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Book Reviews – July 2015

As mentioned previously, I’m transitioning to a monthly round-up of book reviews to hopefully reduce the amount of non-gay-erotica book reviews on this blog.  And it’s a good thing, because this month I almost exclusively read Star Trek books!

Here we go!


Star Trek: Enterprise: Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic

Christopher L. Bennett

An original novel continuing the saga of the TV series Star Trek: Enterprise—featuring Captain Jonathan Archer and the crew of the Enterprise!

Years ago, Jonathan Archer and T’Pol helped unearth the true writings of Vulcan’s great philosopher Surak, bringing forth a new era of peaceful reform on Vulcan. But when their discovery is seemingly proven to be a fraud, the scandal threatens to undo a decade of progress and return power to the old, warlike regime. Admiral Archer, Captain T’Pol, and the crew of the U.S.S. Endeavour investigate with help from their Vulcan allies, but none of them suspect the identity of the real mastermind behind the conspiracy to reconquer Vulcan—or the price they will have to pay to discover the truth.

Meanwhile, when a long-forgotten technological threat re-emerges beyond the Federation’s borders, Captain Malcolm Reed of the U.S.S. Pioneer attempts to track down its origins with help from his old friend “Trip” Tucker. But they discover that other civilizations are eager to exploit this dangerous power for their own benefit, even if the Federation must pay the price!

My Rating: 4/5

My Review: I’ve really come to enjoy Bennett’s Enterprise novels — which is a feat as I’ve never been a true lover of Bennett’s books (though I’ve always respected his ability as a storyteller) nor a true lover of the Enterprise series (as I felt that the TV show took it in the wrong direction and then the books followed suit).  Through this ongoing Rise of the Federation series, Bennett has created a series of stories that I’m coming to absolutely love, and I’m coming to really enjoy Bennett as a writer.  Uncertain Logic takes the Enterprise crew in a few good directions — one that explores a tumultuous time on Vulcan (and thus explores Star Trek’s history) and another that follows up on an episode that featured a new technology/culture (and thus explores new ground).  Bennett does a fantastic job of writing the characters from TV as well as creating believable original characters and then putting them all in thrilling scenarios.


Star Trek: New Frontier: The Returned: Part 1

Peter David

The first installment in a brand-new three-part digital-first Star Trek: New Frontier e-novel from New York Times bestselling author Peter David!

Captain Mackenzie Calhoun and the crew of the U.S.S. Excalibur are back, picking up three months after the stunning events depicted in New Frontier: Blind Man’s Bluff. Calhoun’s search of Xenex has failed to find any survivors, and now he is bound and determined to track down the race that killed them—the D’myurj and their associates, the Brethren—and exact vengeance upon them. His search will take the Excalibur crew into a pocket universe, where he discovers not only the homeworld of the D’myurj, but another race that shares Calhoun’s determination to obliterate his opponents. But is this new race truly an ally…or an even greater threat?

My Rating: 4/5

My Review: I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the New Frontier series.  I LOVED it at first, but then slowly lost interest in the characters.  I felt that with the books being a year or more apart and being so disconnected from the rest of the Star Trek universe made me lose a little interest.  As well, I felt the writing weakened as the series went on, becoming a little more comic book-like rather than Star Trek-like… which does make some sense since David writes a lot of comic books.  The Returned, though, is a return to the very strong storytelling that earlier books in the series have featured.  David manages to pull in almost all the characters that have wandered off over the years — and without it coming across as fan-wank — and puts them all in a new and interesting plot.  My only beef, though, is that the book is broken into three parts.  It would be okay if each part stood on its own, but that’s not the case — it was clearly one book that was split into three equal parts.  I will, of course, read the next two parts as soon as they come out, despite my dislike of this sales tactic.


Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Sacraments of Fire

David R. George III

The latest novel in the ongoing Next Generation/Deep Space Nine expanded universe crossover, from New York Times bestselling author David George!

