My Favorite Books

The Walking Drum
Ender's Game
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Curse of Chalion
The Name of the Wind
Chronicles of the Black Company
The Faded Sun Trilogy
The Tar-Aiym Krang

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Review: Emotional Mastery: A Complete Guide to Emotional Abuse, Trauma Recovery, Shadow Work, Self-Esteem, Dark Psychology & Gaslighting: 3 books

Emotional Mastery: A Complete Guide to Emotional Abuse, Trauma Recovery, Shadow Work, Self-Esteem, Dark Psychology & Gaslighting: 3 books Emotional Mastery: A Complete Guide to Emotional Abuse, Trauma Recovery, Shadow Work, Self-Esteem, Dark Psychology & Gaslighting: 3 books by Relove Psychology
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book: ***
Performance: *

This book is available for kindle unlimited and audible; I did both with Alexa reading the ebook for me. The audible version had several production issues (such as repeated phases, long gaps, background noises and struggling enunciation) that made the Alexa option more appealing; it seemed to get much worse toward the end of each book. The first two (2) books really covered the same ground with respect to emotional abuse and trauma where the first having much more light weight/hippie feel to it where the second seemed more clinical and worth the effort. The third book takes on Jungian psychology with a New Age slant. For folks the buy into repressed personality traits and the like, this would be an interesting topic; although the whole shadow trope for all of this feels a bit weird to me. Most of this probably should be done with a licensed therapist though. Over all the second book is worth a read, but the audible is a pass until the production issues are fixed.

Dark Psychology & GasLighting **
Introduction (7 min)
Chapter 1 - Protecting Yourself (24 min)
Chapter 2 - Breaking Free From Manipulation (17 min)
Chapter 3 - Rebuilding Confidence & Self-Trust (19 min)
Chapter 4 - Manipulative Techniques (23 min)
Chapter 5 - Gaslighting & Emotional Blackmail (16 min)
Chapter 6 - Hypnotism (17 min)
Chapter 7 - Relationships (25 min)
Chapter 8 - Self-Esteem (22 min)
Chapter 9 - Studies About Dark Psychology (20 min)
Chapter 10 - Grand Scale Manipulation (16 min)
Conclusion (7 min)

Emotional Abuse & Trauma Recovery ***
Introduction (9 min)
Chapter 1 - Emotional Abuse (26 min)
Chapter 2 - Narcissistic Abuse Recover (23 min)
Chapter 3 - Gaslighting (18 min)
Chapter 4 - Codependency (16 min)
Chapter 5 - Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (15 min)
Chapter 6 - Breaking Free From Unhealthy Patters (17 min)
Chapter 7 - Prioritized Yourself and Set Boundaries (25 min)
Chapter 8 - Obsessive Thinking and CD (16 min)
Chapter 9 - Abandonment Fears (17 min)
Chapter 10 - Building Healthier Relationships (16 min)
Chapter 11 - Healing in Practice (22 min)
Chapter 12 - Hypnotism (11 min)
Conclusion (8 min)

Shadow Work for Beginners **
Introduction (10 min)
Chapter 1 - Your Shadow (10 min)
Chapter 2 - Shadow Work (18 min)
Chapter 3 - Self-Discovery (21 min)
Chapter 4 - Self-Acceptance (15 min)
Chapter 5 - Self-Esteem (23 min)
Chapter 6 - Your Unconscious Self (17 min)
Chapter 7 - Your Inner Child (11 min)
Chapter 8 - Healing Your Inner Child (19 min)
Chapter 9 - Exercise (48 min)
Chapter 10 - Master Your Emotions (15 min)
Conclusion (12 min)

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#EmotionalMastery #FreeAudiobookCodes #KindleUnlimited

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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Review: The Fireborne Blade

The Fireborne Blade The Fireborne Blade by Charlotte Bond
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This novella didn’t quite work for me. To begin with, each of the nearly two dozen chapters of 170 some odd pages means that each was painfully short and the PoV changes fairly rapid. Not a fan. Add to that the six (6) info dump chapters presented as parts of a reference called “The Demise and Demesne of Dragons” that was used to wedge in most of the world-building and the four (4) flashback chapters that are needed to give the plot twist its punch, and you are left with a short story that simply tries to do too much in very little space … which is a shame, because what world building there was I found interesting for the most part. To be fair … a lot of readers might actually see this as a plus. At any rate, what is left is not enough to actually develop the characters, especially given that my initial reaction to all them was fairly strong dislike … so we are left with trope based caricatures that make the whole work feel like RPGLit (Not my favorite genre). I can’t help but wonder if this would have been better as a full length novel … the pieces are all there, just left undeveloped.

