodness resides within prison walls. All things considered The Animal Factory was damn good. Edward Bunker's depiction of prison life in the 1970's is stark and brutal and I can't imagine that prisons have gotten better since then. Kids, stay out of jail! Four out of five stars.

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Friday, August 4, 2017


K.A. Merikan
Acerbi & Villani Ltd.
2 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy


October 1907, Honeyhill

Twenty years into the zombie Plague

Victor is a man of delicate sensibilities, not fit to do backbreaking labour on a farm ran by the mob. Upon arrival in Honeyhill, he decides he needs an anchor, an alliance with one of the guards, if he wants to survive. That anchor comes in the form of Crunch, a hunky ex-sailor with a pair of tight leather trousers and a ruggedly handsome face.

But from day one, Victor knows he won’t last long with the hard physical work assigned to him and the torment he suffers at the hands of a sadistic guard. He needs to run, and his new alliance might prove to be a burden instead of solace.

If Crunch wants Honeyhill liberated, he needs to focus on his job, not on protecting Victor, one of many new arrivals on the farm. Distraction is the last thing he needs after months of undercover work. But it’s hard not to get seduced by Victor’s big brown eyes and fingertips that don’t know work. Hundreds of people depend on Crunch keeping his identity a secret, revealing it could be fatal for both him and Victor, and a failure of his mission.

Thankfully, Victor would never be dumb enough to try and escape through a forest that’s swarming with zombies. Would he?

My Review

So much promise, so disappointing.

London in the early 20th century, zombies, a prisoner/guard romance, a labor camp ruled by a powerful family, and sweet, sweet honey. What’s not to love?

The story starts out with Victor, a young singer, and other prisoners being transported by cattle car to the Dal family’s work camp, known as Honeyhill, where they will serve their sentences. Since Victor is blindfolded and hands bound behind his back, he has no idea where he is going.

“Suddenly, the struggle to raise above the others was gone as the wagon filled with cool air and the crowd moved, carrying Victor with it. He frantically clutched at the fabric of someone’s skirt, but the stream of people came to an abrupt stop with a loud bang that made Victor’s ears ring. The air filled with a new smell, smoky, a bit like fireworks.”

Besides the wrong word usage here, how in the world did Victor manage to clutch at someone’s skirt while his hands were tied behind his back?

Sadly, there were many instances of odd word choices and awkward sentences which distracted me from the story.

Right off the bat, Victor is a very unlikable character. Before he’s even out of his bonds, he’s already making eyes at an attractive guard named Crunch. He’s desperate, lonely and hungry and wants to ally himself with someone who has influence and control over others. Unfortunately, he has not given any thought whatsoever to his dire circumstances, which suddenly don’t seem so dire now that he’s found a love interest. Maybe it’s just me, but when I’m reading a prison story, I’d like for the incarcerated character to suffer a little and endure some hardship. Instead, Victor comes off as needy, manipulative, and immature.

Crunch was a far more interesting character. Unlike the other prison guards, he has an agenda of his own. While working to bring his own plans to fruition, he is also very protective of Victor and is charming when showing a bit of vulnerability and insecurity. Crunch feels lucky to have Victor, as Victor would likely not be interested in a man like him in the real world.

The best moments in the story for me were the creepy, tense scenes involving the evil guard, Sharp, the zombies, and the bees.

Considering that the story took place in 1907, there was little here that made the setting, clothing, mannerisms and dialogue feel authentic. Perhaps, with more world building, this could have been effective as a steampunk novel or alternate history. As it is, the background is flat and the romance unconvincing. I am happy that the authors ended the story realistically, without a schmoopy epilogue.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Rend the Dark

Rend the Dark (Rend the Dark #1)Rend the Dark by Mark Gelineau
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once the world was filled with horrible monsters called Ruins. The massive Ruins were sent back to the Dark from whence they came, but the clever and patient ones remain. The remaining hide in plain sight and are a blight on those who do not believe the old stories. Fortunately the world still has acolytes of the Order of Talan watching over it.

Rend the Dark was the first story I heard about in the Echoes of the Ascended series and the one I was most excited about. I don't like to watch monster movies, but reading about the creatures of darkness that go bump in the night is quite exhilarating for me.

Rend the Dark has the familiar tropes of many monster hunter stories yet that doesn't bother me in the least. The ancient Ruins hide among men, hidden from all except those with special abilities like the sight. Ferran and Mireia are two such special individuals. They arrive at the call from Warden Aker of suspicious activities in the Greenhope march.

Ferran and Mireia are a quality duo that I truly appreciate. Ferran has a deep hate of the ancient evil and a desire to prove himself worthy. Mireia seems to have a deep compassion for people along with devotion to the cause. I look forward to more stories about them.

