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William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher

William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back (William Shakespeare's Star Wars, #2)Premise: The Rebellion seems to be gaining strength ever since Luke Skywalker destroyed the Death Star, but the base on Hoth is discovered by the Empire, so they must find refuge elsewhere. The rebels scatter and the Empire continues their pursuit of crushing the opposition. Luke seeks one of the last living Jedi in order to take up the mantle himself. It is in a remote swamp that Luke begins his Jedi training with the Jedi master Yoda.

Han, Leia, and crew go to Han’s scoundrel friend Lando for protection, but the Empire’s reach is long and they are found in the Cloud City and captured. Han is given over to the bounty hunter Boba Fett and the rest are held as bait for Luke to rescue. Will Luke come to the rescue or will new revelations destroy any hope the Rebellion had for victory?

Themes: In The Empire Striketh Back, we begin to see the feelings between Leia and Han blossom through their tumultuous interactions. The romance builds as their feelings are laid bare for the reader but held close to themselves until they can no longer contain their feelings. But it isn’t until Han’s life is forfeit that Leia expresses her true feelings to him.

People can change, including the biggest scoundrels, but sometimes they fall into their old ways. When Han Solo falls in with the Rebellion, he does his best to put his past life as a rogue and a smuggler behind him. It manages to catch up to him when he trusts Lando Calrissian to protect him and his friends. Lando’s betrayal only enforces Han’s lifestyle choices, but perhaps at that point it is too late.

Temptation and confronting fears play a large role in The Empire Striketh Back. Luke faces his fears first in the swamps of Dagobah when tested by Yoda in becoming a Jedi. Luke learns the dangers of giving in to the dark side, but he learns the true temptation of the dark side when confronted by Darth Vader with the truth of his father.

Pros: Doescher continues showing his fine grasp of Shakespearean language in The Empire Striketh Back while making some interesting character choices through their dialogue. The choices that stand out are with making Boba Fett speak in prose instead of iambic pentameter to show his lower class and with Yoda speaking in haiku to show his different speaking style. Doescher infuses more emotion into Empire than he did with Star Wars, done so with a lot of monologue asides that aren’t really in the movie but I felt actually added to the story. This is especially true for Leia and Han but includes other characters like Lando of which we don’t get as much character development. The author also makes sure to include important lines, like Han’s famous response to Leia professing her love for him: “I know.”

Cons: I did catch a handful of times where the meter dropped or added an extra beat, which isn’t necessarily unheard of in Shakespeare’s work. Probably the most famous instance of this is “to be or not to be, that is the question” with its extra beat. My Shakespeare isn’t nearly as refined as it probably should be, but I know that he used this to express extra emphasis and emotion. Whether or not Doescher did this for the same reason, I’m unsure. I do know that it made my reading of Empire more difficult. While I appreciate the need to give each character their own representation, I didn’t think giving the Wampa a voice was entirely necessary. I also liked the space battle sequence in Verily, A New Hope better than how the battle was executed on Hoth. It felt more epic while keeping within the restraints of a play. Also, making the AT-ATs into characters just seemed silly.

Recommendations: One of the things I like most about The Empire Striketh Back is that Doescher manages to continue with the humor necessary to make something like this work while capturing the more tragic ending of the movie with Han being frozen in carbonite. Doescher makes more artistic choices in The Empire Striketh Back than he did with Star Wars, and they mostly pay off except for a couple I didn’t care for (see Wampa and AT-ATs). Still, The Empire Striketh Back continues the Star Wars trilogy in strong fashion, and in some ways mirrors the movies by being superior to Verily, A New Hope in that it is infused with more emotion, more peril, and more humanity. If you liked William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, don’t stop there or else you’ll miss out. While you can appreciate the book wearing a scholarly Shakespeare hat, keep in mind that these are supposed to be fun.

Ian Doescher’s website
William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

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Posted by on June 16, 2014 in Humor, Science Fiction


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William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope by Ian Doescher

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, a New HopePremise: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there was a civil war happening between rebel fighters desperately trying to overthrow the reign of the evil galactic empire. Plans for the magnificent and terrible Death Star have been stolen with the hopes of getting them into the hands of the rebel leaders to destroy this menacing weapon.

Wielding the power of the Force, Darth Vader shows his immense power to destroy while Obi-Wan Kenobi is summoned to find the next Jedi knight. That knight might just be in the form of the boy Luke Skywalker.

The fighting comes to a head as opposing forces strike against each other in a battle for control. And all of this is done…in iambic pentameter.

