Who wants to work for BOOKGASM?

job application rolodexAs BOOKGASM grows in popularity and nears its one-year anniversary, it’s time to expand the staff. We’re in immediate need of one book reviewer who doesn’t mind getting paid anything except in free books and glory. Particularly, we’re looking for one whose tastes run toward all types of thrillers and general literary fiction (and if you like other genres, too, even better).

If that’s you – and you fit the rest of the qualifications below – e-mail me a couple of sample book reviews (old, new, whatever) and tell me a little about yourself and what kind of things you like to read. We’ve got a few titles waiting for whomever gets the “job.”

You must be:
1. Able to read
2. Able to write
3. Able to read a book and write a review within a fair deadline
4. Able to e-mail that review

Fire away!

UPDATE: The position is filled, but keep checking back for future opportunities!

Go GALACTICA for a quarter

battlestar galactica downloadStarting June 1, Dynamite Entertainment is offering comics readers a may-as-well-be-free sneak peek at its hotly anticipated BATTLESTAR GALACTICA monthly series, based upon the Sci-Fi Channel’s ratings scorcher.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA #0 (yep, zero) will be sold for a mere 25 cents in comic shops everywhere, under variant covers. Personally, we don’t know why anyone would pick a drawn cover over the one at right, featuring a photo of the may-as-well-be-nude Tricia Helfer, unquestionably the series’ sexiest Cylon. The issue also will provide readers an advance look at Dynamite’s future comics revival of THE LONE RANGER.

As they did with last year’s RED SONJA, Dynamite will be going the quarter route once again in August to promote its launch of a HIGHLANDER title, based upon the inexplicably popular Christopher Lambert films.

Piece of My Heart

piece of my heart reviewSometimes it’s just so pleasant to get a mystery that revels in its own competence. No flashy literary gimmicks, no eccentric characters, no prurient interests – just a decent, straightforward tale of murder and criminal detection. Or in Peter Robinson’s PIECE OF MY HEART, two tales of murder rolled into one case spanning 36 years.

The first murder takes place at giant rock concert in Yorkshire in September of 1969. While Led Zeppelin take the stage, a young girl is murdered. Her body is found by the concert cleanup crew, and Det. Insp. Stanley Chadwick is called in to investigate. This story is told in parallel with another murder that goes down in the same general area, albeit in the fall of 2005. A music journalist is found with his head bashed in by a poker, and this case will be handled by Det. Chief Insp. Alan Banks.

Obviously, the two cases are linked by the reader, but it takes quite some time for the authorities to make the connection, and it’s done through good, solid policework. Robinson is especially adept at depicting late ’60s England, the cultural revolution that was slowly taking place and the older, more authoritarian generation alienated by the youth, the drugs and the music. Ah, the ’60s. It’s great to see references to bands like Hawkwind, Fairport Convention and even Jan Dukes De Grey!

Inexorably, Banks – for whom this is novel number 16 – pieces together enough facts to connect the two murders and must go on a quest to interview police and suspects from long ago in order to help solve his own case. Robinson moves the parallel stories along with a swinging pace, relying on natural dialogue, slick characterization and some intriguing musical atmosphere to draw you in and have you care about Banks and the other members of his investigative team. If you’re looking for a quality mystery, and you remember the 1960s at all, you’ll definitely enjoy this one. –Mark Rose

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Marked Man

marked man reviewIf I start liking somewhat unethical lawyer characters like those in Paul Levine’s THE DEEP BLUE ALIBI and now William Lashner’s MARKED MAN, I’m going to have to revise my Hierarchy of Despisement™ to move reporters to the bottom of the list instead of legal beagles. It is true that Lashner’s series protagonist, Victor Carl, certainly has an illicit and devious mind, but he also has that clichéd heart of gold and a relentless drive just not to get results, but the right result.

In the opening, Carl wakes up after a wild night on the town to discover that he has a new beautiful heart-and-flowers tattoo emblazoned on his chest (hence the title) and sporting the unknown-to-him name of “Chantal Adair.” Who is Chantal and how did this happen? Well, alcohol consumption might answer that second question. But the first can only be answered by a full-scale investigation which Carl undertakes. However, he’s soon distracted by a request from a dying Greek woman who only wants to see her criminal son one more time before she passes. Carl then discovers that the woman’s son participated in an ages-old heist of a local Philadelphia art museum that managed to score an authentic painting by Rembrandt. And you know these cases are going to be connected, don’t you?

