Review: Shardfall (The Shardheld Saga, Book One) ~ Paul E. Horsman

ShardfallMuus is only a thrall, a chattel without rights, but he knows the small, blue shard he picked up belongs to him alone.

Kjelle, heir to the Lord of a rich mininghold, is strong, and covetous of his thrall’s tantalizing find.

The one’s greed causes an avalanche that leaves both young men marooned on an icy mountain slope. The other’s commonsense saves their lives from cold and starvation.

Now the antagonists are bound together on a danger-laden journey to a lost and burning land, where Muus needs to connect the skyshard to the Kalmanir, the standing stone that is the world’s fount of all magic. The Kalmanir’s time is almost up and it urgently needs to be replenished before the magic of Gods and men runs out. The two antagonists have to learn to trust each other, for all around them, enemies abound. Rebels threaten both the kingdom and Kjelle’s holding, and a tribe of mad idolaters is trying to recall the banned primordial Old Gods. Even more imminent is Muus’ danger, for it comes from nearby, from the shard itself.

Muus is the only one person in the world who can wield the powerful skyshard. Will he succeed with Kjelle’s help to reach the standing stone before the world’s magic dies?

3 Thumbs-Up

This is the Author’s debut novel, and the first in The Shardheld Sage series.

The saga is set back in history during the time of the Norsemen, and is very well researched.  As the reader progresses through the pages they receive a glimpse of life as it was, not only for the Norsemen themselves, but also for the poor souls they captured and used as slaves.  But don’t think that this is just a historical novel, as it’s not; it is so much more than that.

As this is the first in the series, the character development takes it time and no one character takes the foreground as being the main lead throughout this book.  Each comes into focus, and then drops back for a while to give the other a chance at the limelight.  I felt this worked well as it served as a ‘hook’ into the rest of the series.  It made me feel as if I want to read the rest of the saga to find out where the development of the characters would lead, and who would come out on top.  The part of the chattel, and again I can’t go into too much detail without revealing spoilers, is written beautifully and you can feel the anger and resentment that this person has for their master as well as others he interacts with who try to show some kindness. His bitterness, and also loss of self, engulf his every moment in this novel and, I was sure when I started reading that he would be the main lead.  His master also features strongly in this first book, and is not the stereotypical Norse Man of history.  He is weak, self-centred and, I have to say this, a downright coward; the kind of person who you just want to shake.  However, the Author explains the reasoning why he is like this, rather than leaving us guessing and hoping it would all be explained in later books.  This makes me want to read on and see will his character develop to become the type of Viking his Father can be proud of, or will he return to his habits of old.

The world inhabited by these characters is well written and descriptive; you can feel the cold of the biting wind and hearing it howling when it blows and your arms ache from the everyday tasks to keep the town alive.  It’s not only a well written book from the visually descriptive angle, it also assaults your nostrils as well, which is not an easy thing to do when placing words on paper but, the Author manages to do this without effort and it adds to the well created medieval fantasy this book is.

My only criticism about this book was there were some sloppy grammatical errors that a diligent proof-reader should have picked up on, if not a good editor.  Although they did not detract from the plot in any way, the repetition of some words back to back (the the, for example) eventually became irritating, and is the reasoning behind my rating this book as I have.  Having said this, I would like to read the remaining books in the saga, as they are published, just to satisfy my curiosity as to how things will pan out.

I would recommend this novel to anyone looking for a quick and enjoyable read, as it’s only 142 pages in length, but it will also appeal to lovers of the sci-fi and fantasy genres, plus readers looking for something a little different in the Norse and Viking arena.

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Review: The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature ~ Jeff VanderMeer et al

Steampunk BibleSteampunk—a grafting of Victorian aesthetic and punk rock attitude onto various forms of science-fiction culture—is a phenomenon that has come to influence film, literature, art, music, fashion, and more. The Steampunk Bible is the first compendium about the movement, tracing its roots in the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells through its most recent expression in movies such as Sherlock Holmes. Its adherents celebrate the inventor as an artist and hero, re-envisioning and crafting retro technologies including antiquated airships and robots. A burgeoning DIY community has brought a distinctive Victorian-fantasy style to their crafts and art. Steampunk evokes a sense of adventure and discovery, and embraces extinct technologies as a way of talking about the future. This ultimate manual will appeal to aficionados and novices alike as author Jeff VanderMeer takes the reader on a wild ride through the clockwork corridors of Steampunk history.

