Star Wars: Darth Maul Son of Dathomir by Jeremy Barlow

Star Wars: Darth Maul Son of Dathomir, Jeremy Barlow et al, Dark Horse Comics, 2014

4.5 Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Darth Maul vs All of the Sith

When last we saw Maul in the cartoon, his brother Savage was killed in an awesome double dual against Darth Sidious, aka Chancellor Palpatine, and Maul was taken prisoner for Sidious’ nefarious plans.

There’s no spoilers in telling that Maul makes his escape and vows his revenge. Using his crime syndicate & allies of The Pikes, Black Sun & the Mandalorians, Maul enacts his plan to usurp Sidious as The Dark Lord of the Sith through brute force and turn Sidious’s allies against him.

Fans of Dark Force users will take delight that there are no puny Jedis in this story, just Siths, their acolytes, Night Brothers of Dathomir, and a not-so-surprising return of Maul’s mother, the Night Sister witch, Mother Talzin. There’s plenty of action in this series, with Sith fighting Sith & the Confederation of Independent Systems (CIS) vs Maul’s criminal allies.

I do wish we could have seen this in true animated form, with Sam Witwer’s silky performance as Maul, but this comic was a next-best substitute.

The artwork is solid and the plot is satisfactorily violent. By the end, all the pieces are put in place for “The Clone Wars'” finale, a 4 episode arc of the Siege of Mandalore, which runs parallel to my favorite Star Wars film, Revenge of the Sith.

American Desperado by Jon Roberts and Evan Wright

American Desperado, Frank Jon Roberts and Evan Wright, Crown, 2011

4.5 Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A Very Evil Man

American Desperado is the story of Jon Roberts’ life as told to author Evan Wright. Just who was Jon Roberts?

He was an orphan, a kid who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, small-time hood, a Vietnam Veteran, a thief, a Mafia associate, a prominent NYC discotheque owner, a drug dealer, a racehorse aficionado and, most importantly, a prosperous businessman who was one of the most successful American importers of all time.

Of cocaine.

And by his own admission, a very evil man.

Reading this memoir of Roberts’ life, one might be fooled into thinking he’s not all that evil. He’s charming, funny, and a capable raconteur. His stories will either have you laughing, reeling in shock, or totally engrossed. His life story is entertaining as hell, having lived more in his 63 years on Earth than a dozen random people combined.

But don’t fall prey to his two-faced nature. Roberts was extravagantly generous to his many, many girlfriends, a cool-headed businessman (when he needed to be), and an absolute lover of animals, exceedingly kind to all creatures, whether feathered or four-legged (except alligators. Eff them.). However, all that pales in comparison to what Jon was truly about. He was a murderer, a rapist, a thief, a kidnapper, a blackmailer, a money launderer, an informant, and a criminal drug smuggler who, from the late-1970s to the mid-1980s brought in several billion dollars worth of cocaine into the US. He was one of several noted American “Cocaine Cowboys,” if not the most prominent.

Jon Roberts, Cocaine Cowboy

Jon’s father was a Sicilian-born Mafia soldier, who made Jon witness a grisly murder at an early age. After his father was deported, Jon turned to a life of crime, being pushed around from schools to juvenile detentions to reform schools. His first sexual experience was raping a young girl whose father considered Jon like a son. Stupidly naive of the man, of course, as Jon never hid his violent, antisocial ways. Though Jon did have an astonishing ability to charm people despite his wicked nature.

He became more entrenched in a criminal lifestyle, interrupted only by a violent four-year stint in Vietnam, which only made Jon more bloodthirsty. After the war he joined the mafia, first running small-time scores for them, then climbing up the ladder bringing in big bucks. Eventually, he became a major player in the night club scene, the owner of various big-named clubs like Salvation, where famous celebrities would turn up. Jon would often lace their drinks with LSD for laughs. Once, Jon spiked Ed Sullivan’s drink, driving the variety-show host to a mini-nervous breakdown after fondling a prostitute’s naked breasts while tripping out. Jon’s old-school mustachioed Mafia bosses were not pleased.

Jon eventually got involved in several murders which brought on too much heat for his mob contacts and was banished from New York. From there he moved to Florida, where in just a short while he became a major mover in the cocaine business, working this time for the Colombian cartels, and raking in millions.

All this before the age of thirty.

A Twisted Empire

I won’t summarize the rest of his life, as there are numerous articles, books, tv movies and documentaries about “The Cocaine Cowboys”’ exploits. If you’re unfamiliar with names such as Pablo Escobar, Griselda Blanco, La Familia Ochoa, the Medellin Cartel, Max Mermelstein, Barry Seale, Mickey Munday, or most shocking of all, the Bush-Clinton MENA connection, I suggest a brief internet search to inform yourself before reading this book. Although it’s doubtful readers who are interested in the biography of Jon Roberts’ life are unaware of most of the characters involved in the Golden Age of Cocaine.

