• "Please Don't Tell My Parents I Have A Nemesis" is very good

    I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I give it four stars out of five.

    When we last left Penelope Akks at the end of Please Don't Tell My Parents I've Got Henchmen, she has established to her parents that she has full control of her superpowers, and they've decided to begin to train her as a superhero. Now, all she has to do is shed her former identity as Bad Penny in a way which will convince her parents. Meanwhile, Claire and Ray support her fully, but aren't committed to the heroic route, and have their own plans for the summer. After a spate of inventions and a chance meeting with a former villain at the local hospital, Penelope has come up with what she believes to be a foolproof plan. An incredibly convoluted plan that involves body-swapping, cloning, robots, stealing precious metals... well, let's just say that a foolproof plan seldom survives encounters with the enemy.

    The story had a slow start for me. I'd read the first four chapters or so as previews on the author's site, and the subsequent chapters seemed to be retreading old ground with Penelope coming up with amazingly apropos inventions that will trump upcoming opponents through seeming happenstance. But then, through the course of events, she really starts maturing, correcting old mistakes and attempting to plan for the future. She also encounters more significant setbacks that get her to realize that she can't just rely on winging it. By the first third of the book, it had me hooked back in and I couldn't set the book down until I figured out how it ended. And oh, what an ending... the author has stated that there will be only one more book in Penelope's tale and he's definitely set her up to face significant challenges in the final volume.

    Spoilers ahead...

    Continue reading

  • Review of Cast No Shadows from Curiosity Quills

    Cast No Shadows

    Cast No Shadows book cover

    Cast No Shadows

    Welcome to the shadowed woods, where the trees breathe with ghosts and the wind whispers of the past.

    Twenty-six authors take you through haunted houses and cemeteries with tales that will chill.

    Beware the dark, for the spirits await you.


    I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.

    Honestly, when I first finished reading the stories, I was going to rate the book lower. The stories are, well, sort of pedestrian. Most are the sort of stories that kids tell around campfires where characters are introduced, something happens, and BAM, ghosts, the end. They're not badly written, and I don't remember encountering any spelling, grammar, or formatting errors, but they like any real punch. There's nothing terribly clever about them. So, I contacted the person at Curiosity Quills, and asked her the target audience, which is apparently young adults. That was enough for me to be a bit more lenient. I used to read those Scholastic anthologies back in elementary school. The material here feel like it's going towards more of a teen route, so I don't know if I'd hand these off to someone in primary school, but the quality made more sense with the info on the designated target audience.

    So, long story short, it's an OK book. I don't regret reading it. It's just not great. Three stars out of five.

  • Memories and Oblivion

    I was cleaning up my room and I came upon a poem that Sarah Coles gave me back in high school.

    I Sought Oblivion

    I sought oblivion — and I found you
    Like a satyr bathing
    in the morning dew
    Like an unwanted chestnut
    in a brain-fried stew
    I sought chaos — and I found you.

    I wanted surcease — and there you were
    Like a kitten wrapped
    in a tiger's fur.
    Like a prophet who preached
    but was never quite sure.
    I wanted illusion — and there you were.

    I floundered in darkness — and lo! you lay
    like a trollop rolling
    in a mound of hay.
    like the mime who didn't know
    what to say.
    I floundered in shadows — and lo! you lay.

    I searched and I wanted
    I foundered and flew
    but wherever I wandered
    I know I'll find you.

  • Wrestling with the Heart - Day Two

    Violet stared up at the figure above her. Warren was obviously playing it up for the audience, leaning over the top rope and waving for everyone to cheer him on. Violet found herself staring as the muscles in his taut calves led up to the might thews of his thighs to the deliciously short shorts to a defined six-pack, to... Warren leapt backwards off of the ropes, depriving Violet of her ogle, and began to walk a small circle in the ring, arms still extended towards the ceiling, the crowd in his hand. Violet suddenly realized that her throat was dry and she was feeling really warm.
    “He's pretty awesome, huh?” Kiera said beside her, on her feet and clapping enthusiastically, “Why don't you get up and cheer him on? It's all good fun, right?”. Violet weakly smiled and rose to her feet, her hands numb as she replayed that encounter with him in the hallway over and over again. I must have looked like such a dork... The announcer jumped up to grab the ropes of the opposite side of the ring and spoke into his microphone in his other hand.
    “Aaaand his opponent, weighing 275 pounds, the Mad Musician, the Crude Composer, Gustav, the Brawler, Mauler!” the announcer trilled, then leaned back form the ropes, holding the microphone out to the curtain, where a man who had to be over halfway to seven foot stomped out from between the curtains, clad in long black slacks, and an absurd short tail-coat. In one hand, he had a conductor's baton, tiny in his mitt, and he strode toward the ring, gesticulating wildly with it as the loudspeakers played something vaguely classical-sounding. Kiera cackled and pointed.
    “He used to be Man Mountain Marko but according to the dirtsheets, Marvel served with a C&D, so they made a gimmick up for him real quick.” She said. She didn't have a chance to add to it before Mauler, or maybe Marko, snatched the microphone from the announcer.
    “I,” he boomed, and paused, drinking in the jeers of the crowd, “have prepared a symphony. Of pain!” The last made the jeers even louder and someone off in the cheap seats yelled, “buy a better gimmick,” provoking a glare from the large wrestler toward that direction before continuing. “Warren Peace, your days have been measured and I am prepared for the downbeat with your beat down!” He paused again, and Kiera took the moment to sit down and add a comment.
    “He might be at this for a while. I think he's been sitting on those puns.” But Mauler seemed to have finished, or maybe run out of steam. He slapped the microphone back into the announcer's hand and jumped the three feet to the edge of the apron, grabbing the ropes to steady himself before stepping  through them between the second and third rope.
    “Huh. That's was a pretty impressive leap for this size. Maybe he's been doing Crossfit?” In the ring, Mauler and Warren had started circling each other, the circle getting smaller and smaller until they were suddenly adjacent and locked into an overhead grapple, struggling back and forth, jockeying for position.

