A Tribute to Ghost (not book related)

“Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the center of their universe. We are the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made.

Roger Caras

I have lost many pets throughout my life. As an adult, with my own family, we just lost the first dog. My 10 year old Husky/Great Pyrenees named Ghost passed away unexpectedly. We expected it within the foreseeable future, but not as quickly as it happened. We were having a family movie night when I noticed she didn’t come into the room. Ghost and my other dog, Khaleesi, always need(ed) to be where the family was and Ghost would snuggle up on her dog bed and snore. I gave her a hug and tried to lead her into the room but she wouldn’t budge. I told my husband that I thought she was acting off. Later she came in on her own. The next day, as we were about to attend my grandmother-in-law’s memorial, we noticed that Ghost had collapsed behind me and was laying in a pile of her own pee. We took her to the emergency vet that day and they gave us some pain medicine, a tentative cancer diagnosis, and set us up with a specialist to do some further tests two days later. The following day she was wobbling and her legs gave out as I helped her to her dog bed, where she began breathing really hard. I knew then that she was ready to go. Alex and I rushed her to the emergency vet and as we brought her in, she passed away. It was traumatizing and at the same time, comforting knowing we were with her as she passed.

I am writing this blog because there’s something in me that needs to write down my thoughts when I am grieving. At times I almost feel silly for how deeply this has affected me. As an adult, I have experienced people close to me dying, and I never feel bad about the grieving process. I shouldn’t feel silly about grieving for our pet, our family. I wake up in the morning, ready to let her out and get her food for her. I’m not used to not being woken up by a whine or a nose nudge, as Ghost had always been ready for food before the alarm went off. I see an empty food bowl and I feel melodramatic as I pick it up and wonder what to do with it. I think of the bags of dog food in our pantry that Khaleesi can’t eat, as she’s a diabetic. I look at her dog bed and wonder if I should try to get Khaleesi used to it or move it around to a new spot. I look at everything that belongs to her, feel pain and am keenly aware of any part of my routine that she’s missing from. It hurts. Dogs rely on us so much that there’s a glaring hole when they’re gone. Every part of my day feels wrong.

Watching a living thing pass from this world isn’t easy. I’ve been with relatives as they’ve passed and pets. Death isn’t glamorous. There’s noises and facial expressions that will haunt you whenever you think on it. I think of how I should have let her have one of my fries earlier in the day, how I should have given her an amazing last meal. I think of all the things I would have done if I had known she was going to leave us that day. Did she know how much I loved her? I hope so.

I just feel desperately sad. This year has not been very good to us. But I also try to remember that Ghost lived a good life with us. Not every animal has that, unfortunately. I remember that she went on long trips to the cottage with us, to Traverse City, state parks, on the boat. She looooved going on the boat or sitting by the campfire, even though we had to watch her tail to make sure she didn’t catch fire with that cotton-like fur. She smiled, truly smiled, constantly. She skipped like a pup whenever she heard us say “Walk” or “Up North” and eagerly awaited the click of the leash onto her collar. She’d scare you with an abrupt, loud bark whenever you were petting Khaleesi and she felt she deserved attention too. Ghost would sit behind me while I did my make up, outside of the bathroom while I showered, next to the hammock while I read. She got puppy ice creams and peanut butter cakes on her birthday, and she was known to sneak behind our backs while we sat around the campfire to take a slurp from our White Russians (don’t worry, we stopped her when we noticed). She only got on the furniture when her bones were really aching, so we always let her in those moments. When I was sad or needed a moment to unwind, I would rest my forehead against hers and she’d close her eyes and soak in that moment where it was just the two of us. She turned heads everywhere, people delighted in seeing her wolf-like prowl, wanted to pet her lush fur.

We were truly lucky and I like to think she lived a great life with us. I don’t know when the sadness I feel will fade but I feel fortunate to know the love of a dog.

All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed.
For after all, he was only human. He wasn’t a dog.

Charles M. Schulz

The Dragon Reborn (WoT #3): A Review

“We rode on the winds of the rising storm,
We ran to the sounds of the thunder.
We danced among the lightning bolts,
and tore the world asunder.”

I thiiiink The Dragon Reborn might be my favorite read thus far in the Wheel of Time series. Do you know why I think that is? Less Rand. Rand is boooooooooooring compared to the other characters so far. I’ve said it before, but I really feel like Robert Jordan forgot to give him a discerning personality because he was so concerned with making him The Chosen One.

