Sunday, December 22, 2019

It's the Season of Lovingkindness

This year for Christmas, I’m hoping to pass on to you, dear readers, the gift I got last Christmas: a writer. Jodi Thomas’ new book, Christmas in Winter Valley, is as heartwarming as a Hallmark Christmas movie. It follows last year’s Christmas book, Mistletoe Miracles—and in between the two I’ve hunted up and read at least 44 of her other books. Thomas writes authentically about Western life and people, both historical and modern; most of her latest books are contemporary. She does a perfect blend between western and romance, and anyone who’s ever lived in small-town anywhere will find someone or something to recognize in her stories.
This one, part of her Ransom Canyon series, has ranch life at the forefront: wild mustangs, a runaway orphan, a kind cook, a mysterious inheritance, and Christmas are thrown into the mix as well. As usual, there’s a lot of laughter but some tragedy, too, just like life.
The Holloway men are trying to run the ranch as usual while their brother Griffin and sister-in-law Sunlan are visiting her sick dad. The collegiate cousins-in-law have shown up to visit before Christmas, three city girls who mostly shop and party. Cooper takes off to the back country to care for the mustangs before they’re snowed in, and Elliot is trying to manage the cow hands in addition to his usual job of manning the books. Coop gets injured, Sunlan’s dad needs more care than expected, and Elliot’s college girlfriend shows up to add to the chaos. It all adds up to a merry time in Texas.
More than one character will get their happy ending when the snow clears; it’s another specialty of Thomas’ to intertwine several stories in a book.
While not quite under the “clean romance” umbrella, Thomas never focuses on the sex scenes for more than a page or two. Her books focus on regular people making the best of things through hard work and kindness. Isn’t that really what love is, after all? Dear readers, I hope you find the best books all year long—and may you be blessed with the gift of lovingkindness in this season that celebrates love.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Lovers of Asian Sagas, Rejoice

The Throne of the Five Winds (Hostage of Empire, #1)The Throne of the Five Winds by S.C. Emmett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a love/hate relationship with this book, and it would have gotten 5 stars from me if not for a couple of peculiar choices the author or editing team has made. It was unputdownable if not for those. Number 1 mistake: footnotes instead of glossary for terms the author tells me there are no English words for. Really? A colorful bird that fans its tail and has a horrific voice? And you need to tell me that "sleepflower" makes a potion that makes people sleep? (And an overdose can kill.) Really? That needs a footnote of explanation? Those are the most egregious examples, but most of these terms are understandable enough to glean from context, and footnotes throw me out of the story, breaking a rhythm of reading I'd rather not break. Glossary, front or back, would let people make their own choice to look up the fake words or not.
Number 2 mistake: the foreword where you tell me these terms need to be explained. Lots of folks do these seemingly historical footnote projects, but usually they are done in books that have an obviously alien setting and context, whereas this book is obviously a mashup of the stories of Genghis Kahn and Tamerlane with an authentic historical flavor, and in the afterword, the author thanks authors and actors she has read and watched for research (without naming any of them).
Anyone with any experience watching or reading Chinese sagas will recognize this time period. It isn't a flaw, except for the attempt to disguise it by the aforementioned intro and footnotes.
The storytelling is great, the characters believable, would be 5 stars if not for stupid choices.

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Sunday, November 24, 2019

Thanks to the Women

The Giver of StarsThe Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m always fascinated by books about books and libraries; this Reese Witherspoon Bookclub pick focuses more on the librarians and the freedom literacy can bring.
It’s the distressing 1930s, in between the wars, and listless socialite Alice is excited to marry handsome Bennett Van Cleve, who’s in England on a ministry trip with his coalmine-owning father. She’s going to live in America!
What she finds when she arrives is that she’s not going to live in a vibrant city, but a small town in rural Kentucky, which feels more like prison to her than the life she was escaping.
Alice is surrounded by strangers and by poverty, both material and emotional, that she’s never experienced and never before seen. But Alice isn’t shallow from her life of privilege—just ignorant—and this is her coming of age story.
The Federal Works Project Administration has funded the Pack Horse Library Project and in defiance of her father-in-law, she’s joined the project as a librarian along with four other women, pledging to deliver books throughout the hills and hollers of Appalachia.
Alice’s father-in-law believes women have no place outside the home, and no rights within it. He believes that might and money make right. Miners all over the country are trying to unionize out of their terribly unsafe working conditions, and literate hillbillies don’t sign papers that allow themselves to be evicted off their own land. Van Cleve is threatened by the change happening all around him and will hire anything done to stop it; he fixates on Margery, the local free spirit that’s heading the charge for change. This creates most of the tension in the book, for despite Alice being the main character, it’s actually Margery’s story that matches the Amy Lowell poem that gives the book its title. She’s one of those larger than life characters that do exist in the real world who inspire us to do better and dream bigger.

It’s always good to wander through the woods of Appalachia and Moyes brings the scenery to life as well as the people; all in all, a good read.

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Friday, November 22, 2019

A Source of Hope

Reconnecting to the Source: The New Science of Spiritual Experience, How It Can Change You, and How It Can Transform the WorldReconnecting to the Source: The New Science of Spiritual Experience, How It Can Change You, and How It Can Transform the World by Ervin Laszlo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was grateful to win a Goodreads Giveaway for an advance copy of this book, on sale in March 2020 (it still needs quite a bit of proofing, btw.).
I initially had trouble with the choppy structure of the book, but eventually I realized this is an attempt to make the ideas more digestible: short bites. The early chapter on scientific theory, while dense, is short. Mainly it supplies the support to the theory of a holotropic universe: everything trends toward wholeness.

Positives: overview of current theory connecting spiritual experience and quantum physics; great stories from famous people about their spiritual experiences; excellent guidance on practices; beautiful explanations of how Buddhist and Taoist wisdom reflects quantum thought.

This would be good for those just beginning to explore these ideas; those who have limited experience in the creative arts; and those who have or want no overtly religious framework to their exploration of the intersection between physical and spiritual realities. It's also inspirational for those of us who may have read and practiced more widely in this area; I’ve read Dean Radin’s story before, for example, but I was pleasurably surprised by quite a few of the others.

There's no input from indigenous or Jewish or Christian mysticism except as implied in the personal essays however, so it’s not comprehensive in that sense. Nor is it heavy on the science outside that early chapter, though there are good references scattered throughout the text. (For those who are interested in the science of how quantum physics and neuroscience intersect, I recommend How Emotions Are Made, by Lisa Feldman Barrett.)