Themes: Politics reign supreme in Star Wars as each player pushes and pulls others to engage the outcome they each desire. Whether it is subtle like the workings of R2D2 or overt like the powerful Darth Vader, each has their wishes and their part in this story.

Luke has a huge desire for adventure as he wishes to travel, see the galaxy, and to escape the drudgery of his uncle’s moisture farm. Meeting Old Ben Kenobi and two droids changes his life and gives him exactly what he wishes for, but at a great cost.

Pros: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars definitely reads like a Shakespearean play, down to the monologue asides and narrative descriptions of space battles. Everything is written expertly in iambic pentameter, lending to the feel of being written by Shakespeare himself. Star Wars reads humorously, especially the dialogue between C3PO and R2D2. Star Wars buffs should enjoy Doescher’s interpretation, especially since he does such a good job of telling the entire story in such short order without missing a beat. The cheeky illustrations also helped get me into the feel of the story.

Cons: Some readers might find the rhythm hard to capture, to which I might suggest reading aloud. Others might simply feel the iambic pentameter tiresome and get bored too quickly, especially if they’re not exactly fans of Shakespeare. The one thing I found difficult was reading R2D2’s beeps and boops in rhythm. The space battles aren’t exactly easy to do without on screen special effects, so forcing readers to use their imagination could be a stretch for some. My guess is most reading a book like this won’t have that problem.

Recommendations: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars can be appreciated at different levels, whether you’re a beginner or expert of all things Star Wars or Shakespeare. Doescher does such a good job telling the story it actually helped me catch a couple things I missed in my years of watching Star Wars. Reading this book also makes me want to pick up my complete volume of Shakespeare’s plays and read a few with a new appreciation for the art. Go get a copy whether you want something light to read or want to better appreciate the worlds of Star Wars or Shakespeare or both…verily.

Ian Doescher’s website
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope on Goodreads
Buy William Shakespeare’s Star Wars on Amazon
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Humor, Science Fiction


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Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage by Bob Pflugfelder & Steve Hockensmith

Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage: A Mystery with Hoverbots, Bristle Bots, and Other Robots You Can Build YourselfPremise: In this second book in the series, Twin siblings Nick and Tesla have been sent to live with their Uncle Newt while their parents are in Uzbekistan where they claim to be researching soybean irrigation. In the small town of Half Moon Bay, Nick and Tesla learn about a string of robberies plaguing the sleepy community. Once again putting their scientific knowledge to work, they decide to help one of their friends by attempting to solve the mystery themselves.

Uncle Newt is smitten by Hiroko Sakurai, a former colleague of his from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who also happens to have purchased the Wonder Hut where Nick and Tesla purchase electronics and other scientific doodads for their experiments. She is in the process of cleaning it up when a series of break-ins begin, including at the comic shop, Hero Worship, Incorporated, owned by their friend Silas’ family. A rare comic that could help save Silas’ family from a mound of debt has gone missing.

With the help of some ingenious robots and quick thinking, Nick and Tesla go to task on helping their friends and the town by tracking down the thief. They will just have to watch out for the strange robots that are also popping up around town.

Themes: Robot Army Rampage, as with the previous book, exemplifies the loyalty between siblings and with their friends. As Silas’ shop is in jeopardy, Nick and Tesla do their best to track down the thief of the Stupefying #6 comic book. Nick and Tesla also do their best to protect their uncle, even if it means endangering his relationship with Dr. Sakurai.

Nick and Tesla does a good job of showing that even when it appears that kids are up to no good, they might have more noble reasons for what they do. Even their friend DeMarco, who is always getting into trouble, is loyal to his best friend Silas. And the hijinks that occur because of Nick and Tesla’s investigation are because they care about their friends, family, and the town of Half Moon Bay.

Also: more science!

Pros: Robot Army Rampage has some even cooler projects than High Voltage Danger Lab, especially if you’re into robots. The instructions for building are straightforward for building simple robots, including part numbers that you might need to buy at an electronics store. The dialogue is funny and the tone lighthearted, perfect for kids and fun for adults. With most of the same characters from the previous book, Robot Army Rampage stays consistent by developing each of the characters deeply enough for the reader to care about them and enjoy the story.

Cons: The robot projects will probably require some assembly help from an adult, and will definitely require money to buy parts like batteries, motors, and LED lights. Contains mild peril from exploding robots.