“The only people I ever met who were sensible all the time were so boring that watching them could put you to sleep.”

On the other hand, Perrin really takes root in this installment. We get more insight in his wolf bond (I go crazy for a good wolf bond), and he starts to really take a stance and stick up for himself and others. We get a lot of Mat in this one as well. Mat has the funniest inner dialogue and he isn’t afraid to be who he is. I love the way that he acknowledges a woman he’s attracted to by thinking, “I’d ask HER for a dance.” It makes me laugh every time. Also, Perrin, Rand, and Mat are all pretty different but they all have a sense of humility about them. Even the confidence that Mat exudes has a shadow of humbleness to it. They are all always thinking how good the other two are with women and it cracks me up (since none of them are particularly GREAT with women even though many fawn over Rand, of all people).

The magic steps up a notch in this, too. The dreamworld makes it a bit hard to tell what is reality and what is truth, which I think adds to the stories as much as it can confuse it. If it is confusing the reader, we can definitely understand how it might muddle the characters. Also, the women are underrated in this series. They’re all badasses and capable of taking care of themselves, though they need a little help here and there. Egwene especially furthers her instruction and abilities. Her future starts taking solid form. There’s so much power flowing through all of the characters in this book.

“Kill a man who needs killing, and sometimes others pay for it. The question is, was it worth doing it anyway? There’s always a balance, you know. Good and evil. Light and Shadow. We would not be human if there wasn’t a balance.”

Unfortunately, Jordan still falls victim to being overly verbose at times. The imagery is beautiful but too much of a good thing can spoil the whole pot, eh? In this installment, it isn’t nearly as bad. I don’t think he’d make it in the modern age without taking the advice of a good editor, but times were different and fantasy was less plentiful. Though the books are long, not THAT much happens in them. Lots of action that I’m sure will build to a larger story, but we shall see.

Speaking of action, I DO enjoy the battle scenes immensely. Seeing Perrin fight amongst the wolves was amazing. The dream fighting and seeking was nerve wracking. These are the moments that I find I can truly submerse myself in this world.

Overall, I’m enjoying my journey. It’s a fun series! So far, I wouldn’t rate it in the best I’ve ever read, but that may change. I hear the next book really helps solidify it as THE Wheel of Time.

“Just because fate has chosen something for you instead of you choosing it for yourself doesn’t mean it has to be bad. Even if it’s something you are sure you would never have chosen in a hundred years. ‘Better ten days of love than years of regretting,’ she quoted.”

The Way of Kings Reread and Review

“The means by which we achieve victory are as important as the victory itself.”

It’s that time of year. Brandon Sanderson is releasing Rhythm of War next month and it is time to refresh my mind. These are behemoth novels and a reread gives me a reason to write an official review. So here we go, The Way of Kings book one of The Stormlight Archive. Get ready for a lot of quote action.

Sanderson writes fantasy that is rife with death and destruction, but the tones manages to stay hopeful and uplifting. You know that people will die, battles will be fought, but we never feel like doom is inevitable. Whatever the opposite of grimdark is, Sanderson is that. I guess he reminds me of Robert Jordan in that sense. There’s good and bad but the bad doesn’t constantly overwhelm the good. It’s just has this vibe of wholesome reading, which is wild to say because Sanderson doesn’t shy from killing off our favorites. Stormlight is definitely some of the darkest reading you’ll get from Sanderson. Especially as the story progresses, we get more layers of this very emotive storytelling that will wrench your heart in two. I ended this novel with tears streaming down my eyes, even though I’ve read it many times. Sanderson always knows how to pack a punch in the last 20% or so of his books.

“Was there no hope for men? They killed those they should have loved. What good was it to fight, what good was it to win, if there was no difference between ally and enemy? What was victory? Meaningless. What did the deaths of Kaladin’s friends and colleagues mean? Nothing. The entire world was a pustule, sickeningly green and infested with corruption.”

If Rothfuss is the lyrical prose King and Hobb is the emotional storytelling Queen, then Sanderson is the Worldbuilding Wizard. Nobody builds a world like him. The fact that Sanderson can create these awe-inspiring worlds and these intricate magic systems while consistently putting out multiple books a year simply makes him a genius. I die for eloquently written fantasy. Though Sanderson has his eloquent moments, that’s not what I associate him with, he is all about the experience of being in his world. It is immersive and unique. His story arcs for Stormlight are especially gratifying and wondrous. I know whenever I’m in a book slump that Sanderson will cure it. I never struggle with his books.