The basic story is a knight on a quest to retrieve a magic sword from a dragon (killing said dragon in the process). From the interwoven encyclopedia the reader is left with the impression that this is a fairly common pastime for knights, if quite dangerous. In this particular case, the knight is a woman who apparently disgraced herself over some imagined slight and thinks this legendary sword will return her into the good graces of the king … not exactly sure how that is supposed to work, but then again, I don’t really understand the whole motivation of the knight here to begin with … it comes across and a super contrived and poorly constructed plot device. Of course … every knight has a squire, even disgraced knights … but this squire is a tad off from the beginning, so it should come as no surprise this because an important factor at the end … which frankly seemed a bit rushed and deus ex machina to be honest (might have avoided that with more room to build up the final conflict, but then again, maybe not). There are some stylistic choices that didn’t seem consistent to me as well, and that detracted from the over all quality of the book, making seem like a debut story …

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#TheFireborneBlade #NetGalley

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Sunday, November 26, 2023

Review: Why the Bible Began: An Alternative History of Scripture and its Origins

Why the Bible Began: An Alternative History of Scripture and its Origins Why the Bible Began: An Alternative History of Scripture and its Origins by Jacob L. Wright

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is one of the foundational sacred scriptures for three (3) [Abrahamic] religions. Each tradition takes a slightly different approach to interpreting what it actually says (exegesis), but few commentaries explore why each story is told the way it is told … perhaps because of a presumption that because they were inspired by God, they did not actually change or evolve … a presumption that is no longer the general consensus of biblical scholars. In fact, there is a significant wing that promotes the exact opposite supported by recent discoveries of ancient versions of the text that appear to illustrate how they evolved over time for different jewish communities. Stepping into that academic line of questioning, Why the Bible Began begins with accepting this evolution as fact and then takes it one step further by suggesting that there was a specific purpose to the work of these historical redactors and a specific reason these changes endured (why the work).

Most biblical scholars are familiar with the document hypothesis … this appears to take a slightly different approach. It starts with the idea that there really never was a United Monarchy … in fact, the starting point very nearly aligns with the minimalists view of early Israel. As such, we start to see parts of what appears to be conflicting traditions woven together for a specific goal … to create the idea of a people define by belief and practice instead of by territory or ruler in order to help the community survive being under the heel of external conquerors. What I found interesting is how this was a concept that was mostly driven by circumstances … in other words, it was the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel that provided much of the skill and source material to weave together disparate traditions to make a unified national narrative. Then it was the subsequent fall of the Southern Judean Kingdom that forced the creation of a people narrative to united the community throughout all of the diaspora.

Over all, despite being more of an academic piece, it was well supported and very accessible if you are interested and open to this approach … it won’t work for everybody. There are a lot of references to assumptions that represent current research that make this more of a companion work that provides a solid overview with a deeper dive into the support to fully understand the why the author takes the stance that he does.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Part I - The Rise and Fall
Chapter 1 - Abraham and Sarah: From One to the Many
Chapter 2 - Miriam: Empire and Exodus
Chapter 3 - Deborah: A New Dawn
Chapter 4 - King David: Between North and South
Chapter 5 - Ahab and Jezebel: Putting Israel on the Map
Chapter 6 - Jehu and Elisha: Israel’s Downfall and Judah’s Jubilation
Chapter 7 - Hezekiah and Isaiah: Putting Judah on the Map
Chapter 8 - Josiah and Huldah: Judah’s Downfall and Deportation

Part II - Admitting Defeat
Chapter 9 - Daughter Zion : Finding One’s Voice
Chapter 10 - The Creator: Comforting the Afflicted
Chapter 11 - Haggai the Prophet: Laying the Foundation
Chapter 12 - Nehemiah the Builder: Restoring Judean Pride
Chapter 13 - Ezra the Educator: Forming a People of the Book
Chapter 14 - Hoshayahu the Soldier: Peoplehood as a Pedagogical Project

Part III - A New Narrative
Chapter 15 - Jeremiah and Baruch: A Monument to Defeat
Chapter 16 - Isaac and Rebekah: The Family Story
Chapter 17 - Moses and Joshua: The People’s History
Chapter 18 - Hannah and Samuel: The Palace History
Chapter 19 - Solomon and the Queen of Sheba: The National Narrative
Chapter 20 - Jonah and the Whale: The prophets as Survival Literature
Chapter 21 - Yhwh and His People: Codes, Covenant, and Kinship

Part IV - A People of Protest
Chapter 22 - The Matriarch: Women and the Biblical Agenda
Chapter 23 - The Hero: Redefining Gender Roles
Chapter 24 - The Other: Tales of War, Outsiders, and Allegiance
Chapter 25 - The Soldier: Sacrificial Death and Eternal Life
Chapter 26 - The Prophet and the Priest: Open Access, Public transparency and Separation of Powers
Chapter 27 - The Sage: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes
Chapter 28 - The Poet: Song of Songs and Psalms
Chapter 29 - The Queen: Peoplehood without Piety
Chapter 30 - Conclusions: Nations, Nationalism, and New Bibles

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

Through its destruction at the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians, the nation became essentially a religious community held together by the cult. The precondition for this religious community was foreign control, which forced Jews from the political sphere into the spiritual

That Elohim created humans in his image was a radical claim. Traditionally, only the king is made in the divine image; here it is all humans.