Recommendations: Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage is a load of fun, but kids will probably enjoy it even more than adults. If it weren’t for a little deeper background setting from the first book, anybody could pick this one up and jump right into the action without needing to read High Voltage Danger Lab. As each book contains science projects that correspond to story elements, you probably won’t want to skip it anyway. I think Robot Army Rampage is even better than the first, especially with these projects. They are fun for electronics buffs and for piquing kids’ interest in science, but most of all this is just a fun story.

Nick and Tesla
Bob Pflugfelder’s website
Steve Hockensmith’s website
Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

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Posted by on February 5, 2014 in Childrens, Mystery


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Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder & Steve Hockensmith

Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build YourselfPremise: Twin siblings Nick and Tesla are sent to live with their Uncle Newt for the summer while their parents study soybean irrigation in Uzbekistan. When they arrive in Half Moon Bay they discover it’s a pretty boring place, but their uncle is far from boring. In his basement is a science lab where he performs various experiments. The incredible thing is that he tells his niece and nephew to have a ball in the lab (with several safety caveats) while he is away. Their time in Half Moon Bay is about to get interesting.

The siblings go outside to test their soda bottle rocket made from materials laying around the lab, but when it rips the necklace from Tesla’s neck as it launches things go awry. This wouldn’t be a problem if the necklace wasn’t one of the special necklaces their parents gave each child right before they were sent to live with Newt. Now they must venture onto the property of the abandoned house next door in order to find the necklace, but there are remodelers there with very large dogs who want them to stay off the property at all costs.

Nick and Tesla craft various devices to attempt to retrieve their rocket and necklace, and in the process uncover a nefarious plot in the quiet town. Along the way the siblings make new friends, learn more about their quirky uncle, and find there is more in the abandoned house than just remodelers. Nick and Tesla are also left questioning if their parents are really studying soy beans in Uzbekistan.

Themes: Nick and Tesla think they have a grasp on who their parents are, but when the siblings are sent away for the summer so their parents can do research they learn there is so much more about their parents that they don’t know. They begin to wonder if their parents really are studying soybeans or if they are even scientists.

Nick and Tesla discover there are mysteries about the house next door, its inhabitants, and its past that fall on them to solve.

Summer vacation takes on a different spin when it is spent at a strange uncle’s house. Nick and Tesla get to learn more about their Uncle Newt and his unusual inventions. With his inexperience in caring for kids and making his lab available for them to use helps to give the siblings insight into the kind of person he is.

Also: science!

Pros: Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab was way more fun than I was expecting. The science experiments not only introduce some cool concepts, but they fit right in with the storyline. The characters are unique and the story has the perfect tone for kids to be reading: lighthearted and fun. I like that Pflugfelder and Hockensmith didn’t try to add too many characters, but each one is well developed within this first book. Nick and Tesla is a complete fast-paced story, but it also leaves the reader wanting more in additional books.

Cons: One of the experiments might be a little dangerous dealing with air pressure that will probably require some adult supervision. Also, the concept of kidnapping might be a difficult concept for younger kids to grasp, especially the threats made against these kids. Contains some mild peril and the riding of small bikes down the middle of city streets in the dark.

Recommendations: Not only is this a fun read for kids and adults, it offers several science experiments kids can do with parents, including instructions and materials needed. I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series to find out more about these kids and their secretive family. I am also excited about having more science experiments to do with my kids when they are old enough to read these books. Pflugfelder and Hockensmith have introduced a neat series combining science concepts and experiments with good, lighthearted fiction. Nick and Tesla is educational and fun.

Nick and Tesla
Bob Pflugfelder’s website
Steve Hockensmith’s website
Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build Yourself on Goodreads
Buy Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab on Amazon
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.


Posted by on November 17, 2013 in Childrens, Mystery


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Empire State by Adam Christopher

Empire State (Empire State, #1)Premise: A battle between New York’s greatest superhero and worst supervillain ends in a cataclysmic event: a tear in space that opens a rift into an alternate universe. The Empire State is similar to New York in most aspects, but there is only the island, it is the prohibition era, and it is always wartime. War ships go into the fog surrounding the Empire State to fight the Enemy, but never return.

In the Empire State, private investigator Rad Bradbury has been hired to find a missing girl, but his investigation leads him into a plot that is threatening the very existence of his world. He meets some interesting and dangerous people along the way, but he really has to rely on his wits to solve the mystery and to help him survive. With lurking airships, robots, and men in gas masks, very little makes sense. It is up to Rad to piece together the bigger mystery that he has been thrown into.