“Just because I do not accept the teachings of the devotaries does not mean I’ve discarded a belief in right and wrong.” “But the Almighty determines what is right!” “Must someone, some unseen thing, declare what is right for it to be right? I believe that my own morality — which answers only to my heart — is more sure and true than the morality of those who do right only because they fear retribution.”

Sanderson, being a deeply religious person, often has themes of religion in his books. He is always having his characters question religion, defend religion, lose faith, regain it. Being the exact opposite of a deeply religious person, I have never felt like Sanderson is preaching at me through his work. That can really turn me off from a an author. He supplies questions and seems to understand wholeheartedly why others can’t take solace in faith, but he also showcases why many people do. It seems as if he has a deep respect for people of all mindsets. The smartest person in this series has no faith, while some of the most terrible people in here have faith. Some of the best people in here have complete faith while others are more shaky. God(s) play a huge role in this series. Sanderson’s novels are all about humanity coming together to defeat evil plaguing the world. It’s about honorable people standing up to destructive forces, taking in those with apprehension and honing their unique skills for the common good.

“Somebody has to start, son. Somebody has to step forward and do what is right, because it is right. If nobody starts, then others cannot follow.”

Speaking of characters, Shallan starts off rather irritating. Her “witty” retorts seem forced. Sanderson falls prone to his famous dad jokes in this one, where he (and in turn, Shallan) seems rather self-satisfied with her cleverness. Thankfully as the series goes on, I know this tones down and I end up really liking Shallan. I will say, I loved her defense of herself to Jasnah. It takes a lot to do this as Jasnah is rather intimidating and formidable. Jasnah is one of my favorite characters and she’s intelligent without trying, important without peacocking. Shallan has always fought to prove her worth, as a result of her childhood, and she it comes off as her being a show off. I think that contrast of her with Jasnah shows how young she really is. The irritation I feel with Shallan’s personality dims when I think of her circumstances.

“I will protect those who cannot protect themselves,” he whispered.

Kaladin’s story starts off with such force. It immediately pulls me in and his journey unwraps layer by layer, in heartbreaking but captivating bursts. Sanderson was like, hey how much can I DEVASTATE the readers while keeping them invested in the story when it comes to him. Luckily, Kaladin is so honorable that it is easy to want to continue his story. He’s truly as honorable as they come. Dalinar and Adolin are lovely additions as well. Dalinar is older and wise, his honor stemming from years of experience and regret. I couldn’t help but think of Hamilton’s “Ten Duel Commandments” while he was drawing his Shardblade. Adolin has a sense of honor deeply imbedded as a result of his father’s guidance, though he keeps a streak of confidence (which can veer into cockiness) that offsets his humble moments.

“A man’s emotions are what define him and control is the hallmark of true strength. To lack feeling is to be dead, but to act on every feeling is to be a child.”

Tarvangian is one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever come across. There’s so much more to him that originally meets the eye. Same with Wit. These two characters are done splendidly and this is only the beginning. I won’t say more, as it will only spoil the journey.

“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon. Too often, we forget that.”

Finally, the magic systems and societal norms. Obviously, there’s shardblades, shardplates, the Knight’s Radiants. You’ll learn about those quickly but also in pieces. There’s a lot to unpack with the magic system here. Also, Sanderson feeds us the barest hint of the Old Magic in this installment and the people that have sought it, and it’s truly woven into the story exquisitely. Every paragraph you read in this series hums with the bits and pieces of this magic system, revealing itself at every turn, of the Cosmere, of the rise and fall of civilizations. It’s breathtaking and a lot to wrap your head around. The societal norms are so funny and shed a bit of insight on how ridiculous our ideas of modesty can be. The pinnacle of modesty is whatever has been passed down through generations. Women in this series clothe and hide their “safehand” aka their left hand as a form of social propriety. It is very scandalous if a man sees your safehand. As ridiculous as it sounds… cultural norms are what we make them. Also, systemic bias is heavily employed in this series. The people with Light Eyes get treated better, more satisfactory living, higher wages, and outstanding opportunities. Reversely, Dark Eyes are treated poorly, given low paying labor jobs, put in camps that almost positively ensure their deaths, aren’t privy to the same opportunities as Light Eyes. Sanderson manages to nod his head at all of these social issues that are conducive to real life (if you extend the thoughts to where they are due) while keeping you immersed in the story. It doesn’t feel like Sanderson is pushing and political or moral views on you but he uses his novel to expose oddities in our real life. Why should a person’s eye color determine their worth? Skin color? Heritage?