4 Thumbs-Up

This was a beautiful book with lavish illustrations tracing the Steampunk movement. Its origins in the industrial revolution and the literature of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, to its influence in modern-day fiction, fashion, art, craftsmanship, and film, are all documented with beautiful photography, illustrations, and prints on almost every single page of the book; it’s worth reading just for the visual experience as the layout of the pages has been well thought out to give the reader a feast for the eyes.

There were some sections that I found rather disappointing. For example, the section on Steampunk fashion made me feel that if I didn’t have the right boots/goggles/work belt, then I wouldn’t be considered to be serious about my Steampunk.  This smacked of the elitist point of view to me, as I know many people who have some outstanding costumes and have won prizes, but don’t check all the blocks they say are necessary in this book.  Also the section on much went on just a little too long for such a new sound.

However, I did find the book thought-provoking and insightful, and made me consider that Steampunk and other movements are actually springing up all around the globe full of people wanting to disconnect from our technological and virtual society. The do-it-yourself ethic in which Steampunk is highly invested, focuses on creating things with your own hands in order to reconnect with the world around you while at the same time giving yourself  meaning and purpose in your life; we can see this mindset slowing taking hold through various avenues such as homesteading and self-sufficiency groups.

I would recommend it to readers who are interested in this genre, if it can be called such; those who are just dipping a toe into Steampunk, and anyone else who would like a beautiful, and unusual coffee table book.

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Review: The Quirky, Nerdy, and Entirely Original Elementary School Adventures of Derpy Dirk: Derpy Dirk and the Fight With the School Bully By the Flagpole At Lunch — a Derp Sandwich chapter book ~ Derp Sandwich

Derpy Dirk

Okay, two things I want to say right up front is this little short had me laughing out loud as I read it in bed, much to the chagrin of Hubby who was trying to sleep, and secondly I want to repeat what the author has tried to drill in to the unsuspecting readers head:

THIS BOOK IS NOT FOR CHILDREN!

 

4 Thumbs-Up

If you are looking for a book that is ‘politically correct; give this one a miss.  If you are looking for a book that has all its grammatical and spelling ducks in a row; give it a miss.  This book is pure unadulterated satire, full of ‘offensive’ comments made by our nerdy ‘hero’, and his faithful sidekick.  The book is, and I’ll say this again, satire; satire is meant to be offensive and so far away from politically correct it would take light years to get there.  This little book is also absolutely, hilariously stupid.

The Author uses a pen name, and maybe that’s wise after reading this; it would save him having to move multiple times, and keep his insurance premiums down on house and car.  Maybe I should consider doing the same after writing this review.

I am going to highly recommend this book to those people out there that are still unafraid to laugh, even if it is in the privacy of your own homes, at the inappropriate jokes, racial slurs and just plain stupidity that passes for common sense nowadays.  I truly think you would get a kick out of this book… or is it a ‘journal’, maybe a diary!.  To find out what I mean by this last sentence, pick it up and give it a read.

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Review: Junk Man ~ Erec Stebbins

Junk Man

A young boy from the Trail comes to the city. He is an outsider. Ignorant. Alone. Until he finds the Junk Man. Then, what was broken might be made new.

3 Thumbs-Up

This novella is written in a first person narrative style, with the narrator being a teenage boy.  It has been written in such as manner that I felt as if I were sat there with him while he related his tale to me, along with all its asides.  The boy ‘speaks’ to the reader with a deep southern or hill country accent and, as I read I could hear his voice in my head with all the twists and nuances his accent provided.  I did find the way the narrative was written to be a little daunting at first, and found myself having to reread portions of it to make sure I had truly understood what my teenage story-teller was trying to get across.  However, this did not detract from the novella as a whole, just made it a little bit more than an easy quick read.

Because of the way in which it is written, there does not need to be any deep character developments or plots; we are just being offered a slice of this boy’s life, and all it contains, with no frills.  Having said that though, as the reader progresses through the novella, they are made to actually think and re-evaluate the things they come across in their everyday lives, and also the way in which they interact with the people in their lives.

