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

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Review: Labyrinth's Heart

Labyrinth's Heart Labyrinth's Heart by M.A. Carrick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the third book of the Rook & Rose Trilogy that began with the Mask of Mirrors ...

Previous Review of The Mask of Mirrors
Previous Review of The Liar's Knot

The book opens with a review of “The Story So Far” which is fantastic since it has actually been awhile since I read the last book and the world is so complex that it is easy to forget some of the details. And so we pick up the story with Ren, Grey and Vargo trying to figure out how to safely disposed of the medallions that have the power to restore the tyrant’s rule when united and corrupt the holder (and potentially curse the clan/family of that holder) … and the one person who could unravel Ren’s entire deception returns to House Traementis. Of course, no plan survives … well you know. In this case, the return to the city of Ren’s “mother” complicates everything as she threatens to reveal Ren’s secret to her ruination. While that simmers, Ren and friends hatch a plan to ship her and Grey despite their disparate stations. 

Despite all those spinning plates, the book gets off to a slow start as everything settles into a somewhat predictable story. Unfortunately most of the world building is done by now and the story has a little trouble holding my interest with just the characters (with the promise of a conclusion the primary motivation that pulls me through the first half) … and that makes it fairly easy to put down between chapters (so not a quick read). About halfway the pace picks up and the book is once again hard to put down as the story makes good progress to a very satisfying conclusion (with enough surprises and twists to keep the plot fun and the world interesting).

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

#LabyrinthsHeart #Rook&Rose #NetGalley

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Sunday, May 28, 2023

Review: Deconstruct Faith, Discover Jesus: How Questioning Your Religion Can Lead You to a Healthy and Holy God

Deconstruct Faith, Discover Jesus: How Questioning Your Religion Can Lead You to a Healthy and Holy God Deconstruct Faith, Discover Jesus: How Questioning Your Religion Can Lead You to a Healthy and Holy God by Preston Ulmer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some time ago … my cousin asked me if there was anything in my faith that if he were able to prove wrong would break my faith. I took the question seriously and from that point I had a strong understanding of my own core faith. That doesn’t mean that I did not accept traditions outside of that core (of which most christian traditions reside), but that I was open to another way. That was the start of my journey to deconstruct my faith … after which I found myself in the Catholic Church after I reconstructed it. That is a long winded way to say that I can identify with what the author is saying here to some extent … I don’t agree with everything he says and would frequently say it differently (not surprising since he confesses a pentecostal viewpoint); however, he does make an excellent point.

The book is a quick read and mostly on point with minimal repetition. Part one deals with what deconstruction is and why it is good for the faith. This is important because the term deconstruction is not a common term in my faith tradition (restoration or catholic); although it is apparently more common in evangelical traditions where diversity within the pews is not well tolerated. That is not to say that people in other traditions doesn’t experience a crisis in faith … studies show that all the mainline churches are declining the in the US, but that we are using different vocabulary to talk about the same thing. Part One makes sure we are all on the same page. Part two introducing a way to use deconstruction constructively :-) this is also important. When you “blow up” your faith, something needs to fill the gap; here is a healthy approach to do that where the end result is a spirituality that is stronger and better that what you had before. Too many times I have seen people just give up entirely and walk away completely.

Introduction: Saving Deconstruction
Part One: Why Deconstruct
1. Deconstruction Is Part of Our Spiritual Heritage
2. More Questions Than Answers
3. Deconstruction vs Deconversion
4. Deconstruction Is About Authority
5. WWJD? (What Would Jesus Deconstruction?)

Part Two: How to Deconstruct - The FUSE Method
6. F - Find the Specifics
7. U - Understand Where It Came From
8. S - Share the Impact
9. E - Engage with the Remains

Conclusion: A Christianity for Our Kids

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

#DeconstructFaithDiscoverJesus #NetGalley

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Thursday, May 25, 2023

Review: Death at the Diogenes Club

Death at the Diogenes Club Death at the Diogenes Club by Anna Elliott
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Performance: ****
Story: **

Trigger Warnings:  Mass Shooting, Torture

I continue to be impressed with the narration and it remains the best part of this series.  Unfortunately missteps in the story itself get in the way here, so I can’t recommend this specific episode unless you are (like me) a completionist.  The primary issue for me was the strange moral lapse of the main characters in the middle of the story that was completely out of place to the general wholesome tone of the story.  Once that irritation settled, it only increased with each little apparent inconsistency … such as the relatively weak portrayal of Sherlock Holmes himself (yes, I understand the need for others to participate in the plot, but that is not how Sherlock works, so it would have been better for him to remain mostly in the shadows and allow this to be more Lucy’s story).  