    All too quickly, Mauler's greater size seemed to be carrying the day and he drove Warren down to his knees, but Warren struggled back up to a standing position, muscles quivering with the effort, and then he suddenly dropped back down to one way, turning his shoulders in a circle, causing Mauler to fall forward, losing his grip, but catching himself in a forward roll, and coming back up to his feet. Opposite him, Warren stood slowly, and slapped his pectoral muscles with the alternate hands, first his left, then his right, the meaty smacks echoing over the arena. Violet found herself entranced, watching every moment, as Warren sank down into what looked like a fighting stance, arms spread , as he waited for Mauler's next move. He didn't have to wait long, as the larger wrestler charged forward, bearing down on Warren, only for Warren to hook one arm around Mauler's shoulder and seemingly effortlessly throw him to the ground, only to have him roll back up again.
    “Vintage arm drag there,” Kiera said as the men glared at each other again. This time, Warren darted forward, taking one step and then jumping up, seemingly floating in the air as he oriented for a two-footed drop-kick which took Mauler in the chest, driving him back into the turnbuckle as Warren landed and rolled back to his feet.
    “Is he really hitting him that hard?” Violet said.
    “Nah. Mauler just over-sells those hits,” Violet said as Mauler pushed himself off of the ropes and swung a vicious clothesline at Warren, bowling him over to land on his head on the map, almost flipping over with the impact.
    “He's gonna kill him!” Violet squealed. Kiera gave her a funny look and half chuckled.
    “It's fake, right?” Kiera's smile was practically sardonic as Violet glared at her and punched her co-worked in the shoulder lightly. She look back up to see that Mauler had grabbed Warren's legs and was viciously yanking them up and over Warren's head, compressing the smaller man. In the ring, the referee, heretofore unnoticed by Violet in light of the spectacle, darted in and slapped the mat twice before Warren apparently worked his legs loose and kipped-up, slamming his skull into the bowed face of Mauler, causing the larger man to recoil toward the ropes. Warren was back on his feet and shoved Mauler into the ropes, and kept pace with the recoil, one arm snaking between Mauler's legs as he lifted  the larger wrestler up and over his back to slam him into the mat, bearing his full weight down on Mauler. The referee only managed one count before Mauler twisted his legs to yank Warren down. The two men rolled on the canvas, landing with Warren in what looked like a painful arm-bar. The referee leaned down and yelled something at Warren.
    “What's happening?” Violet asked loudly, her voice excited.
    “He's asking Warren if he's submitting. They never do this soon, though,” Kiera said, and rocketed up to her feet, slapping the fence in front of them. “C'mon, Warren! You can do this!” Somewhere off to their right, a slow clap started and slowly gained in intensity and speed as the two men strained against each other. As the clap started to devolve into scattered applause as people lost the rhythm, Warren began arching his back to relieve pressure on his arm, then planted one foot and did some sort of a sideways flip over Mauler, slamming his forearm into Mauler's face as he landed, then striking more blows, leading to his arm being released. He staggered to his feet, holding his arm close to him, doubled-over in pain. Then, suddenly, he reared back and raised the arm skyward, provoking a sudden cheer from the crowd. He ran forward toward Mauler, braced arms raise to grapple the man, when suddenly Mauler straightened and preemptively shoulder-slammed into Warren, driving him back to the ground, motionless. Silence held in the arena for several seconds and Violet realized she was holding her breath as Mauler waded in, lifted Warren's head, and delivered several measured blows, punctuated by a pause each time to let the crowd react.
    “If he were a face, they'd probably be counting the hits,” Kiera proffered as Mauler ceased his pummeling and stood, arms outreached and twitching as if conducting an orchestra, “But he's going to get his.” Violet looking at her quizzically before a roar from the crowd had her looking back in the ring, where Warren was again standing, albeit shakily, and put his hand on Mauler's shoulder.
    “Wait for it,” Kiera breathed. Mauler spun around  Warren pasted him with one, two, three jabs. Violet noted absently that the crowd was counting the hits. The fourth hit stunned Mauler and spun him around, and Warren quickly grabbed his middle and leaned back into a neat suplex. The referee counted one, two, but then Mauler slid out.

  • Wrestling with the Heart - Day Two

    She peered around the hall and again goggled at the sheer number of people. “Are there really that many people in Ashland coming to watch wrestling?” she asked. Kiera laughed and waved around the room.
    “They're not all from Ashland,” she said, “Like I said before, Tri-State area. Some of these people follow the promotion. Some of them probably just crossed the bridge because it's nearby wrestling. Beats the heck out out of hitting Rupp Arena and spending fifty, sixty bucks for a seat in the nosebleed section.” She pointed at the metal fence. “Odds are good that some of the wrestlers are going to crash right up against that fence during the match. Anyhow, Jeremy can hold our seats again while we get food, right Jeremy?”
    “Right,” Jeremy said, none too enthusiastically, “Tote that barge and lift that bale, right?” Kiera reached over and ruffled his greasy hair.
    “Whatever makes you feel special, kid,” she said, “C'mon, Vi!” As they walked off, Kiera discreetly wiped her hand off on her jeans. “Nice kid but he could use some shampoo.”

    The concession stand was running a brisk business. It was standard local sporting event fare, boxes of candy, rotisserie hot dogs, paper cartons of nachos. Above the stand was a list of prices and a note saying that Paul G. Blazer High School students were serving and a portion of the proceeds would go to the school.
    “So, how do you know Jeremy? And does Richard know about him?” Violet ventured. Kiera laughed and waved her hand dismissively.
    “I met him through Richard. Rich's littlest brother went to school with him and then Rich runs into him at one of these events, NWA Appalachia, I think. Anyhow, Rich and Jeremy realize they know each other, start swapping stories of going to Blazer and some of the teachers, and before I know it, we're sitting beside him at every show. He's not that bad of a kid. A bit of a perv, but he'll get it out of his system eventually. He's like one of those puppies that humps everything, you know? Anyhow, what are you in the mood for? Buying here.”
    “Oh. Um... diet Coke if they have it. Hot dog and nachoes with cheese on the side... that OK?”
    “Sure. We'll come back at intermission and get some more if you're still hungry. Kind of a shame they don't sell beer, but the last event I went to where they sold bottles, someone got drunk and started throwing them at one of the heels. Wrestler needed ten stitches. The guy throwing the bottles got laid up in the hospital. Not the wrestlers, funnily enough, but the guys around him, picked him up and threw him through some of the seats. It was a mess, kind of killed the buzz of the event.”
    “Does... do things like that happen often?” Images of riotous sports crowds ran through Violet's head. Kiera chuckled and held up one finger as she moved up the counter and ordered their food.
    “Almost never. I've seen more fights at Putnam Stadium during the high school soccer games. Nah, the spectacle here is practically cathartic, so no one gets really physical.” When Violet narrowed her eyes at her, Kiera threw up her hands. “What? I can't use the occasional five dollar word?” Violet shook her head at her friend.
    “I just never expected it from you. What other mysteries are you hiding under that uncultured facade?” she said. Kiera just chuckled and grabbed a tray with their food order. She then swore under her breath.