All in all, one to recommend to the curious, and a worthy addition to any spiritual library.

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Monday, November 18, 2019

Questions Are The Best Teachers

The LessonThe Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thought-provoking, which I believe is the point. There are actually a lot of lessons learned, even if the lesson being taught remains in question. It's actually a pretty amazing thing to pull off, a book that keeps talking once the covers are closed, a book that lives inside a person. The themes go much deeper than colonialism if you want them to: a book itself is an invasion by an alien consciousness, no matter that we invite them in. The characters live. This is definitely one of those crossover books like The Sparrow. I thought I was going to end up being depressed, but instead I'm left with the comfort of the ocean. I don't know that I'd want to read a sequel, but I'd definitely like to read more from this author.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Intentional Change, Authentic Coaching

Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and GrowthHelping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth by Richard Boyatzis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you want to be a more inspiring person or a better leader, if you want to attract—and keep—the millennial generation in your workplace, this science-backed book is the replacement for the ultimately ineffective One Minute Manager of the last century. But organizations, therapists, coaches, pastors, and helpers who counsel others will also find a valuable resource in these 200 pages. It also works as a self help book. In fact the authors point out that in order to help someone else to enable lasting change, you need to do the same self care and homework that you encourage your clients, family, or staff to do.
The research (including functional MRI brain scans) shows that in order to make behavioral change lasting, you have to accentuate the positive over the negative; people shut down when they feel blame and judgement from the rational mind, and it’s the emotions that rule behavior. Instead of triggering the stress hormones that come from the rational mind and the sympathetic nervous system, you need to engage the parasympathetic nervous system—the creative mind—and engage the hormones of creativity more often. It's not a balance of equals: the carrots must outnumber the sticks, the praise must come more often than the threats, or change won't last.
It’s still a version of threats and rewards, fear and love, carrots and sticks, but now we know they work better if they’re inner driven, not imposed. You can’t motivate from the top down, or force people to change from the outside in, as sages have been saying for millennia—and now there’s research to prove it.
For a university press book, there’s surprisingly little jargon, though the aforementioned carrots and sticks are called Positive Emotional Attractors and Negative Emotional Attractors. (Obligatory acronyms of PEA and NEA.) There are helpful sidebars and anecdotal stories, with plenty of science cites in the notes. Anyone willing to do the work of reading and inner investigation will come away knowing how to engage with people on a core level in order to truly help—though you’ll have to do the action steps in order to be effective. Highly recommended.

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Thursday, September 26, 2019

Huck Finn Updated

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, four orphans, ages 16 downwards, create their own family and escape the abusive Lincoln School for Indians in Minnesota, heading to St.Louis in a canoe. Murder, mayhem, and magic ensue. Nurturing hope, pursued by evil throughout their entire journey, they are helped and harmed in turn by the other people they encounter. On the rivers and in the towns they meet gamblers and thieves, whores and liars, faith healers and phantoms—both good and bad among them, the flotsam and jetsam of humans caught up in a time of huge upheaval.

This novel is a fantastic story of the real America, still on hand, with its hustlers and innocents trampled. Krueger also highlights the spiritual life of youth in this coming of age story: their sense of justice and mercy, their judgements of self and others, their seemingly clear vision of the hypocrisy of adults, their sense of wonder and gratitude.

This Tender Land is an adventurous and tender book. Though his villains have progressed to a place beyond redemption in this life, hurting children for their own ends, Krueger still leaves us with compassion for those who make bad choices in life and hope for those in horrific circumstances.

As I read, the adventures of Huckleberry Finn immediately came to mind, and indeed in the afterward the author pays homage to Twain. The rascal Huck was always more adult than Tom Sawyer—he had to be—and the technique of telling the story from the perspective of a main character recalling (and probably embellishing) the past works really well here. William Kent Krueger is a great writer, but like his narrator, he’s a wonderful storyteller, moving things along while making us care—and that’s harder.

There’s something for everyone in this book: drama, humor, and heart—with a touch of magic and mystery as well. It would make a fantastic read-aloud to share, an engaging book club book. It really is one for the ages, I hope to become a classic—one of the best books of the year. (Thanks to Atria and Netgalley for the digital review copy.)

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Things You Save in a FireThings You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cassie isn't quite sure how she ended up trading her job as a firefighter in her Austin hometown to move to Massachusetts for a year to help out her mom—the woman who abandoned her husband and Cassie on the disastrous night of Cassie's sixteenth birthday a decade ago. But her dad thinks she should, so she says goodbye to everyone who cares about her to move clear across the country. She knows it won't be easy: Austin's firefighters are integrated and funded, with respect for women coworkers and budgets that supply the latest technologies. Small town Massachusetts is sexist and underfunded. Actually, Cassie kind of needed to get out of town: she was getting a plaque for bravery as a firefighter, but the substitute bigwig presenter was a big shock: the boy who ruined her birthday and solidified her distrust of romance. He patted her butt. On stage. Firefighter reflex, she punched him on contact. On stage. That's enough reason to get out of town while the smoke blows over, even if it does mean dealing with her mom, who she hasn't seen since the morning of that fateful sixteenth birthday. Cassie has done a good job of protecting her heart up until now, but the stress of proving herself on the new job and dealing with her mom just might crack it, especially dealing with the fire department's other new hire: handsome, caring Rookie. She can't even use his name, she's so attracted to him. Way to lose the job you really need, way to lose the distance you really need, way to get into trouble. Cassie is doing her best to live as an adult, but she has some growing up to do (don't we all, even as we age). Firefighters deal with life and death all the time, but Cassie gets new insights into what can really ruin your life and what can save it. Heart and humor override the drama in this story, making it a fun read. With issues of life and death, fate and forgiveness, that's hard to pull off. Recommended! (I received an Advance Readers copy from St. Martin's for review.)