Lashner writes in the first-person, allowing him to present Carl as a cynical, jaded ironist who sometimes has pertinent things to say. I bookmarked half a dozen pages to use here but as an example of Carl’s thinking, this one is especially apropros: “There’s a line that you pass, Joey told me, it’s hard to see, a bit blurry, but there for sure. On one side of the line, all the dreams in your life are still possible. On the other side they’ve become fantasies you only pretend to believe, because having nothing to believe is too close to death. Fool’s dreams, Joey called them, sad little lies. There’s that line, and the four of them, they had blown past that line years before, never looking back.”

This is the underlying motivation behind some of the choices that Carl makes, choices he might have wanted to give a second thought to making, if you get my drift.

Dialogue here is brisk and realistic, and keeps the book moving at an action-film pace. A couple of the characters are just completely outrageous, though, including the antique buyer Lavender Hill and the gratuitously repellent and unlikely ultimate perpetrator. Carl’s best interactions come with Monica Adair, Chantal’s sister, who also is searching for the mysterious Chantal. Their teamwork would be welcome to explore in a future installment, although the final disposition of Monica seems way too off-base to accept.

Anyway, MARKED MAN has great Philadelphia/New Jersey flavor, and while it doesn’t have a lot of art gallery atmosphere, that world does serve as an important cog in the plot. Victor Carl is one of those larger-than-life bon vivants who has a welcome streak of insecurity, giving him a nice factor of likability. This is an action thriller, with a little bit of clever courtroom antics thrown in, and it should appeal to a broad audience of mystery lovers. –Mark Rose

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Straight Cut

straight cut reviewGiven the line’s stellar track record, I never thought I’d say this about an offering from Hard Case Crime: Eh.

An unabridged reprint of his 1986 novel, Madison Smartt Bell’s STRAIGHT CUT is a little more literary than the usual get-it-done language that has become a Hard Case signature, but it’s not necessarily to its benefit. This first-person narrative is told by Tracy Bateman, a Kierkegaard-reading film editor recently ditched by his wife. He’s called in by an old friend for a freelance editing job in Italy. The pay is double than what he’d expect, so Tracy suspects his pal Kevin has a surprise in store for him. All his instincts tell him not to go; he does anyway.

As it turns out – albeit many, many chapters later than I would have liked – Kevin indeed has a duplicitous intention in bringing Tracy halfway around the world, and it involves a suitcase full of heroin and his estranged wife. With so much history between the two friends, they speak kind of an inside-joke shorthand that makes this tale difficult to fully access, and Bell isn’t up for filling in the blanks. So we’re not always sure what’s gone on and what’s going on between them, so by the anticlimactic end, you wonder what the point even was.

STRAIGHT CUT is not bad on the whole, but at times it’s definitely boring. Though I learned a lot about the process of editing film and the jargon they speak, it sure didn’t advance the narrative. Nor did the 50-odd pages in the middle during which Tracy does little but skip from town to town, shacking up in hotels and finding nearby cafés for sustenance. Bell may have brought visions of the Italian countryside to life, but the main story just lies there.

And where there is no buildup, there is no payoff. The STRAIGHT dope on this suggests it’s for Hard Case completists only. I suppose a disappointing Hard Case is akin to bad sex: At least you had it, but you could have better. –Rod Lott

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Seven Soldiers of Victory: Volume Two

seven soliders of victory volume two reviewGrant Morrison’s SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY: VOLUME TWO is a tricky beast, telling the middle of four of the seven heroes’ individual stories. (For those who came in late: Read our review of the first volume here so we don’t have to rehash.)