This is a fascinating story, but one so disgusting you may feel the need to take several showers afterward. Whether exaggerated or not, if only one-tenth of what Jon Roberts revealed in American Desperado is true, the War on Drugs is just a big dog-and-pony show that is supported by criminals and politicians alike, not to be redundant.

It’s a horrifying and infuriating notion.

Transcendence by Shay Savage

Transcendence, Shay Savage, Shay Savage LLC, 2014

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

4.5 Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

First Impressions

Seriously? I loved this book. I can’t believe it, though! This is Twilight fan-fiction about a time traveling teen finding love with a caveman who acts like a protective puppy dog. I cried like a baby reading it. Must have been my time of the month.

My Frankensteinian Review Patched Together From Reading Notes

Shay Savage’s Transcendence is no great work of literature. It’s one of those pulled-to-pub Fan-fiction stories loosely based on Twilight. I have never read any of the Twilight books, nor read a sample, nor seen the films. I’ve never had a desire to do so, yet despite that, I know more about the series than I care to. If the names weren’t Ehd = Edward and Beh = Bella, I never would have caught on. Other than the hair colors and the fact that the hero is *OMG* so possessive, I don’t see any similarity between the series. There are no feuding groups, no love triangles, no baseball games, no battles.

80% of the book is just Beh and Ehd alone, dealing with the harsh environment with almost zero spoken dialogue throughout. It’s a primal love story between a young, frightened girl and a young, frightened male both trying to survive in a brutal world.

Although I’m not proud, I truly adored this book. It was written on a sixth grade reading level with the terms baby, mate or put a baby in my mate showing up on every single page! Transcendence was incredibly repetitive, simplistic, with a minimal plot, but it had its charms. I suppose it appealed to my inner 12-year-old, a being a I did not know was still in existence. Or, more likely, it reminded me of the film that I consider to be the most romantic movie with a happy ending: “Quest for Fire.”

In a caveman romance it makes sense that the hero is all “You my woman. I am your man. We are mated. I protect you and throw you over my shoulder so we make lots of babies.” That usually doesn’t work for me in contemporary romance or whatever genre. But here it works; it makes sense.

I’m seeing that many readers labeled Ehd an alpha male, but he came off totally beta to me. Maybe my definition of alpha male isn’t jiving with the accepted definition of the word. He wasn’t an independent type, he was always wanting to be with Beh. Ehd’s constantly thinking: “I want to protect my mate. I can never let my mate out of my sight. I will growl at anyone who comes at my mate. My penis is hard.”

He reminded me of my dearly loved and long departed American Eskimo dog. He was poofy, insanely loyal, hated being alone, loved to cuddle, barked at all strangers, and had constant erections when he was happy.

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My old American Eskimo doggie, standing by, ready to defend his pack, from all sources of danger, be it squirrel, bird, or UPS delivery man.

Some readers have assumed that Ehd is a Neanderthal, with a sloping forehead, and mouth full of huge teeth. But in her introduction to her book, Shay Savage states he is part of the early “Homo-Sapien” species, it’s just that he lacks the ability to speak. Artistic license and all that.

So rather than looking like this:

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Handsome fellow, eh?

Ehd looks more like this:

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He’s cleans up nice for a caveman.

Transcendence was a rare experience for me as it was told from the male 1st person POV, which worked to add a sense of confusion. A young girl is propelled back in time and we have to put the pieces together to figure out what’s going on.

As much as I loved this book, I hope there is no sequel or one of those alternate POV sequels. The story finishes rather definitively. There are some hanging questions, but for me the ending was an ending. It was both a sad and happy ending, and one of the best endings I’ve read in a long time.

What can I say? Sometimes a story appeals beyond all rationalization and reason. I loved this one.

Spoiler Alert: Do NOT Read This Unless You Really, Truly Want To

After many years, children and grandchildren together, Beh dies of old-age and illness while Ehd holds her in his arms, lets the fire in the cave burn out and dies heartbroken. Just like a loyal doggie would.

Until the Twelfth of Never: The Deadly Divorce of Dan and Betty Broderick by Bella Stumbo

4.5 STARS

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

It took me over two years to finish reading Until the Twelfth of Never by Bella Stumbo, and not because the book is bad or boring in any way. It took me that long because I was so emotionally gripped by this dense work of non-fiction, it just became too much for me to bear. When I first started it, I found myself (wrongly) transferring the Betty Broderick story to a very similar divorce situation in my family and feeling deeply for Betty. While the Broderick case does have it’s eerie parallels to that divorce, it’s not my divorce so it’s not really my business. Now, after such a protracted, messy split, I feel pity for neither characters involved, except for the children.