This is a hard little book to write a review on as so much that could be said about it, would just be spoiling the whole experience for readers that pick it up.  It is a special little book and, if I were more familiar with the vernacular used by the narrator, I would most likely have said it was an outstanding read but, unfortunately for me, the having to backtrack over some of the narration really interrupted the flow.

This is a book I would recommend to readers from teens up to adults.  The only thing they may need to be aware of is the narration style, but other than that this novella is not offensive in any way and is worth your time to read.

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Review: Dead Men & Cats ~ Aya tsi scuceblu Walksfar

Dead Men

The quiet, agricultural community of Shadow Island is suddenly beset by violence. A dead man and a live calico kitten are discovered floating in an old rowboat in Shallow Point Cove. Then Dan Uley’s bookstore is firebombed. With a black cat.

Both men were gay.

Sheriff Johnson, known to have harsh feelings toward gays, makes no progress in catching the culprit.

Megan Albright and Janie Sampson, a lesbian couple and long-time residents, fear the rash of violence is not over, and question the sheriff’s commitment to investigating the crimes.

When their friend, Dan, is gruesomely murdered, they know time is running out to find this killer for there is no telling who will be the next to die.

But, they never thought the trail would lead to a well-liked young man.

 5 Thumbs-UpThis novella is a debut work for this Author. I also have to mention for those overly sensitive folks again, that this book does deal with matters relating to the LGBT community, so if you have issues with sexual orientation you may not want to read further.  Regardless, or even because of this, I feel this Author may well be on their way to having their book spines rubbing covers with Hazel Holt and Laura Childs in the cozy mystery genre.

This is a cozy mystery of the best kind in this genre that I have read in a long time. The main character leads are both women, life partners, who just fit so comfortably into the role that this type of book demands of its ‘heroines’.  They are both extremely well written and well developed characters, with their back stories being leaked to us bit by bit as we progress through the novella.  There is no sudden rush of information, and no changing of the pace of the way of life these characters live, and at which pace the book was written.  They were so well written I wanted to drop by and visit with them, the next time I headed North through WA State; they were the kind of people I would gladly count as my friends, and enjoy becoming involved in adventures with.

The descriptions of the Puget Sound and surrounding area were exactly as they are in reality.  I live in this area so I was able to visualise where things were, or intended to be. I could see the areas of Seattle that were described; walking the streets and driving the causeway over to the Islands.

Like all books of this genre, it is fast paced and laced with twists and turns that make you think.  The Author also puts a lot of emphasis on her plot development, which is apparent throughout.  This is a gentle book with no graphic violence, profanity or explicit sexual scenes, and with the deaths contained within its pages happening out of the pages, instead of us having to live through each gruelling blow.  This novella does have one major difference to the usual cozy mystery, and that is the victims did not deserve to die.  To go into this more would be to have reveal spoilers, so to find out exactly what I mean you will have to read the novella.

I would highly recommend this book to all lovers of the mystery genre, cozy or not, as it is a fast paced novella, with several twists leading to a surprising conclusion.  I am looking forward to seeing if the female leads in this novella make an appearance in future works by this Author.

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Review: Warrior Crone ~ Jennifer Christopherson

Warrior Crone

Generations of Tirawan kings have laid the groundwork for King Johahn. The peasants fear the Gohmdae people and everything connected to them. Their children play games of hunting them and burning them at the stake. His plan to wipe the Ghomdae out and take over their lands will be unquestioned.

The Ghomdae, wishing only for peace and to live life their own way, have kept their distance for generations. However, when reports of soldiers in the forest and on the Taarook plains start pouring in, they must send their own into the very heart of the danger to act as spies. After many years and many deaths, they find out what is going on.

To-Shora, second household to Crone Jeh-Gah, is one of these spies. During her mission, she is raped and has a child for each rape. Tar-Reesh, the eldest of these children, befriends the magistrate’s daughter, Winaiva, and grows up playing games of hunting and burning Gohmdae.