    “Damn it... now we're stuck with this. Better head back to the seats... I was going to walk you around the wrestlers' tables, introduce you to the ones I know by name.” She nodded her head toward the perimeter, where Violet noticed tables stacked with T-shirts and manned by men in a variety of costumes.
    “Those are the ones who'll be wrestling tonight?”
    “Some of them. Some of them just show up to sell merch or to swap tales. Bobby Blaze is out there. Rich had him as a substitute teacher a few times. He lives in Ashland now, works as some sort of fitness consultant. He wrote a book, just like just about every other wrestler out there... it's OK stuff. Not real riveting and he rambles, but hey, he's about as close as Ashland gets to a local celebrity. Anyhow, a lot of the wrestlers are back there,” She nodded to one side of the room, where a curtain screened things off. “Like I was saying before, they can't really script out matches, so they're probably discussing spots and doing a little bit of light sparring to figure out their styles.” They'd made their way back to their seats and Kiera handed a hotdog to Jeremy, which forestalled further conversation on his part as he wolfed it down.
    “It sounds complicated,” Violet ventured, “Are you sure you aren't overselling what they do?”
    “Nope,” Kiera said, “If anything else, I'm probably underselling it. I'm a mark through and through. I just like to watch these guys wrassle, but I pick some stuff up when Jeremy and Rich gab, y'know?” Violet just shook her head at her friend and started in on her food. Kiera continued to babble on about works and shoots and kayfabe, and Violet just let it wash over her. Her friend was enjoying herself and that was what was important. As she finished her nachos, and a man in a tuxedo started approaching the ring, something occurred to her.
    “Oh hell... I forgot to put the shirt on.” Kiera looked at her quizzically for a moment, her brain and mouth still in the middle of discussing some storyline involving a dispute over a chicken between two hillbilly characters, then comprehension dawned.
    “Oh honey, you don't have to worry about it. You fit in just fine with what you're wearing.”
    “That's kind of what I was worried about,” Violet muttered, then stood. “We have, what, ten minutes until the bell rings? I'll hurry. Be right back.” Waving off Kiera's protests, she excused herself down the line of people in the front row and hit the aisle.

    The lady's room was serviceable. It smelled a bit, but it seemed clean. Violet found herself a stall and quickly stripped out of her current T-shirt, tossing it over the door and unfolding the shirt that Kiera had given her. It was then that she realized that it was a size smaller than what Kiera had said.
    “Damn you, Kiera,” she muttered, certain that her friend was having fun at her expense, and she turned toward the stall door, only to see her recently doffed country shirt slide off the hook to land in a plop in a suspicious puddle. “Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn, damn!” she snarled, then looked back at the shirt in her hands. “Shit.” She quickly gauged the possibility of washing out her original T-shirt, but judged it unlikely, no time to dry properly and the idea of sitting in front of a crowd, let alone that scuzzball Jeremy, in a damp white T-shirt... she sighed and offered up a prayer for the ability to hold her stomach in for the duration of the show, then skinned it on, exiting the stall, leaving the other shirt fallen where it lay. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and did a double-take. The shirt definitely fit snuggly against her, and whatever they made the bottom half from, it was actually acting almost like a support garment, binding her stomach in and pushing her breasts up and out.
    “Wow...” Her reverie was broken by the realization that the first fight of the evening was being introduced. She broke from the mirror, ran for the door, and planted herself face-first into a perfect set of pectorals.

    Her initial embarrassment was overshadowed by the sharp pain as nose hit breastbone. She recoiled backwards, reaching up to clutch her injury, when she realized a bigger problem, namely that she could barely see. Oh God... I've gone blind. Did I hit I my head? Did I... wait. She reached up and pulled off her glasses and the world assumed the blurriness of myopia instead of the smeary mess the world had been.
    “Damn,” a masculine voice with a hint of local twang said from a blurry mass in front of her. “Here ma'am, let me...” his hand reached forward and plucked the glasses from her hands, did something to them, then handed them back. “My fault... Buddy got a little overenthusiastic with the oil, and when you ran into me...” As she slid the glasses on, the world came back into focus, and she found herself staring at a hairless and very muscular chest. Her gaze slid up to reveal the face of a young man with shaggy midlength blond hair and a very concerned look on his face.
    “Oh,” she said, and immediately glanced down, noted toned abs, followed by some very brief black trunks, muscular legs... her eyes shot back up to his face again, her cheeks blushing. “Oh...” He smiled sheepishly and then his head darted toward the ring.
    “Hell, they're playing my music... sorry!” And then he was jogging toward the ring. Violet found her eyes following him, absently noting that the trunks fit him quite nicely. She started and started walking toward Kiera and Jeremy. Down girl... he's probably half your age, and he's one of those lunkheads who's getting paid to get hit by metal chairs. With a rueful chuckle, she started down the aisle again, the roar of the crowd nearly drowning out her internal monologue. At the front, she ran the gauntlet of the front row again.
    “Where've you been?” Kiera said over the crowd, “You missed out on the pre-match announcements and Warren's entrance. Shirt looks good on you, though.” She cocked her head off to the side and chuckled. “Your shirt now. It never look that good on me. Oh, Warren's coming to our side!” She immediately broke away and joined the cheers of the crowd as the wrestler in the ring bounced off of the opposite ropes and ran up to land on the second rope on their side, raising his arms in greeting at the crowd. Violet looked up at the form silhouetted by the spotlights above her and her breath caught. Of course... of all the people to run into...