For somebody who was so famous for his perception, Sherlock was frequently second on the scene so to speak.  Unlike the previous stories, there was much less international intrigue here as the plot unfolded with a more domestic feel.  The mystery itself was well done if also fairly simple and Lucy’s relationship with her father and Constable Kelly (James) advances satisfactorily.

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

#DeathAtTheDiogenesClub #LucyJamesMysteries #FreeAudiobookCodes #KindleUnlimited

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Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Review: The Liar's Knot

The Liar's Knot The Liar's Knot by M.A. Carrick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second book of the Rook & Rose Trilogy that began with the Mask of Mirrors ...

Previous Review of The Mask of Mirrors

The book starts with a recap of the story so far … and a quick gloss of names and terms to jump start the story (which was greatly appreciated). Then the action picks up immediately following the events of the previous book when the nefarious House Investor fell from grace into obscurity. But that was not the only threat to the fragile balance between the ruling elites and the conquered commons of the city. While there is a little less world-building in this installment, there is still enough to keep the feel of a wonderfully deep and sometimes hidden background that enables the plot to focus more of character and building action toward another awesome conclusion.

We already know the main players: Ren struggles to maintain her con as Alta Renata, despite developing a close emotional attachment to the members of the family that was her mark … making it hard for her to cut her loses when it starts to go south. With her connection to the “Pattern” through her deck of cards, she builds up another persona as a revered “gypsy” fortune teller Arenza among the original conquered people of the city with whom she shares their heritage as the daughter of an outcast … with all of that, the Dream has granted her yet another persona as the “Black Rose” who joins the “Rook” as a vigilante on a mission … which is actually not completely revealed until the end. Then there is Grey … the Vigil officer by day and crusader at night struggling to be true to both. Finally we get Vargo … the crime boss given a noble charter who has surprising secrets of his own … in some respects, this book is Vargo’s story and my initial dislike for him in the first story was completely reversed here as we begin to dig deep into the motivations and intentions of all three (3) of these flawed heroes.

And then we have the cast of wonderful supporting characters to pull on Ren’s loyalties and the readers heart that just made each of the main characters more complex and interesting while providing the ability to tap into both sides of society to give real consequences to nearly every decision. And amongst all of that, the source of the dark corruption within the city is slowly reveals as the intrigue and secrets are stripped away. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed how this story developed and where it ended up; looking forward to the sequel.

#TheLiarsKnot #RookAndRose

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Sunday, May 21, 2023

Review: Isaiah

Isaiah Isaiah by J Gordon McConville
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part of the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament (BCOT), this book presents a commentary on the book of Isaiah as found in the Christian Old Testament (OT) that targets students of the Bible for the purposes of teaching or preaching. In other words, there is an obvious christological lens by which the author conducts his exegesis. The Introduction provides the original context of the text, including scope, related history, general structure, authorship, language & translation challenges, and related theology. Within each part are chapters that almost correspond 1 to 1 with chapters in Isaiah. Each chapter (64+) has an Overview before a discussion about translation and interpretation that walks through each pericope before it finishes with a theological reflection. 

In total you get nearly 800 pages of insight into one of the most influential books of the Old Testament with regards to Christianity. It is also detailed and large enough to make it difficult to read straight through; however, you still get a lot if you just read the overviews and reflections before coming back to the translation and interpretations sections for a deeper understanding. However, this is Not an academic book focused on engaging scholars and theologians; so you will find the analysis written in language more accessible to students providing just enough depth to support the viewpoint presented (so there really isn’t much exploration of contemporary debate or controversy). Over all, this is a great book to have to unlock a better understanding of the Christian New Testament.