Tar-Reesh, ever seeking acceptance, and Winaiva, ever searching for freedom, are taught the truth and are forced to choose their part in the conflict. But will they be able to live with their choice? Will they win the war to keep the Ghomdae free? What are the roles of the dragons and elves? What, exactly, does Fate have in store for these two girls, these two peoples, this peninsula?

2 Thumbs-Up

This is a debut work for this Author, and my spidey sense started twitching as soon as I read the summary of the book; not is a good way.

This was a very strange book that had me feeling it was the second instalment in a series.  I even put it to one side to search and see if I had missed the beginning of this tale; but no, this is where it starts. Despite this, I thought it may be one of those rare books in a series, that is perfectly happy standing all alone and making its mark as a solo act as well as part of a series; again that was not to be the case.  The Author had a great vision when writing this book, but for some reason it really didn’t translate well on to the page.

The characters, all of them throughout the book, seemed very underdeveloped to me and all spoke in the same formal manner, which made them very hard to separate from one another.  They had no back-story to speak of, which again made it hard to relate to them in any way.  Hence the feeling I had whilst reading this, of walking in halfway through a conversation and expecting to be able to successfully debate it.  The protagonist was immediately on my ‘I really hope something despicable happens to you’ list, as they are arrogant, rigid and refuse to accept anyone else but they could possibly be right.  The fact that this character provoked a response from me meant it was given at least a passing thought as to its development by the Author, as it managed to push all the right buttons when evoking that feeling of wanting to reach out and shake them.  It is such a shame I felt I had missed out on their life story and why they were like this, I like characters to exhibit a few believable flaws instead of them expecting me to believe they could walk on water.

There were some wonderfully descriptive aspects to this book which, if they had been explored in more depth could really have gone a long way to helping the plot along.  As it was they were dealt with in a rather perfunctory manner, as if they were of no import.  The few snippets we had of this complex fantastical world were the kind that starts an image forming in the readers’ brain, but as it was coming into focus it was snatched away.  This was the tone of the whole book for me; it was random and disjointed with bizarre little flashbacks happening that I had no clue as to where they came from, or what their purpose was.

This was a good fantasy read; that with a bit more tweaking and direction could become a great fantasy read. I would recommend it to lovers of this genre, but advise they go into not expecting an epic.  If the Author decides to write a prequel to this, that started at the very beginning, and gave back-story to all the happenings in this novel, I would definitely read it before trying this book again as I feel it would give a lot more sense and meaning to the book I have just reviewed.

 

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Review: Massive Black Hole ~ Andrea Barbosa

Massive Black Hole

Three women from very different backgrounds begin an unlikely friendship. While trying to achieve their goals, they question the meaning of life, death and the existence of hell. A series of unfortunate circumstances prompt them to play with each others’ fate, and the outcome is a challenge to their conscience, values and beliefs – until there is no more redemption to their unexpected awakening.

Cibele is Brazilian and she dreams of a life in New York. Agatha’s ambition is to become a famous fashion model. And Amy is a young scholar whose goal in life is to study sciences and astrophysics. Although they have nothing in common, their lives are weaved together and they become friends – a friendship that ultimately turns into a maze of betrayal, jealousy and selfishness, culminating in a most unexpected finale.

3 Thumbs-Up

This novel is a debut work for this Author.

This is a book with not one but what appears to be three female leads that need to be kept track of. Because of this it was difficult at times to keep remember which character I was involved with in that particular section of the book, and I found myself having to flip-flop around to make sense of what I was reading.  The characters are well written and not too badly developed; something I feel could have been improved upon if each characters story had been taken to the brink of the conclusion, then bringing in one of the others.  After all they were all involved in the same incident, no spoiler there, just a little tease.  The characters are, in essence, the main driving force of the story in this novel, but their lack of depth actually detracted from the read as a whole.  None of the three were what I would call particularly strong, but they did incite some emotion from me, so in that they are worth reading about; you will either love them all or hate them individually for their flaws.

It is apparent from the way the Author describes her locations that she has travelled extensively and has personal knowledge of the places she writes of.  However, in some areas these descriptions became so detailed I felt as if I were reading a travel guide.  Unfortunately though, as well as the locations were written and a picture painted, it did not make me want to pack a bag and hop the next flight to either Brazil or New York.  Regardless of this I did get hints of Joyce Carol Oates whilst reading, with maybe a pinch of a couple of Authors I couldn’t quite place.