Days after the assassination of Federation President Nan Bacco on Deep Space 9, the unexpected appearance of a stranger on the station raises serious concerns. He seems dazed and confused, providing—in a peculiar patois of the Bajoran language—unsatisfactory answers. He offers his identity as Altek, of which there is no apparent record, and he claims not to know where he is or how he got there. A quick scan confirms the visitor is armed with a projectile weapon—a firearm more antiquated than, but similar to, the one that took President Bacco’s life. But the Bajoran liaison to the station believes that Altek has been sent from the Prophets, out of a nearby wormhole. The last time such an event occurred, it was to reassure Benjamin Sisko of his place as the Emissary. For what purpose has Altek now been sent out of the Celestial Temple?

My Rating: 5/5

My Review: I’ve seen a few complaints on Goodreads of how this book is mostly summary of previous events… but I found it incredibly engaging and captivating.  While I freaking love the DS9 series, I find that so much has happened over the years that I don’t remember huge pieces of it, even though it’s constantly referenced.  Half of this book takes place in the book’s past and provides a wonderful retelling of events, but from a different perspective than previously seen.  The other half takes place in the book’s present and carries the narrative forward (albeit a little slowly).  I have come to think of David R. George III as the George R. R. Martin of the Star Trek universe.  George’s books are slow moving, but addictive… and the major twist, like in any of the Song of Ice and Fire books, takes place in the last chapter, leaving the reader begging for the next book.  My appreciation for George runs deeper than that, though.  Of all the writers of DS9 that I’ve read, George is the only one that seems to really understand the soul of the series and really makes it shine through.


Star Trek: The Next Generation: Armageddon’s Arrow

Dayton Ward

An all-new novel of The Next Generation expanded universe from the New York Times bestselling author!

It is a new age of exploration, and the U.S.S. Enterprise is dispatched to “the Odyssean Pass,” a region charted only by unmanned probes and believed to contain numerous inhabited worlds. Approaching a star system with two such planets, Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his crew find a massive alien vessel, drifting in interstellar space for decades. Sensors detect life aboard the derelict—aliens held in suspended animation. Thought to be an immense sleeper ship, the vessel actually is a weapon capable of destroying entire worlds…the final gambit in a war that has raged for generations across the nearby system. Captain Picard is now caught in the middle of this conflict and attempts to mediate, as both sides want this doomsday weapon…which was sent from the future with the sole purpose of ending the interplanetary war before it even began!

My Rating: 3/5

My Review: Dayton Ward is an author I just don’t get.  I don’t know if it’s just a matter of reader preferences or what, but I’ve never really understood the appeal of his books.  His earlier works are heavy on description and in need of an editor to tighten up his run-on sentences.  This book, though, is a lot better in that respect — but I still don’t get the appeal.   A large part of it, though, is not Ward’s fault.  Ward can only work with what he’s been given — and by this I mean the characters in the present cast of TNG.  A number of new characters have been added, but they have not been portrayed consistently across the different authors’ representations of them.  (Whereas noted above, the new Enterprise and DS9 characters are VERY real, but the TNG ones don’t seem to be as true.)  This is not a problem with just Ward’s books — all of the TNG books featuring Chen, Smrhova (or however it’s spelled), or any of the other half dozen characters whose names I can’t remember have been equally lacklustre for character portrayal.  So, Ward is already at a disadvantage due to other writers’ inability to properly build characters.

The plot is another matter.  It’s an interesting one, though slow-moving at times… and it gets a little convoluted at the end.  I read along without worrying too much about keeping the details straight — I got the gist of it.  This book would have greatly benefitted from tightening up the middle and then using the saved word count to expand in the last third.

Overall, it was a little weak in spots, though it was definitely a much stronger novel than Ward usually writes.


Perfect Tackle

Turner Kane

When Guy Holbrook moves north to play rugby professionally, he finds the other players more than ready for some rough action, both on and off the field. Gritty, brutal and primal, this explicit novel by the author of the popular soccer story Man On! is once again aimed at guys who love jocks in all their glory.

My Rating: 3/5

My Review: This book was fun, though it was largely written in passive voice with great swaths of passive voice and summarized action.  The sex scenes save the book, somewhat.  There’s a real lack of tension since everyone is sort of happy-go-lucky and the stakes are spectacularly low.  However, the idea that gay orgies can save the soccer team was a cute idea.