The story of Klarion the Witchboy gets better, now that he’s brought into our world (at least I think it’s our world, even if his uncanny resemblance to SNL’s Chris Kattan (see Exhibit A) continues to creep me out. There doesn’t appear to be much story for Shining Knight, but each page of his is a wonder to look at, even when it gets into horrific gore. Girl magician Zatanna’s tale grows absolutely stale, but luckily her deal will be wrapped up in VOLUME THREE. As with VOLUME ONE, the best pages belong to The Guardian, the newspaper hero, but even his narrative hits a bit of an inactive roadblock.

klarion witchboy reviewIt all alternates from great to baffling, and that’s the problem. If the stories really do thread together to form a whole – from this point, all I can gather is that it has something to do with giant spiders and a talking baby – Morrison might have done us all a favor by letting us in just a little bit as to what the hell is going on. You can only withhold the cake for so long without throwing us some crumbs. This should have been released as one big book rather than four separate trades; I can only assume the wait between the monthly issues was equally as frustrating. –Rod Lott

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BULLETS, BROADS, BLACKMAIL & BOMBS >> No Martini Drinkers Here

bullets broads blackmail and bombsAh, the spy genre! Is there anything more fun to read?

As much as I love Ian Fleming’s James Bond books, they won’t be covered here today, for the simple reason that I’ve read them all before and wanted to get to other spy paperbacks that have been collecting dust. Oh, I’ll probably re-read CASINO ROYALE once the movie comes out (just so I can say, “Hey, that wasn’t in the book!”), but this week’s column is filled with five different kinds of spies – three work for fictitious agencies, while the other two are grounded in reality.

strike force terror reviewSTRIKE FORCE TERROR – There is nothing like the palette-cleansing of a Nick Carter novel. They are easy and breezy and can be read in about three hours.

What happens when you are sent on a mission to save somebody and they don’t want to go? This is the case for “killmaster” Nick Carter in 1972’s STRIKE FORCE TERROR. He is sent to Turkey, where he meets up with a British female agent, and they have to serve as doubles for the chief of police and his secretary/mistress. It seems a British scientist has been set up for a crime he did not commit – the reason being, once he is taken to a remote prison near the Russian border, he will be kidnapped and taken to Siberia for work at a slave labor camp.

The funny thing about this Nick Carter story is that it’s actually one of the more believable ones! Trust me, there are some real lulus out there, i.e. making men into sharks. STRIKE FORCE TERROR is mainly all build-up with Nick and his Brit counterpart, first disguising themselves as criminologists, before the Turkish Secret Police get wise. A pretty lame interrogation scene takes place, and once they arrive at the prison, Sir Albert the scientist does not want to go because the Russians will kill his family if he does not comply. So, of course, Sir Albert pulls a double-cross by getting Nick arrested and beaten, while Al is whisked away to the USSR. Once Nick escapes, he heads off to Russia to save the day. Like I’ve stated before, reading so many of these novels (this makes 12), you pretty much know by now Nick Carter saves the day, no matter what the odds, so don’t tell me I spoiled anything.

destroyer judgment day reviewTHE DESTROYER #14: JUDGMENT DAY – The cover of Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy’s THE DESTROYER #14: JUDGMENT DAY proudly proclaims it is part of “America’s best-selling action series.” After reading this book, it’s not hard to agree. This is an action-oriented spy series that needs some serious investigating. Maybe we should blame that bomb of a movie that was made with Fred Ward and Joel Grey.

For those who don’t know, THE DESTROYER books are all about Remo Williams, a man who no longer exsists. Gee, where have I heard that before – cough, KNIGHT RIDER, cough. The basic plot to this 1974 adventure has a power-mad executive named Blake Corbish find out what C.U.R.E. – the super-secret agency Remo works for – actually is: an outfit with just two employees, Remo and his boss, Dr. Harold Smith. Corbish kidnaps Dr. Smith and tortures him for two days straight, to find out how to take control, with designs on becoming President of the United States. Once Corbish takes over the C.U.R.E. operations, he rides rough-shod over Remo, having him eliminate anything in his path.