  • Wrestling with the Heart - Day One

    “You know it's all fake, right?” Even as she finished her sentence, before her co-worker could give her the stink-eye, Violet knew that that was the wrong thing to say. She held up her hand and continued. “Sorry. That was... that was insensitive and makes it sound like I think you're an idiot. I mean... what's the excitement in it? They pick who's going to win the wrestling matches beforehand, right? And all of the moves are staged?” Kiera, her co-worker gave her a look and then sighed quietly, a smile dancing around her lips.
    “Sure, they're working together up there,” she said, “And the winner is picked before the match, but what they're doing up there... it's stuntwork. There's no way to fake slamming into that ring floor, or into a crowd barrier. And it's not like they can stage and rehearse the entire fight, or do multiple takes. It's like improv and stage combat and... well, not to mince words, but hot sweaty muscular guys grappling!” She squealed the last bit in a bit of a stage whisper, albeit one loud enough that a few people turned their heads.
    “Shush,” Violet said, waving her hand to lower the volume, “First off, you're assuming I'm that shallow.” She ignored Kiera's answering snort and continued. “Second, I watched wrestling on the TV as a kid and they're not all hot. There's a lot of fat guys, and old guys, and this is a bunch of local wrestlers, right? These are the guys who couldn't make it in the big leagues, so now they go to county fairs and high school gyms, and, well, the Ashland Armory building, right?”
    “You know,” said Kiera, “You're right. This isn't your thing. I'll ask someone else.” She stood up from the desk. “I just... Richard isn't going to be able to make it so I had the ticket and I thought we could have a girl's night togther.” Violet's chest twinged with guilt. “But it's OK. I'll find someone else to do it. Maybe Sarah?” Violet's chest twinged with a rather more jealous emotion. Sarah was an OK worker, but she was one of those girls who thought Sex and the City was a thoughtful biopic.

    “Wait,” Violet said, “Just let me finish transcribing these physician reports and I'll think about it, K? It's just... I do want to hang out with you and I'm probably not giving these guys a chance, right? What do you wear to one of things anyhow?”
    “Whatever you'd normally wear to a sport event. Someone people wear T-shirts for their favorite wrestler — they sell them at the shows — and some people just show up in whatever is comfortable. I'd suggest jeans, though. The Armory gets drafty and it's all folding chairs. That is, if you're coming, right?” Kiera flashed Violet a triumphant smile, certain she'd hooked her.
    “Right. I said I'd think about it...” Violet cocked her head off to the side, trying to frame the question, then deciding she'd might as well just come out with it. “Are you cheering someone in particular on tonight?” Kiera's smile spread into a Cheshire grin.
    “Oh girlfriend, you're in for a surprise. Just wait 'til I show you my man, Warren. He's... well, let's just say that it makes it worth the fact that some of the wrestlers are past their prime.” She assumed a thoughtful look and stared up at the ceiling. “You know, if you're coming tonight...” Violet laughed and waved Kiera away.
    “I'll think about. I'll think about it. Now let me get back to my transcriptions. You know they're never satisfied with our work rate. Go, go, shoo!” As Kiera strode away toward her own work, manning the counter at the medicine dispensary, Violet slipped a set of headphones on and lost herself in the droning voices of doctors dictating their patient encounters.

    In the middle of typing out a lengthy description of a Mrs. Theodora Coraghessan's boils, a loud bang startled Violet out of her desk chair. She tumbled  backwards, the headphones yanking themselves off of her head to see Kiera looking very chagrined, hands poised over a set of dropped medical texts.
    “Oh, I'm so sorry, Violet. I didn't... I just wanted to get your attention and you didn't seem to be hearing me...” She leaned down and gave Violet a hand.up.
    “Just for that, you're buying the hotdogs and drinks tonight,” Violet said, brushing herself off. She quickly pecked the key to stop the recording that was sounding tinnily over her headphones and hit another key to blank the screen. “My own fault for letting you sneak up on me... Fred would have my ass up on HIPAA violations if he knew I let someone potentially read it.” Keira nodded in sympathy, well aware of Violet's issues with her boss, then her eyes narrowed.

    “Wait a sec... so you're going to go?”
    “Wouldn't miss it. You're right. I need to get outside of my comfort zones, get over-” Kiera interrupted her, her mouth crooking in a slightly sardonic grin.
    “Well, I was going to say getting over doing what's comfortable but yeah, I need to get over him.” Violet absently squared up her keyboard and desk as her brain ran a quick retrospect of the relationship. “He was... well, he was an OK guy, but it just didn't click, you know?”
    “Bad in bed?” Kiera quipped, provoking a blush from Violet.
    “No, no... sort of. We were just looking for different things,” she finished diplomatically, picking up a paperclip.
    “Right. Like he was looking for a subservient little housewife to cook his food and fetch his slippers. Which, of course, you're not.”
    “Well, I haven't entirely ruled out the housewife bit. But it's not who I am now and he... he just couldn't accept that.” Violet forced herself to put down the paperclip she'd just twisted into a tangled mess. “Anyhow, yeah, I'll be there. But I'm driving separate just in case this turns out to not be my scene, alright?” Kiera held up her hands in mock surrender.
    “Sure thing, Vi. Bell rings at 7, but there isn't assigned seats, so try to get there by 6:30. Are you stopping home?”
    “I probably should. This,” Violet said as she indicated her purple silk blouse and black slacks, “probably isn't going to fit in. But I really need to finish this transcription... you think I can get by with it?”
    “Don't worry. You and I wear about the same size, right? And you probably still have those jeans in your backseat from the picnic? And sneakers?” To Violet's nod, she added, “And I've got some spare T-shirts at home. What do you think, are you more a Canadian Destroyer kind of gal, or a Haught Mess?” Violet gave her a puzzled look.
    “I assume those are wrestling things? No one's going to shiv me or spit on me for supporting the wrong guy?”
    “Nah. This isn't Puerto Rico. You'll fit right in. Promise you'll show?” Violet took a deep breath and answered with a sharp nod. “Great! I'll leave you to Dr. Whassisname and his no doubt riveting narrative.” She shook her head, “Never understand how you don't just fall asleep to that stuff, but hey, whatever works for a living right?”
    “Right. Now go, please. I'm already falling behind.”

