Book Reviews: Genetics, German kids, and Caligula

“Wanna hear a secret?”
“I am moist with anticipation,” I promised.
Then I was moist from her spit take.

Seeds of a New Birth
Scientist finds a way to supercharge DNA, then his silly friend comes by to surprise him and infects himself. And hasn’t that happened to all of us?
It’s not that Flip is a bad person, but his flippant—no pun, I think—attitude and casual lack of responsibility often hurts others, and in this case is the catalyst for everything that happens in this story. At first it’s only the women he gets pregnant—even though he’s had a vasectomy and most of them used protection—but things quickly get a lot more complicated with an industrial espionage angle, soon to be joined by a crazy lady, or actually two.
I was a little taken aback when I flipped the digital page to read “Two years later,” but I suppose it had to happen to advance the story. I found the plotting a bit simplistic and therefore predictable; the traitorous scientist was the only one who didn’t know he would be betrayed in turn, because ego does you in every time. The good guys get rid of one bad guy, then another, and there’s still a third, more powerful adversary to deal with before it ends. What’s amazing is how quick the kids grow up, mentally and psychically—superpowers!—more than physically. And of course there isn’t enough room to tell the whole story, so it ends with a sequel hook, but in general this is well written with some moments of fun, especially from the twins.

The Children’s Train
My first time in Amsterdam, I tried to go to the Anne Frank museum. No one stopped me, I just couldn’t do it; it was just too heavy, too much. A lot of this book had me feeling the same way, simply difficult to get through, though there were a lot more humorous moments than I expected, ending with the protagonist getting the nickname “Violin Commando!”
The reason I did get through this book was because it was about the Kindertransport, which was a British program to get Jewish kids out of Nazi Germany. In college I wrote a paper about the different ways people escaped, including this, and I went to a play about it a couple of years ago. But surprisingly there isn’t all that much about it here, and a lot of this story takes place back in Germany and Poland after the kids have moved on to England. In addition to that, life for the kids in Britain isn’t all that great either, though of course not nearly as bad as if they hadn’t left.
One more personal note: there’s a throwaway line where a character says, “Sometimes I wish the Jews weren’t always the ones chosen to suffer.” Back in college a poly-sci prof told a story about an Israeli student who started an oral report with, “The Jews are God’s chosen people. . .” and there was a pause while the professor hid, then the guy added, “chosen to suffer.”
About halfway through I looked at the author’s website, where besides her impressive credentials I saw that this book is geared toward kids, or at least teens, which changed my perspective on the writing; I found myself more forgiving after that. The only problem I had with the plotting was the occurrence of too many coincidences, especially Peter when he infiltrates Germany and Poland and runs into so many people he knew before he left.
In a book that makes you check your emotions at the door if you have any hope of reading through it, this is the most heartbreaking passage: knowing they’re about to die, a child tells his mother, “I’m glad I didn’t go on that train. Then you would have died alone.”

32 Lays Later: The List 2
Rich girl trying to make it on her own as a nurse decides to go into porn; hilarity, and love, ensues.
It took me a while to realize this was set in Australia—it was probably established in the first book of the series—but it really didn’t make much of a difference, since most of the story takes place in a mansion where all the filming occurs. Most of the porn stars—though not all of them, of course—are fun to learn about, and nicer than you’d expect, with interesting quirks that humanize them quite well. But of course it’s Bethany, the main character, whom we learn about the most, and she’s really amusing even with her clothes on.
Despite all the erotica, some of it excellent, at heart this is still a romance, with all the bouts of stupidity and non-communication that lead to agony and broken hearts and suchlike, at least until the end. Even though it came out happily ever after, I still felt sorry for Stasy, who deserved better than the way she was treated by the main characters as well as the author. But the writing itself was excellent, with plenty of funny stuff from the spunky heroine. The only moment that was less than stellar was my seeing the Ari/Stasy hookup a kilometer away.

Emperor’s Slave
Slave girl in Ancient Rome helps Caligula survive an illness—in a magical sorta way—and becomes his favorite, available for sex with him and his friends and sometimes his enemies, even becoming the priestess in his new cult. She even participates in palace intrigue while she falls in lust and then love with the lead soldier.
First and foremost, it’s intriguing to see Caligula described in such glowing terms; to us modern people he was one of history’s greatest assholes, though not ranking anywhere near Hitler, of course. But as the story goes on we see him becoming the monster we’re familiar with, mostly because surviving the illness made him think he was an invincible god. Also unusual is that our modest but secretly horny slave’s first sexual encounter is pretty much as big-time as you can get, which leads her to enjoy just about anything thrown at her. She’s a wonderful character, if hopeless naïve, especially compared to her two friends. Others make shorter appearances but are remarkably well-drawn; one favorite is the actor who earns Caligula’s favor, which basically means he gets to join in whenever there’s an orgy.
Despite having studied this historical era—somewhat, anyway—I learned some things here. Though this is definitely more erotica than romance, there was a touch of the latter; the soldier loves her despite all the men and some women she has sex with. The only part that I thought was a bit lacking was the descriptions of the surroundings; when a civilization like Rome is the setting, where a lot of the buildings still stand, there could have been more to it, but that’s a minor quibble in what’s really a well-written story.



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