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.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Dawn of Wonder

Dawn of Wonder (The Wakening, #1)Dawn of Wonder by Jonathan Renshaw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Mistyvales is a quiet place where the children of nobility and commoners are able to befriend one another. One such pair of friends is the royal Kalry and the commoner Aedan. Life seemed perfect until one day an officer rides into town with a warning. Life is never the same for Aedan afterwards. He eventually finds his way into a special military academy, determined to change the world for the better.

How can I possibly explain Dawn of Wonder? I believe it's best explained as though it's a story told by the MCU Ant-Man's character Luis.
A needless and rambling long answer to a simple question.

This story gives possibly every detail in the beginning with the exception of characters bathroom schedule. I don't believe I've ever wanted to know as much about a single character as the book tells us about Aedan. The book feels longer than it's 712 pages. I really just wanted some additional editing to highlight the book's strong points and remove the aspects that simply weren't worthy of the pages. The fortunate thing is near the end of the book the author finally speeds the story up by jumping from one year to the next after a chapter or so.

With all that being said I thought Dawn of Wonder was good. I was largely interested in what was happening with Aedan. He has some amazing gifts and luck in the coming of age tale, but unfortunately he had some horrible events take place that shape him and the way the world perceives him.

Another downside is the story isn't particularly original. It has many of the basic coming of age aspects. Farm boy with amazing abilities goes off to the special school to hone his abilities. He's haunted by abuse in his childhood and other unfortunate events. I could largely predict what was going to happen next with a few exceptions.

Dawn of Wonder was an average story that displayed some promise.

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Friday, July 5, 2019

In Sarah Gailey's interesting Magic For Liars, Ivy Gamble uncovers the truth about a death in a magic school

“Magic for Liars” Sarah Gailey’s new mystery about a mysterious death in the library of a magic academy is unexpected. It’s more an exploration of the human condition than a book about magic, and yet magic, is at the heart of the novel. In a way this novel is a retelling of Icarus and hubris. But mostly it’s about relationships, and loss, and love, and life itself. Gailey delves deep into the aspects of magic that most fantasy authors never have the nerve to tackle- that is real life issues of birth control, abortion, cancer and death. Can Magic cure cancer and if not, why not. Typically fantasy authors shy away from the challenge. Gailey, however, doesn’t just delve lightly, she peels the band aid off in one huge yank. And for Ivy Gamble, the down on her luck private detective, who has been affected by magic her whole life. Not because she has magic, but because her manipulative, and mean twin sister Tabitha does. So to Ivy, Tabitha goes all the glory of magic, all the bright hues, all the specialness, and to Ivy, is the drabness of regular life, the hurts and slights of life. But it is Ivy Gamble, a 14 year private investigator, who trolls the depths of philandering spouses and failed marriages who is hired by the headmaster of the exclusive Osthorne Academy to investigate a death at the school. And leave it to the unmagical Ivy to figure out not one mystery but three. This is not a book for everyone. Don’t expect magical fun a Hogwarts with a little mystery thrown in. This short book is not for teens. It’s for fantasy readers who want to be challenged in their understanding of the plusses and minuses of magic and its affects. Magic and the magicians, who practice it, do have limits.

Ivy Gamble is a private investigator, who has spent her entire career investigating the dregs of married life – cheating spouses and those who think their spouses are cheating. She is tired and defensive, wounded from losing her mother at a young age to cancer and hurt from the fact that her twin sister, Tabitha, has magic and she doesn’t. But its more than that, its also that Tabitha tortured Ivy, not literally, but by toying with her emotions when she was a kid.

Mugged and stabbed in the hallway of the dirty stairway in front of her office on the first few pages of the novel, Ivy ignores the wound and soldiers on with her down on her heels life- a stab wound is just one more thing to ignore, and in the pages of the novel, there are plenty of other wounds less physical and more emotional that Ivy throws into a garbage can in her mind and closes the top.,
But life starts to look up. She gets a new client, Marion Torres, who wants her to investigate the strange death of Sylvia Capley, who was found bisected in the library of Osthorne. The death has been ruled misadventure by the Magical police, a spell miscast. But Torres does not believe it. Because in a sense, Capley was merely the health teacher and couldn’t cast such a spell. So Torres wants Ivy to investigate, and already knows a Gamble, because Tabitha, Ivy’s sister teaches at the school already.

