Thursday, October 31, 2019

Age of Death

Age of Death (The Legends of the First Empire, #5)Age of Death by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With Suri in the hands of Fane Lothian, Nyphron is convinced he no longer has a chance of winning the war. Persephone finds herself alone. Her brave friends who went to save Suri are dead, but Malcolm tells her that there's still a chance they could return. The group who willingly entered the land of the dead are the Rhunes only hope.

Age of Death like Age of Legend ended in a cliff hanger. At least I know I won't have to wait too long for the last book of the series, but I really wish the story progressed further.

Age of Death clearly shows that in this world, death isn't the end. The reader is granted a view of the afterlife and the realms within it. The history of the world and the gods are mentioned in some detail which was interesting to say the least. The gods aren't exactly what I imagined they would be.

I love the work put into the various characters. I find myself enjoying all of them and what they add to the tale, which is rare. Michael J. Sullivan puts them through what appears like hell at times and they all face it differently. I know it's not reasonable to expect a happy ending for all of them, but I hope things all turn out for the better for each one of them.

Age of Death was a really enjoyable read. Now I just have to wait for the series conclusion, Age of Empyre.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone

Rachel Lynn Solomon
Simon Pulse
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Eighteen-year-old twins Adina and Tovah have little in common besides their ambitious nature. Viola prodigy Adina yearns to become a soloist—and to convince her music teacher he wants her the way she wants him. Overachiever Tovah awaits her acceptance to Johns Hopkins, the first step on her path toward med school and a career as a surgeon.

But one thing could wreck their carefully planned futures: a genetic test for Huntington’s, a rare degenerative disease that slowly steals control of the body and mind. It’s turned their Israeli mother into a near stranger and fractured the sisters’ own bond in ways they’ll never admit. While Tovah finds comfort in their Jewish religion, Adina rebels against its rules.

When the results come in, one twin tests negative for Huntington’s. The other tests positive.

These opposite outcomes push them farther apart as they wrestle with guilt, betrayal, and the unexpected thrill of first love. How can they repair their relationship, and is it even worth saving?

From debut author Rachel Lynn Solomon comes a luminous, heartbreaking tale of life, death, and the fragile bond between sisters.

My Review

After reading the heartbreaking and thought-provoking Inside the O'Briens, I went in search of more fiction that deals with Huntington’s disease.

This is the story of fraternal twin sisters Adina and Tovah, two teenagers who have gradually grown apart.

Can one enjoy a book and at the same time be glad it’s over? Perhaps I’m just too old to read about 18-year-olds with their volatile emotions, their self-centeredness, and their never-ending drama. Add to this boiling cauldron a mother with early symptoms of Huntington’s disease and the upheaval that results when both sisters decide to take the genetic test to determine if they have inherited the gene. One of the twins has it and one doesn’t. This story very thoughtfully explores what it means to live with the possibility of inheriting a rare genetic disease and watching that disease slowly take the life of a parent as well as the survivor guilt experienced by the one who manages to escape this fate.

There are pros and cons to predictive testing. On the positive side is an increased ability to plan for the future and a life without worry or uncertainty about getting this disease. On the negative side, receiving a positive result is likely to be emotionally devastating to the individual. In Adina’s case, she experiences anger, despair, suicidal thoughts, and engages in self-destructive behavior. All of this makes it difficult to like her at times, but the author has done a wonderful job creating well-rounded characters that are easy to empathize with. While the sisters are both extremely competitive and share many of the same problems plaguing teenagers their age, it was good to have both of their perspectives, as their personalities, beliefs, and attitudes are very different. Another good thing is the presence of loving parents. So often, parents are absent or insignificant characters in fiction for young people.

While I was exhausted by the time I reached the story’s conclusion, I can’t deny that this debut was beautifully written, engaging, thoughtful, and convincing. I very much look forward to more of Rachel Lynn Solomon’s novels.

“The fear is never far away. My broken heel reminds me the disease could sneak up on me at any moment. One day I will twitch when I want to be still, rage when I want to be happy, forget when I want to remember. It has happened to my mother, and it will happen to me. We are a doomed family – but we are not done fighting yet.”