I did not expect all the humor and excitement this book produced. It’s just a great read and the problem now, of course, is that I’ll have to dig around for more. This is one of the earlier novels still written by Sapir and Murphy, since ghost writers eventually took over, to the point where today no author is even listed on new installments. If there are any Remo experts out there, please leave a comment about which is the last of the real Sapir/Murphy pairings. Now, I also heard producer Robert Evans has the movie rights to the books, so let’s just hope we get something along the lines of the BOURNE movies and not a rehash of REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS…

murderers row reviewMURDERERS’ ROW – First off, block all those memories of the Dean Martin movie of the same name. If you think the Bond movies took liberties, they pale in comparison to Hollywood’s treatment of the Matt Helm books. MURDERERS’ ROW, from 1962, is actually the fifth in the series, which are very continuity-driven. Here, Donald Hamilton’s style is unlike the others in that Helm is potrayed as a brutal man who will finish a mission no matter the costs.

A little backstory first: In the first novel, DEATH OF A CITIZEN, we are introduced to Helm, who lives a very happy married life until one day, someone from his past shows up to bring him back into the spy game. Witnessing how brutal her husband was in his previous life (think A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE), Matt’s wife leaves him at the end.

But this story deals with Matt – code name “Eric” – being assigned the task of beating up a fellow agent so she can continue on a mission. But all things go to hell right away. As he roughs her up, she suddenly dies, causing Matt to stumble his way into the mission himself, one of a missing scientist who needs to be brought back dead or alive. Matt uses the cover of a Chicago underworld type, which only causes more problems.

When push comes to shove, Matt Helm will kill someone without batting an eye. I still kick myself for not grabbing all the early Helm books when I had the chance. Helm is so anti-Bond, it’s not even funny. If you do read these, just imagine Dean Martin actually pulling off some of the stuff mentioned and you’ll see how not pretty it is. I don’t think Dean Martin would have been filmed gutting a woman like a fish.

assignment burma girl reviewASSIGNMENT BURMA GIRL – Of all the spy series out there – and there are plenty – this one does not get the respect it deserves. Edward S. Aarons may not be a household name, but he has written some top-notch stuff that is extremely easy to find in most used book shops. Unlike other spy series that have many books in the series, all the ASSIGNMENT books were written by Aarons himself. Probably the biggest selling point I can give is that he does something a lot of spy novelists don’t do: character development. You actually feel like these people exist; they’re not some one-dimenionsal types just to move the story along.

All of them star Sam Durell (aka The Cajun), who actually works for a real government agency: the CIA, to be exact. In 1961’s ASSIGNMENT BURMA GIRL, he’s called upon to track down a husband of a wealthy women with powerful connections. It seems he was in Burma trying to find the grave of his wife’s brother. At least that’s what the husband believes. He’s captured by a fanatical leader called Major Mong and thrown into a tiger cage.

While in Burma, Durrell runs into a former colleague who now runs a quasi-legal airline service, and all the while, someone tries to stop any progress in Sam’s search. Here comes a minor spoiler, but one you would have figured out really early on: Major Mong is really the brother that was thought to be dead. This is not the type of book where it’s action piece after action piece. It’s more in the vein of another great Patrick McGoohan show, SECRET AGENT MAN. For those who want an intelligent spy story, look to the ASSIGNMENTS, and think of Durell as a precursor to Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.

expensive place to die reviewAN EXPENSIVE PLACE TO DIE – There is no one better at writing Cold War-era, anonymous-spy fiction than Len Deighton, plain and simple. AN EXPENSIVE PLACE TO DIE is not part of the Harry Palmer books that were made into the Michael Caine films. This is a completely different kind of British spy – one with no name – and his task is to gain the trust of Datt, a Frenchman with high influence and a shady business – that of running a house where all kinds of bizarre sexual perversions are filled.

This house previously was part of Trevanian’s THE LOO SANCTION, but here, it’s the major thrust (pun not intended). It turns out Datt is recording and filming the goings-on inside the house for his own benefit. The agent gains access by befriending a French artist who has an “in” with Datt. While there, the agent is drugged with LSD and is forced to tell all his secrets. Too bad none of them speak English, except for a women named Maria, who translates only what she wants them to know.

From there, the agent is playing a dangerous game of deceiving the French police while also protecting his own interests. He’s put under major strain when one of the police informants who worked there is killed by one of the customers. I know this seems daunting and a bit confusing, but I found this 1967 Deighton thriller unlike any others, in that it deals more with the gray area of spying, that it can’t always be black and white and sometimes the bad guys do get away with it. I highly recommend it if you can find it.