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Book Review: I Am A Faggot

I Am A Faggot
Sir Hunter

How do you become everything you fantasize about? Marc craves becoming the perfect bottom boy, but he can’t seem to let himself cross over to the dark side. Things turn around when he texts Sir Hunter for a late night erotic stimulation.

The evening quickly turns from playful, horny texting into a night of involuntary milking, a watersports video and a toilet brush. Before he realizes, Marc is enslaved by Hunter by nothing more than a text message.

A master at controlling behavior, Hunter sends Marc on a path leading deeper into a new world of self-discovery, and Marc has not choice but to accept who he is.

This was an interesting and well-written story about a slave coming to fully accept his role as a sub. Marc is trying to be a good sub, but just can’t get into the full mindset… the mindset of the “faggot,” as Marc calls it. He desperately wants to be Sir Hunter’s faggot, but just can’t seem to get his body and mind to accept that title.

Marc does what he can — he tries to stimulate himself and force his mind to accept that he is a faggot. He texts Sir Hunter and slowly the evening spirals out of control.

I Am A Faggot was a hot read. I have to admit I was a little hesitant when I realized that Marc is the only one in the story (Sir Hunter is only present as a few text messages), because, really, how hot can a solo scene get in erotica? I was glad to be shown just how hot a solo story can get.

Sir Hunter depicts Marc’s descent to faggot believably. I know little about the BDSM lifestyle, other than what occasionally shows up in a book or *cough* online film, and I know even less about the mindset of someone who wishes to be a sub — like, is it a conscious choice or is it an innate personality trait? Interestingly, Sir Hunter doesn’t really explain the reasons behind Marc’s descent to faggot sub, and the story is all the stronger for it. Sometimes, over-explanation kills a story or explains away something too easily — but Sir Hunter does neither.

Sir Hunter crafts a fascinating erotic story that left me wanting more. The “About the Author” section only adds to the appeal of the book — according to the blurb, everything in I Am A Faggot is based on real events that Sir Hunter has experienced as a master.

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Book Review: Home Again

Home Again

Cardeno C.

Noah Forman wakes up in a hospital and can’t remember how he got there. He holds it together, taking comfort in the fact that the man he has loved since childhood, his partner, Clark Lehman, is on his way. But when Clark finally arrives, Noah is horrified to discover that he doesn’t remember anything from the past three years, and he simply can’t understand why. It will take some painful confrontations if Noah’s going to figure out why he’s lost all memories of his recent past… and secure the future he’s dreamed of having with Clark.

I loved this book.

Home Again takes an alternating past/present approach to tell two story lines — how Noah and Clark met and became a couple (past sections) and Noah waking up in the hospital with no memory of the past three years and an exploration into what he can’t remember (present sections).  These two sections were beautifully interwoven, with the present told from Noah’s POV and the past from Clark’s.

I felt the relationship was real and the love was true.  I’ve found this can be a hard thing to do in M/M fiction, as there are many romantic pairings that I just don’t buy 100%, but with Noah and Clark, there’s no doubt that they are meant to be together forever.  I found their intimate scenes to be steamy and they contained a nice variety so that each sex scene had it’s own energy and urgency.

I loved the character development of Noah and Clark, as well as some of the minor characters.  All of it was tastefully and excellently done.  The only minor hitch in the entire thing was a scene in which Noah and Clark go out for an evening with friends — it was just a few too many people all at once and it stood out as being different from the rest of the book.  (This is common in a lot of books that kick off series, I’ve found, where there are scenes with extra characters that don’t do much for this present book, but introduce readers to characters who will be integral to future books — indeed, after reading a few of the reviews online, the characters introduced in that scene are later main characters in future entries to the series.)  Though I didn’t really enjoy that scene, it did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.

As I mentioned above, I took a look at some of the other reviews on Goodreads and I was surprised by what I found there.  I rated this book 5/5 because I loved it so much, but there are a handful of 1-star reviews.  Some readers found it confusing — whereas I totally did not.  Some readers found the chemistry between the characters lacking — whereas I totally did not.  Some readers found the sex unrealistic — whereas I totally did not.  I understand that different readers have different reactions to books — hell, I’ve got a range from 1-star to 5-stars on my own stuff — but I found it surprising that a book I thought was damn-near perfect could be so disliked by other readers.