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The United States is no more. Birth rates have plunged to a terrifying low and the Republic of Gilead has taken over to right things. The problem in their collective mind is people have gotten away from living life in a biblical manner. Gilead's changes started slowly. The first step was banning all women from working, but things got much worse. Gilead gathered their "natural resources," women they've deemed to be unwed who've had children. Gilead has tasked these women to have children for their commanders and their barren wives. In Gilead only women are deemed barren because it can't possibly be a man's fault. Offred is a woman who has had everything except her life stripped from her. Even the name Offred is not the one she was born with. It means of Fred, the commander whose household she's assigned to. She had a child with her husband, but her husband was divorced. In Gilead their marriage isn't recognized and so she's been taken to be a handmaid and her daughter was given to another family. The work of a handmaid is being forced to lay upon her commander's wife's knees as he attempts to impregnate her once a month.

"Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia, is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary."

So I don't know if Margaret Atwood should be viewed as an incredible writer or if she be viewed as a troubled sadistic mind. Atwood crafts an astonishingly terrifying and tortuous world with the Republic of Gilead. When people talk of men hating women and only valuing them for their bodies, they could easily point to the characters in this book. I don't have the imagination to fully appreciate the horror of this world. To strip all women of so much of their lives and some women of basically everything, makes me sick to think about. They did it to make things "better."
"Better never means better for everyone, he says. It always means worse, for some."

It's only better for men. For some women it's bad and for many it's a living hell.

So I realize this is an old book and much of the current interest is due to the TV show. That being said, past this point there will be spoilers and they won't be hidden.

You've been warned

There's absolute truth that people will do what they must to survive and this book is no exception. I accept that and know it's true. The handmaid's choose systematic rape, psychological torture, and having their identities erased just to stay alive. As Offred said, there is some choice. Not a great choice as the other choice is being labeled an unwoman and being sent to the colonies to clean toxic waste without protection. It's a death sentence plain and simple.

I also recognize that people are capable of incredible amounts of evil often in the name of some greater good. The rulers of Gilead literally steal rights from all women. They aren't allowed to read, own property, and to make choices for themselves. That's still kind compared to the life of handmaid's. The insane thing is the need for survival causes so many men and women to conform to the system rather than risk their own lives.

The only thing that felt unbelievable to me was the handmaid's themselves. Women being kidnapped and subjugated to unspeakable things is terrifyingly common historically speaking. The psychological torture and systematic rape is also not historically uncommon. What gets me is the power the rulers of Gilead still allow their wives. They have complete power over any woman they choose. So creating the handmaid's, with the men being limited in the way they can interact with them seems surprising. Granted the book only shows Offred's commander who doesn't seem devout at all. He flaunts the laws and doesn't seem overly concerned about it until the very end. Perhaps some of the rulers of Gilead are true believers, but Jezebel's makes me doubt it. I'm surprised the country didn't just scoop up the fertile women and split them up among the most powerful. Perhaps allowing a polygamy or creating harems because these powerful men must have heirs of course.

The Handmaid's Tale is a well written horror story of sorts that's too realistic to ignore.

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Thursday, August 29, 2019

Pile of Bones

Pile of Bones (The Legends of the First Empire #0.5)Pile of Bones by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The mystic Suri hears the sound of Elan itself. It helps her in times of trouble and at times reveals things she wasn't meant to find. Pile of Bones takes us back to a time Suri stumbles on a secret even her wolf Minna wasn't able to help her with.

Pile of Bones is a solid short story that displays Suri more like she was in Age of Myth. Suri's a wide eyed explorer. She listens to the trees, the Earth, and animals. Listening, learning, and exploring is Suri's life. It was nice to be reminded of the character at a younger age when things were simpler. There's not much I can get into that won't spoil the story. Needless to say if you loved Suri in Age of Myth, then this is a must read short story.