Well, that’s enough blathering from me. This series is awesome, to the deepest connotation that the word applies to. No doubt it will go down as one of the greatest fantasy series of all time. This is Sanderson’s “BIG ONE” and though I believe ten novels are scheduled, you can tell from the first few that we are in deep. The Way of Kings is just dipping a toe into the Cosmere, into The Stormlight Archive. Enjoy! Savour it.

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The Great Hunt (WoT #2): A Review

“Death is lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain. So many duties.”

Here I am, slowly chugging along in The Wheel of Time with my friends Ambrine and Nahid. I just finished The Great Hunt and I enjoyed it a lot more than book one. Speaking of chugging, a drinking game for every time you hear “The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills” or any close variant of it would definitely get you a bit toasty. Jordan is a fan of repetition, if nothing else.

The Great Hunt kept a good pace throughout the whole book, unlike Eye of the World, where pacing was slow and the journey between all of these characters dragged for ages. I still maintain that Rand is about the least exciting character in the bunch, but maybe that will change. Like… if he wasn’t the Chosen One, I would probably not care about him at all. Perrin’s got the badass wolf bond, Loial has those charismatic ears that convey his emotions, Mat is full of fire, Nynaeve is a badass, Elayne is strong royalty, Min sees future paths. I don’t really have anything specific to say about Egwene, but I did enjoy her arc in this novel, it provided a bit of nail-biting conflict. Rand is supposed to be super powerful but he’s kind of just BLAND in personality. Maybe that will change. Towards the end of the novel, I started warming to him a bit, so there’s still hope.

Honestly, I loved the girls’ storylines throughout this. I mean, the first half of the book kept a decent pace, but the second half really soared for me. For the first time, I found myself eager to return to this series. I liked seeing their Aes Sedai training, though I know some other readers loathed that. Seeing the process of damane being forcefully created was super interesting, as well.

“The best of men are not much better than housebroken.” Nynaeve paused, and added half to herself, “But then, the best of them are worth the trouble of housebreaking.”

I feel like I’m finally starting to get a hang of what everything is. Aes Sedai and their rankings, Forsaken, Dark Friends, Ogier, Trollocs, etc. The world the Jordan built is really intensive and it takes a while to navigate the characters and regions but it becomes immensely enjoyable once you do. I’ve found that I don’t quite care for the dry tone of classic fantasy in the likes of Tolkien, but this bridge between classic fantasy and modern fantasy that Jordan seems to provide in the second book is more my style. The first book felt more info-dumpy and dragged, where this book felt like it started advancing the plot and characterization. I would agree with the sentiment that Eye of the World felt like Jordan was trying to be like other successful fantasy authors, The Great Hunt is where he starts being himself.

I am actually pretty excited to move forward! I think the slow pacing of one every month or so, in addition to other reads, will keep me from burning out on this series. I would give The Great Hunt a 4/5 stars!

“There is one rule, above all others, for being a man. Whatever comes, face it on your feet. Now, are you ready?”

Lords of the North: A Review

“Because fate cannot be cheated, it governs us, and we are all its slaves.”

I’ve continued on my journey with Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories by reading Lords of the North. This will also be my first read for Alex’s (Spells and Spaceships) Norsevember event, which is taking place from now until the end of November, though the bulk will obviously take place then.

If you’re unfamiliar with The Saxon Stories, maybe you’ve heard of The Last Kingdom on Netflix. This is what that is based on. I didn’t do blog reviews for the first two installments (The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horsemen), although I loved them and rated them both 4 stars. Lords of the North is a 5 star read for me.

“And yet I knew it was not my fate to be king. I have known many kings and their lives are not all silver, feasting, and women…

I wanted the silver, the feasting, and the women, but those I could have without a throne.”

As with the first two books, we follow Uhtred, who was born a Saxon but raised a Dane. He continues to straddle this line, affecting Dane mannerisms and beliefs while fighting for the Saxon cause under Alfred. Cornwell’s way if writing witty banter and humor that endears us to Uhtred. What I absolutely loved about this book is that we are finally introduced to Sihtric and Finan aka THE SQUAD. Uhtred is an amazing character because he inspires belief and loyalty from those around him. He is flawed and he is about his honor, but he is never intentionally cruel. He lives and dies by his oaths and does not make them lightly. This gets him into quite the conundrum now and again, as he’s often put into battle against people he cares about. He could rule if he wanted to, but he doesn’t. People seem to be blind to the fact that he doesn’t want to rule, so they are often wary of his charisma.