Part One: Yahweh’s Vision for a Renewed Jerusalem (1:1 - 12:6)
Part Two: Oracles about the Nations (13:1 - 27:13)
Part Three: True and False Trust (28:1 - 35:10)
Part Four: A Miraculous Deliverance of Jerusalem (36:1 - 39:8)
Part Five: Cyrus, the Servant, and the Redemption of Zion/Jerusalem (40:1 - 55:13)
Part Six: The True Character of Glorified Zion/Jerusalem (56:1 - 66:24)

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

#Isaiah #NetGalley

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Thursday, May 18, 2023

Review: The Jubilee Problem

The Jubilee Problem The Jubilee Problem by Anna Elliott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Performance: ****
Story: ***

Another Fantastic Addition to the [Pseudo]Canon

First and foremost I really liked the paired narration by PoV (John Watson and Lucy).  The over all performance was fantastic and makes a good mystery adventure story much better (you can also get the book on kindle unlimited and have Alexa read it, but I think the audible narration is worth the premium).  This is my 5th Lucy Mystery, so I am obviously a fan of the series ...

The story builds on the idea that a gathering of elites for the Queen’s Jubilee celebration makes a very tempting target for international intrigue (with a presumed nod to Guy Fox and the Gun Power Plot).  Rather than just stumbling into the mystery this time, Lucy, as Sherlocks previously unknown daughter, is recruited by the powers that be to help with uncovering the plot.  Like many of the Lucy stories, there is a mystery man along with the expected misdirections and betrayals.  While you could read these little adventures in any order, there are some developing themes that work better when read in order … not the least of which is the developing relationship of Lucy with Jack and Becky that was surprisingly sweet.  However, the mystery portion may not work for hard core Sherlock fans as he as his prodigious perceptions stay pretty much in the background (so this is actually similar to the Enola Holmes movies that I also find very enjoyable).

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

#TheJubileeProblem #LucyJamesMysteries #FreeAudiobookCodes #KindleUnlimited

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Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Review: Foundryside

Foundryside Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is no authority outside the four (4) merchant house campos. While each house maintains order within their owns borders with magic and house guards, the city commons is a dystopian world where anything goes and it is a struggle to survive … and it is the author’s take on magic that was so intriguing for me. Magic effects are based upon inscribing sigils on objects that referenced a collection of reality definitions and/or arguments hold within a lexicon. There was a time in the distinct passed where the entire [angelic] language of reality was known and used by hierophants … and the war they fought nearly destroyed everything. Now the [magic] foundries of each merchant house tries to rediscover and add these sigils to the lexicons that “define" control what magic is still working. This allows objects that are within range of these immovable lexicons to be inscribed with sigils that alter the reality for that object … so example … if you convince a wheel that it is always rolling down hill, you get horseless carriages. Change the definition/argument to convince the wheel it is on flat ground and it stops … etc. I absolutely love the world building here.

Sancia is a thief with a mysterious past that is just trying to survive in the commons when a job goes sideways forcing her to run for her life with the stolen artifact still in her grubby hands. In short order, her network of contacts is burned to the ground as the hunters take out everybody who knows anything about her prize. Her only advantage is that she can actually hear the scrived objects used by the enhanced house guards hunting her. Gregor is a house scion with a dream of bring order to the commons … and joins the hunt to find the reason behind the increased chaos in the commons that threatens his dream of a new world order … and Gregor’s past is nearly as mysterious as Sancia’s. But there is a much darker scheme afoot and it can only be thwarted if the two can figure out how to work together. So we get a good balance of action, heist planning, secrets and character interaction that works well to pull you through the story despite a few info dumps to explain the historical context or magical effects.

#Foundryside #TheFounders

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Sunday, May 14, 2023

Review: Engaging the Old Testament: How to Read Biblical Narrative, Poetry, and Prophecy Well

Engaging the Old Testament: How to Read Biblical Narrative, Poetry, and Prophecy Well Engaging the Old Testament: How to Read Biblical Narrative, Poetry, and Prophecy Well by Dominick S. Hernández
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are a lot of approaches to reading the Old Testament and all of them have their limits. As a collection of text within a variety of genres and translated from a different language and culture, it is fairly easy to mistake the intended message of the original scribe, especially when you break in down into small pericopes that are divorced of the surrounding context and inserted directly into today’s culture. Engaging the Old Testament goes in the other direction, suggesting a holistic reading of each text in order to recover the original context and message as interpreted by the original audience.