For me, I loved getting to know the characters, seeing how they fell in love, uncovering the emotional pain that is the source of Noah’s missing memory, and going along with them as they try to heal from that pain and move forward in life.  I loved reading their sex scenes, the variety of them, the urgency, the lust, and overpowering ecstasy of release.  And I loved the duality, the story of how they met and the story of how they repair their relationship, the past and present, Noah and Clark.

To each their own, I guess.  Me, though?  I freaking loved Home Again.

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Book Review: Author Marketing 101

Author Marketing 101

C. Morgan Kennedy & Therese Patrick

As an author, you need to get the word out about your book and get it selling. “Author Marketing 101 Guide and Journal” is the book that will help you do just that. Using a strategic marketing plan through interactive exercises and case studies, both new and established authors will learn to develop a professional author persona, identify and target your audience, develop a detailed marketing plan, enhance your website, and use your persona to interact with your readers. This step by step guide lays out the building blocks to help you jump-start and hone your marketing skills and build your book’s readership.

This book should be required reading for all writers, particularly self-published writers like myself.  Book marketing is something that many people seem to have little concrete knowledge of.  Pimping out your works on social media sounds like the answer to so many writers — but the reality is that constant self-promotion is bad for sales.  I know I’ve unfollowed a few authors on Twitter who do nothing but pimp their books.  (I used to follow one author who sent out over 100 tweets a day about his/her book.)

This book takes actual marketing concepts and applies them to the life of the writer.  It’s a very refreshing look at marketing.  Everyone is told that social media is where it’s at — but as I’ve described in the above paragraph, many people don’t know what that means.  There are a variety of guidelines that should be followed for creating and maintaining an effective author persona on social media.

The authors of this book not only explain different marketing concepts, but also when and where to apply them.  Whereas on social media you only want to market 10% of the time, you should be doing it pretty much 100% on your personal website.  They even delve into email signatures — you know how authors (or businesses in general) will have links to products and websites in their email signature?  Turns out there’s a certain number of links that is effective — any more than that number and you’re just turning off readers.

Having read through this, I can tell which authors on Twitter are effective at marketing themselves and which are not.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t always equate to sales figures.  (I wish!)  Some of the authors that break all the rules have high sales and others who follow these rules precisely do dismal.  While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to marketing, this book is effective in reaching the reader and helping them craft an actual marketing plan that is unique to the individual author.

In my own writing life, this book has helped me identify areas of weakness that I didn’t even know were problems!  I have a short list of tasks to undertake in the coming weeks, little tweaks to my platform.  I have a feeling that this will be one of the very few books that I actually go back and read a second time.  I think it would be worthwhile to read this again in a year to reassess where I am and where I need to go.

This book, truly, should be a must-read for authors.

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Book Review: Fire on the Mountain

Fire on the Mountain

P.D. Singer

The Mountains

2nd Edition

Take a break from academics, enjoy the Colorado Rockies, fight a fire now and then. That’s all Jake Landon expected when he signed up to be a ranger. He’ll partner with some crusty old mountain man; they’ll patrol the wilderness in a tanker, speak three words a day, and Old Crusty won’t be alluring at all. A national forest is big enough to be Jake’s closet–he’ll spend his free time fishing.

Except Old Crusty turns out to be Kurt Carlson: confident, competent, and experienced. He’s also young, hot, friendly, and considers clothing optional when it’s just two guys in the wilderness. Sharing a small cabin with this walking temptation is stressing Jake’s sanity–is he sending signals, or just being Kurt? And how would Kurt react if he found out his new partner wants to start a fire of a different kind? Jake’s terrified–they have to live together for five months no matter what.

Enough sparks fly between the rangers to set the trees alight, but it takes a raging inferno to make Jake and Kurt admit to the heat between them.

First Electronic Edition published by Torquere Press (2009).

Bonus Short Story: Into the Mountains

Long before he met Jake, Kurt Carlson climbed Yosemite with his best friend, Benji. But after a storm traps them halfway up the face of El Capitan, Kurt has to accept that their friendship isn’t what he thought.

Fire on the Mountain was a hot read!  I’ve found over the last several months, my enjoyment of M/M erotic romance novels has risen and fallen and risen and fallen as I’ve read a number of meh book and a few great books.  Fire on the Mountain was one of the fantastic ones.