I think for me personally, the downside to this book was finding out about halfway through it was actually one of my dreaded romance novels and not a ‘mystery’ as I understood it to be.  This did not stop me from reading to the end, and has not influenced my review in any way either.

This is a good little read, if you can get past the romance, and I would recommend it as a beach read, or something for a lazy evening on your deck in your yard.  I feel it would be suitable for an older YA reader as well as adult readers.

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Review: Kydona ~ T.K. Krug III

Kydona

Named for heaven, the kingdom of Elessia once served as a beacon to the world. Now its name has become a byword for decadence. When Lord Prince Marcus de Pilars hears the beginnings of a vast conspiracy from the lips of his dying mother, he sets out to uncover the motives lurking behind the war his father waged. With the help of Kaelyn Beauvais—a sharp-tongued courtesan nursing a long-hidden desire—and Vernon de Gauthier—a near-disturbingly prolific womanizer with a weakness for apples—Marcus slowly unearths the truth: his country lies on the brink of collapse. And soon, the vanquished nation of Kydona will rise to settle a generation-old score.

In Elessia’s debauched court, the threat goes unheeded. Marcus’s romances bloom and just as quickly wither. Blood is shed, lives extinguished. It matters little. Quarrel and murder, lust and love, right and wrong—the lines that separate these are hopelessly blurred in the throes of court intrigue. And the difference between each rests on a knife edge so sharp that even a hero cannot tell them apart.

3 Thumbs-Up

This is the first in a series of books centred round Kydona and, in this book we find a lot of the scene setting done that will, hopefully come to fruition in later episodes, which definitely does not make it a stand-alone read.

Time has been taken to develop the characters in this book, starting with a male lead that is gradually fleshed out in the opening chapters.  He is arrogant, reckless and an all round heel; visualise Joffrey in Game of Thrones, and you are on the right track.  As befits someone in his position, he has very little regard for those around him, even his own Mother and, as the novel progresses we see a change brought about by the realization of the consequences of his acts.  Not enough of a change to make this character likeable, but enough to make the reader wonder where, and how, he will develop in later books.  It is suffice to say that he not your stereotypical hero and, if you cannot put your dislike of him to the side, you may not read to the end of the novel; a character does not have to be likeable to be a good character.

In writing Kydona, the Author has revealed an amazing ability to describe court intrigue, weaponry and warfare, which led me to believe he had done a fair amount of research.  Some aspects written about though, would not have all been present in the same era so, because of this, I would not wholly regard this book as fitting in the Fantasy genre as it has more of the elements found in a good Steampunk novel.  This clash of elements though, only added to the book  and made me wonder which direction things would go, making me want to read on.

Dialogue is very precise and drawn out in some places, making the reader wish they would get on with it already and move on.  But again this slow and precise interaction is what makes this a good little read, setting more scenes for future works, and also answering questions that come up whilst reading this one.  If you are averse to swearing and gratuitous sex scenes in your reads, this may not be the book for you.  In my opinion, I sometimes felt as if the sex scenes were added as fillers and because the Author was a little at a loss as to how to tie up that particular section; they don’t propel the plot onward or in any direction I could see.  Fortunately they are not badly written, so at least that was their one redeeming feature.  There is a little racial stereotyping in this novel, but again we are not naive enough to believe it has been stamped out entirely in our real world, so why should it not appear in our literature as long as it isn’t written offensively, and this isn’t.

This is another easy read little book that fell by the wayside because of some proofreading and editing errors.  Some so obvious, I was surprised that they had not been picked up by someone out there prior to it being published. There were so many missing words, grammatical errors and a general butchering of the English language, that even I had to reread some passages several times before the light bulb went on and I could continue, and this led to the book only being awarded 3 thumbs.  I expected this to deliver so much more than it did and, even though I enjoyed it, because of all the errors I probably won’t read the next book in the series.

If you like the fantasy and Steampunk genres, I would recommend this as a quick read, as long as you are not expecting too much from its pages. 