Themes: Empire State is a crime noir mystery, where Rad Bradbury is on the job searching for Sam Saturn. But his discoveries are more than just about the girl. Clues lead to questions and questions lead to people, all of which open new doors into places Rad has never before known. We are left guessing until the very end.

In his investigation, Rad quickly learns that everyone and everything is not as it appears. He can’t really trust anyone, and therefore solving the crime and saving the world becomes that much more difficult. Those he thinks he can trust might turn out to be his enemy, or vice versa. In Empire State the lines between trust, friendship, and morality are blurred.

Pros: My favorite thing about Empire State is that it is full of compelling characters. With every character having questionable morality, I found myself rooting for Rad Bradbury through the very end. In spite of his flaws, he is still honorable and just. Though there could have been more world-building and exploration in each element, I enjoyed the various genre elements mashed together: steampunk, superheroes, crime noir, and alternate universes.

Cons: There are certain things that are very difficult to do in fiction, and Empire State is infused with several that I have already mentioned. The alternate universe element is intriguing, but I felt it could have used more time set aside for explanation right from the beginning without giving anything away, especially since it is revealed on the back cover of the book. Because of these things I was confused through a good portion of the beginning, which made it seem to go slower. And the time and technology differentiation between the two worlds has almost no explanation other than “these are two separate worlds so things works differently.”

Recommendations: I read Empire State because I liked the cover and the premise, knowing that it has superheroes, crime noir drama, with steampunk elements. I was a little disappointed in cramming so many different genres into one book only because I felt like each of them could have been given a little more treatment or some of them could have been cut out to make something really great. The good thing is that the characters really started to grow on me, along with the little pocket universe. I think that Adam Christopher has created something special in Empire State. I only hope that the second book expands on the world using the strong points in this one: solid characters and a gritty setting.

Adam Christopher’s website
Empire State on Goodreads
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Posted by on June 30, 2013 in Fantasy, Mystery, Science Fiction


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Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie Jr.

Flimsy Little Plastic MiraclesPremise: Ron Currie is an author truly in love. The biggest problem is the woman he loves, Emma, may or may not return the sentiment, at least not in the way he thinks he wants. At Emma’s request, Ron banishes himself to a Caribbean island to write this book, that happens to be about Emma, and also to grieve the loss of his father to cancer.

Ron’s grief over the loss of his father and of Emma leads him to self-destructive behavior: getting into fights, drinking himself into oblivion, engaging in a physical relationship with another woman, and eventually faking his own death. The ramifications of his choices come piling on when he has to face the reality of the living and the people he has hurt along the way.

Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles pulls back the curtain of a mind obsessed with a woman and deeply entrenched in the reality of the world’s problems. What happens when the reality created in our own minds leaks into that of others? And then what happens when the truth is revealed and this false reality is unfulfilled?

Themes: Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles is about obsession over a woman who will not fully have a man. Ron’s love for Emma is made clear to her, but she remains aloof. Even though she cares for him in some way, her inability to give herself fully to him keeps them apart.

This is also a story about love, for Ron’s obsession is based around his ability to only love one woman, Emma, even when he is with other women. His willingness to banish himself to an island is evidence of his love for her in spite of it being unrequited.

Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles shows us how people cope with loss. When Ron’s father is dying of cancer, and he eventually dies, Ron takes us through those last days of his father’s life and the aftermath of what happens when someone is gone from our life. The grief also comes out in his relationship with Emma, as he plunges into a self-destructive tailspin on a Caribbean island.

Pros: I found the narrative of Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles interesting, being first person and journal-like and feeling deeply intimate in the author’s mind. It clips along pretty fast, and jumps from topic to topic in a way that highlights the thought processes of a neurotic mind. The characters are key in making this story believable, especially considering the meta of wondering if this is really an autobiographical story.

Cons: Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles is so packed full of profanity, sex, and moral depravity that made it difficult to read. The thought process was hard to follow at times, going from talking about his dying father to robots becoming self-aware and taking over the world. The neuroses of Ron Currie (character or author?) only speak to a lacking in a life seeking meaning and happiness in the wrong places. The main character comes off as egotistical and pretentious.

Recommendations: Even with a great amount of profanity and sex, my biggest problem with Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles is that Mr. Currie seems to equate reality with truth, and sets up philosophical arguments that are flimsy straw men. In spite of these things, Ron Currie, Jr. touches on some topics that are difficult to talk about but real: coping with death of loved ones and the loss of romantic love. I have a feeling anyone who reads Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles will have strong feelings of either liking or disliking it, but I think everyone who does read it will encounter a story that causes them to think about their own lives.