On one of her visits to the school, Ivy is confronted by Mrs. Webb, who recognizes Ivy is hurt and takes her shoulder apart right in front of her and cures the infection. Its a vivisection in detail. Ivy is amazed about her skill, but wonders about whether that same skill can be used to cure other deathly ills. The headmaster tells her it cannot, that Mrs. Webb is one of the foremost healers of the time and others could not even attempt to cure cancer or other deathly perils.

Ivy starts her investigation by questioning some of the students – Dylan DeCambray who thinks that he is the Chosen One, the culmination of a long family prophecy, who will change magic forever and his sister Alexandria and her posse – Brea, Melissa and Courtney. But it’s not only about the investigation. Ivy is now living on campus, in the dead teacher’s apartment, and Ivy can envision herself as a student at the school, and for her investigation to succeed, she takes on a role she has wished for her entire life, that of a magic user like her non friend sister.

Ivy has skills, she is after all a pro in discerning liars and manipulators and the games people play. So she quickly notices that Alexandria has a strange power over her friends, and she also learns about the relationship between two students, which may have resulted in unintended pregnancy consequences. It seems that the dead teacher was the go to for birth control and other potions. But Ivy also has a heart to heart with her sister. It seems an attempt to clear the air and resume a relationship cutoff when they were teens by Ivy’s jealousy of her sister’s powers, her belief that her sister did nothing to help their sick mother and Tabitha’s meanness. Ivy was traumatized both by the loss of her mother and by the loss of her sister, but maybe this investigation will give her a chance to re-connect. Reconnect to her humanity and reconnect to her sister, but does Tabitha really want to re-connect?

Galley smartly has Ivy get involved with a teacher at the school, Rahul, the physical magic teacher, who can connect some of the dots about magic that Ivy does not know, but also can break the wall that Ivy has used to separate herself from life. And although Ivy lies to him too, that she is a mage like her sister, it’s really a white lie to help with the investigation, although it’s also to make Ivy feel better about herself because she just “knows” from her experience with her sister that Rahul would think differently about a person who doesn’t have magic.

While living in Capley’s apartment on campus, Ivy finds a journal, with an obsession about magic. But since Ivy does not speak magic she needs help in deciphering some of it. And Ivy also discovers that a crucial part of the medical file on Capley is missing. Finally Ivy also uncovers a big secret through her adept questioning and intuitive leaps that one girl was pregnant and needed a surgical medial abortion, a spell that requires a lot of magical training, which was illegally cast not long before the death of Capley. It’s a spell that reveals to Ivy something this reader had figured out – the name of the killer. And while talking about this in the library, Ivy uncovers something else, the Chosen One.

So in the end, Ivy solves three mysteries and maybe at the very very end, gives herself a chance to have a real life.

As stated above, do not go into this book looking for a fun little mystery about kids in a magical school. This is an adult book for adults.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, The Power Behind Five English Thrones

The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, The Power Behind Five English ThronesThe Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, The Power Behind Five English Thrones by Thomas Asbridge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”In 1152 King Stephen of England decided to execute a five-year-old boy. This child--William Marshal--had committed no crime. He was a hostage, given over to the crown as surety for his father’s word, a pawn in the great game of power and politics then being played out within a realm wracked by civil war. When William’s father promptly broke his pledge to the king, declaring that ‘he did not care about the child, since he still had the anvils and hammers to forge even finer ones,’ Stephen was furious.”

 photo William Marshal_zpsmkfqnhwo.jpg
William Marshal

In his fury, Stephen sent the boy Marshal to the gallows. On the way, William asked the soldier leading him to his fate if he could play with his spear. The spell of Stephen’s fury was broken by this display of childish curiosity. He realized in that moment that, though he could place the blame of the boy’s death on John Marshal’s obstinate refusal to comply, the sin of the death of such an innocent would stain him forever, and he, by instigating an English Civil War, already had enough stains for one lifetime. Stephen had little idea that he was saving the man who would one day be regarded as the greatest knight that England has ever produced.