Rather, the scribes who curated the biblical corpus consciously took what priests and palace members had long guarded as their special heritage and made it available, and indeed mandatory, for the education and edification of the entire nation.

Having forfeited territorial sovereignty, communities in both the North and South needed to create for themselves a space in a foreign empire. The space they carved out is not so much territorial and political as it is social, one demarcated by practice and behavior. And because this project was by and large the work of scribes, the tools they used for demarcating it were written traditions.

The answer to this question bears directly on two rival accounts of the nation’s origins. We have just explored how scribes created one account, the Family Story, by connecting the originally independent figures of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We now turn our attention to a competing work, the Exodus-Conquest Account, that begins with the stories of Moses’ birth and commission.

The People ’s History consists, as we saw, of two parts: the Family Story of Genesis and the Exodus-Conquest Account. At the heart of the Family Story are traditions related to Isaac, Esau, and Jacob; they likely originated before the downfall of the Northern kingdom in 722  but were clearly reworked – from both Northern and Southern perspectives – for centuries thereafter.

Over the centuries, Southerners came to see themselves as members of the people of Israel. As they did, the People’s History became a prehistory and preamble to the older Palace History, with the People’s History furnishing a framework for the most formative stories as well as collections of divinely revealed laws.

With this sacred object, scribes charted a path from Mount Sinai to Mount Zion. These two fixed points in the National Narrative correspond to two competing social circles, one that identified with the Torah and the study of texts, and the other that identified with the temple and priestly rituals. The Ark thread in the National Narrative ties them together by telling how Moses deposited the tablets of the Torah in the Ark, and then how later Solomon deposited the Ark containing these tablets in the temple.

The inception of the covenant thus provided a major impetus for scribes to embellish the National Narrative. Older portions of those books had already combined disparate histories into a common story, giving divided communities a shared past and sense of kinship. But after being reworked, the narrative’s overarching purpose is to demonstrate the validity of the covenant, culminating with the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of Judah.

The scribes who curated the biblical corpus clearly did not want make space for some form of heavenly afterlife. For them, future life and “resurrection”were to be sought in a revived community after its death in defeat–one with families finding their ultimate happiness in the enjoyment of the good, God-given earth that had been created to endure for eternity.

Thanks to these ambitious editorial moves, the Pentateuch punctures the bubble of priestly privilege. Prerogative becomes duty. It is no longer a matter of what the priests get to do but rather what they have to do. They are to perform their tasks on behalf of the nation, and they must neither shirk their duties nor bend them according to political influence.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#WhyTheBibleBegan #NetGalley

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Thursday, November 23, 2023

Review: Rise, the Quantamancer

Rise, the Quantamancer Rise, the Quantamancer by A.R. McNevin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: ***
Performance: ***

An interesting if confusing fantasy

This is a difficult book to review. The initial publisher’s blurb was very interesting; however, the book struggled to deliver on that promise in several areas. Perhaps the most significant critique would the the overwhelming tendency to describe verse show that made it story something akin to reading an encyclopedia. There were long sections of data dumps that, while vaguely interesting, were also boring. The undifferentiated voices in the narration didn’t help with that as each chapter seemed to bleed into each other. There were for PoV hijinx as well where for some reason the storyline following the witch Danika was told by her bard companion where Edgar told his own story and Thaddeus had more of an anonymous narrator. Not a big deal … but when you title your chapters on the character PoV and then not tell it from their perspective … I found it to be a tad disorientating. Then there is the execution. The basic idea is that science stopped working, but the way that was actually done was extremely inconsistent and also confusing. It was not until the end that it started to makes sense and frankly my wife had already given up on the book by then. I did manage to stick it out until the end though and I found that the story does get better as it evolves.

The basic plot revolves around three (3) characters as they try to figure out their “post-science” world. Edgar is the science guy and has to totally reinvent himself after everything he knows no longer governs how the world works. For the most part, he drifts around the Washington DC area until he eventually aligns with the anti-magic (formerly known as science) faction and slowly corrects and adds nuance to the idea that science has failed. Along the way, we see a third faction that also seems to be opposed to the new world order … religion … and as expected, it was not portrayed in the best light. Danika is an earth witch in the Connecticut/NYC area and is basically on a quest (accompanied by her companion bard/narrator Jaskier wannabe) to make sure the evils of science don’t come back (as can be imagined, there is a lot of overly simplified pontificating by both sides). Thaddeus is the last character and arguable the most interesting … since he is over 1000 years old and a survivor from the original fall of magic to modernity. For this book, he adds a few interesting side quests but no real help in advances the plot … of which there is a minor resolution at the end as well as a huge epilogue and setup for the sequel. Over all it was a super light, if mildly entertaining, story that struggles to rise above the standard fantasy tropes.