I have to admit that for the first half of the book (or maybe the first two-thirds), I was enjoying it, but wasn’t entirely sold on it.  The friendship between Jake and Kurt was fun and Jake’s attempts at suppressing his horniness for Kurt were enjoyable.  There’s a nice amount of tension to keep the story going… and then the forest catches fire.  And, like the trees, the smouldering lust building up between Jake and Kurt explodes into a roaring ball of flame.  The moment of first sex was so perfectly timed and written — it could have easily felt out of place amidst a forest fire, but Singer expertly writes the scene such that I can totally see two guys going at it while the world burns not more than twenty feet away.  All of the scenes that follow the explosion of love, which could have been so corny now that the love was out and clear to everyone, were also very well written and enjoyable to read.  The relationship between Jake and Kurt felt very real.

And on more technical matters — I found the writing in Fire on the Mountain to be very well done.  Singer writes with a clarity and strength that was refreshing.  And of particular note are all of the scenes covering the technical side of forest fighting.  While it would have been easy to make it feel out of place and laborious — like she was trying to prove to the reader she can do research — Singer instead weaves the facts into the story so well that I never once felt I was being lectured to as a reader, or that Singer was out to prove her research capability.  She writes with an understanding of the subject such that I wouldn’t be surprised if she spent time herself as a forest fire fighter.

The bonus short story at the end (Into the Mountains), while interesting in that it shows how Kurt ends up as a forest fire fighter, was, I think, a little out of place.  After finishing the final chapter in Fire on the Mountain, the reader is on a high having just experienced the joyous love and scorching sex between Jake and Kurt… and then we get a short story that features Kurt with another guy a few years earlier… and it doesn’t go so great…

That being said, it’s really just the placement of the story that I find iffy.  The story itself was a fantastic read, too.  Whereas in Fire on the Mountain, Singer wrote with expertise on forest fire fighting, in Into the Mountains, Singer writes about rock climbing with similar expertise.  The tension that builds (both sexual and otherwise) was well done and the fall-out afterward, while disappointing for the characters, was an entrancing read.

Fire on the Mountain is an excellent novel and one of the better M/M erotic romance books I’ve come across in quite a while.

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Book Review: 2K to 10K

2,000 to 10,000: How to Write Faster, Write Better, and Write More of What You Love

Rachel Aaron

“Have you ever wanted to double your daily word counts? Do you feel like you’re crawling through your story, struggling for each paragraph? Do you want to get more words every day without increasing the time you spend writing or sacrificing quality? It’s not impossible, it’s not even that hard. This is the story of how, with a few simple changes, I boosted my daily writing from 2000 words to over 10k a day, and how you can, too.”

Expanding on her highly successful process for doubling daily word counts, this book–a combination of reworked blog posts and new material–offers practical writing advice for anyone who’s ever longed to increase their daily writing output. In addition to updated information for Rachel’s popular 2k to 10k writing efficiency process, 5 step plotting method, and easy editing tips, this new book includes chapters on creating characters that write their own stories, story structure, and learning to love your daily writing. Full of easy to follow, practical advice from a commercial author who doesn’t eat if she doesn’t produce good books on a regular basis, 2k to 10k focuses not just on writing faster, but writing better, and having more fun while you do it.

This book was recommended to me by a writer friend as a motivating book to increase writing productivity and improve the quality of writing output.  I was a tad skeptical when I started this book, as I’ve read many advice books before and gleaned nothing much from them.  Rachel Aaron, though, writes with energy and enthusiasm and, above all, creates a very clear roadmap for how to increase your writing productivity and how to generate stronger writing.

Admittedly, there’s nothing too terribly new in here, as the formula involves analyzing your own productivity and habits and doing a lot of planning and pre-writing before you start writing for the day.  But the kicker here is that she lays is out clearly and effectively, and her enthusiasm is contagious.  To add to this 2K to 10K enthusiasm, Aaron also spends time talking about the importance of proper plot development and character creation — and then ties it all back to the 2K to 10K model.