The book begins with instruction on How to read the Old Testament; which is to be humble and open to new interpretations as well as a commitment to reading the whole text as the original redactor intended in order to be how each part interacts with each other. “We cannot dismiss or evade any part of these texts for any reason and are compelled to engage with them as we would the New Testament.” This can be challenging when faced with particularly difficult stories involving violence et al where the temptation to gloss over or even ignore seems counter to the Christian understanding of a Loving God. In other words, there is still an important message in there and the ignored text is important to teasing that out and understanding the whole. The last 2/3rds of the book provides several solid examples of how this works; the only caveat being the presumption or mental framework (aka bias) that would help resolve the intentional tension created by the text and unlock the complete message. For me the key is my understanding of a loving Creator and an intentional plan for reconciling a fallen world to Himself (YMMV).

1. What’s the Old Testament “God” to Do with Me?
2. The Commitment to Really Reading
3. From Talking Tablets to Tabernacle to Today
4. Reading from Today Back to the Text
5. The Confessions of a Close Reader
6. How the Old Testament is Told: Narrative
7. Learning to Love the Law
8. Seeds of Remembrance
9. Redeeming Rahab the Conqueror
10. Why Is the Book of Judges So Weird?
11. Hannah and Ruth: Mothers of the Monarchy
12. King David’s True Legacy
13. Divided Allegiances to Divided Kingdom: The Tragedy of King Solomon
14. How Biblical Poets Wrote Poetry: The Importance of Parallelism
15. How Biblical Poets Wrote Poetry: The Proliferation of Metaphors
16. Metaphors and Retributive Justice in the Poetry of Job
17. How Prophets Prophesy
18. How Engage Poetic Prophecy
19. Who Is Isaiah’s Suffering Servant?

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

#EngagingtheOldTestament #NetGalley

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Thursday, May 11, 2023

Review: The Secret Adversary

The Secret Adversary The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Performance: ****
Story: ***

A Fun Mystery From a Master

A solid 7+ hour narration for a decent cast of characters involved in a mystery along with a dash of political espionage. This is my first read of the Tommy and Tuppence Mysteries and I very much enjoyed the young protagonists as they are drawn into a growing plot to topple governments following the First World War. The key hinges on finding a young American woman who disappeared in London after surviving the sinking of the Lusitania. Like most in the genre, the plot at the center of everything was a bit of a stretch, but didn’t detract so much that I could not enjoy the story. As T & T stumble toward revealing the secret plot being directed by a mysterious Mr Brown, you get the typical reversals of fortune, red herrings, and surprising betrayals (if you aren’t paying attention … there are enough clues to guess a fair amount before it was revealed). All in all … although some may find this one of the weaker mysteries from Agatha Christie, the audible performance pulls it up to be a fun introduction.

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

#TheSecretAdversary #FreeAudiobookCodes

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Review: Moon Knight: Age of Anubis: A Marvel: Multiverse Missions Adventure Gamebook

Moon Knight: Age of Anubis: A Marvel: Multiverse Missions Adventure Gamebook Moon Knight: Age of Anubis: A Marvel: Multiverse Missions Adventure Gamebook by Johnathan Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an adventure gamecock based on the Marvel Character Moon Knight where you (the reader) team up to stop a rampaging mummy and the plague it brings to NYC (with a few other mythological encountered on the way) … I haven’t don’t one of these for so long that it gets +1 just for nostalgia. The only downside here is that you have to keep track of stats, objects, boons and achievements on a separate piece of paper to play this game right (and you need two 6 sided dice), so it is not just choosing options (so replayability is good +1). And of course you are playing alongside a superhero in NYC. There are 300 scenes to piece together with 15 possible endings and only 4 ways to win (so there are a lot fo dumb ways to die). I played through a few scenarios (win/loss 1:2 … die rolls were horrible) and had fun each time (+1). The storyline was interesting and fast paced (if not particularly detailed). There is an added advantage with reading on an ebook/kindle because the links to jump to the next part of the adventure are right there with the options (so you don’t have to fumble back and forth for the pages). YMMV (it's meant to be a cheesy comic book type story), but I am giving this one two thumbs up!