    * * *

    A few hours later, Violet slipped the headphones off and arched her back, feeling the vertabrae pop as Dr. Finch's dry description of ichthyosis vulgaris played out in her head. A quick click of the button showed that she'd hit her word count for the day, only needing to work an hour outside of those she clocked in. The clock showed that she had about an hour before the wrestling event started, a half hour before meeting up with Kiera.
    “Oh dear lord, what have I gotten myself into?” she asked the ceiling, then quickly glanced around the room to be sure no one other than God was there to answer her. The room was deserted. King's Daughters' Medical Center was, as befitted the only hospital in a small town (in the back of her head, the oft-repeated ad copy chimed in Ashland's largest employer at over 4000 people, providing quality health and wellness in a Christian environment), was always active in one way or another, but the transcription department was silent and still, everyone else having gone home. Violet double-checked her most recent transcription and then saved and submitted it before filing out her official timesheet. Pushing herself away from her desk, she got up and jogged down the halls, waving to the occasional nurse or patient, and out to her car, where she fetched her more casual clothing. She found a T-shirt, but wrinkled her nose at the skull emblazoned over a Confederate flag. Outdoors with the Outlaws, featuring some big names like David Allen Coe and Johnny Cash, may he rest in peace, wasn't a concert she'd attended, but the Blazer choir teacher gave them out one day and she'd grabbed it, free being free and all that. Still, it would get her down to the Armory.

    She jogged back to one of the changing rooms on the hospital's campus, noting with some distaste that that quick jog had raised a sweat despite the coolth of the September evening. Obviously, she needed more exercise in her life. She slipped the t-shirt on and smoothed it down in front, irritatedly poking at that hard-to-eliminate bit of pudge around her middle.
    “Yup,” she said to her reflection, “There's crunches in your future. And fewer snacks at the desk. And maybe some salads. At least I'm not going anywhere important, right?” With those words of confidence, she took a deep breath in, tried a few positions to de-emphasize her stomach, and finally just untucked the shirt to make it more blousy, and looked herself over. For being in her 30s, she wasn't too badly off, she supposed. Pale skin, largely untouched by the sun, with a smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose and her cheeks. Mousy brown curls framing a heart-shaped face. The glasses were utilitarian with steel frames and ultrathin lenses. And, while she didn't have the body she had in high school, or even in college, she tried to eat healthily and she walked wherever she could. Her jeans hugged her form without bulging and bloused, the T-shirt didn't draw particular attention to her modest bosom, but it didn't hide it either. She shook her head and gathered her stuff together. Enough mooning, on to what was no doubt going to be one more event to chalk off on things not to do again.

    It was 6:25 when she arrived, a quick jaunt down Lexington Avenue from the hospital to the armory. Much to her surprise, the parking lot was already half-full. She parked as close as she could, and stepped out of her car, metaphorically girding her loins before entering.
    “I have been a stranger in a strange land,” she muttered to herself as she set out toward the entrance. She passed by a variety of characters. Some fit the stereotypes she'd held like the shirtless guy who had three replica belts slung over his shoulder — or maybe real belts; she couldn't tell — or the overweight woman who looked ready to sling her panties at the ring, but she also passed families, office workers, just perfectly normal people out for an evening's entertainment. Near the entrance, Keira waved her over and tossed her a t-shirt. Violet shook it out and saw Suplex Tacos emblazoned above a stylized mask.
    “I've heard about that place... gas station taco joint on Thirteenth?”
    “Yeah. Good tacos. The owners don't have any real luchadore ties, just thought it was a different theme for a Mexican restaurant, something other than sombreros and mariachi bands. It's a small, should fit you just fine. But come on! I have your ticket and my buddy Jeremy is holding some prime front-row seats for us. We'll be close enough to have the sweat splash on us!”
    “Oh joy,” Violet said flatly, but with a faint smile, “Just what I wanted to do with my night.”
    “Don't worry. I'm teasing you. Mostly. It's a sport and they work hard out there. They sweat, right?” Kiera handed two tickets to an oversized man at the front door and they walked in.

    Inside, the scene was controlled chaos, a few hundred people milling around the folding chairs that were layered in four sections of four rows, surrounding a low metal fence that itself surrounded the ring. Violet hadn't been sure what to expect of it, but found herself mildly disappointed that the ring was rather plain, a black plastic skirt emblazoned with red letters that spelled out IAW, capped off by four square ringposts, painted red, supporting three parallel red cables on each side.
    “IAW?” she asked Kiera.
    “International Action Wrestling. Dunno who they think they're fooling about it being 'international'. Most of the wrestlers come from the Tristate area and they have maybe four or five venues in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia. What can I say, they're an Indy fed.”
    “Indy fed?”
    “Independent federation. Basically, they're not WWE, TNA, ROH... small fish. Back in the day, they probably would have been part of one of the territories, but these days, it's all independent with the groups barely recognizing that the others exist. Oh, there's Jeremy!” Kiera waved at a scruffy looking guy who was sitting in one of the chairs and had his arms draped over two more. He glanced up from an argument he was having with two men dressed in overalls and carrying cardboard signs and caught Kiera's eye, jerking his head at the men. Kiera hustled through the crowd and leaned over one of the chairs, obviously showing off her décolletage to distract them. Violet, moving through the crowd more gingerly, missed most of the conversation to the roar of the crowd, but evidently Kiera got her way and the two men moved on.

    “Thanks, Kiera,” Jeremy said, “I was starting to think that I was going to have to throw down.” Violet noted Jeremy's rather pronounced Kentucky twang and his raggedy ACTC shirt and decided he must be one of the longtime natives, probably had roots in the area. He looked up to Violet.

    “Oh hey, you must be Violet. Kiera's told me 'bout you. Nice shirt!” He stared at the writing a little longer than he ought to have needed to and Violet realized a little too late that he was probably ogling her. His leer was interrupted by Kiera's dope slap.

    “Jeremy, be nice. Remember, I know your Mom...” Mentally, Violet subtracted a few years off of her first estimate of Jeremy's age, and placed him as being somewhere in his early 20s, an ACTC graduate, probably lived with his parents... she shook her head and scolded herself for assuming so much.