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Review: Women and Warfare in the Ancient World: Virgins, Viragos and Amazons

Women and Warfare in the Ancient World: Virgins, Viragos and Amazons Women and Warfare in the Ancient World: Virgins, Viragos and Amazons by Karlene Jones-Bley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is an interesting presumption about the participation of women in warfare, which is arguably an activity largely restricted to men; so I was very much interested in the potential for this book, especially given the fairly recent news of DNA results reclassifying some “warrior” burials (bodies interred with weapons) as female instead of their original classification of male. This had given me the impression that the historical record might be incorrectly over looking the contribution of woman warriors. Unfortunately, this book does very little to change what is arguably a consensus that actually taking up arms and fighting in the rank and file is a predominantly male activity. The focus here appears to be more on myth (gods and legends) and power (queens and commanders) which are more an exception to the rule than anything else and are not really anything new.

That is not to say I didn’t enjoy reading about these famous and powerful women, I did … but I was looking for something different here … evidence about what the “average” woman did in war … and as might be expected (although only hinted at here) is that this was primarily restricted to a defense of home and hearth (under or alongside the husband unless they were away) … with the potential exception of Scythian horse archers, the presumed inspiration for the amazon legends (which absolutely makes sense). In fact, the focus on female deities does not IMHO do anything to support the concept of human women in war (especially given the prevalence of such deities within societies that had near complete prohibitions of such). In addition, the area of investigation was restricted to what is largely considered to be the western world (and immediate influence such as Persia). So while the information was interesting, it remains a disappointedly incomplete treatment of the subject.

The chapters and sections in this work are

Chapter 1. In the Beginning: Mythological Figures
Chapter 2. Indo-European Goddesses Affiliated with War
Chapter 3. Legendary Figures - Mortal and Supernatural
Chapter 4. Archaeological Evidence
Chapter 5. Historical Women Through the Roman Period
Chapter 6. Historical Women from the Roman Period to 1492

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

The military women we will examine in this work possess at least three characteristics in common. They are recurrently thought of, or described as, virgins, are characterised as viragos and very often labelled as amazons.

Although we have a fair amount of evidence for women working outside the home in antiquity (see Stol 2018: 339–90), for much of human history a woman’s place was thought to be in the home, bearing children and taking care of the needs of her family.

Although we might think that the archaeological evidence would clarify the question of what defines women warriors–she who has weapons is, she who lacks them isn’t–it does not. In fact, the archaeologists’ conclusions often lead to further questions. Some scholars take the presence of weapons as proof of ‘warriorhood’, but others do not. Weapons alone do not confirm military activities.

The weapons represented with the goddesses are, usually, less tangible and more generic, serving more as identifiers of their warrior aspects than weapons to be used in combat. The intangible weapons used by a number of the goddesses fall primarily into three categories: magic, interference or in a number of cases–particularly the Irish–sex.

Furthermore, other Semitic cognates of btlt render the term more as a ‘nubile girl, adolescent’, and not precisely ‘virgin’ in the modern English sense. The nubile designation also comports with the general depiction of her as ‘young and nubile, with small breasts and a thin body’ (ibid., 83), leading Walls to use the term ‘maiden’.

The term ‘virgin’ did not always refer to a physical state, one which implied chastity … [T]he term may well have been a figurative one which pertained to age, not necessarily chronologically, but qualitatively. A virgin was in the youth of her powers, in the process of storing them, and, as such, her ‘batteries’ were ‘fully charged’. Indeed, virgins not only stored untapped energy for men, but they were also able to transmit their powers to them in a nonsexual manner, without diminishing those powers.

There may be a memory also of the priestesses of the god of war, women who officiated at the sacrificial rites when captives were put to death after battle. The name Valkyrie means, literally, ‘chooser of the slain’, and in the eleventh century an Anglo-Saxon bishop, Wulfstan, included ‘choosers of the slain’ in a black list of sinners, witches, and evil-doers in his famous Sermo Lupi.

To the Greeks, the thought of Amazons brought fear of chaos. Amazons were a symbol of female aggression and this was no way for a woman to behave.

The shieldmaidens (skjaldmær) appear in Scandinavian mythology and folklore as young women who choose to fight as warriors. A shieldmaiden is said to keep men at spear’s length, approaching them only when she is armed with a spear or axe. These shieldmaidens are females (it is not completely clear if they were maidens in the chaste sense) who chose to go into battle.

The results concluded that the skeleton of the Birka warrior in grave Bj.581 was, indeed, that of a female, establishing her as ‘the first confirmed female high-ranking Viking warrior’, and that she also has a genetic affinity to the population of what we can consider the Viking world (ibid., 5).

The earliest reference to women engaging in this activity comes from a senatorial edict of ad 11 that bars women from the arena and a later, ad 19, edict that ‘banned the descendants of senators and equestrians (as well as the wives of the latter) from fighting in the arena as gladiators’ (ibid., 956).