“Oaths can be broken,” he said quietly, and that was true, but in a world where different gods ruled and fate is known only to the three spinners, oaths are our one certainty. If I broke an oath then I could not expect men to keep their oaths to me. That I had learned.”

This installment had so much action, so much emotion, so much more depth. We are introduced to the slave king, Guthred, who is silly and boyish. I felt much more of a connection with him than I did in the show. He is very likeable and we get a good amount of time with him. Gisela is flawed in this book but Uhtred is drawn to her, nonetheless. Sihtric and Finan get more in-depth with their storylines and I loved reading about their roots. Finan is true and strong, always jesting, and his time with Uhtred makes him as loyal as they come. If you haven’t read this book or watched the show, I won’t ruin how they meet but though it is heart-aching, it plants that deep seed of friendship that cannot be broken. We get moments with Ragnar, Brida, and even Thyra, which speaking of heartache, Thyra’s storyline is the embodiment of that.

“Finan the Agile, he had been called, and I watched, astonished, as he leaped ahead of both Guthred and Rollo and took on the three men alone, and his two swords were as fast as a viper’s strike.”

Cornwell can pack a punch while keeping his books relatively short. He covers many events over a period of time, but it never feels rushed. There are moments without a lot of dialogue, but they always serve the plot. This is one of the finest works of historical fiction I’ve read. It almost feels like fantasy because of how outlandish some of these events read, but they are very true to life in that time. Uhtred may be fictional, but most of these characters are very real. He serves to bring together the storyline of the Danes and the Saxons, to get us in both of their mindsets. I love how he draws the juxtaposition of the Danes and Saxons when it comes to faith and honor. They both care about these things, but in different orders. The Danes are all about personal and familial honor, and they will dine in the halls of Valhalla by fighting, avenging themselves and their families. They pay homage to their Gods by living life for themselves and taking care of their family. The Saxons do everything to serve their God and their faith, and they expect everyone to serve God first. There were a few offhanded remarks about how the church takes money to serve God, and how they are willing to forgive things they normally condemn for a bit of silver. This book and series in general offers a lot of questions about faith and organized religion. The Danes worship in their own way compared to the organized fashion that The Saxons do, but is either wrong? They both kill, pillage, and wage war, but they do so under different premises. The Saxons do it to unite England under one God, and the Danes do it for honor, to make Odin proud. In actuality, they are pretty similar, though they don’t see it. The Saxons think they are civilized because they have faith in a Christian God, the Danes think they are civilized because they have faith in themselves. I also think it is funny that we often think of Danes or Vikings as barbaric, but they did things like bathe more often than the Saxons (who didn’t bathe often as they believed the cold water would kill them) because they were more in tune with the elements and how to survive. The Saxons are more reserved in their emotions where the Danes wear their emotions in their sleeves. Obviously, we see where history landed them both, but these novels show how easily we could have had a different way of life because of the fights of these two peoples. Everything could have been different if even one or two battles had gone differently.

“The other thing I like about our gods is that they are not obsessed with us. They have their own squabbles and love affairs and seem to ignore us much of the time, but the Christian god has nothing better to do than to make rules for us. He makes rules, more rules, prohibitions and commandments, and he needs hundreds of black-robed priests and monks to make sure we obey those laws. He strikes me as a very grumpy god, that one, even though his priests are forever claiming that he loves us. I have never been so stupid as to think that Thor or Odin or Hoder loved me, though I hope at times they have thought me worthy of them.”

This series is phenomenal and I highly recommend to anyone that likes historical fiction or fantasy. Though it isn’t fantasy, it has a lot of elements that make people love western fantasy specifically.

If you have any Norse inspired reads for Norsevember, let me know!

Homemade Roasted Garlic and Chunky Potato Leek soup

Hey all! I’ve decide to share some recipes here and there and figured it would be fun to pair them with my favorite books. I paired my take on potato leek soup with The Name of the Wind! I could just see the Edema Ruh (a traveling troupe, for those that haven’t read it) sitting around their wagons with a pot of this bubbling over the fire. Perfect for fall! Especially since Kvothe used to go forage in the forest to give his parents some *ahem* alone time. Leeks, potatoes, some broth, and a few extra ingredients and you’re all set. Even better, you can make this vegan or vegetarian very easily by omitting the cream and butter, and substituting the chicken broth for veggie broth! Most Potato Leek soups are purées but I like the texture of some chunky potatoes and sautéed leeks in mine.