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

#AgeOfAnubis #MoonKnight #NetGalley

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Sunday, May 7, 2023

Review: Ordinary Discipleship: How God Wires Us for the Adventure of Transformation

Ordinary Discipleship: How God Wires Us for the Adventure of Transformation Ordinary Discipleship: How God Wires Us for the Adventure of Transformation by Jessie Cruickshank
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I struggled with the book; however, I believe that was primarily because of the differences between my own experiences and interpretations sources against what was presented in the book, that it was difficult to connect to the material. Perhaps to most significance would be the decision to hand discipleship and disciple-making to Dr Campbell’s Hero’s Journey myth; of which I am actually a huge fan, but my understanding of what it is and how it is used seem to be at odds with how the author uses it. It would have worked better for me to simply acknowledge an inspiration before changing the name (eg. Disciple’s Journey) and steps involved (instead of just the latter). An example of a smaller irritant would be the brief discussion about iron “folding" and creating something from the inside out. While I am pretty sure the author meant steel, that type of oversight is distracting for somebody with a material science background. Despite my issues and reservations, the material as presented is generally solid.

This is meant to be consumed as a physical book; layout is a huge part of the presentation with calls-outs and lists liberally distributed throughout the book. In addition, each chapter provides a space for journaling at the end. There are nine (9) chapters with the first introducing the journey steps and the last restating them in review. The intervening chapters are each dedicated to a specific step on the journey. Each chapter opens with a Bible verse, a personal experience, a discussion with call outs for “Personal Reflections” and “Disciplemaker Pro Tips” before ending with discussion questions and journal space/inventory. In addition, the author uses bulleted list to great effect in summarizing many of the concepts covered (making it a very practical guide for discipleship). Overall this gives the whole book a very polished and professional feel (there will also be some additional artifacts available on the associated website, that is currently focused on marketing).

1. Experience the Journey
2. An Ordinary Person
3. Answers the Call
4. Teams with Others
5. Learns New Things
6. Feels the Struggle
7. Experiences Revelation
8. Lives Changed
9. Discerns the Season

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

#OrdinaryDiscipleship #NetGalley

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Thursday, May 4, 2023

Review: A Reluctant Druid

A Reluctant Druid A Reluctant Druid by Jon R. Osborne
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Performance: ****
Story: **

This is basically 10 hours of info dumping a mashup of various esoteric traditions and mythologies (which was actually well researched and interesting so I gutted through it instead of marking it DNF).  Way too much course language and pseudo erotica for me (YMMV) and the basic plot was very mechanical and derivative without adding much to the overall entertainment value.  Over all this comes across as a Pagan Fantasy where stereotypes pretty much dictate how the judeo-christian antagonists are portrayed and the good guys are free loving naturalists from the 60's (aka hippies).  However, the narration was decent and I am a fan of the genre over all with some of the obvious inspirations on my favorites shelf ...  so I am rounding UP!  And I doubt I will continue the series.

#AReluctantDruid #FreeAudiobookCodes #KindleUnlimited

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Review: True Winter

True Winter True Winter by Q.K. Petty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love the premise … a secret organization (The House of David) that travels the world to collect powerful artifacts in order to sequester them away in some “warehouse” in order to protect us all from the people that would abuse them (yes … I know it has been done before but I still love the concept). The twist here is that there is a counter organization that works toward free access to these same artifacts despite the danger (aka caveat emptor). The House is organized with an absolute head of house that priorities and assigns tasks and goals for the org. Four (4) Tennins armed with weapons of Archangels. Twelve (12) Judges imbued with splinters of the cross (aka Fingers of God) that grants them superhuman abilities … with each Judge training an Acolyte. And various support elements such as clean up crews in the background. Seditio, the opposing organization, is more nebulous and apparently run by a mysterious Mary with a psycho-terrorist second known as Whiteface.

The book opens with a mission to retrieve the “Chains of Peter” in Mobile AL; after which we see a flash back to the MC’s (Eden Dowler aka The Grim Reaper) first mission to retrieve the “Blood of Mary,” both of which are deadly to the unworthy/impure. This pretty much sets the [fast] pace for the first half of the book as the House attempts to retrieve the Aegis of Zeus and the Sword of Joan of Arc before the story turns extremely (and somewhat unexpectedly) dark for the last half of the book. By the end you see something of a personality switch between Eden and his acolyte Orion (which quite frankly was not done that well). There are a few twists and turns, much of which is signaled ahead of time if you are paying attention, until we get to the tragic end with a hint of things to come (it is a series after all).

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

#TrueWinter #FourSeasons #NetGalley

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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.