This extraordinary woman was never directly involved in the military, but she lived through war and revolution. Her Book of Deeds gives diverse advice on how to select a campground, what was good camp food, how to attack a stronghold, how to defend a castle and what was required for a general’s bed.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Sunday, November 19, 2023

Review: Julian of Norwich: And the Mystical Body Politic of Christ

Julian of Norwich: And the Mystical Body Politic of Christ Julian of Norwich: And the Mystical Body Politic of Christ by Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: ***
Performance: ***

Not for the Faint of Heart

It’s an academic piece, so performance wise it was adequate. This book itself was a look into the writings of Julian of Norwich, who is created with writing one of the earliest surviving english language works by a woman. While living as an anchoress in a cell at St Julian Church in Norwich, she became seriously ill and experienced several (16) visions; after which wrote them done into what would become known as the short text [The Showings]. Much later, she reexamined those visions and attempted to explain them better in what would become known as the long text [of Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love]. The net result is that her writings show a fairly mystical , while at the same time very corporal, understanding God’s love and redemptive desire for man, primarily from an aspect of the feminine/motherhood … all of which makes her somewhat dated works difficult to fully comprehend by a modern, casual reader such as me. It was my hope this book would make her more accessible. It did not.

I say this because this is first and foremost a philosophical/theological examination … to which the use of language that is rarely seen outside those genres that make what is presented quite dense, nuanced and difficult to understand. Placing Julians concepts within other medieval mystics and thinkers further exacerbate the struggle. In the end, I don’t really know how to even summarize the primary point beyond a general feel that bodily suffering somehow reveals the Love of God. I did get some insight into how woman of that time were treated … but then I really didn’t need to that to know how complete weird and hard and oppressive the life of woman then.

Introduction (0:04)
Chapter 1: Imagining the Political (1:31)
Chapter 2: I Desired a Bodily Sight (1:17)
Chapter 3: A Fair and Delectable Place - Part 1 (1:19)
Chapter 4: A Fair and Delectable Place - Part 2(1:20)
Chapter 5: A Continuant Laborer - Part 1 (1:25)
Chapter 6: A Continuant Laborer - Part 2 (1:17)
Conclusion: Performing the Book (0:31)
Appendix: Who Was Julian of Norwich (0:26)

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Thursday, November 16, 2023

Review: The Coded Blue Envelope

The Coded Blue Envelope The Coded Blue Envelope by Anna Elliott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: **
Performance: ****

By now it should be clear that I am a fan of the series; this my review here is primarily on how it sits within the corpus. With that in mind … it is decidedly average and more or less what I have come to expect as Sherlock and the Sons of Ra under Lord Sonneborne (the big bad for this trilogy) maneuver around a plot to throw the empire into disarray so that Egypt might gain their independence. The story begins in Milan Italy with Lucy’s mother Zoe before moving back to London to secure the help of Sherlock and Lucy … and it is a marvelous opportunity to explore more of Zoe’s history and personality (and perhaps learn a bit more about how she hooked up with Sherlock so long ago). Jack, Becky and Flynn, as part of the expended caste, make a few minor contributions just so we can stay in touch while the blue envelope macguffin holds an important clue to the ultimate overarching plot that will remove itself one way or another on the next story … and for some reason, that was not enough of an incentive, this story ends in a surprising cliffhanger (minus 1 star) that makes the beginning of the next book more confusing than it should have been. Still it was fun and I continue to recommend this trilogy and the series over all.

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Review: The Dead Cat Tail Assassins

The Dead Cat Tail Assassins The Dead Cat Tail Assassins by P. Djèlí Clark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fairly short book (200+ pages) that I was able to read in one sitting … so I can easily say that it all just worked. The foundation premise and world building were fun and interesting (an undead assassin caught up in a conspiracy that threatens her own very existence … to say nothing of the other members of her guild). So we get a combination of mystery, magic, action and humor that made it hard to put down all the way to a rather satisfying ending … perhaps my only complaint (and for me it was enough to subtract a half point … then I rounded up at the end) is the mangled, quasi-caribbean, dialect used by the assassin’s patron deity, which was so difficult for me to understand that I skipped most of her dialog and just picked up the gist from the context. Fortunately this was limited to the last part of the story, so I was already fully invested in the story and outcome. The snarky humor of the main character may not be for everybody, but I really enjoyed it (it reminded me of another favor series with the same black humor). Just as important for me was that it was more or less a unique take on a common trope (it didn’t feel mechanical or derivative), which made it so much more interesting overall.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Sunday, November 12, 2023

Review: Torat Ahava - Loving Torah

Torat Ahava - Loving Torah Torat Ahava - Loving Torah by Rabbi Avi Weiss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a five (5) volume work covering the Jewish Torah (aka The Pentateuch or the first five(5) books of the Christian Old Testament). Right off the bat you recognize that this is an ambitious effort that eventually runs well over 658 pages. Each volume is dedicated to one of the five (5) books and within each volume, the chapters basically cover a specific story within that book, which is further divided into brief commentaries on specific elements within the story. As I come from a different tradition than what can be extracted from these commentaries, I can’t really evaluate how faithfully that represent concepts within the Jewish tradition; however, I can say that I found them to be very thought provoking and enjoyable. Most Christian analysis of these books tend to focus on extracting understanding and support for the message presented about Jesus in their New Testament and in many cases have ignored how our cousins in faith have interpreted their own scriptures … and I think we have lost something there. Mostly, however, what I gained from these book is the idea that there are many different ways to interpret, understand and apply the ideals and concepts presented in scripture and they can all be useful for the spiritual pilgrim.