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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Warrior Prime

Warrior Prime (Ink Mage Legacy #1)Warrior Prime by Victor Gischler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The threat of war has brought the Helvan envoy Peyne Erlich to Fryia. Unfortunately, his stay is short lived. The King's Ambassador sends him back to Helva with an urgent message about Ink Magic before Peyne can even unpack. However the ship he sails on holds an unexpected challenges and Zayda. Zayda's father's financial failure led to her being sold as a slave to pay his debts. Rather than being forced into prostitution, she finds a different path. Zayda has been made into an Ink Mage and forced into a magical collar meant to control her. Peyne and Zayda find themselves forced to trust one another in order to survive.

Warrior Prime is a continuation of the series A Fire Beneath the Skin. Many years have passed since A Painted Goddess, but some old characters are seen and mentioned in the book. The story has it's own compelling factors as Zayda is fighting to remove the magical collar that's use to control her while Peyne is trying to reach Helva to warn the King about Ink Magic.

The main characters felt similar to Ink Mage as Zayda resembles Rina and Peyne reminds me of Brasley Hammish. Zayda is a young woman who receives the prime suddenly like Rina. They are both forced to seek out new tattoos to assist them towards their goals. They each set out on significant treks with the hope of restoring their lives. Peyne and Brasley are both womanizers who drink, gamble, and steal. I realize Brasley was forced to change over the course of A Fire Beneath the Skin, but Peyne is nearly Brasley in Ink Mage.

I did appreciate the villainous Meddigar. He's a wizard who inadvertently stumbled onto Ink Magic and used his knowledge to ingratiate himself to the Fryian royalty by not only making them Ink Mages, but also providing a way to control them. Meddigar isn't completely evil, but he's truly selfish, self centered, and justifiably paranoid. Meddigar would rather take his money and secrets and disappear rather than deal with Fryia, but the Grand Sultan wants his cash cow protected, at least until he can gain the secrets for himself.

Warrior Prime felt just a little too similar to Ink Mage, but was an enjoyable story.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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Saturday, August 10, 2019

Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371

MK Czerwiec
Penn State University Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


In 1994, at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, MK Czerwiec took her first nursing job, at Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, as part of the caregiving staff of HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371. Taking Turns pulls back the curtain on life in the ward.

A shining example of excellence in the treatment and care of patients, Unit 371 was a community for thousands of patients and families affected by HIV and AIDS and the people who cared for them. This graphic novel combines Czerwiec’s memories with the oral histories of patients, family members, and staff. It depicts life and death in the ward, the ways the unit affected and informed those who passed through it, and how many look back on their time there today.

Czerwiec joined Unit 371 at a pivotal time in the history of AIDS: deaths from the syndrome in the Midwest peaked in 1995 and then dropped drastically in the following years, with the release of antiretroviral protease inhibitors. This positive turn of events led to a decline in patient populations and, ultimately, to the closure of Unit 371. Czerwiec’s restrained, inviting drawing style and carefully considered narrative examine individual, institutional, and community responses to the AIDS epidemic—as well as the role that art can play in the grieving process.

Deeply personal yet made up of many voices, this history of daily life in a unique AIDS care unit is an open, honest look at suffering, grief, and hope among a community of medical professionals and patients at the heart of the epidemic.

My Review

Never have I been so moved by a graphic novel as I have with this account of M.K. Czerwiec’s career as a nurse in an HIV/AIDS care unit.

Her story begins in 1993, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and before effective retroviral drugs existed. Though much of this story centers on patient treatment and interactions with other caregivers, there is a lot of thought-provoking exploration of living with a terminal disease, the fluid boundaries between caregiver and patient, and the emotional toll death takes on us all.

This thoughtful, simply written story is deeply moving, powerful, and a worthy addition to modern AIDS literature. While this graphic novel deserves every one of its 5 stars, I have a few minor quibbles that didn’t at all detract from my enjoyment.

One of the sentiments expressed towards the end bothered me a little. “This was our plague. It was devastation of a generation, a couple of generations…” I never liked that AIDS was referred to as the “gay plague.” This implies the disease only affected men and was a punishment.