It’s a helpful and very motivating little book.  I can see it being very helpful to newer authors, but also something more experienced and successful authors could benefit from.  2K to 10K is easily one of the best writing books I’ve read in a long time.

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Book Review: Punk Chicken

Punk Chicken

Punk Chicken

Anonymous

[Note: The back cover blurb for Punk Chicken is an excerpt from early on in the book.]

Pete Dunn couldn’t believe that it was really happening, because it seemed like a wet dream.  Yes, he could touch, smell and taste the stud.

“Eat my ass, teach,” Mark said.

The teacher spread the 18-year-old blond student’s furry buns and looked at the pink pucker.  He licked the peace fuzz that clung to the kid’s body like moss to a rock.

Peter stuck his tongue into the kid’s ass and tasted the tangy bunghole.

“Tongue-fuck my butt, man.  Stick your tongue way up inside and lick my ass.”

A student was so dangerous to get involved with.  Everything was on the line — Peter’s teaching credentials, his reputation.  But he couldn’t stop now.

I stumbled across this book and picked it up — it looked hot and it looked dirty, and the fact that it seemed to have no author, no publisher, and no publication data on it anywhere piqued my curiosity.  I did some Google searching and I can only find a couple references to the book, mostly in LGBT archives.  I wasn’t able to find an image of the cover (so I had to scan it for this post), nor any other real acknowledgement that it exists.

I kept wishing this book had some publication data in the front — specifically, the publication date.  (And part of me wondered if there was no publication data because at the time it was published, this type of literature would have been underground or possibly illegal in some areas.)  I tried placing it based on the content, but I wasn’t sure if it was a reflection of the time at which it was written, or if it was relatively newer and depicted a past time.  If I read it right, gay sex was illegal in all US states except for California.  A quick perusing of sodomy laws in the US indicates this takes place likely before 1979, at the latest (though Wikipedia seems to indicate that California was not the first state to strike down these laws) — and the book was in such good condition that I wasn’t sure if it was just well-preserved or it was in fact newer than the 70s.  The sheer number of typos were interesting, as well, as they indicate a lack of editorial input or oversight.  There were also a number of gay scene terms that I was unfamiliar with (which was a strong clue that this was an older book), though the context allowed me to catch on pretty quick.

I often tell people that Hardball is the hottest/dirtiest book I’ve ever read — but I think I’m going to have to change my response now.  Hardball still ranks as the most intensely erotic book I’ve read, but as far as dirtiness goes, it doesn’t hold a candle to Punk Chicken.  And, even then, it was dirty to such an extreme that I had difficulty taking everything in an erotic context.  While, like HardballPunk Chicken had lots of bareback sex, frequent partner switching, rimming where the bottoms aren’t quite clean, and watersports, Punk Chicken also includes frequent BDSM and scat-play scenes.  I was quite turned off by the scat.

However, all of this aside, if this was indeed written in the 70s or earlier, and if this is indeed a depiction of gay culture at that time, I find Punk Chicken to be a fascinating slice through the strata of gay culture.  If it’s not an accurate portrayal, it’s still a fascinating read in what it seems to reveal about human nature.  Characters plead with Mark, the main character, for him to be gentle, yet he treats them like scum, he physically hurts them (which is different than in a regular BDSM novel, as there are no safe-words or contracts, this is just plain abuse), then he sh*ts on their chests… and the guys on the receiving end finds this to be an intensely erotic experience and they beg Mark to come back and do it again.

There is a loose plot in Punk Chicken, involving the murder of Mark’s first fuck-buddy, Pete, who is his high school teacher.  The evidence points to Mark and, since he was high on cocaine at the time, he thinks he actually did it.  He runs away to San Francisco, which is where the bulk of these abusive and dirty sex encounters take place.  The plot is quickly resolved and essentially swept under the rug in the last half of the last chapter, as if the author realized, “Oh, crap, I have to tie this up somehow.”

When I first set out to write this review, I was thinking it would be short — just a couple paragraphs.  I’m quite surprised how long this has ended up… this short book of only 150 pages (with very large print and small size pages) seems to have incited a lot of thinking.  It makes me wonder if in 30+ years, people will read through a gay erotica book from 2014 and be as mesmerized and in awe as I seem to be over Punk Chicken.

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