The Book of Genesis

  • Chapter 1: Bereishit
  • Chapter 2: Noach
  • Chapter 3: Lech Lecha
  • Chapter 4: Vayera
  • Chapter 5: Chayei Sarah
  • Chapter 6: Toldot
  • Chapter 7: Vayetzei
  • Chapter 8: Vayishlach
  • Chapter 9: Vayeshev
  • Chapter 10: Miketz
  • Chapter 11: Vayechi

The Book of Exodus

  • Chapter 1: Shemot
  • Chapter 2: Va’era
  • Chapter 3: Bo
  • Chapter 4: Bechalach
  • Chapter 5: Yitro
  • Chapter 6: Mishpatim
  • Chapter 7: Terumah
  • Chapter 8: Tetzaveh
  • Chapter 9: Ki Tisa
  • Chapter 10: Vayakhel
  • Chapter 11: Pekudei

The Book of Leviticus

  • Chapter 1: Vayikra
  • Chapter 2: Tzav
  • Chapter 3: Shemini
  • Chapter 4: Tazria
  • Chapter 5: Metzora
  • Chapter 6: Acharei Mot
  • Chapter 7: Kedoshim
  • Chapter 8: Emor
  • Chapter 9: Behar
  • Chapter 10: Bechukotai 

The Book of Numbers

  • Chapter 1: Banidbar
  • Chapter 2: Naso
  • Chapter 3: Beha’alotcha
  • Chapter 4: Shelach
  • Chapter 5: Korach
  • Chapter 6: Chukat
  • Chapter 7: Balak
  • Chapter 8: Pinchas
  • Chapter 9: Mattot
  • Chapter 10: Masei

The Book of Deuteronomy

  • Chapter 1: Devarim
  • Chapter 2: Va’etchanan
  • Chapter 3: Ekev
  • Chapter 4: Re’eh
  • Chapter 5: Shoftim
  • Chapter 6: Ki Tetzei
  • Chapter 7: Ki Tavo
  • Chapter 8: Nitzavim
  • Chapter 9: Vayelech
  • Chapter 10: Ha’azinu
  • Chapter 11: V’zot Haberachah

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Thursday, November 9, 2023

Review: Gut Health and Fasting for Beginners. Ultimate Guide on How to Use Fasting to Reprogram Your Microbiome. Prevent and Heal Chronic Gastrointestinal Disorders e.g., IBS, Leaky Gut, SIBO, etc.

Gut Health and Fasting for Beginners. Ultimate Guide on How to Use Fasting to Reprogram Your Microbiome. Prevent and Heal Chronic Gastrointestinal Disorders e.g., IBS, Leaky Gut, SIBO, etc. Gut Health and Fasting for Beginners. Ultimate Guide on How to Use Fasting to Reprogram Your Microbiome. Prevent and Heal Chronic Gastrointestinal Disorders e.g., IBS, Leaky Gut, SIBO, etc. by Tina Shelton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book: ****
Performance: ****

This book is available for kindle unlimited and audible; I did both with Alexa reading the ebook for me. The audible version was much easier to follow and pay attention to while I also used the ebook to mark up and take notes in several areas.

This book is one (1) part gut health education and two (2) parts fasting strategies. For the most part, I believe the information covered, while not universally accepted, are probably inline with the general consensus across multiple health and nutrition professionals. The initial review of gut health is well presented and easy to understand. In particular there is an emphasis on diet, exercise and the use of biotics (especially after use of antibiotics). This is important information that many people (especially older generations) may not know or have not understood well and probably goes a long way toward partially explaining the general increase of GI disorders and obesity in the US. This is even more true when the author moves into the benefits and strategies for fasting, supported by a growing number of studies. Most people associate the various fasting programs with anecdotally supported weight lose strategies instead of more general holistic health, so they are often met with increased skepticism; however, as we better understand how our gut works, there does seem to be some support for fasting regardless of any ability to reduce weight (which is only one of eight potential health issues that can be triggered from gut dysbiosis). There are a number of fasting strategies covered and the author does a reasonably well reviewing the how and why for each (including warnings to be on the lookout for).