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Review: Harem Slave: One Thousand Nine Hundred and Four Days of Hell on the Persian Gulf (Human Trafficking Series) ~ Nancy Hartwell Enonchong

Harem Slave

Harem Slave is not your predictable formulaic sex-slave novel; it is above all, a gripping and often suspense-filled documentary of the harrowing life of a victim of human trafficking. It is, in many respects, a survival guide for girls who find themselves in such unthinkable circumstances. Intended for mature readers, Harem Slave is not gratuitously pornographic, but due to the subject matter, does contain considerable erotic material.

Tammy Simmons is every parent’s dream daughter: 18, blonde, a majorette, and unimpressed with how beautiful she is. An honor roll student preparing to enter Georgetown University, she seems destined to take her comfortable place in upper-middle-class America. She has taken to heart the high moral principles instilled in her by her tight-knit family, and dreams of being a diplomat. While visiting friends in Europe, however, she is abducted, and to her stunned disbelief, shipped to the Middle East and sold as a harem slave to an 81-year-old sheikh. He is scandalized when he discovers she’s not the buxom Swede he ordered, and sells her to the brooding and cantankerous Sheikh Saud. A year later, she becomes the property of Sheikh Fahd, who dyes the girls in his Rainbow Harem different colors; she is Miss Green. When Miss Purple furtively poisons him, she is bought by the handsome but mentally imbalanced Prince Ibrahim, who has been known to put slaves to death so he and his guests can enjoy their fresh corpses at his lavish parties. Fortunately or unfortunately, instead of taking her into his own harem, he leases her to an elite gentlemen’s club, part of a dark underworld on the Persian Gulf where brothels cater to every taste, every perversion, every excess. She quickly learns that brutality, even in the “nice” clubs, is the norm: in the worst, life expectancy is calculated in weeks. Disciplinary problems are threatened with being sent to a “snuff club,” where they are tortured to death as entertainment. To this point, Tammy has managed to adjust to slavery without completely negating her persona, but now, she almost comes unglued. She has no other choice, if she wants to survive, but to swallow her self-respect and obey orders. It’s a constant struggle. She is proud of herself for not falling apart during one particularly horrible assignment – and then is immediately trundled off to another that’s even worse.

How Tammy remains sane in this horrific environment is a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit, to the power of love toward those who deserve it the least, and to the defiant determination to find glimmers of joy – even lasting love – in a life awash with daily humiliation and degradation. Her caring heart, courage, and ability to understand her masters as fallible humans grappling with their own sets of demons are ultimately the keys to her salvation.

3 Thumbs-Up

This book is intended for mature readers only, and the overly sensitive may be wise to pass it by.

In this novel, the Author touches upon an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ topic – human trafficking and, given the topic I was expecting a little more than the book actually delivered for me.

The main lead character is female and unfortunately, at no point in my reading this book did I actually find myself caring about her.  She possessed all the traits of the over privileged and wealthy teenager, who always knows better than those around her, and disregards all advice given to her.  Because of this, and as harsh as it seems, I was really made to feel as if she got what was coming to her.

The book itself is intended to be a compilation of actual events that happened to women caught in the world of human trafficking, but it really stretched believe at some points with the women’s reactions to their ‘owners’.  I understand all about Stockholm Syndrome, but none of the behaviour exhibited by the characters evenly remotely put them in this category.  This does not mean that the book is not well researched, it is actually very well researched and written, but despite this it still sat firmly in the women’s soft porn genre, rather than giving me an insight into a criminal world that needs exposing.  I felt that so much more could have been done with this topic to make it a voice for those who are either still in ‘captivity’ or have recently been rescued.

Another downside for me, in the Kindle edition, was the erratic and choppy formatting.  I really don’t need a page full of half sentence paragraphs that I have to try to make sense of, on top of everything else that is happening.  A little more time with proofreading and editing would also have helped in taking care of some other errors that appeared throughout the book.  Usually I can work with these and they don’t detract from what I am reading, but in this case, it just made my experience a little harder to swallow.

I am not a prude, and like erotica, but I like it when it is open and declares itself as such, not comes in the disguise of something else.  If you are a reader that enjoys bondage and cruelty, then this would be for you.  If, however, you are looking for an informative read on human trafficking that could be used as a rally cry to help end this activity, I feel you may be sorely disappointed.

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