Next time, Modesty and her U.N.C.L.E. go to BERLIN. –Bruce Grossman

#5: Cheese ‘n’ Sleaze
#4: A Rabbi, a Priest, a Pusher, a Queen
#3: Smells Like Hi-Karate
#2: My Name Is Erle
#1: Debut

GRANDMASTER by Warren Murphy
NIGHT WALKER by Donald Hamilton

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BOOK WHORE >> 5.30.06

book whorecold moon review“What you pimpin’ this week, Ms. Book Whore?” you ask.

“Plenty,” she says. “You bring your money, big boy?”

You nod. She replies, “Good. Because you’re gonna need it.”

“Oh, yeah?” Your eyebrow raises in anticipaton.

“Yeah,” she says. “I can’t remember a day where the goods were as hot and plentiful as today. I’m talking, of course, about new books by Dean Koontz, Jeffery Deaver and Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child all being released on the same day.”


“You bet,” she says. “Koontz has THE HUSBAND, which sounds every bit as fast-paced as last year’s VELOCITY. This one’s about a kidnapping. Deaver has THE COLD MOON, another entry in his quadraplegic criminalist Lincoln Rhyme series, and Preston and Child return to tie up the loose ends from last summer’s DANCE OF DEATH with THE BOOK OF THE DEAD.”

perfect dark initial vector reviewYou nod in agreement.

“But that’s not all. Preston and Child are among the big names in THRILLER: STORIES TO KEEP YOU UP ALL NIGHT, which looks to be the suspense anthology of the year. And for more thrills, there’s Marv Wolfman’s novelization for the new movie SUPERMAN RETURNS, and Greg Rucka has PERFECT DARK: INITIAL VECTOR, an original novel based on the Xbox 360 game.”

“Wow, they make books out of video games nowadays? That’s scary.”

“Scary, huh?” the Book Whore asks – purely rhetorical, of course. “For scares, how about CANDLES BURNING, the late Michael McDowell’s unfinished novel, finished by Tabitha King, or David Seltzer’s novelization of his own script for THE OMEN, now back in print in time for the remake. Oh, and hey, are you up for a takedown?”

“And how! I was wondering when you wer–”

“Brad Thor’s TAKEDOWN, that is. It’s a terrorist thriller about a Navy SEAL. You know, someone who could wipe the floor with you.”

candles burning review“That’s not very nice, Whore,” you say, before remembering something. “Wait a sec, I read about that one on BOOKGASM. They said it was pretty crazy, in a good way.”

“Speak of the devil,” she says, eyeing the guy who just walked in. “It’s Rod Lott, Mr. BOOKGASM himself. What are you doing here?”

“Oh, my lovely and talented wife has her first novel out today, THE STORK REALITY,” Rod answers with no shame. “You heard of it? By Malena Lott?”

“Isn’t that chick lit?” she hisses. “You don’t cover that on your site! It’s against your rules!”

“That’s true, and I won’t be. I just wanted to see it on the shelves. I’m very proud of her and it’s quite exciting,” Rod replies.

Ms. Book Whore dismisses him with a meow and a whip-crack. Rod shrugs his shoulders and walks away.

“Anything else?” you ask. “Like, isn’t this the part where you kill me?”

“Indeed, fool,” she says, grabbing a Mitch Albom book from the shelf and reading aloud from it, boring you to death, killing you instantly.

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The Poseidon Adventure

poseidon adventure reviewReissued by Penguin to take advantage of the Kurt Russell film POSEIDON is Paul Gallico’s 1969 thriller THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, the basis for both the current remake and the Oscar-winning 1972 Irwin Allen spectacle. The new film immediately capsized at the box office, but the novel – which, I’ll admit, I didn’t realize even existed – lives on (and with an awesome cover utilizing poster art from Allen’s film and its ultra-cool logo).

After introducing us to little more than a dozen on 500 passengers aboard a Christmas voyage of the S.S. Poseidon, Gallico doesn’t waste any time getting things moving. By page 27, this ship has flipped! A seaquake triggers a rock slip, sending forth a giant wave that does to the cruise liner what is thought to be impossible: turn it upside-down. Most of the crew and passengers are killed instantly, but those few who survive would rather not go down toward an icy grave once a final lurch arrives to sink the craft, so they gamely brave their way up toward Poseidon‘s hull, where they hope to be rescued.