Chapter 1: The Miracle of the Human Body
Chapter 2: Gut Health
Chapter 3: Understanding Fasting
Chapter 4: Your Gut Health Journey: Actionable Steps
Chapter 5: Let’s Think!
Chapter 6: Into the Science of Fasting
Chapter 7: Case Studies

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#GutHealthAndFastingForBeginners #FreeAudiobookCodes #KindleUnlimited

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Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Review: The Silverblood Promise

The Silverblood Promise The Silverblood Promise by James Logan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first in a series and overall I enjoyed it enough that I just might continue … in a fun, summer leisure sort of way. In fact, this book would be right at home on the rack at the airport convenience store as something to pick up to pass the time and not anything too deep or inspired. In fact, it comes across as a largely mechanical story or a paint-by-the-numbers collections of various tropes that is easy to follow and mostly predictable. That alone is not so bad except for the rather inelegant manner in which they were all stitched together with what might be seen by some as convenient plot armor and poorly disguised deus ex machina ending that doesn’t really with stand even limited scrutiny. However, if read more as pulp fiction, it was more or less satisfying entertainment.

The MC/PPoV is a disgraced young nobleman from a reputable family fallen on hard times who is estranged from his neglectful father. The setup involves Lukan hearing about his father’s murder and him making “The Silverblood Promise” to solve the mystery of who and why by following up on a three (3) word clue written in blood just before he died. I still have no idea what the significant of such a promise is, other than having a fancy name for a solemn vow (with no enforcement outside of personal honor), but it was apparently enough to drag him out of his cups and send him to the city of Saphrona to follow up on the few clues that he has. There he meets up with an 11 year old street urchin/pickpocket who serves his city guide and highlights his very sarcastic nature … and of course, can’t stay on the sidelines while her benefactor is in danger (arguably making Lukan a problematic father figure). 

The supporting characters are fairly shallow caricatures amid a back drop various criminal enterprises as Lukan gets pulled into the local political scene to save the only connection he has to his father … and this in turn drives the best part of the story … the world-building … which was interesting but not particularly complex or unique. First up we get a divided city that is home to former enemies now at peace simply out of exhaustion from the constant wars. The three (3) aristocratic estates come from the powerful merchant houses, the inquisition and the church of the Lady of Shadows (where the Shadows are basically the seven death sins which the Lady holds at bay). Of course there is the expected corruption within each that conspires for even greater power with questionable alliances and motivations. There is the expected criminal underworld run by a mafia style organization (trope) known as the Kindred. And there is a limited amount of sorcery that is either based upon the artifacts left by a vanished race/civilization called the Phaeron or by paired spell casters known as gleamers (perhaps the most interesting aspect of the magic system).

The plot careens through a series of set pieces (tropes) such as a bread and circus style execution, another underground pit challenge, a pseudo prison caper, a secret graveyard meeting, a mad king’s court, and … of course … a heist. In fact, everything moves fairly quickly through each stage in with a vaguely forced introduction that is what gives the story its derivative feel … nothing on this wild ride develops naturally or reasonably … and in fact I found parts to be patently ridiculous … such as the apparent need to get blind drunk on the eave of an important operation that would obviously require top form by each of the participants … with being severely hungover not making any difference what so ever other than showing off the frat boy personality of the MC. Not really a good selling point for me.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#TheSilverbloodPromise #TheLastLegacy #NetGalley

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Sunday, November 5, 2023

Review: Putting God First: Jewish Humanism after Heidegger

Putting God First: Jewish Humanism after Heidegger Putting God First: Jewish Humanism after Heidegger by Alick Isaacs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was a struggle for me. To begin with, I am in no way, shape or form a fan of the typically philosophy texts … most of which hurt my head trying to understand the wordy, sesquipedalian attempts to describe such existential basics such as Why is there air? Here my struggle was aggravated by my lack of familiarity with both German and Hebrew, which served to compound the number of words that had no clear meaning or understanding for me. That is a long winded way to say that this text is not very accessible to the average reader … but if you are a glutton for head games, there are some interesting concepts that you still might be able to tease out here.

The book is divided into four (4) parts, each dedicated to some aspect of Jewish life: Segulah (Being Jewish), Galut (Exile), Churban (Destruction) and Tikkun (Rehabilitation) and how they relate to the the humanism of Nazi existentialists Heidegger (I should have down a deeper dive on this guy as existentialism is my least favorite tradition within philosophy in general). The central concept used is Heidegger’s Dasein (Being) and the various ways to interact with this with an apparently focus and the how and why Dasein hides from itself to permit such evils (corruption) as the Holocaust … and why [zionist] Israel provides an opportunity to purge the “Greek” influences of "Survival and System” (Conformity) that were derived from the Age of Enlightenment from their collective spiritual life. In other words, the author wants to rehabilitate God’s role in politics … and more specially, convince western jews that they need to make their own way with Torah and stop relying upon conforming to Western, humanist ideals.