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Monday, August 26, 2019

Loving, Loss, and Living On

The Way through the Woods: Of Mushrooms and MourningThe Way through the Woods: Of Mushrooms and Mourning by Long Litt Woon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A sweetly meandering memoir of loss and living. Litt Woon met her husband in Norway, where she had come from Malaysia to study anthropology. They got married, she stayed in Norway, and they had a lovely marriage as anthropologist and architect until one day with no warning her husband Eiolf fell dead as soon as he walked into work.
This is not a memoir about grief, however—it’s a memoir about moving through grief, that metaphorical forest where we get lost between life and death. Long went through the trauma of losing a spouse, dealing with details, joining a grief group, wondering how to go on. One day she decided to do on her own something Eoilf and she had talked about, checking out the course, “Mushrooms for Beginners.” Norway is huge on forest foraging, and expert volunteers check mushroom harvests for edibility for foragers right outside the forest.
She didn’t realize she was finding her way back to life until she was already on the path, her appetite awakened with novelty and sensation after months in the grey lands of grieving.
What is most fascinating to me is seeing the world of grief and the world of mushrooms through a different cultural lens: Long is Malaysian by birth culture, embedded in Norwegian culture, not at all American. Whether due to culture, personality, or training as an anthropologist, Long has an ability to give us detached and caring insight into her journey of losing the love of her life and then discovering the passion of an avocation.
You don’t have to be grieving or a mushroom geek to enjoy the book—people interested in nature, science, and other cultures will find points of interest. And of course we have all experienced loss in some way, to be able to connect with the story. There will definitely be too many mushroom details for some folks—I give you permission to skim; the other parts of the book and pleasure of reading how much joy Eiolf left behind is inspiring.

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Monday, August 12, 2019

Love and War Are Red and Blue, But Which Is Who?

This Is How You Lose the Time WarThis Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Of all the science fictiony fairytale endtimes books, I place This is How You Lose the Time War at the top with Sheri S. Tepper’s Beauty. Time War reads like a mashup of Good Omens, Griffin and Sabine, and ST Next Generation, told in the voices of Mahmoud Darwish and Thomas Harris.
What it has in common with Beauty is the time travel element; what differs is the generational voice. Tepper’s book was published in 1991 and is grounded in history and community; Time War is current, ungrounded in the cloud of chaos physics, a paso doble of the I and Thou of humanity’s love affair with itself danced through parallel universes.
Beauty is a faceted gem, a perfect story; Time War is a work of art, a mind worm.

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Thursday, August 8, 2019

How Are We Supposed To Go On Living?

A Heart in a Body in the WorldA Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are a few life-changing events that happen for everyone, but the added elements of tragedy and trauma change one's world in ways like no other. We don't know the details of Annabelle's tragedy—though we have good guesses—for quite a while. Teenager Annabelle is running from Seattle to Washington, D. C., trying to outrun her grief. I picked up the book thinking that it might give me insight into why people do these runs for a cause; it did. The story is told in the present tense as she runs; we learn through flashbacks about why Annabelle feels so guilty and powerless.
She's at the local hamburger joint and her PTSD is triggered and she starts running until she gets to the next town, with no intent and no plan; running means she's doing something, even if it's crazy. She just starts running, because she does track and that's her thing. Her family ends up supporting her decision and her grandpa follows along in his RV; Annabelle's family provide the perspective and comic relief necessary in a book that deals with dark material.
This is a young adult novel that gives a glimpse into the mind of a contemporary young woman in high school. The hormone-driven angst and bounce between hope and despair of adolescence is further exacerbated in our modern world, where nowadays even suburban and rural schools are fenced like prisons and predators stalk the halls (though that has always happened). Annabelle learns a lot on her journey, and is finally able to come to terms with the fact that her life will never be the same.
Interactions with her grandpa and people they meet along the way balance the grueling days of running and bleeding and Annabelle's circular thoughts, widening her world. Even though precious opportunities have been lost, love still surrounds her, and Annabelle finds the strength and resolve to reach out and live in hope again.
And I found out that people do this kind of thing because even when you feel powerless, you need to do something. Recommended.

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Monday, August 5, 2019

Human Nature

SpringSpring by Ali Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Testament, indictment, plea? It's amazing how a British author writing about European refugee camps depicts the situation in America's detention centers described today. It's either a plot of the left or right or a description of human nature. The book opens with horrid Twitter ranting, an irrepressible muddy stream of consciousness description of media influence in the modern world; once you get past that, if you can, there's the story of Richard, a filmmaker who's grieving the loss of a friend, a muse; he's also grieving his youth and lost chances. There's Brit, who works in that place, that "detention center", a person just trying to get by. There's the story of how their stories intersect, an adventure. There's a mysterious young girl who seems to achieve miracles by speaking truth to power. There's mystery, hope, despair, resolution. There's a lot of buttons pushed in your internal psyche, as the author intends. Smith forces you to deal with the fact that the conditions that created World War II are even more active in the current world. And the unavoidable realization that if you look at history with open eyes and heart, the majority of us are the descendants of victims, persecutors, survivors, and collaborators. What choices will we make in our lives, whose descendants will judge us? Who are we, in our choices, in our souls? Just ordinary people, trying to get by.
(*I received an advance copy from Norton for review; much gratitude and consternation followed, as you've just read.)

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Music for the Heart

Ellie and the HarpmakerEllie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ellie and the Harpmaker is just the kind of sweet and quirky British novel I adore, highlighting both the beautiful and the grit of real life, airbrushed a bit. Ellie is a closet creative who needs some joy in her life, and one day she meets Dan, who lives in the hills of Exmoor and builds harps. Dan loves to make harps. He names them. Dan is a very noticing and precise sort of person, only not the kind of noticing and precision that most people expect. He's not very interested in money, for instance; his sister manages his business for him. He's interested in wood and pebbles and in making harps. Celtic harps, not orchestra harps. Ellie admires a harp made from cherrywood; learning to play is one of her heart's desires, and Dan gives her the harp as a present, so she can learn to play. He tells Ellie his girlfriend can teach her, she's a professional harpist. But when Ellie gets home, her husband convinces her it's a wacko idea and she should return it. Dan has a problem with the idea of returning a gift; it's her harp, but she can leave it with him and take lessons at the barn, he suggests. Ellie is unsure of herself, but desperate for beauty and light in her life. From this desire, change and consequence fall like dominoes.
The tale is told in chapters that alternate voices, one Dan's and the other Ellie's. This is good, because it helps you understand from different points of view the rest of the motivations and actions that create quite a fine mess, soap opera style, before Ellie earns her happy ending. What is Dan's girlfriend hiding from him (other than the fact that she might not be his girlfriend anymore)?Just how controlling is Ellie's husband, and how much does she contribute to her own unhappiness? Does Ellie eventually learn to play the harp? Can Dan expand his interests to trains? These questions and more are answered in this beautifully written, noticing book. I enjoyed reading about the different resonances of wood, harp construction, and the simplicity of Dan very much. Highly recommended, especially for book clubs—so much to discuss!
Thanks to Netgalley and Berkley for an electronic galley to review.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