  • Otto Von Trapezoid and the Empress of Thieves

    October Tour Banner

    Otto Von Trapezoid and the Empress of Thieves by Jesse Baruffi

    I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from Curiosity Quills in exchange for writing a review for it. Unfortunately, I was unable to complete the book, so I feel I cannot give it a proper review. They counseled me to instead provide a standard release for the book.

    Otto Von Trapezoid

    OTTO VON TRAPEZOID AND THE EMPRESS OF THIEVES is the story of two criminal masterminds who can conquer anything except their own feelings. Otto Von Trapezoid is a mad scientist who rules an army of robots from his orbital space station. Angry and grumpy, he sees no value in humanity except becoming their ruler. Esmerelda Santa Monica is the stylish self-proclaimed “Empress of Thieves,” who values her own legend and the thrill of the theft over actual wealth. Both live lonely lives, the desire to become the greatest villains of all time primarily on their minds When the two meet in simultaneous attempts to blackmail the UN, their instincts are to attempt to kill one another, but soon they discover a mutual attraction that neither thought possible. Once they begin to pool their resources, the pair seems on track to become the most successful evil- doers of all time and set out to conquer the world itself. But what happens when their villainous natures emerge, and both realize there can only be one absolute ruler of Earth? Can either be satisfied with being second to another? To make matters worse, they must deal with the protestations of Otto’s sidekick robot SCRAP, the meddling of their fellow villains, their families, and worst of all, heroic superspy Jake Indestructible is determined to bring them both down, once and for all. Filled with robot dinosaurs, exploding dinner parties, and villainous poker games, OTTO VON TRAPEZOID AND THE EMPRESS OF THIEVES is a hilarious sci-fi comedy that will leave you falling in love with the bad guys!

    The Author

    Jesse Baruffi

  • Couch to 5k progress

    Back in January, on New Year's Eve, my wife and I started the "Couch to 5K" running program, her idea being that we would sign up for a 5K in March and we'd go into it fresh off of having finished up this 9 week program. For those unfamiliar, it involves 9 weeks of 3 approximately 30-minute sessions a week at the end of which, you should be able to run an entire 5k race without stopping (side note, there are also options for distance, but time is easier to track for more people, so it's usually the option emphasized). Long story short, we fell short. There were times when we were short on time. There were times when one or the other of us had not been feeling well. In the end, we jogged for about a third of the 5k and walked the rest, having only completed four weeks of the program and barely dipping into the fifth.

    More recently, I decided to get back into it. I'm in rehearsals for Merry Wives of Windsor with Poor Yorick's Players in Monroeville. The theater is in the middle of a park, and I work about 15-20 minutes down the road, so I've been packing running clothes, showing up an hour early, and getting my run in. Last week, week 5, I fell off the wagon a little. I missed the first two workouts and went right to Week 5 Day 3 on my handy C25k app. After the five minute warmup, it told me 20 minutes of running, which was more than a little daunting. But I did it. I was slowing near the end and I was dead tired with my legs shaking, but I did it. As anyone who click through on that first link in the post knows, I erred. For the first 4 weeks, the three workouts are the same. For the fifth week, they change with it being relatively easy on the first day, harder on the second, and a solid run with no breaks for the third. I went right to that third.

    I'm debating whether I should go to week 6 for next week or to properly run week 5 for those three days. I think I will probably go for the latter. I was a bit sore in the calves last night, and my knee was aching for a bit this morning, so it's a good idea to ease back a little. Still, I'm proud of myself. I never really thought of myself as the kind of person who could run for 20 minutes at a time. Yeah, I know... I should be in better shape than that, but it really is an accomplishment for me.

  • Jury Duty

    Almost everyone goes through it at least once, and this was my lucky day. It's been driving me a little bit crazy having no one to talk to about it, but the trial is over, so I can do so. First off, I do want to state that, while I was not thrilled to love two days of work (and thus, wages for those days), I recognize that we need good people to stand on juries and I'm close enough for government work. Literally. I do think that the compensation aspect of it needs to be reworked because there were several of us who were losing money being there and, while I'd like to think that it didn't drive us to a hasty decision, I'm not naïve enough to think that it had no effect at all on our decision-making. And I'm still kicking myself over our final decision.

    The case was one of a house fire in a rental property. The plaintiff was the tenant and was pursuing a civil case against her landlord, claiming that there were inadequate smoke detectors in the house, that the landlord was aware of that fact, and the fact that they did not act on it showed negligence on their part. It should have been a clear-cut case except neither side brought much evidence to the table, the only witnesses involved were the plaintiff and the defendant, their statements were contradictory with the defendant's statements largely boiling down to that she had no idea if there were inadequate smoke alarms, didn't remember being contacted about the lack of them, and felt that the whole thing was the fault of the plaintiff for not being vigilant enough for signs of a fire (there was smoke smelled earlier in the day, but no sign of a fire and the neighbors were visibly burning wood outside). I got elected foreman and quickly learned that there was no way we were getting a quorum to agree on anything past the basic fact that both sides exhibited negligence. Past that... there was no evidence either way. The testimony was contradictory, no other witnesses were called, we had multiple statements by the lawyers, witnesses, and the judge which were stricken from the record, we were forbidden from referencing the fire code... and we're told not to speculate but to base our decision on the evidence. Of which there basically was none.

    So, deadlocked as we were, into the second day, I made a decision, the one which is haunting me even now. I raised the fact that we were all in agreement that neither side had proven their case, and suggested that we could wash our hands of the situation by following the strict measure of the law and making our decision as simply that the plaintiff had not proven negligence. Legally speaking, we were in the right. Morally... we would be playing Pilate and washing our hands of the situation. We put it to a vote. Two people voted that the defendant had shown negligence. One of the people who eventually voted no on that matter was clearly struggling with her decision and I tried to assure her that we would not think badly of her either way. I was the final vote. In my heart, I really wanted to vote for negligence, which would have put us back in the state of being a hung jury, but I caved. I wanted this to end. I worried that they'd think I was jerking them around by suggesting this measure and then voting against it. I was a coward and I'm still kicking myself over that.