Ron Currie, Jr.’s website
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

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Posted by on February 7, 2013 in Fiction, Romance


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All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen

All Men of GeniusPremise: Violet Adams is a great scientist who aspires to attend the illustrious Illyria College, a school for the most promising students of science that was founded by the famous Duke Illyria and now run by his son, Ernest. The biggest obstacle to her attending is not Violet’s abilities as a scientist, but the tradition of being a male only school. When their father goes away to America for a year, Violet’s twin brother, Ashton, helps her pull together the ruse of dressing as a man so she can enter the hallowed halls of Illyria.

Their friend, Jack, is also accepted into the school, so having a roommate who knows her ruse is less of a challenge. The real challenges come when the duke’s ward, Cecily, becomes enamored with Violet, who goes by her brother’s name. Ernest also develops feelings for Violet, but for the real Violet, not her alter ego. She discovers her feelings for the duke may be reciprocal, but to let him know without it destroying her chances for her lifelong dream of becoming a great scientist makes things difficult.

But love and science are not the only things Violet will encounter at Illyria. It is a place full of surprises around every corner, with invisible cats, killer automota, and a mysterious train in the basement. Blackmail and threats come from students and teachers alike. With the end of the year faire to work towards, she must hold up her disguise and her feelings at the same time.

Themes: All Men of Genius is as much a romance novel as it is a fantasy or science fiction novel. There are at least seven love triangles, romantic misunderstandings, or sexual trysts that I can think of, but could be as many as ten to twelve between all the different characters. One of the main plot points is the romantic feelings between Ernest and Violet, both as herself and as her alter ego. We see romance between her brother Ashton and Antony, one of their servants, between Cecily and Violet (as Ashton), Toby and Miriam.

This is definitely a book speaking out on social constraints based on money, social class, gender, sexuality, race, and more. Violet is trying to attend a school for only men, Ashton is a gay male not so covertly expressing his love for another, Miriam is a Jewess standing up for her life while living as a governess for Cecily, while really only upper class people are allowed to attend Illyria.

This is also a book about deception and truth. Violet’s deception about her true identity may end up hurting not only her reputation, but her family’s as well, along with the possibility of hurting Ernest and Cecily along the way. It is the true Violet who the duke falls in love with. Unfortunately, the repercussions of deceit are not necessarily explored completely, as the only deceit that ends in tragedy is that of Volio, our villain. Everyone else seems to turn out happy, but isn’t that how most comedies end? Many who read this will simply give the response, “What is truth?”

Pros: All Men of Genius has everything you could want in a steampunk novel. Not only does it have gears and springs of brass, but it also has something that I haven’t seen much of in other steampunk, and that is an inclusion of other sciences: astronomy, biology, and chemistry, and not just the mechanical sciences. It is funny with compelling characters, each one with great potential and most of them fulfilling that, with a few exceptions. The hat tips to Shakespeare and Wilde inject the story with life, without which it might have fallen totally flat.

Cons: There is entirely too much sex in this book. Ranging from innuendos to bedroom behavior, it goes to the point of ridiculous at times. For such a witty book, throwing in things such as mechanical vibrators is beneath it. It seems like every character’s sexual proclivities are laid out and curiosities are simply commonplace traits for all characters, including Ashton and Antony rolling in the hay, Toby and Miriam’s secret romance, Ernest’s questioning of his sexuality, and Professor Valentine’s love for senior women.

One of the greatest fears for Violet is getting caught travesti, or dressing as a man. This is also one of the biggest problems I had with the book, since Ashton is an invert (gay), but the fear of being caught as a homosexual is inconsistent with this fear of being caught cross-dressing. Violet is afraid she will be caught, embarrassed, put in prison, or even put to death, but Ashton getting caught as an invert is only given a passing glance with little fear of retribution.

My other complaint is that the end felt rushed, as if Rosen was running out of time and space and had to wrap all the character arcs by giving an explanation of everything at the end and he only had a few pages to do so. After the action climax we needed a little more treatment of the characters other than Violet and Ernest to take a breath and soak in what just happened. Even the romantic climax between the duke and Violet seemed bland because it felt rushed and too easy.

Recommendations: All Men of Genius is a witty and socially defiant romp through love and science. It helped to redefine my expectations of not just steampunk, but in most other fiction. While the deviant behaviors of the characters may put people off from reading it, Rosen gives a strong argument for for the importance of being earnest, something which I will heed and respond to with a quote from another famous book: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Lev AC Rosen’s website
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Posted by on March 11, 2012 in Fantasy, Science Fiction


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