21st Century Talk Therapy

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives RevealedMaybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

Lori Gottlieb has done a great job of opening up the therapy room from both sides in memoir about a therapist getting therapy while seeing her own patients, being helped while helping others. Gottlieb writes the Dear Therapist column for The Atlantic magazine, so she's no stranger to writing for the general public. That journalistic experience helps the book flow quickly and easily; it's tender, funny, and tearful—everything you want in good stories. How do you give advice when your own life isn't going so well? The book answers that question, while engaging our hearts in the stories of ordinary people who could be our neighbors and relatives: a self-absorbed producer, a newlywed who's terminal, a woman who's always picking the wrong guys, a senior who thinks life isn't really much worth living anymore. Her own search for a therapist is catalyzed by her fiancé breaking up with her. These are some of the situations in life that can turn into problems, a minicosm of human experience.
It's a cliché in the coaching and counseling world that being vulnerable, i.e., honest, is the key to changing your life, and Gottlieb demonstrates this interpersonal truth gently and kindly, but clearly, even as she tells us about her own therapy. It's hard to turn that gaze inward in self-reflection; that's why Gottlieb herself gets help. She shows us that objectivity doesn't have to be cold, it can be kind. Some people haven't known a lot of kindness, and need that modeled. She shows us that other cliché, we're all alike under the skin: in the privacy of our own minds, we sometimes let rage and confusion take over—but we're also capable of great insight and compassion.
Maybe we should talk to someone when we need to be vulnerable with ourselves; maybe through the mirror of another's eyes we can see more kindly (this is, indeed, generally the case). Maybe we can talk to friends or family, maybe we can't. Gottlieb shows us that a therapist with the right training can help speed our recovery from emotional crisis, and she shows us what to look for. This has been one of my favorite books of the year, reminding me of the compassion and goodness in human hearts.

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Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sweet and satisfying as a slice of pie

Midnight at the Blackbird CafeMidnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 What a treasure for readers who love books about magical food. (Yes, it's a genre!) Heather Webber brings us a tale of broken hearts and broken families, magical birds and pies, and the healing power of love. In the town of Wicklow, Alabama, blackbirds sing at midnight in the backyard of the Blackbird Café. They are a part of Anna Kate’s heritage, but she doesn’t know that much about it—she’s had only snatches of time with her grandma, and never in Wicklow. Anna Kate’s mom left when she was pregnant with Anna Kate, and never set foot in the town again. She died, and now so has Anna Kate’s grandma; Anna Kate has to run her family heritage, the Blackbird Café, through the summer. Her grandma hoped that time would be enough to reveal all.
And it is. Family secrets and scandals, birding groups, lost souls, and small town kindnesses all have their turn in the spotlight. And of course there’s a love story or two. Will definitely appeal to fans of Sarah Addison Allen with its stubborn charm.
There aren’t blackbirds in the pie, just blackberries, by the way. The Blackbird Café gets its name from those European blackbirds that sing at midnight in the backyard. Even though European blackbirds aren’t nocturnal, or native to the Americas. I’ll leave you to discover their special magic and meaning.
Webber delivers a story that’s as sweet and satisfying as pie, with room for magical sequels.

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Monday, July 22, 2019

Her Words Are Red and Black

Gods of Jade and ShadowGods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The publisher category for this book is fairy tale, but it's so much more than that. It's a historical novel, taking place in the 1920s, when Frida Kahlo would have been the same age as our heroine. It's an homage to Mexican literature: a book written in English that has the cadences of translated Spanish; it's a portal into myth—in fact, it's a portal story, where our heroine Casiopea Tun is drawn into the quest of a god, the Lord of Death. You might also describe it as Coco for grownups; it's a journey into Mexica cosmology. Casiopea starts out as a Cinderella character and then she frees the Lord of Death from prison and goes on the hero's journey to help him reclaim his throne.
The book succeeds on all those levels: a romance with a touch of the picaresque, a tragicomedy, a mythic journey. Casiopea faces demons and desires and learns the truth of herself. The story moves quickly, and it moves your heart. I loved it.
Moreno-Garcia has made an exquisite jewel of a book; most people are going to appreciate it on the Coco level, and that's fine—what a gift all the other levels are, to those already familiar with mestizo culture.
In these days of making old things new again, the stories of our ancestors become refleshed in modern attire; the art of the storyteller is to birth new meaning from the same old stories, for the core lessons of the human story remain the same, like human nature. The storyteller leaves us having introduced change into the divine realms and leaves us with the unchanged ancient wisdom: life on earth is a gift to be savored and cherished, for it is sweet and good. Nevertheless, this goodness is borne from suffering, blood, and sacrifice; a true person makes her choices knowing that one day she may be the one who bleeds, the one who sacrifices. The birth will still be worth it.
**(I received a digital advance copy from Netgalley and Del Rey for review; it was worth the migraine, and I'll be purchasing the book to reread. Huge fan!)

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Monday, July 8, 2019

Scifi Thriller For Adrenaline Junkies

I'm unaware of any other authors who are doing what S. L. Huang has done with her Cas Russell series, but I'd love to read them if they're out there, because she leaves you wanting more. Null Set is definitely a middle book, bridging between Zero Sum Game and the next book, with a cliffhanger ending that for once I do not mind. I also don't mind that I can't think of other books to compare this to—only movies. If you like superhero movies, Chinese martial arts movies, and movies like The Matrix and The Fifth Element, you'll definitely be into this dark, gritty futuristic thriller and its gifted and violent anti-heroine. If you can imagine superheroes on steroids, if you dig movies like John Wick and Fast and Furious, that's when you enter S. L. Huang territory. 
Read Zero Sum Game first; it takes a while to remember how the first book made you sympathize with Cas; she's an antihero because she's not very likeable, but you root for her anyway, like her friends do. You get little character studies in the action between the action, but you are dropped full tilt into the current situation. Cas can calculate angles so quickly that she can shoot, sprint, jump and punch her way out of most dangerous situations. She and her pals are on the track of and on the run from the evil future corporation that messes around with people's heads, commits the occasional assassination trying to make the world a better place—their way. Hunters and hunted at the same time, perfect action movie plot.
It's really a gift to be able to put a movie on the page like this, to have just enough depth amidst heart-pounding suspense, enough detail but not drown the reader, enough rush for picky readers to not notice any discrepancies. Huang has taken her film and stunt experience and made it work in novel form. Most attempts at writing for adrenaline junkies fail; these books succeed. I am half "give me the next book now" and half "cliffhanger? Never said this before, but ok, maybe in 6 months to a year my heart can take it." 
Highly recommended for action fans and adrenaline junkies. 
(I received an advanced electronic copy for review, thanks to Netgalley and the publisher.)