    So, I'm... conflicted. Did I sell that plaintiff out because I didn't want another day of jury duty? Did I lead the other jurors astray by giving them an out? Should I have voted that third dissenting vote, whether or not there were two people? I don't know. I feel sick to my stomach still over it all. I did explain myself to the plaintiff and her counsel (we were told that we were allowed to choose to speak with the lawyers. We were allowed to choose not to speak with the lawyers. Ultimately, the defense boogied out without a word); I and two others on the jury made our explanation of why we chose like we did, hopefully indicating to the lawyer that he'd lost by not introducing sufficient evidence and witnesses, since the defense really didn't do anything more to defend themselves. I still feel guilty.

  • Muddled Impressions on IWC's Friday Night Fights

    Went to Friday Night Fights last night, screamed myself hoarse and decided to take a hot toddy to soothe my throat (having a cold already didn't help). Yeah... I just woke up a bit ago, but I'll try to recount what I remember.

    Opening match: Haught & Cute versus Nutts & Brooks

    Best match of the night. No, really! Well, that and the closing match were a close tie perhaps. Haught and Delaney entered in their usual high-energy crowd-pleasing manner. Nutts and Brooks followed close behind, unfortunately doing the glitter stick thing again. I say unfortunately because, as the saying goes, "glitter is the herpes of the craft world". Despite attempts by the ring staff to clear the area with brooms between matches, every single wrestler throughout the night sported a shimmer of glitter they'd picked up. It looked like Twilight all night long. Anyhow, there was an excellent back-and-forward action to the match. All four are excellent wrestlers and worked with each other not to advance their own image, but to make everyone look good. Nutts and Brooks did an excellent job of keeping Delaney away from his corner where Haught, as a proper face, merely leaned over straining for the tag instead of leaping in as so many wrestlers, heel or face, do these days. Ultimately, Nutts and Brooks prevailed, keeping the Tag Titles they took off of Haught and Delaney, but not without taking several falls, including one simultaneous 2 and a half count.

    Live Aftershock with Justin Plummer

    Ostensibly, this was going to be another ChairShot Reality segment with Justin LaBar and the crowd had already been riled up on Facebook with suggestions of ways and means of protest (the prevailing idea was for everyone to come up with some sort of reading material and obviously tune out as soon as LaBar came in). After much booing as it was announced that LaBar would soon be entering, instead Justin Plummer came out in LaBar signature leather jacket to riotous cheering. After admitting that LaBar might be stranded at the airport due to Plummer walking off with the jacket, car keys in pocket, and ostensibly filming all of us on his phone to show to LaBar on Twitter (said video has yet to show up), Chuck Roberts showed up for an apparent dressdown but instead congratulated Plummer on how clever he was. Plummer then did an in-ring interview segment with Zema Ion on his return. I like Plummer and his Aftershock show. I do have to offer a bit of constructive criticism in that he needs to work on maintaining intensity in his speaking. After the entry with all of its yelling, he dropped down to a conversational level with Ion, which was a bit jarring.

    HD Cannon versus Remy LaVey

    I may be getting a match or two out of order here. Sorry, part of the issue of not taking notes and trying to write things up the day after. This was LaVey's second match with IWC, his last one being at Proving Grounds also at White Oak. HD Cannon, of course, is a relative rookie in the IWC, but has more of a reputation (and has gotten more of a push). To be honest, I'm still not certain what LaVey's angle is yet. Pale-skinned guy with a shaggy haircut and bad black dye-job, enters with a leather jacket on. I'm not certain whether they're going for a pseudo-goth angle, a biker, or what. For the match itself, LaVey was pretty out-matched. Cannon has the physique and has the moves. LaVey is a bit pudgier and seemed to rely more on striking (although I have to say, he's got some of the most convincing hitting technique in the promotion. Most of the guys take half-hearted telegraph swings that miss by inches, but his punches actually looked and sounded like they connected). Cannon won with a pinfall. I talked with LaVey a bit during intermission. He seemed to be really favoring his right shoulder and sounded a bit out of it; I suspect he actually got hurt out there. Seemed like a nice enough guy, but either he's being counseled to come off as unimpressive (every promotion needs a jobber, I guess) or he needs to do more in the ring.

    Facade versus Ashton Amherst

    This was an "unsanctioned" match, which apparently translates out to "official except no titles will transfer and no disqualification". Amherst had a good entrance, riling up the crowd with how he's trying to insult all of us in our stupid town and yet we lap it all up. Shades of Bobby Fish, to be honest. Facade did his usual except he didn't spraypaint a fan's sign (probably because there were none in the front row tonight), instead spraypainting his own, and giving it to Cray-Cray Lady (the angry grandmother who curses the heels). The match itself was good with Facade largely having the upper hand, but realistically knocked back on occasion by the larger Amherst. Amherst tried to leave the match at one point, proclaiming that Facade was "cheating" by "grabbing his hair at least three times" (Amherst is either heavily balding or has his hair cut in a close buzz cut, so this was a joke) and was told by Chuck Roberts that he couldn't leave the ring because this was "an unsanctioned match". Dunno how that works... maybe Chuck was implying that if he didn't wrestle now, he'd just get curbstomped backstage? Anyhow, the match was good with the referee (former wrestler, I'm told) thrice getting hit by moves and getting knocked out enough to not see Facade successfully pin Amherst. Ultimately, Amherst successfully hit a back-to-belly piledriver on Facade onto a steel chair and then pinned him for the win but not title. As I told my wife, it was an excellent example of making both guys look strong, since both of them could be argued to have gotten the win but without any title changing place. I would not put this one among my top Facade matches, but he's a good wrestler and they made each other look good.

    Zema Ion versus Brian McDowell

    Zema Ion entered the ring and seemed ready to call out RJ City when Team STD came outand pre-emptively accepted his challenge. After a bit of friendly team beating, they left him in the ring with McDowell. It was an alright match, but a bit forgettable. McDowell seemed to be having cardio issues (he's a much bigger guy) and I suspect that Ion is still on the road to recovery, as he didn't do a number of his acrobatic moves (it might also be a matter of whether McDowell was able to follow such moves. A number of Ion's more flashy moves look like they require a wrestler who can execute a flip on their own without landing on their heads). Ultimately, Ion won with a submission where McDowell tapped out seconds into it for a somewhat anti-climactic ending.