Reflections Upon Divorce

It’s always the children who suffer most in divorces. Sure there are kids who are better off with a more stable environment that post-divorce parenthood might provide, but divorce affects every child in a deep and meaningful way. In the case of the Broderick children, their parents used them as weapons in a viciously cruel duel that led to murder.

Like so many kids of my generation, I’m a child of divorce, and it’s shaped the way I look at the institution of marriage. To be blunt, marriage is an all or nothing with me: either never or forever. As someone who cherishes her personal space and privacy, I can completely understand why permanent life partnership to one person is not many folks’ cup of tea. It’s not a fairy tale and it can be very unglamorous and tedious.

On the other hand, I don’t view matrimony as merely a romantic union of two supposed soul mates. Despite being a romance reader, I don’t consider marriage as the ultimate end game of every love story. Marriage is a financial/legal/social/religious/familial union that bonds two people together as one for life. It’s no joke. Especially when kids are involved. Add adultery into the mix… and well you’ve got the chaotic situation with wounded adults who lash out each other and only end up hurting their children most of all.

While divorce rates have lowered, they are still common in the US, with 30-40% of 1st marriages ending in divorce, and at a much higher rate for subsequent marriages. The actual reasons for divorce vary, but depending on the state, most are filed as no-fault divorces, for reasons such as irreconcilable differences. In her book, Stumbo laments how no-fault divorce hurt Betty’s mental and legal well-being. At that time many feminists bemoaned how that legal notion could harm women—namely cheating husbands filing for divorce from innocent wives and leaving them with nothing. Ironically, today it’s mostly men who decry the perils of no-fault divorce as more women file for divorce than men. From what I’ve seen of the divorced couples I know, people break up for every reason imaginable, although it is the women who file most of the time.

The Book – Until the Twelfth of Never: The Deadly Divorce of Dan and Betty Broderick

Stumbo’s well-documented writing spares no detail. All the players are portrayed fairly, yet with brutal and blunt honesty. Betty Broderick, self-proclaimed super-mom and super-wife was married to super-lawyer Dan Broderick for 16 years when he left her for his much younger secretary, Linda Kolkena. Their divorce stretched out for years, with each person doing their unholy best to make the other’s life miserable. Betty was violent, foul-mouthed and cruel to their children. As President of The San Diego Bar Association, Dan knew every legal trick in the book to torment his wife and prevent her from getting an equitable share of their marital assets. And he, too, was cruel to his children, using his money as a cudgel to control them, going as far as writing one of his daughters out his will when she wouldn’t follow his rules.

When the Broderick divorce was finalized, on paper Betty had a decent settlement, but due to her husband’s knowledge of the courts, Betty ended up owing Dan money through Epstein credits and the multiple fines she incurred for being recorded cursing at Dan and Linda. She had to sell her home, while Dan lived in a renovated million-dollar mansion with his new bride.

I’m not going to rehash the entire story here, as a quick internet or YouTube search can supply all the sordid facts that are readily available. Suffice it to say, that what may have started with one spouse being the bigger jerk in the situation, ended up with two people turning into veritable demons in their hatred of one another.

My Opinion

1) Betty was four pennies short of a nickel. She was diagnosed with Borderline Personality disorder, but beyond that, Betty had no clue what right vs. wrong was. Does that mean I think Betty shouldn’t have spent a single night in jail for the murders? No. Were I a juror on her trial, knowing what I know now, I would have convicted her of Voluntary Manslaughter, which would have given her a 15-to-30-year sentence rather than 30-to-life she received. To this day, she has not apologized for the murders per se, but she has expressed remorse for the harm that it did to her children. Having read Stumbo’s book, I can say that’s the most self-awareness Betty seems capable of; her hatred of Dan and Linda was all-consuming and made her wholly self-centered.

2) Dan Broderick was a vindictive, psychopathic narcissist who did everything in his power to drive his crazy wife over the edge. Linda Kolkena was not some blameless, young bystander, as she also had her part in driving Betty to higher levels of insanity by sending her ads for wrinkle creams and weight loss programs. But does that mean they deserved to be shot to death as they slept in their bed? Of course not. Life does not always mete out karmic punishments in a fair manner. If life was fair, a reasonable-minded judge would have seen precisely the game Dan Broderick was playing and put a stop to it. But the billion-dollar divorce industry that is fueled by angry applicants, along with judges, lawyers, psychologists, social workers, pundits, activists et al., is not always a place to look for equality or justice.

So Betty Broderick took out her own form of justice, which, unfortunately, destroyed the possibility of this broken family ever finding true peace. Betty has been denied parole twice and most likely will die in prison. Dan and Linda never got the chance to see if their life together as a married couple would thrive. And the four Broderick children never got a chance to live ordinary lives, doing the normal things children of divorce do, like debating whether to go to Mom’s for Thanksgiving or Dad’s for Christmas, because Dad is dead and Mom is in prison for his murder.