Book Review: Craved by Lola Smirnova

I was a big fan of the first book in this series, Twisted, moreso for the necessity of Lola’s story than the actual storytelling.  While I was mildly disappointed that the book didn’t resolve my previous criticism, my respect for Lola’s life story only increases with Craved.

I didn’t think it could get much darker than Twisted; I was wrong.  It is a appallingly honest and cutting look at man’s darkside and the nature of a woman that voluntarily, almost hypnotically veered towards the darkness.  Your bookshelf will be richer for having Craved on it, but that doesn’t make it easier to take down and open. It pushes the boundaries of our conceptions of desire, lust, pain and tolerance and that is no mean feat.  You can’t help but root for the self-deprecating, self-aware and yet demoralized Julia; watching her pinball from depression to horror to very fleeting elation along a pathway lined with neon, coke and cum is a white-knuckle-inducing, sobering rollercoaster and a blinding shot of 200-proof verbiage for the average, teetotalling reader.

Wear a cup.

Repost: Lewis and Tolkien, A Tale of Two Soldiers


I don’t repost things often, because I figure you sign up to hear from me, not from everyone I admire.

That said, some times there are pieces I would have written had I, in varying degrees, had the  1) knowledge, 2)  articulation or 3) time to write.

This is one of those occasions.  My buddy Gideon Asche at Havok Journal cranked out a fascinating piece about CS Lewis’ and JRR Tolkien’s time as soldiers that I find both personally and culturally relevant.

When you get a second, it’s worth a look…

The Rescuer by Dara Horn

This isn’t really a book review, but since I just finished Dara Horn’s Kindle Single “The Rescuer,” I figured I’d share some thoughts that bubbled up from reading it.


For context, the book itself is an easily digestible piece on Varian Fry, the least-well-known rescuer of Jews during WWII.  The book wrestles with why no one knows who he is, why the famous Jewish intellectuals and artists he rescued ignored him after arriving in the US and why he was such a tortured man — one who doesn’t fit the stereotype of the heroic, single-minded, self-realized “rescuer.”  Horn and Fry’s greatest champion, Pierre Sauvage, argue over the validity of the “righteous rescuers,” Sauvage claiming that “I’ve never met an unhappy rescuer.”

It made me think of my own time as a “rescuer,” several lives ago.  I was an Army firefighter.  I was also in a state of personal turmoil.  I was working ridiculously long days, destroying the seeds of any romantic relationship I might have had and stressed over the vast amount of tasks I was in charge of mastering.  So I wasn’t “happy.” Did it affect my ability?  Yes. I could suppress my strain, but there was one place where it would come out.  Inside the confined space trainer (usually referred to as an Emergency Operations Trainer).  The EOT we constructed was two levels of 36″ tunnels, built into a metal conex.  Inside the tunnels were wires, ramps and debris — perfect material to frustrate a firefighter crawling in full bunker gear, cylinder and with 50 pounds of tools.  We’d close the conex door as we entered the EOT, so you’d have to navigate the 80-foot course in the dark.

It was instructive, what came up in the dark.  When you can’t move because you’re trapped in a tight tunnel and your arm is pinned by something you can’t see, it’s easy for your mind to be taken over by whatever demons you’re dealing with.  For me, it was one more stressor I didn’t need, so my body would try to revolt — flex, press, push, spasm — to free myself, even though I knew it wouldn’t work.  Naturally, I’d get more tired, more frustrated, more scared.  It was work to take counter-intuitive actions — like singing to yourself, relaxing your body, squeezing your shoulders together — because my life was in turmoil and needed a visceral release that I wasn’t going to achieve in the EOT.

Of course, I ended up spending a lot of time in the EOT — I even steered our missions towards confined space rescue — just because I learned more about myself there than anywhere else.  One of the things it taught me was that you need to be single-minded in the rescuer game.  You can be a train-wreck, personally.  But in the moment, there needs to be complete focus and purity of ambition.  There is no room for backstory, rumination or anything that draws your attention to yourself.  The EOT became meditative for me, especially as I tried to move those lessons into the rest of my life.

OK, separate subject, same book.  Horn also brings up the ethical issue of who Varian Fry chose to help escape.  He specifically targeted the great Jewish minds for freedom.  He saw his work as saving Western culture.  Naturally, it makes one wonder about the ethics of leaving Jews who weren’t regarded as “gifted” to die.  Sauvage dismisses this concern as a critique easily proffered by those who didn’t do anything.  It is far better, in his estimation, to spend time glorifying a man who saved some, rather than judge him for those he didn’t save.  Sauvage is right, of course.  Better some than none.  But I wonder what the attitude would have been of those who were saved, if they weren’t all “delicate geniuses.”  Would they have been as ungrateful?  Would they have resisted Fry’s few attempts to reach out to them in America? Fry was an odd duck, sure.  But I have to think it took that rarified narcissism of an elite artist or thinker to so quickly disown Fry.

I think of a neighbor of mine, growing up.  He was a Polish emigre who arrived in the US weeks before the Germans invaded Poland.  Long story short, after the war, he took in eight Polish boys whose parents had been killed by the Nazis.  He raised them in New York.  To this day, they spend every Christmas with his wife (the man died several years ago), returning to the apartment they were raised in to sleep on the couches, loveseats and floors that they slept on in the 1950s.  Bear in mind that these are now lawyers, doctors, professional class citizens in their fifties and sixties.  That’s gratitude.  Does art require a narcissism that other professions don’t?  Does intellectualism?