Ingredients (will make about 6 bowls, feel free to double if you want more):

•4-5 large leeks, roughly chopped

•1 head of elephant garlic

•6 cups or about 2 lbs of roughly diced potatoes (about one inch pieces or less)

•9 cups of chicken broth (or vegetable broth)

•1/4 cup of heavy cream

*2 sprigs of fresh thyme

•2 bay leaves

•1/4 teaspoon of ground sage

•dash of celery salt (ok to omit if you don’t have)

•tablespoon of butter

•drizzle of olive oil

Step one: Cut head off the bulb of garlic, drizzle with olive oil and kosher salt. Wrap in foil and cook at 350 degrees in the oven for about 45-50 mins. While it is cooking, proceed with the rest of the process.

Step two: Sautée the leeks in butter in a large pot until browned. Reserve half and put those ones in blender (don’t blend yet).

Step three: add 7 cups of broth, potatoes, bay leaves, and thyme to the pot with the remaining leeks. Bring to a boil and boil for about 15 mins or until potatoes are soft. Take about a cup and a half of the softened potatoes and add to blender. At this point, garlic should be about done. Take half of roasted garlic for the blender, mash the rest and put in the pot.

Step four: add remaining cups of cold broth to the blender. Blend. While that is happening, take out the thyme stems from the pot. Feel free to remove the bay leaves if they bug you too. Once puréed, mix the purée into the pot. Add the heavy cream. Add sage and celery salt. Bring to a boil once more and then let simmer for at least twenty minutes. It’s even better if you leave it to simmer and thicken for an hour or so. If it isn’t as thick as you like, add cornstarch mixed with cold broth or water. Tastes even better the next day! Add salt and pepper to taste before serving.

Tip: if you don’t want to use cream, make more purée by using extra potatoes and broth. Also, I love topping with Ritz crackers because they go so much better with this recipe than regular saltines. If you like some spice, top with some jalapeño.

When Harry Met Minnie: A Review

I received an advanced copy of When Harry Met Minnie by Martha Teichner, CBS correspondent, from Celadon books. I was absolutely charmed and devastated. This book was about Martha’s friendship with Carol Fertig, designer, during her journey with cancer, as well as her role in caretaking for Harry, Carol’s dog. Martha was introduced to Carol because they both had bull terriers. She would take her dog, Minnie, out every day to the market in NYC, when an acquaintance came up to her and asked her if she would be interested in meeting Carol and Harry. From here, a friendship bloomed while Carol’s health declined. Harry’s health was quite unstable as well, but Martha became enamored with him. When Carol eventually passed, Harry became a part of Martha and Minnie’s family.

This book was bursting with emotion. If you’ve ever had a pet that you’ve cared deeply for, this book encompassed the beauty and tragedy of that. Dogs will love you like no other, unconditionally. They’ll bring you happiness, but there’s also the inevitable sadness when they pass. This struck me deeply, as I have dogs that are aging quickly, as dogs do, and accruing health issues. Martha talks honestly about the quirks of bull terriers, and about how costly our pets can be. Somehow, dogs have worked their way into our hearts and we will spend our last dollar keeping them well, just like any other family member.

Another thing that resonated with me was watching a loved one fall into the depths of cancer. Carol’s cancer was a result of 9/11’s proximity to her apartment. Martha describes the way Carol declines, how her speech isn’t the same, but somehow keeps that fire and strength burning. This reminded me of my grandmother. So much diminishes in them but you still see the spark that makes them who they are.

If you want to laugh a bit, if you’re a dog lover, if you have a loved one dealing with cancer, or need a good cry, When Harry Met Minnie is for you. It is filled with heartwarming moments and tearful moments. If you’re from Michigan, you might like this even a bit more, as Martha talks here and there about her childhood in Traverse City and Leelanau, and her conservation efforts there as an adult.

When Harry Met Minnie will be available February 2nd, 2021.

This Little Light: A Review

Wow! What a powerful book. I’ll get to it right off the bat, this was a 4.5 star book to me, rounded up to Goodreads. I’ll be honest though, if you fall as a very far right conservative, especially due to religion, you probably won’t enjoy this book. There’s the challenging of a lot of ultra conservative ideals. I can say that Overlook Press and Abrams Books KILLLLLLLS it with these powerful releases. I think they might be my favorite publishers outside of fantasy, I have enjoyed every book sent my way or purchased from them. This Little Light by Lori Lansens was no exception.