There was an interesting parallel with the 70 year old William Marshal in 1216, and the 5 year old in 1152. He had beaten incredible odds to rise to being the most famed Earl in all of England. When he was asked by a dying King John, a man he couldn’t help but loath, to preserve the crown for his eight year old heir Henry III, Marshal couldn’t refuse. The odds against holding off Louis of France with the remains of the battered Royal army were slim. It would have made more sense, after weighing those odds, that William would have spirited the boy away somewhere safe (Ireland?) and prepared to make terms with the French to better his own advantage. I couldn’t help but think that the defenseless boy of five was still inside him, staring through those aging warrior eyes at this helpless boy of eight.

History was changed the moment William decided to uphold Henry’s right to the crown. One man stood in the way of what many thought was the inevitability of French rule. At 70, he led the charge into the decisive Battle of Lincoln that saved the Angevin dynasty. There wasn’t another man in the kingdom who could have inspired the wavering Royal army and convinced them that victory could still be theirs.

 photo William Marshal shield_zps4tmj9cth.jpg
If you saw this shield coming at you on the battlefield, you had best have your affairs in order or turn tail and run to live to fight another day.

Of course, a lot of things happened to Marshal between the ages of 5 and 70. He quickly became one of the most trusted knights in the kingdom, and so it only made sense that Henry II would assign Marshal to his oldest son, Young Henry. I could almost hear the conversation...make a man of him. The 12th century was so fascinating because this dynamic ruling family, full of strong personalities, was constantly jockeying between themselves for power. The sons were impatient to share power with their father, and this anxiousness led to more than just squabbles at the dinner table, but evolved into outright war. Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most intelligent and powerful women of any century, also battled with her husband and usually favored her sons over her husband. With many royal dynasties struggling to produce heirs (the later Tudors were particularly unfruitful), Henry had produced four boys, and all of them were chips off the old block, intent on asserting their rights most forcibly to receive more favor from their father. William found himself carefully picking his way through this political minefield. One misstep and all that he had obtained for his family would be lost.

As impressive as William was on the battlefield, I found his political astuteness even more spectacular. Being too supportive of one family member might have spelled doom for him when the inevitable power shift occurred. He unhorsed Richard at one point in protection of Richard’s father, Henry II. The only man to ever do so against Richard the Lionheart. When Richard came to the throne, it could have been the end of William Marshal, but Richard had too much respect for him as a warrior and as a statesman to let an old grudge stand between them. Later when Richard was away on crusade, William Marshal was tasked with keeping the youngest brother, John, in check. He gave John enough rope to let him play at ruling the kingdom, but not enough to allow him to hang himself by outright treason against Richard. William realized that there was a good possibility that John would one day be King, and he did not want to antagonize him, nor did he want to disappoint Richard.

The Plantagents were often referred to as the Bloody Dynasty, and these were early days in their rule. There were many more family disagreements soon to come. The War of the Roses made a bloody ruling family bloodier. A case could be made that the very thing that should have made the Plantagents strong, fruitful loins, might actually have ultimately lead to their downfall.

At 43, William Marshal finally married the 17 year old Isabel de Clare, the daughter and only heir of Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, known as Strongbow. William went from a landless knight to one of the richest men in the kingdom overnight. He had passed on several other opportunities to marry young women of property, which at the time I thought...what are you doing, man? I should have known that he had his eyes on a greater prize...the fertile lands of Ireland. They had ten children together so, though it was an arranged marriage, basically Isabel was the prize sold off to a valued ally, the marriage by all accounts seemed to be one based on mutual respect, and dare I

 photo William Marshal saves England_zps1vmcrrow.jpg
William Marshal saved England.

We might not have ever known the story of William Marshal except for the French bibliophile named Paul Meyer who attended a Sotheby’s auction in London in 1861 and saw a rare medieval manuscript of the life of William Marshal. He could not compete in the bidding with the wealthy, rather insane collector Sir Thomas Phillipps, who ended up buying the manuscript. It became buried in his vast collection and could have been lost forever except that twenty years later Meyer, still obsessed with what he had seen of the manuscript, was granted access to the Phillipps library to try and find it.

Thomas Asbridge has given us a very readable version of Marshal’s life, drawing heavily on the medieval manuscript, but also finding some confirmation of some of the assertions from other sources, such as the Anglo Saxon Chronicles. The manuscript was the first written account of a medieval knight, and this important relic inspired Asbridge to do his best to clear away the cobwebs and unravel the myths surrounding William Marshal and those he served.

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