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Bookshop of the Broken HeartedThe Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a great story to be reading around Father’s Day, since the main character is a loving father who lacks paternity. I love books about bookshops; in this one, the bookshop, while pivotal, relinquishes center stage to life outside the pages. The titular bookshop is like our own Singing Winds, an intellectual treasure in the Australian outback. The woman who starts it in 1968 is an immigrant: Hannah, a widow, a survivor of Auschwitz. Every book that Hannah has curated into her bookstore—a foolishly vast collection of 7,500 titles—represents hope and defiance in the face of loneliness and pain, untranslated poetry and all. Hannah hires Tom Hope to build her bookshelves.
It’s an impactful illustration of life in rural anywhere. People are both close and far apart; intimate and private; accepting and judgemental; desirous and distrustful of the novel and peculiar. Hillman is tender with his rural characters, reminiscent of Kent Haruf. So many writers highlight either tragedy or pain; this is a novel that's an attempt to portray real life with its balance of both, featuring people we feel we know, friends or family.
Even though we learn Hannah’s story in detail, the book revolves around Tom, a farmer. He’s lost his wife to a cult for the second time, along with Peter, her child who he’s raised as his own from birth. Tom Hope is the stoic and quietly heroic everyman, who may not be articulate or artistic, but who doesn't know how to take his heart back once he's given it. Each person in the book has experienced tragedy and has come to their own individual way of dealing with it, "healthy" or not; just like life. Hannah and the child, Peter, have both experienced horrific events. Both are scarred and scared and face hard choices. Both want and need Tom as an anchor, and Tom wants that, too. Hillman does a superb job of illustrating the ripple effect of the everyday hero, the redemptive power of love for those who reach to grasp it. Highly recommended! ~Em Maxwell

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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Jackson Blog Tour

Emily March has been writing a modern romance series about people recovering from life hardship and tragedies and finding love. They've been set in imaginary Eternity Springs, Colorado, but here the series takes a spinoff into Texas.
  AND WE HAVE A GIVEAWAY! Yes, some lucky reader will get a copy direct from the publisher! Leave your name and email addy in the comments; we'll put them in the magic party hat and draw the winner's name. We'll send you an email-sometime after the blog tour ends on July 9, 2019-requesting your address if you're the lucky winner! 
****(Leave comment by July 9, 2019; U. S. address only, sorry international romance fans)****
Emily is one of my guilty pleasures; as you know I don't often read and review romance. Everyone needs some favorite feel-good reading, however, and I've read the series since the beginning. I got to read an advance copy of Jackson and for now, I'll just tell you it's worth the read. I'll let Emily March herself have the floor to answer some questions about the book, about writing, about life...and we've got an excerpt from the first chapter of the book so you can get a feel for it! (Scroll past the Q & A if you want to get to reading first.)

Q: What inspired Jackson and the rest of the books in the Eternity Springs world?

Emily March: The saying “Write what you know” says it all in my case. I’m a small-town girl and my family and friendships are center to my world. I write about love and family and friendships. I have roots in both the Colorado Rockies and the Texas Hill Country, so it was natural for me to set Eternity Springs and Redemption there. The idea for JACKSON grew out of my interest in the music currently being written and performed in Texas. I’ve always thought singer/songwriters are romantic figures so I was excited to create a hero with this background. Unfortunately, I’m not a musician and I’m definitely not a singer, but I am creative so it was fun for me to explore that aspect of a character.

Q: Introduce us to your main character!

Emily: Okay. Well, Americana singer/songwriter Jackson McBride is a bit damaged when the book begins. His famous, talented and wealthy ex has won a custody battle that severely limits his access to his six-year-old daughter, so Jackson goes home to the Texas Hill Country to nurse his broken heart. He finds solace in Enchanted Canyon hiking the trails with the dog he rescues and working to bring a historic dance hall back to life. The last thing he expects is to find love again with a woman whose heart is as battered as his own.

Q: How is the Jackson trilogy different than your other series?

Emily: I don’t think it’s necessarily different from the rest of the Eternity Springs series. I write about love and family and friendship—that doesn’t change. Readers will still see old friends from Eternity Springs and a few scenes in JACKSON are set in Colorado. What’s new is we get to spend some time in the Texas Hill Country and meet a few new characters—Celeste’s cousin, Angelica, for example.
(Readers, I can tell you it's a hoot to meet Angelica! It inspires a lot more questions about mystery woman Celeste!)

Q. What inspired you to become a writer?

Emily: I’ve always loved to read, so that is part of it, but my father was my primary inspiration. He was a fabulous storyteller. I grew up sitting at his feet and listening to him tell stories about his youth and his experiences in Europe during World War II. Listening to him tell his stories was my favorite thing to do. I didn’t inherit his talent for verbal storytelling, but I think I learned from him how to tell a good story on the page. My goals as a writer are to touch a reader’s heart, to entertain her and make her laugh, to maybe cry a little and sigh with satisfaction upon reaching the end. 

Q: Lots of aspiring authors out there. Any advice for them?

Emily: I’ve always thought that one of the most important things you can do for your writing is to read. And read. And read some more. Read across genres. You absorb so much about pacing and plotting and character development when you read. Plus, you get to READ! :)

Q: I know asking someone’s all-time favorite book is a loaded question so what’s your current favorite read?

Emily: I’m a big fan of Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson series and I’m reading her latest right now, STORM CURSED. (Readers, Miss Em highly recommends this kick-ass urban fantasy series, too.)

Q: Can you tell us about what’s coming up next after this for you writing wise?

Emily: I’m writing Tucker’s story. Fun fact for this—as part of my research I attended a survivalist training school for a weekend. I searched long and hard to find one where I could return to town to spend the night in a comfy hotel rather than sleep on the ground—I’m only willing to go so far for my art. I did learn to start a friction fire, though, something I’me VERY proud of. :)

Q: How can readers connect with you online?

Emily: My website is I’m active on Facebook. My Facebook page is You can also reach me by email at

DRUM ROLL......The beginning of JACKSON

Chapter One Excerpt

Nashville, Tennessee
Bang. The judge’s gavel fell and officially crushed Jackson McBride’s heart. He closed his eyes. Bleak despair washed over him. Up until this very moment, he hadn’t believed she’d take it this far.
He’d thought she’d come to her senses. He’d thought she would recognize that this proposal was not only nonsense, but truly insane. He’d believed that somewhere deep inside of her, she still had a spark of humanity. That she wouldn’t do this to him. To them. He’d been wrong.
Damn her. Damn her and the yes-men she surrounded herself with. Damn them all to hell and back.
The enormity of what had just happened washed over him. Oh, God, how will I survive this?