Rend the Dark is easily my favorite story in the Echoes of Ascended series thus far.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017


TopazTopaz by Leon Uris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”’Look up Wilson and Roosevelt’s declaration-of-war speeches to the congress and work up a case we need it,’ the President said.”

 photo Cuban20Missile20Crisis_zps1fppw8rx.jpg
Nothing suspicious about all that!!

The Cuban Missile Crisis is, in my opinion and the opinion of many others, the closest we have come to World War Three. The citizens in America and Russia were not the only nervous people; the whole world was nervous. The struggle for power, as history has shown, never contains itself just to the principles involved. It bleeds into every corner of the world, or in this case, the radioactive fallout drifts where the wind will take it. The Russian President Khrushchev was convinced he could intimidate the young, brash American President Kennedy.

Well, if you know your history, you know who...blinks.

When Kennedy turns to his aide and asks him for those speeches given by Wilson and Roosevelt, even though I know he never uses that speech, it still sends chills down my spine because it really shows how close the world came to being annihilated.

 photo Topaz20car20shot_zps3xuchtw6.jpg
John Forsythe plays Michael Nordstrom in the 1969 movie.

This story begins with the defection of Boris Kuznetov, a highly placed Russian official who learns he is about to be executed, but instead of placidly accepting his fate he approaches Michael Nordstrom, an American intelligence officer, with an offer of information for his life and the lives of his family. Once in America he will only talk to the French intelligence officer Andre Devereaux.

Kutznetov reveals that there is an operation called Topaz, involving highly placed KGB agents in the French intelligence community. What I didn’t know is that Topaz is based on the true events involving the Martel Affair, or more interestingly referred to as the Sapphire Affair.

This is a steaming pile of radioactive information to have land on Devereaux’s plate, but the Americans need him to do something else for them. He needs to go to Cuba and confirm that those shapes in the U2 overflight pictures are truly what they think they are. Andre is French, and he can just say no, but there is a Little Dove in Cuba whom he would like to see by the name of Juanita de Cordoba, whose husband was a hero of the revolution.

Getting into Cuba is not a problem. Getting out of Cuba with the information about the missiles turns out to be extremely difficult.

 photo Topaz20Andre_zpsp8yw7uqy.jpg
Frederick Stafford is Andre Devereaux in the movie version of Topaz.

Let’s make a quick list of Andre’s problems.

1) He might end up in one of the many, many prisons that have been created since the revolution in Cuba. Viva la revolucion! Well, for some. The problem with most revolutions is that the ones who kicked the bastards out become the new bastards.

2) Rico Parra, a powerful Cuban official, wants The Little Dove for himself. He is pathological in his desire to possess her.

3) Andre’s wife, Nicole, leaves him and moves back to France because he doesn’t pay enough attention to her in Washington DC.

4) President Pierre La Croix doesn’t trust the Americans and doesn’t trust Andre because Devereaux believes that France’s future has to be tied to America. La Croix has Napoleonic visions of where he believes France’s future lies.

5) Who can he trust? There are highly placed KGB moles in his own government. Those same people will most certainly want him dead or discredited or, better yet, both.

6) Andre’s daughter is involved with a writer who has tweaked the noses of the wrong people with his incendiary writing. Telling the truth to a near dictator like La Croix is never safe.

7) Andre has narcolepsy, which when he is really tired or stressed can be temporarily disabling. It is a harbinger of more health issues on the horizon.

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The Hitchcock cameo...can you spot his rotundness?

It is no wonder that Alfred Hitchcock decides to make a movie of the book. He stays reasonably faithful to most of the part of the book set in the 1960s. Leon Uris actually helped with the script, but he and Alfred butt heads over the character development of the villains in the story, and another writer, more conducive to Hitchcock’s ideas, is found. In the later part of the book, Uris devotes some time writing prologues about Devereaux’s adventures during WW2. This gives the reader some background, not only on Devereaux, but also the people he is most closely associated with. The very people who now are the top suspects to be the KGB moles in his government.

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Dany Robin plays Nicole Devereaux in the movie.

This is really an intriguing piece of Cold War writing with a convoluted series of plots that kept me puzzling over potential outcomes. The only misstep that dates the book is some statements made by Andre’s wife, Nicole, about how she should have given herself over to her husband. I read them out loud to my wife hoping she would see the logic, but all I received was a series of eye rolls and complaints about feeling nauseous. Like most people, Nicole does want her spouse to conform to her vision of what she wants him to be--someone powerful, but less involved in the day to day activities of keeping the world safe for democracy. I actually thought that Uris does a reasonably good job presenting a balanced view of her, but some of those statements she makes later in the book doesn’t ring true.

With all this extra background, now I’m off to rewatch the movie. It was a commercial bomb and did not resonate with audiences. I have a feeling that I will watch it with different eyes this time.

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