The art was simple, and there were annoying blank pages between sections. This may just affect the e-book.

Some of the panels contained too much text and were at times difficult to read.

Though much progress has been made, many people around the world are still dying of AIDS because of fear, social stigma and ignorance, so I am glad for this novel’s existence. I was happy to find the e-book at my local library, as I can’t justify paying over $20 for a graphic novel.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

A Hero Born

A Hero Born (Legends of the Condor Heroes, #1)A Hero Born by Jin Yong
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Two men who are brothers at arm's befriend a Taoist. The Taoist helps choose names for their unborn children and leaves them. These two men are betrayed and murdered. Their wives are captured and their family lines are in jeopardy. That's only the beginning of this generational tale.

A Hero Born is a story that struggles from things outside of it's control, at least in the US. It's an old book that was first published in the 1950s. On top of that it's translated into English which undoubtedly costs it much of it's flair. The writing just feels simplistic even though the foundations of a strong story are undoubtedly present. The descriptions are lacking, but that's largely a factor of the time period it was written in more than anything.

My biggest disappointment may be that the book just doesn't describe the fighting in a compelling fashion. I thought that the fighting may be the books saving grace, but it was mostly forgettable.

A Hero Born is a story out of time and it's native language. Unfortunately nothing really stood out about it.

2 out of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Thursday, July 25, 2019

Daring Greatly

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and LeadDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

...nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that I'm standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.

That quote above is one of the reasons I picked up this book and why I'm willing to actually write about it. I read this sort of book from time to time, but I never review them. I couldn't say why exactly, probably that shame thing Brené Brown goes into throughout the book. I'm dreading this even as I write it because I know I'll put this out there and admit that I'm a mess to anyone who cares to read this. I doubt and berate myself much more than anyone could possibly know. As the book would tell me I've accepted a shame perspective on myself. Apparently there's a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is healthy and honest. It says I did something foolish, I made a mistake, I lied, and many other things. I own that my actions were wrong through guilt. Shame on the other hand says I'm a fool, I'm a mistake, I'm a liar, and other distorted statements. It reinforces deep within that I'm bad and this is why. Not that I did something bad, but that I am bad . Life is hard enough without me adding to it by killing my own self-worth.

Daring Greatly may not help everyone personally, but it will help everyone relate to some people in their lives who can't stay out of their own way or out of their own head. Maybe it's the person who has so much potential, but is too scared to try. Maybe it's the person who completely crumples under criticism. I've personally spent a long time learning tidbits this book explains and slowly putting those morsels into application. I'm both excited and terrified to read about how much more I have to uproot just to feel like my perception of nearly everyone else.

Daring Greatly is a book worth the read and it could truly change your life or the life of someone close to you. I'm amazed such a book exists and I'm grateful to have read it. Now I just have to apply what it says. Please wish me luck.

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Sunday, July 21, 2019

Diane Pharaoh Francis brings the goods in her excellent "The Witchkin Murders - Magicfall"

Diane Pharaoh Francis “The Witchkin Murders – Magicfall” is a great addition to the paranormal urban fantasy oeuvre. Francis knows how to write interesting stories and this “kitchen sink” urban fantasy successfully melds the paranormal, post-apocalyptic, romance and detective genres in the first in a new series about a much changed world after Magicfall and the Witchwar. The world erupted in a cataclysm, magic was strewn around affecting a vast slice of people. Magical creatures have come out of closet and a war was fought prior to the start of the novel. Now humans and the magical creatures live in an uneasy peace, both needing each other. But some humans have gained powers as well and have stayed hidden. But the time for hiding for one of them has ended.

Kayla Reese is an ex-cop, who quit the force four years ago when magic caused her transformation into something else. Her ex-partner Ray Garza is still on the force. When Kayla left the force abruptly, without revealing the reasons, Ray erupted on her hurt and shocked. They have not talked since then, although Garza has been spying on Kayla.