On the heels of his anguish came the rage. It erupted hot as lava, and it fired his blood and blurred his vision with a red haze of fury. He’d never hit a woman in his life. Never come close, despite plenty of provocation from her direction. In that moment had she been within reach, he might have lived up her accusations.
It scared the crap out of him. That’s what she’s brought me to.

Abruptly, he shoved back his chair so hard that it teetered, almost falling over. He strode toward the courtroom exit. “Jackson? Jackson, wait!” his attorney called, hurrying after him.
Jackson waved her off and didn’t stop. There was nothing left to be said. Nothing left to be done. No place left to go.
No little girl waiting at home to hug and cuddle and kiss good night.

The tap on the toes of Jackson’s boots clacked against the tile floor of the courthouse as his long-legged strides ate up the hallway. He shunned the elevator for the stairs and descended three flights at a rapid pace, then headed for the building’s exit. In a foolish bit of positive thinking, he’d driven his SUV to the courthouse this morning. Now the sight of the safety booster seat in the back seat made him want to kick a rock into next week.
He didn’t want to go home to a quiet, empty house. He shouldn’t go to a bar. Alcohol on top of his current mood could be a dangerous combination. Somebody probably would get hurt.

He got into the car and started the engine. For a long moment he sat unmoving, staring blindly through the windshield, his hands squeezing the steering wheel so hard that it should have cracked. When his phone rang, he ignored it.
A couple of minutes later, it rang a second time. Again, he ignored it. When it happened a third time, he finally glanced at the display to see who was calling. His cousin. Okay, maybe he would answer it.
“Hello, Boone.”
“How did the hearing go?”
Jackson couldn’t speak past the lump in his throat, so he said nothing.
Following a moment’s silence, Boone got the message. He muttered a curse, and then said, “I’m sorry, man. So damn sorry.”
“Well, it is what it is.”
“You can take another run at it.”
“Yeah.” In three years. Three years. Might as well be three decades. He cleared his throat and changed the subject. “So, how are things in Eternity Springs?”
“Good. They’re good. My friend Celeste Blessing visited my office a few minutes ago and spoke of her granite-headed cousin. Naturally, I thought of you.”
“Naturally,” Jackson dryly replied. But he felt a little less alone.
“Do you have plans this weekend? I could use your help with something.”
Pretty convenient timing. Knowing Boone, he had a spy in the courtroom. But Jackson wasn’t in the position to ignore the bone he’d been thrown. “I’m free. Whatcha got?”
“I’d like you to meet me at home.”
Jackson straightened in surprise. “You’re going back to the ranch?”
“No. Not there. I’m never going back there. However, I am talking about Texas. The Hill Country in particular. A little town west of Austin called Redemption.”

“Redemption, Texas?” Jackson repeated. For some weird reason, his heart gave a little skip. “Why there?”
“It’s a long story. Too long for a phone call. I’ll give you the entire skinny when I see you. When can you get there?”
After today’s debacle, Jackson had absolutely no reason to remain in Nashville. “When do you want me there?”
“I’ll be in later today. I’m in Austin now. I’ve been helping a friend with a project. I have a flight back to Colorado Sunday evening. The earlier you can get here the better, but I’ll make anything work.”
Jackson figured the distance and the drive time. “I’ll meet you tomorrow afternoon. Where?”
“Great. I’ll text you the info when we hang up. Bring camping gear.”
When a sound behind him had Jackson glancing up into the rearview mirror and the booster seat caught his notice, he made an instant decision. “Can’t. I’ll be on my bike.”
“You’re gonna ride your motorcycle all the way from Nashville?” 
“Yes, I think I am.”
“Okay. I’ll bring stuff for both of us.” Boone hesitated a moment and added, “Hang in there,
Jackson. It’ll get better.”
No, I don’t think it will. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Jackson ended the call and finally put his SUV in gear and backed out of the parking place. With the distraction of the call behind him, fury returned, and by the time he reached home, he felt like a volcano about to explode.
He threw a handful of things into his tail bag, filled his wallet with cash from his stash, and ten minutes after his arrival, he fired up his bike and took his broken heart and headed out of Nashville. He left behind his home, his work, and his one reason for living, his six-year-old daughter, Haley.
From Jackson. Copyright © 2019 by Emily March and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Paperbacks.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The October Man (Rivers of London, #7.5)The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can’t help but go all fangirl here, as Aaronovich expands occult London into occult Europe with this new magical adventure in Germany. I truly love the Rivers of London books and the occult world being uncovered—oops, I mean being built here (wink,wink). We’re getting the stage set for “Men in Black International”, only with magical beings and deities instead of aliens, and the possibilities are endless and exciting.

Our hero, Tobias Winter, works for Abteilung KDA - the Department for Complex and Unspecific Matters, Germany’s version of London’s Folly, and he sounds a bit like his counterpart Peter Grant, from London. Cops and criminals think alike, no matter what country they’re in, no matter if they’re human or “other”.

“This is a tale about the Queen of the Harvest, the October Man, and the little-known time the vineyard around Trier started to eat people....” and you need to read it. Fans will not be disappointed.
(Thanks to Subterranean Press and Netgalley for the review e-galley)

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Friday, April 12, 2019

Wandering the Wilderness of the Mind

The Collected Schizophrenias: EssaysThe Collected Schizophrenias: Essays by Esmé Weijun Wang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For all the writers, artists, etc., who've felt like they've teetered on the edge of's always a good refresher to see what actual crazy is like. It's also pretty scary. This is an unflinching look at living with mental illness, eliciting wonder, despair, hope and gratitude. You understand why people who are poor and without a support system have very little hope.
It's a collection, so there is some repetition, but I found the book to be edited beautifully, especially the choice of the final essay.
I'm reminded of the story of Joanne Greenberg, who wrote the book I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (don't substitute the movie) and many other wonderful novels, most exploring people with disabilities or peculiarities and their intersection with "normal." I'm hoping Ms. Wang has a lot more high functioning life to live, and makes more books.
Worth the read, for sure.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics

Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women MysticsWild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics by Mirabai Starr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part memoir, part Feminine Mystery mystic manifesto, Wild Mercy is a celebration of the Divine Feminine experienced by women (and some men) throughout history. To some, this will be an introduction; to others, a welcome visit with saints and mystics, avatars and activists, archetypes and goddesses from ancient times to the present, with Mirabai's own counterculture/Jewish/Buddhist perspective foremost.
Wild Mercy is also an introduction and exploration of the contemplative life, or the examined life, as practiced through time to modernity. There's much to savor here, each chapter opening with a meditative depiction of the heart that's calling to Spirit, then an exploration of approaches, then a deepening practice.
And again, the book presents another face, another aspect; it's an exercise in intersectional spirituality, for that's where the mystic has always resided, right smack dab in the middle of God's heart, no matter the doctrines.
If you think you might be a mystic; if you're drawn to spiritual traditions beyond your own; if you, too, are a woman of a certain age; if you feel a need to deepen your relationship with the soul's Beloved, this will be an excellent addition to your spiritual library.
(Thanks to Netgalley and Sounds True, I received a digital copy for review.)

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Friday, April 5, 2019

We Were Diplomats Once, And Young

A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan, #1)A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Deserves the accolades. Fascinating exploration of identity and power, politics and loyalty. I was a bit worried because it's uncomfortable hard work to be plopped into a situation where you don't have firm ground beneath your virtual feet--the reader's experience mirrors the main character's experience--but by 50-90 pages in I knew where we were going and enjoyed the ride. Especially the poetic thread. Recommended!

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Thursday, April 4, 2019

Morse Code for Energy Healers

The Emotion Code: How to Release Your Trapped Emotions for Abundant Health, Love, and Happiness (Updated and Expanded Edition)The Emotion Code: How to Release Your Trapped Emotions for Abundant Health, Love, and Happiness by Bradley Nelson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received an advance copy from the publisher through a goodreads giveaway! The Emotion Code is an understatedly Christian (he mentions God and Jesus in a non-proselytizing way) approach to energy healing and emotional intelligence, rather than a traditional psychological self-help book. The author is a chiropractor and an intuitive who believes that most of the body's resistance to healing comes from unrecognized emotional blocks. Through a series of dialogues with the body, using muscle tension as a guide, you can identify and release the mostly "uncomfortable" feelings that are begging for your attention. Release the emotion, release the pain in the body; hear the message, the messenger goes away. No more chronic pain!
As is typical in this type of offering, 50 % of the book consists of success stories to bolster your belief in the system being offered, 25% of the book establishing the author's expertise, and 25% an introduction to the system.
If you do stay with the book the whole way, you'll find that while there are instances of instant or miraculous healing, deep issues mostly require a lot of intense work for healing to occur. And while touting the process as a way of self-healing, most of the stories and examples are of people being helped to healing by other people. Dr. Nelson provides a handy chart of emotions and a website dedicated to information, merchandising, and certified practitioners that can further your journey into his system.
If you believe it, it will work. This is all standard fare in the world of energy/faith healing. Whether you call it laying on of hands or Reiki, it's been around as long as humans. Dr. Nelson's is a very rational approach, even as the subjects of remote healing and surrogate patients come up. There are photos to help you visualize the muscle tests, and charts of charts.
This is a good introduction if you don't know much about energy healing, but if you're already knowledgeable, there's nothing new here. And there's no substitute for the work of self-examination and self-awareness if you're looking for help with those deeper emotional issues.

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Sunday, March 31, 2019

Fly Me Away!

The Bird KingThe Bird King by G. Willow Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Bird King is the kind of book that spoils you from reading others for a few days. It's going to be one of my favorite novels of the year, perhaps all time. (Though Wilson's previous book moves to the top of the TBR pleasure pile.) This book stands on its own as a darkly luminous fantasy novel, but it's also a work of art, created to please on more than one level of perception, as are all the best stories; I mean, of course, it lifts us into the territory of myth. Such fast-paced adventure: a slave girl and a magic map maker flee the Holy Inquisition at the fall of Granada, the last Muslim emirate on the Iberian peninsula. And there are djinn, (not the usual depiction, thanks!) and magic. Worth the read just for the adventure and coming-of-age story. Then there's the exploration of relationships and love. This is a novelistic homage to the great poem written by the Sufi poet that inspired Hafiz and Rumi, Attar. It's not poetic at all, except in its themes. It's true to the spirit of mysticism but it's not a poem or a retelling of The Conference of the Birds. The writing has the flavor of both Salman Rushdie and Guy Gavriel Kay, in reverence and irreverence, in facility with Islamic and history concepts and nostalgia for a past that might have been. There is not a wrong note emotionally, spiritually, psychologically as questions of loyalty, good and evil, free will, service and dominance, sin and goodness are dealt with along the journey. And of course, your own beliefs about those issues are highlighted as you go along. Is there a land of freedom, where justice and mercy are married in balance, where kindness is the law, where people can live in harmony no matter their beliefs? If there's not, does the fact that we can imagine it mean that we can create it, even after ten thousand years of failure? Are Camelot and Granada, Themiscyra and America only meant to last a few lifetimes, perfect in idealism, imperfect in practice--or is goodwill among humans sustainable? Do you have to follow tradition, accept injustice, be the spoils of war? Or do you flee death and look for a future? Must you lay in the bed you made, or is there forgiveness, repentance, more chances at friendship, honor, and life? Once you've been possessed by a demon, are you ever free? You don't have to think about that stuff as you read, but I love the books and authors that make it possible. Highly recommended!

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Saturday, March 23, 2019

Heart and Humor Win the Day

Professor Chandra Follows His BlissProfessor Chandra Follows His Bliss by Rajeev Balasubramanyam
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a great book for book clubs! Professor Chandra and his Cambridge colleagues thought he would get the 2016 Nobel Prize in economics, but on announcement day he’s passed over; put on furlough for calling a female student an imbecile; run into by a bicyclist, and finds out he's had a silent heart attack. He spends his 70th birthday alone: rich, respected, divorced, and mostly estranged from his kids. He has moments of kindness to protégées, but he's a grumpy old man. His son is rich from telling people how to succeed in business through affirmations, his oldest daughter is a radical and doesn’t talk to him anymore, and his ex lives in Boulder with her psychologist husband and the youngest daughter, a high school senior who gets involved with drugs. This allows Chandra to escape from the mess of his life in England. He goes to Boulder in attempt to fix his daughter. Professor Chandra is not a likeable dude—until he punches laid-back Steve ("Kids experiment!") in the nose, and Steve manipulates him into a weekend retreat at Esalen. "Being Who You Are at Summer Solstice" is not where or who Chandra wants to be, but he starts asking some questions and observing himself. Conservative intellectual meets emotional woo-woo, and the humor and growth begin. It’s challenging to read about your country from a foreigner’s viewpoint, just as it’s challenging to see yourself through someone else’s eyes—and yet modernity has shown us we’re all more alike than different, adopting what pleases us and complaining about the rest. So much fodder for book club exploration and talk: generational, cultural, political and societal divides, with heart and humor the only options for authentic connection. This is really a story of coming to an accommodation with an ever-changing, confusing world, coming to terms with life as an elder. I’d love to know what other folks think about it, too: the best kind of book club book. Recommended!
(Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a digital review copy!)