Icarus Falling…On Tour Now!

Icarus Falling is on a virtual book tour.

It means that if you visit these sites, on these days and you can: 1) read blog posts I’ve written for that site; 2) Read their review of Icarus Falling; 3) read an interview they’ve done with me and 4) check out some of the coolest book bloggers out there.

We’re kicking things off today: Icarus Falling is the spotlight selection at Inner Workings of a Female Mind AND is being reviewed at Virtual Hobby Store and Book Haus, so stop by and check them out!

Here’s the schedule:

June 24: Icarus Falling is reviewed at Paranormal Romance and Authors That Rock (I’m assuming I fall into the “Authors that Rock” category;)

June 27: Icarus Falling is the spotlight feature at IndieWritersReviews.

June 29: Read by guest blog at Bellevue Book Reviews.

June 30: Read The Avid Reader’s interview with me!

July 1: Read my guest blog post at Wise Words Book Blogger — you’re not going to want to miss this one!

July 2: Read another guest blog post of mine at Infinite House of Books!

July 3: Read the review of Icarus Falling AND my guest blog post at My Life, Loves and Passions.

July 6: Read the review of Icarus Falling at Deal Sharing Aunt.

July 7: Icarus Falling is in the spotlight at Fictional Real World.

July 22-26: Icarus Falling will be featured at BK Walker Books.

And that’s not even all!  But can you really handle any more at this point? if you get a second, stop by those sites and see how Icarus Falling lands on their blogs;)

My Reading List: Six in the Revolver, Three Hit Body Mass: #LooseGirl #InPaleBattalions #TheConstantGardener

There’s usually six books that I’m working my way through at the same time.  (Usually that’s because many of the books are “good for me” and don’t hold my interest enough to stick with ’em for long periods.)  41s-5KDKwyL._AA160_  I made an exception for Kerry Cohen’s Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity which was too compelling to abandon.  Her writing was outstandingly sparse and on-target.  Probably the most memorable book I’ve read in years.

Here’s my current reading list:

In Pale Battalions by Robert Goddard.  The star of this bunch.  Who knew you could write popular fiction about World War I-era England?61+25pmLw+L._AA160_

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.  Not grabbing me initially, which either says a lot for LeCarre and Goddard or says very little about Jackson.

TurtleBunny: The Fun Guide to Personal Finance and Entrepreneurship by John Freund.  A fun read so far in the little I’ve read by my buddy John.  He’s fighting for space among some pretty distinguished company, though, so he’s got nothing to be ashamed about.

Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming.  Surprisingly labored writing.  Sure, it’s James Bond, but the writing doesn’t age well.  Hate to leave it mid-stream, but it’s on the chopping block.

51Vk8J42DsL._AA160_The Constant Gardener by John LeCarre.  A great read that would be the top dog if I hadn’t already started In Pale Battalions.  Great mix of writing and story.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.  Olive Kitteridge won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 and has since been a mini-series on HBO, so I’m probably the last person to the party for Elizabeth Strout.  It’s great writing.  Probably good for me.  I’ll finish it in 2017.

On #Noir

BigComboTrailerNoir.  Brings up images of sex, violence and the general unleashing of the id.  Not just the characters’ id, our id.  One of noir’s most enduring traits, I think, is its accessibility.  Its urgent storytelling compels us to stay with it.  Noir isn’t aloof.  It stays right on the tips of our brains.  It has the key to our lesser selves.

There’s something else about noir, though maybe just for me.  If you’re going to traffic in noir, you better have lived.  (This was more common for all artists in the near recent past, to be sure.)  It helps to have spent time as a private detective, cop, ex-con, ex-soldier or all-around badass.  It helps if you’ve been a saint or a sinner.  It helps even more if you’ve been a saint who sinned.

Here’s a more universally accepted look at what makes noir noir…

TurtleBunny Cometh

What book am I looking forward to reading?  Glad you asked.  TurtleBunny.  Which is what, exactly?  I’ll let Amazon explain:

Everyone wants to understand the basics of personal finance and entrepreneurship, but who has the time, energy, and patience to slog through a boring textbook or ‘For Dummies’ guide? 

That’s where TURTLEBUNNY comes in… 

• How can you learn about diversification by running your own marijuana farm? 
• What can Hulk Hogan and the Iron Sheik teach us about branding and selling? 
• What does playing poker in Vegas have to do with trading stocks online? 

TURTLEBUNNY is a first; a book which dispenses valuable financial information using a humorous, stylistic approach. The story centers on a typical Young Man mired in debt and struggling to get rich. One night, he is visited by a mythical magical TurtleBunny who whisks him away on a series of adventures. Each adventure imparts a distinct lesson on either personal finance or entrepreneurship. 

Yeah, it’s written by a buddy of mine.  But I’m a big fan of the concept.  I can’t wait to see the execution.

So why am I bothering you with it?  I think the idea speaks for itself and warrants a plug.  Secondly, I happen to know that, while you can pre-order it for $0.99, the price will go up to $4.99 on May 1 when it goes live on Amazon.

Think about it.