Let us start with a short synopsis. Rory and Fee are on the run after their Christian school is bomber during an Abstinence Ball where they are all pledging their virginity. They perform a cringe-inducing ceremony where they pledge to their fathers to abstain til marriage. Rory is an atheist and decided to partake since all of her friends did and it was an excuse to wear a beautiful dress. The newest addition to their school, Jinny is a Crusader, and has it out for Rory for not believing. When the school gets bombed and Rory gets blamed, Fee ends up along for the ride. While on the run, Rory journals her experience in unpublished blogs (as you not give away their location) and tries to figure out if Jinny set her up.

This all too realistic near-future novel starts out in ultra rich Calabasas (think Kardashians) where fanatical religion and hypocrisy walk hand in hand. The US has become obsessed with virginity and religion, women’s rights are being stripped, birth control and abortions are banned even in the most serious if circumstances. The country is afire with bounty hunters, seeking out those running underground services for women to receive safe womanly care. The bounty on Rory and Fee climbs in the millions. Everyone is obsessed with religion and purity, though they don’t practice what they preach behind closed doors. Affairs, fake celibacy, sexual aggression towards minors, scoffing at the poor when passing by them on the streets. Fake activism, writing passages about the huddled masses and how Jesus loved the poor, but calling them free loaders, wishing death upon the homeless “dirtying” their streets, and not stopping to help but scurrying last disdainfully.

“We write essays about Jesus’s love for the poor and disenfranchised then go shop Louis and Prada. We laze around our pools snarking in those who have no, idolizing those who have a shit-Tom. We’re jumping back and forth all day long—spiritual double Dutch—-and it makes me seriously dizzy.”

There’s a large look at the way the ultra rich hide behind conservatism fiscally, and how that can outweigh morality. People that are okay with their taxes and money being used to help the downtrodden get called bleeding hearts or libtards (which is thrown around in this book). Conducive to many instances in real life, this novel highlights the way greed can overshadow the love that religion is supposed to teach. The longing to control women, preaching abstinence to them while turning a blind eye to whatever the men do. Measuring the length of their skirts or shorts because they are supposed to be your idea of pure, which in theory itself is ridiculous, because no woman’s body is the same. These guidelines, checking for fingertips against shorts, using a yardstick for “skirting” in religious schools, are objectionable not only because clothes lay different on our bodies than the next person, but because a woman’s body shouldn’t be surveyed for how appropriate we deem it. The swell of a breast is immodest? Your thigh? These are social constructs and Lori Lansens highlights what happens when we let people run away with commanding women and their bodies.

Rory talks and thinks like a teenage girl, if not an intelligent one. Though she’s an atheist and a free spirit, she’s also afraid to fully break away from the crowd. Her friends go to a Christian school, so she does. Her friends attend an abstinence ball, so she does. They follow the Kardashians and like expensive clothes, so she does. She isn’t a perfect character. She’s an utterly believable teenage girl. She has hidden biases even though she’s more accepting than the other girls. She’s Jewish and her mother is an immigration lawyer, so she is more accepting of people of different culture and religion, as she’s been exposed to a wider worldview. She also understands that she has a lot to learn about racism, feminism, and privilege.

“The thing is, I don’t want to be a dick. The racism thing? The white privilege thing? The white feminist thing? I want to understand it all, and acknowledge it beyond the obvious, and I actually wanna get this shit right.”

I loved the juxtaposition of Jinny, a devout “virgin” used to market the Crusader cause while being this very sex kittenish bombshell. It really highlights the way women are salivated over for their virginity and the unhealthy obsession with it. It reminded me of how Britney Spears was marketed as this virgin sex icon to sell records, even though it was later found out that she wasn’t (and it shouldn’t matter what she was doing with her own life anyway).

The virginity pledge was straight creeeeeepy too. They essentially pledged to keep their virginity to their dads until they are married, but the way that it was done reminded me of certain weird politicians and celebrities that fawn over their daughters’ sex appeal and ability to be chaste. This happens closer to home, too, it’s just easy to cite people that are in the public eye. The fascination from men about their daughter’s sex life is really unhealthy and concerning, when they are fine with their sons doing whatever they want.