At first disoriented by the topsy-turvy obstacle course the ship’s interior has become – simple flights of stairs now serve no useful purpose – the survivors encounter more troubled spots along the way, which will test their might, tax their bodies and strip them of all their clothes. (Gallico seems to delight in numerous descriptions of the women having to shed their party dresses and unhook their bras.)

Sometimes the scenarios can be difficult to envision, as Gallico digs into details a bit too much. But if you discard your need for spatial acclimatization, you can easily go along for the ride. This is a fine, old-fashioned adventure; I may have handpicked the first person whose death we witness, but the second was a total surprise. The author’s word usage may be dated, but that’s to your benefit when it contains such phrases as “like a Midway cooch grinder.” I’m more bothered an out-of-nowhere rape scene – made even more awkward by its victim’s reaction – and racist statements of one character that Gallico doesn’t necessarily go out of his way to discount.

Near the end, the book becomes less about thrills and more about emotions, but that doesn’t make it any less readable. Gallico’s ADVENTURE is an adventure as promised, an aged but still fully functioning novel about a disaster that isn’t a disaster at all. –Rod Lott

bonus xxx-cerpt “He felt her lips searching his face for his mouth and when they found it, they were soft, smelling and tasting of sugar biscuits and sticky with apricot jam. But with the hungry pleading touch with which they fastened upon his, she simultaneously gave him her life and her death. In the next moment they were joined.”

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Playground: A Childhood Lost Inside the Playboy Mansion

playground playboy reviewIf you’re looking for a book that soundly illustrates how money and power corrupt and screw up your kids, may I suggest Jennifer Saginor’s memoir PLAYGROUND: A CHILDHOOD LOST INSIDE THE PLAYBOY MANSION?

The eldest daughter of Hugh Hefner’s personal “physician” – one famously termed “Dr. Feelgood” for wholly appropriate reasons – Saginor virtually grew up inside the anything-goes party palace of the world’s most famous porn publisher. A product of a broken home when Mom gets jealous of all the Playmates, Jennifer finds solace in the free arcade games and endless supply of snacks.

But that changes as she gets older. Forever watching her father treat the centerfolds and centerfold wannabes as mere objects – “I’d bet you could fit a lot of cocks inside that mouth” is his idea of a good pickup line (because it works) – she inherits a vastly skewed image of what a woman is supposed to be, do and think. Since Dad plies the day’s conquest with painkillers and other pharmaceuticals, Jennifer also turns to self-medication and sexperimentation, drunkenly losing her virginity to a guy she doesn’t know and later finding she prefers the company of other women.

This all is sad, and Dr. Saginor undoubtedly earns the title of Worst Father Ever, but the time this pattern of behavior is established, PLAYGROUND operates on a loop: drink, drugs, sex, repeat. The effect of reading about it is almost as numbing as actually doing it. That it’s all written in present tense is an annoyance, and for someone who was wasted so much of her youth, Saginor apparently harbors a crystal-clear memory as to what pop song was playing on what radio station for any given night (either that or a well-worn copy of Joel Whitburn’s THE BILLBOARD BOOK OF TOP 40 HITS next to her word processor).

PLAYGROUND would be more interesting if Saginor had let the story be less about herself and incorporate more about the famous stars and starlets with whom she hung out. For example, as a child, she remembers playing hide-and-seek in the mansion with Dorothy Stratten a few days before the Playmate of the Year was murdered by her estranged husband, or walking in on John Belushi riding a floppy-breasted Playmate when she was six years old. These type of anecdotes are more revealing and interesting, but they’re glossed over in favor of yet another mention of when Saginor skipped school or swiped some Xanax. I wanted more about bunnies, not a dead horse. –Rod Lott

bonus xxx-cerpt “She pulls her jeans off along with her lavender satin G-string. She continues to kiss me and I am so aroused that there is no stopping the inevitable. She spreads her legs wider, pushing my hand toward her wetness, and I giggle like a nervous schoolgirl. ‘I’m so wet, if you don’t go down on me I’m going to have to go upstairs and get my vibrator,’ she warns, chuckling.”

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