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Friday, March 22, 2019

Welcome the Howls of Spring

Wolf Rain (Psy-Changeling Trinity, #3; Psy-Changeling, #18)Wolf Rain by Nalini Singh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Way better than the last one, and worth the hardback price if you’re a collector. (Series beginners should go all the way back to enjoy the complete journey.) So in addition to a love story for Alexei, wolf lieutenant, we get to learn more of how empathy can save the Psy. I’ve always been a fan of Singh’s world building, and she gets back to it in this one. There’s a lot to be treasured in the exploration of how body, mind, and spirit balance, and that’s one of the major themes of the Psy-Changeling series. This book explores the strange bond between psychopaths and empaths—in the context of the Psynet, not the romance. Alexei rescues an empath who’s not aware she’s an empath, and tries very hard not to mate with her. We know from the beginning how that’s going to work out; it’s the mystery of who’s the stealth Psy that’s trying to kill all the empaths that drives the larger story. There’s enough closure to be satisfying, and a clue to the elevation of suspense coming in the next book...if only it didn’t take so much longer to write than to read, because now I’ve got to wait another year until the next one! (Thanks to the First To Read program, I got a temporary digital copy)

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Eyes Have It!

Death of an Eye (Eye of Isis #1)Death of an Eye by Dana Stabenow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read most of Stabenow’s books (wish she had continued sci-fi!) and this historical mystery is up to her usual standard. The Eye of Isis is the pharaoh's investigator; Cleopatra's has been murdered whilst investigating a stolen currency shipment, and Cleopatra replaces her with an old friend. I've never before seen Cleopatra through the eyes of an almost-peer, a schoolmate. There's humor, eye-rolling, and a very human perspective of Egypt's divine queen, but most of the story does focus on the mystery, and that's fun, too. Once I got over the shock, I enjoyed the book very much. Recommended! (I received a digital copy from the publisher for review.)

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Saturday, February 23, 2019

True American Treasure

Louis l'Amour's Lost Treasures: Volume 1: Unfinished Manuscripts, Mysterious Stories, and Lost Notes from One of the World's Most Popular NovelistsLouis l'Amour's Lost Treasures: Volume 1: Unfinished Manuscripts, Mysterious Stories, and Lost Notes from One of the World's Most Popular Novelists by Louis L'Amour
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Louis L’Amour was the West’s greatest storyteller, and given time and permission to step outside the box, he’d be more widely appreciated. This new presentation of story fragments and ephemera put together by his son Beau gives a peek into Louis’ creative process—story fragments, alternate beginnings, movie treatments, Louis’ handwritten notes and musings, photos of certain places, etc.—interspersed with Beau’s own memories of Louis’ life events and personal stories.
The book will please any fan and could be useful to aspiring authors and pulp fiction historians—before he made it big, Louis also wrote rousing international adventures for the story magazines. Though many of his stories ended up as radio dramas, television shows, and movies, his book characters, especially women and minorities, have more depth than that allowed by American culture of the 1950s-1990s. Louis had a strong interest in philosophy and metaphysics, proposing a TV series on serial reincarnation in the 1950s. He was a historian, also, and with all his novels—the Sackett novels intentionally—he painted a grassroots history of the United States through the stories of the people who lived it, the pioneers and Indians and rustlers and gold hunters trying to make a life despite robber barons, faraway legislators, and the hard trials that come along with living. Included in this book are Louis’ notes for a book on the Trail of Tears and a book about Louis Riel, who was a Metis statesman in Canada. Reading (& rereading) the breadth of his work, one finds Louis’ grand vision of America as the land of refugees, every wave of human settlement on both continents from time's beginning being an escape from some tragedy either of climate or public or private war—a vision recently confirmed by ancient DNA.
Here’s some advice he wrote to himself, and it’s the reason so many love his books, Westerns or not: “Make this a definitely superlative book...Discuss books, politics, painting, jewels, beliefs, folklore, magic, etc. Make this something really fine. With a great suspense yarn and a beautiful love story. Make the writing something very special.”
This volume is for L'Amour fans primarily, but if I've inspired you with this review—and especially if you're new to the West--there's no better introduction to the true Western sensibility than L'Amour.

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Sunday, January 27, 2019

How to Live In Beauty

Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary HappinessJoyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

January brings thoughts of fresh new beginnings and makeovers of body, mind, spirit—and surroundings. If you want to refresh your life this year, “Joyful” can help you on all levels. Readers may recall Alexandra Stoddard, who wrote “Living A Beautiful Life” in the 1980s—Lee’s new take on an older idea is updated with the latest scientific research revealing the neurological underpinnings of humans’ persistent belief (and experience) that surrounding yourself with beauty can make you happy. Here’s how to reach for happiness and beyond without having to hoard things or break your budget.

Lee breaks out elements of joy into 10 different qualities, tells us how to recognize their essence in sensory details like colors, shapes, and textures, and sets us free to explore the possibilities. Without “woo-woo,” but using anecdotes, interviews, studies, some necessary drawings, and exposition, Lee walks you through her journey into the human made material world, then to the environmental qualities that inspire makers and back again to a potential synthesis of joy and beauty. There might be too much theory of aesthetics in the book for some, but this is not only a how-to book, it’s a how-come book.

I still found myself wanting some photos; the lack made me the most excited I’ve ever been to discover charts and worksheets in the back of a book. We are left to our own devices as to how we want to apply the strategies in the book, but the tools Lee gives us are great: “Whether you want to give your life a full joy makeover, tackle a specific project (like redesigning a room or throwing a party), or simply sprinkle a bit more joy here and there, these exercises will help you bring more joy into your world.”

Theory and practice, inspiration and good tools for renewing your life. Recommended!

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