On Kayla' way back into town, she stumbles onto the remnants of a murder scene. Three witchkin shifters have been gruesomely killed and staked out in a park. Kayla calls Ray to have him investigate. The police arrive in force, but are reluctant to investigate. The witchkin are not their jurisdiction.

But it seems across town another crime has occurred, two prominent citizens have been kidnapped, and they were secretly witches with familial ties to Kayla. Now Kayla and Ray are forced to work together to investigate both the murders and kidnappings. And we also learn that Ray has been having problems with Kayla leaving the police force because he had emotional feelings for her, feelings that have become harder to hide. Now they will be forced to work together and face their feelings.

Soon enough we learn that Kayla can transform into a 35 foot long magical sea dragon and that Ray has been hiding that he has magic.

Francis expertly doles out the revelations slowly about Kayla’s powers not wanting to give away the store in one big gulp, but there is much more to Kayla and these Witchkin murders than we first suspect.

There are big players involved, gods have come to town and are engaged in murder as the preliminary steps in a god war, which it will be up to Kayla, Ray and some witches to stop.

While the novel builds a little slowly through the first few chapters, there is plenty of action to go around. These detective magical mashups are like quest novels, with the investigation, impelling the action forward like the traditional quest. Kayla will soon have to learn to harness her powers and Ray will have to confess his feelings and his magical skills.

I know that Francis has won a few awards for Romance novels, but I thought the Romance angle was a little overdone. But liked the magic confrontation as Kayla comes into her powers and understands her new place in this world. The ending fight has all of the best elements of fantasy magical battles, and the characters and story are rock solid.

Definitely worth a read. Cannot wait for the next.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Calling the Ball

C.L. Mustafic
NineStar Press
3 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy


A vacation to the sunny, seaside, resort city of Durres, Albania puts some space between Henrick Kohler and his closeted ex, Klaus, giving him time to get his life back together. While there a chance run-in with superstar footballer, Valentino ‘Tino’ Alessi, sends Henrick running in the other direction. With no intention of being either another notch in someone’s bedpost or their secret lover, he offers friendship but nothing more. He doesn’t want to risk his heart with what he sees as just another Klaus, but with the added ability to ruin his life on a much more spectacular level.

Tino can’t catch a break, even doing a nice thing for a fan lands him in hot water. When he’s suspended until his latest mess is straightened out, Tino does the only thing he can think of—he goes holiday home hunting in his favorite resort town. Tino falls hard and fast for the blond Austrian who wants nothing to do with him romantically, but he accepts the offer of friendship when his efforts to woo Henrick get him nowhere.

Friendship is what they agree to, but both men realize there’s just something there neither of them can deny. What will it take for them to overcome everything and realize there’s no time like the present to grab on to what they want?

My Review

After reading two titles by C.L. Mustafic, I know that I enjoy her writing style and that she’s not afraid to take risks. I really hate when authors stick to one formula just because it’s successful. A bonus for me is that I love football (soccer) and lively, picturesque European settings. So I knew I couldn’t go wrong with Calling the Ball.

Early on, Henrick receives the devastating news from his closeted lover and co-worker, Klaus, that he is getting married. Henrick is unhappy being Klaus’ secret relationship and wants more than just sex, so he decides to end it and go on a much- needed holiday to a seaside resort in Albania.

While lounging at the pool, Henrick lays eyes on none other than Valentino “Tino” Alessi, a closeted professional footballer beset by scandal. The attraction is instant and mutual, but Henrick guards his heart closely. Tino is persistent, though, and soon their flirtation leads to friendship.

This is a slow-burn romance and a light, relaxing read. I loved the alternating viewpoints, allowing the reader to get to know both characters equally. I adored Tino, despite his not being able to take no for an answer, but I found Henrick to be immature and indecisive. The constant push and pull annoyed me to no end. At times, I couldn’t understand why Tino was so attracted to Henrick. The sex, when it finally happened, was so lacking in sensuality that I could have cried.

For a story about a pro footballer, there were precious few sport details. And there were frequent occurrences of “the man”, “the other man”, “the smaller man” which I found annoying and distracting.

It’s a good story overall, just not a great one.