That is not to say that you won’t find gems within … I especially enjoyed the treatment of Haidt and his moral framework … which I believe I understood okay (more or less). The problem for me is the my near total lack of comprehension with respect to the connecting text between them and how all of this relates to “putting God first.” To use Issacs own words to describe the issue: "Meaning derives not from what the words stand for but from the ways in which we use them.” … When after re-reading several sentences that use a considerable number of terms with which I am unfamiliar enough to miss how they related to each other, I still don’t know what he is trying to say … but I think I can still get the overall gist …

Part I: Segulah
Chapter 1: Tikkun Olam from the Perspective of Segulah
Chapter 2: Sparks of Segulah
Chapter 3: The Psychology of the Rational Self

Part II: Galut
Chapter 4: Structures of Concealment
Chapter 5: Deconstruction and De-con-struction
Chapter 6: Deconstruction as Galut
Chapter 7: The Genealogy of Deconstruction as Galut
Chapter 8: De-con-struction and the Edge of Galut

Part III: Churban
Chapter 9: Heidegger’s Nazism and the Methodology of Chruban
Chapter 10: Concern and the Ontological Meaning of Faith
Chapter 11: The Spaciality of Dasein
Chapter 12: Hiding in Society
Chapter 13: Attunement and the Exilic Absorption of Being in the “They”
Chapter 14: The Temporal Analysis of Dasein

Part IV: Tikkun
Chapter 15: Negating Heidegger from the Perspective of Segulah
Chapter 16: Being-toward-Netzach
Chapter 17: The Space/Time on Inner Torah and the Gateways to Netzach
Chapter 18: The Architecture of Segulah

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:
First, contrary to the principles of post-Enlightenment moral philosophy, Haidt’s psychological analysis calls into question the idea that rational thought can and even should dominate human choices. Second, despite the incredible achievements and benefits of modern science, Kahneman’s research forces us to rethink the basic assumption that rational thought can provide the means for making a moral distinction between truth and untruth. 
Even if there is no evidence to corroborate the claim, the self-generative power of the rumor itself is enough to substantiate it. It becomes so because everybody says so. The “everybody that says so” is what Heidegger refers to as the non-being of the they-self. It is this non-being that maintains its everydayness through idle talk. Idle talk is how everyday Dasein discloses itself in the there and keeps itself sufficiently busy to distract itself from the ennui that would necessarily set in were life any less turbulent.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#PuttingGodFirst #LibraryThing

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Thursday, November 2, 2023

Review: Dragon Tongue

Dragon Tongue Dragon Tongue by Ava Richardson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book: ***
Performance: ****

A Simple YA Dragon Fantasy

A young woman grows up with tales of dragon readers from her Nanna while everyone else knows they are just a myth. That is until Cora meets a dragon face to face and is surprised that she can understand them … sort of. The story is a YA that is fairly par for the genre, so there is little nuance or complexity to the characters; even the plot is pretty straight forward and predictable. And like many teens, Cora can be overly dramatic, whiney and stubborn … traits that lead to several remarkably questionably decisions with consequences most of us could see coming. However, this is the first of the series, so our heroine has a lot of room to grow, World building is solid if somewhat basic. Character development is limited to the MC more or less, with almost basic caricatures of villains (from a teenager perspective at least). Although it follows nearly every dragon rider storyline that I have previously encountered in the broad strokes, there are still a few purposes and interesting twists that combined with a solid narration make this a little better that it would be on its own … and wholesome enough to maybe retain its relative feel good aspect throughout the series. I enjoyed it enough to look at the sequel.

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#DragonTongue #RiseOfTheDragonRiders #FreeAudiobookCodes #KindleUnlimited

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My Ratings Explained ...

  • [ ***** ] Amazing Read - Perfect story, exciting, engrossing, well developed complex characters, solid plot with few to no holes, descriptive environments and place settings, great mystery elements, realistic dialogue, believable reactions and behaviors; a favorite that I can re-read many times.
  • [ **** ] Great Read - Highly entertaining and enjoyable, exciting storyline, well developed characters and settings, a few discrepancies but nothing that can’t be overlooked. Some aspect of the story was new/refreshing to me and/or intriguing. Recommended for everyone.
  • [ *** ] Good Read - Solid story with a 'good' ending, or has some other redeeming feature. Limited character development and/or over reliance on tropes. Noticeable discrepancies in world building and/or dialog/behavior that were distracting. I connected enough with the characters/world to read the entire series. Most of the books I read for fun are here. Recommended for fans of the genre.
  • [ ** ] Okay Read - Suitable for a brief, afternoon escape … flat or shallow characters with little to no development. Over the top character dialog and/or behavior. Poor world building with significant issues and/or mistakes indicating poor research. Excessive use of trivial detail, info dumps and/or pontification. Any issues with the story/characters are offset by some other aspect that I enjoyed. Not very memorable. May only appeal to a niche group of readers. Recommended for some (YMMV).
  • [ * ] Bad Read - Awkward and/or confusing writing style. Poor world building and/or unbelievable (or unlikeable) characters. Victimization, gaslighting, blatant abuse, unnecessary violence, child endangerment, or any other highly objectionable behaviors by Main characters. I didn't connect with the story at all; significant aspects of this story irritated me enough that I struggled to finished it. Series was abandoned. Not recommended.