    Four versus Four tag match: Team STD (minus McDowell and Marshall Gambino versus W.A.R., Matt Segaris (Blue Collar Slaughterhouse), and Mike Rayne

    I don't like oversized tag matches, but Chuck seems enamored with them. Because of the complexity of so many people in and around the ring, it's actually less exciting than a regular tag match because it so often devolves into either a straight-up brawl or little bits of action happening simultaneously all over the ring. The addition of Mike Rayne was a surprise addition. I guess one of the members of BCS couldn't make it (I think it's Segaris who was out there... I get him and McBride confused on occasion). Well, it started out with the brawl situation until the faces were the guys left in the ring whereupon the match in general happened. They actually maintained this as a regular tag match for a good bit of it with only one person tagged in at a time. At first, the faces dominated the action, tagging in a fresh guy occasionally as they would dominate a member of Team STD and then let them tag out for another guy. Aiden Veil did a bit where he beat up each of the four members of Team STD in turn, then slid out of the ring and tried chatting up the Gambino valet (Madison? It's the girl who's always spilling out of her shirt) before playing a bit of grab-ass with her and getting clouted over the head. When he re-entered the ring, Marshall was very unamaused, and had had time to recover, and long segment of Aiden getting beat up in the Team STD corner ensued. Ultimately, Aiden managed to fight his way out and make the tag. There was more tag action, pretty standard stuff, although there were some odd bits like Palace going for his signature AVIATION!!! top rope maneuver when the only person anywhere near the ring was Chest Flexor, his teammate, on the ring ropes (and, as is typical once he puts on the goggles, Palace missed even the wrong target and tumbled off the side of the ring). Ultimately, Marshall got into a yelled discussion with Flexor, I assume indicating that he didn't think much of them, and Team STD left the ring en masse, leaving Marshall to fend off all four members of the ostensible faces, who proceeded to disregard the tag match rules entirely and all enter the ring to beat up on him while the referee basically looked at the pigpile and shrugged. That is, of course, my other big pet peeve about tag matches, that no one pays any attention to the rules. Gambino was pinned and it looks like the team-up of Team STD and Marshall may be over.

    Dennis "War Machine" Gregory versus Sam "The Natural" Cassidy

    Short match. Dennis largely dominated the action, delivering his signature constant commentary throughout the action, including a shouting match with one of the fans and reprimanding one kid at ringside for swearing. Cassidy was a bit awkward again, missing at least one move where we was supposed to hook Gregory's arms and legs up behind his head and then drop onto his back, slamming Gregory to the mat. As it was, he missed hooking the legs, resulting in Gregory landing awkwardly and recovering for a bit outside the rign, shaking his wrist and complaining about Cassidy's bad technique. After a few minutes of wrestling, Gregory got Cassidy into a submission hold and it was all over.

    Logan "Heavy Metal Jesus" Shulo versus John "Big League" McChesney

    Two veteran wrestlers, both with impressive skills in the ring, what could go wrong? Well, nothing did. It was an excellent match, very much worthy of being the main event. McChesney acknowledged that Chuck had stipulated that the rest of Team Big League (which, these days, seems to be only Nutts and Brooks, probably since Bobby Fish is busy with Ring of Honor matches) leave ringside, so McChesney ordered them to go to the commentary table. What followed was an excellent example of face versus heel. Occasionally, people accuse McChesney of only being able to win via cheating, but he showed excellent wrestling skills in the match, wrestling smart, repeatedly targeting Shulo's leg in what looked to be progressively painful attacks. McChesney is about the same height as Shulo, but less built, so it made sense for him to take what advantage he could and run with it. Shulo, of course, fought back, but it was largely McChesney's match as he dominated the action and showed that indeed, he can stand on his own as a wrestler. There was a weird bit later in the match where McChesney, staggering after a beating, proceeded to climb the corner post and sit there, but it turned out to be set-up for him stealing Logan's signature move of getting an opponent handing upside-down from the corner ropes and stomping on their face, jumping from the post. There were also two lovely Boston Crabs (also signature moves by Shulo, although ones I haven't seen him do in the ring for a while) by McChesney where Shulo had to struggle for a rope break, unable to get out of the hold otherwise. Near the end, Shulo was getting the upper hand and Brooks tried to enter to interfere with Nutts holding him back, providing enough of a distraction for McChesney to rally. After the second time this happened, Chuck ordered the ringside staff to escort Nutts and Brooks outside, banned from the building for the rest of the match. I have to say, seeing Brooks literally picked up and carried out by the short black guy in the ringside staff was one of the funniest bits of the night. Shulo finally landed his signature piggy-back spin-around slam (I think it's entitled his "Halo Bomb") and I'd swear that they rang the bell for the pin before Shane Taylor came in and blindsided Shulo, necessitating all of the faces from the night to come out and run him and McChesney off and carry Shulo out. Chuck Roberts has since posted that Shulo had to go to the hospital and blames Norm Conners (who wasn't present) for the events. Honestly, I got more of the feeling that Taylor acted on his own, that McChesney was trying to stand on his own for the match and Conners is going to disassociate himself from Team Big League, leaving Justin LaBar as the evil manager, possibly with Taylor joinging up.

    Overall, an excellent night. Tickets were cheap and attendance was a bit sparse, but the people who were there were enthusiastic. It was announced that October's match is having its name changed from No Excuses 2013 to Retro Reunion, apparently welcoming back some former stars including some fellow named Egotistical? *shrug* Before my time, I suppose (not difficult to do since I only started attending last year). We also had Cody Knotts arriving to promote his film, Pro Wrestlers Vs Zombies including showing off a new trailer / music video which includes shots of IWC's own Facade and Ashton Amherst as well as footage of Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Roddy Piper, and Kurt Angle. They had a "biggest fan" competition during the event to win free tickets for the debut United States (first showings will apparently be in England and Germany) in Uniontown, PA. My wife won one, so we will be attending. There were a lot of kids at the match tonight. It was a bit disruptive having them running up and down the bleachers throughout the matches, and at least one of them slapped McChesney on the back as he came in, something that would get most of the adults thrown out. It played well when Shulo did his "benediction" pre-ring bit with all of the kids huddled around the ringside fence and him evidently saying something very earnest to them although I couldn't catch what. Still, they were enthusiastic, and that's half the fun at wrestling. Unfortunately, my wife and I will be missing the next event. She scheduled our Halloween party for that day. Ah well, so much for dressing up as Jason Gory...