“You are my light. You are my love. And I promise Heaven up above. That I’ll keep you pure as the driven snow, till the day I have to let you go. I’ll always be your daddy. You’ll be my baby girl. One day I will share you, but until then you’ll wear my pearl.”

Makes you feel icky, right? Lori Lansens touches on everything; gaslighting victims, women’s reproductive rights, fake activism, hidden biases, fanatical religion, fiscal vs moral responsibility. I devoured this book over the span of a few hours. It was very easy to read, intelligent, witty, and important. If you were a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale, you might enjoy this one too. I find that it is a middle ground between our current reality and the severity of that book/show. The character of Chase was a bit too neatly wrapped up and more thoroughly introduced right at the end, but I enjoyed it alla. This Little Light came out earlier this month and you can purchase it now. Thank you to Overlook and Abrams for sending me a finished copy for an honest review!

Assassin’s Quest Reread and Review

(Photo by me)

“I have known beauties and joys that tried my heart’s strength as surely as the tragedies and uglinesses have. Yet I possess, perhaps, a greater share of dark memories than most men; few men have known death in a dungeon, or can recall the inside of a coffin buried beneath the snow.”

Whew! Lets dive right in, shall we? Obviously if you know me or have followed me for even a few months, you know that HOBB IS LIFE for me. One of my all time favorite authors, so with this awful year, it was easy to dive back into these for some comfort rereads. That beginning! You really get some insight on what Fitz went through during the tragedy that befell him in Book Two of Farseer (Royal Assassin). This is a part of the larger series called The Realm of the Elderlings. From the beginning of this novel, you feel this monumental, earth shattering loss that he is experiencing while he is isolated, as well as a raw look at the abuse he went through and the trauma it caused.

Book art of Burrich and Fitz done by Magali Villeneuve for Royal Assassin (photo by me)

“He added, “You don’t take out your temper on them, or confuse punishment with discipline.”
Molly looked shocked at his words. “Discipline comes from punishment. A child learns discipline when she is punished for doing something wrong.”
Burrich shook his head. “I’d like to ‘punish’ the man that beat that into you,” he said, and an edge of his old temper crept into his voice. “What did you really learn from your father taking his temper out on you?” he demanded. “That to show tenderness to your baby is a weakness? That to give in and hold your child when she cries because she wants you is somehow not an adult thing to do?”

There’s so much genius in this novel. The way we relive the destruction that Regal caused through the eyes of a man who is more wolf than man at this moment. More child than man, even. We see this mix of tenderness and gruffness by Burrich that is needed by Fitz. Burrich IS that rough looking dad who is all heart and wisdom, he cares about every living being. There’s such poignancy in Burrich relinquishing his ideals for Fitz just to keep him alive. If you’ve made it this far in the series, you’ll know that Burrich wants “better” than the Wit for Fitz, but letting Fitz take solace in it is the only way to keep him whole. There’s such love in that, setting aside pride and morals for someone else’s wellbeing. Hobb evokes these deep emotions that often strum that core of sadness that lies deep within us all, but if you dust off that sadness, there is compassion and affection woven in. She is one of those authors that can reach into your heart and soul to coax out all of those emotions. Sometimes, when I see the remarks of people that don’t like her writing, I wonder if it is because they don’t LIKE to feel all of those heavy, profound responses that her writing can pull out of oneself. I don’t blame people for shying away from those heavy feelings, but it just reminds me what a marvel of a writer she is. This is a story about how sacrifice makes legends and that can be hard stuff to stomach. I have said it once and I’ll say it again, I am a book masochist. GIVE ME ALL OF THE HARD TO STOMACH EMOTIONS.

Within the first moments of the book and throughout, you realize how much of a bridge Fitz is to each of these character’s live unto each other’s. Every single one of our main characters, he has become a monumental part of their loves. He’s bridged the gap between many of them, given quite a few renewed reasons to live, though he doesn’t realize his own worth to all of these people. He stokes allegiance in those around him, whether they meant to care for him so much or not.

Depiction of Regal for the Royal Assassin Illustrated edition by Magali Villeneuve

Hobb writes so vividly that she has made Regal one of the most dislikable villains I have ever read. He’s just too REAL and pompous, the cruelties he has carried out on multiple members of his family—unfathomable. He shows no remorse, he calculates. It’s not like Regal is this utterly unique villain—he’s the youngest prince brother who greedily wants to take the throne for his own. He will force anyone out of his way, whether they care about the throne or not. We have seen this before in literature, but Hobb evokes these protective feelings in us over the other characters, she can make you feel the weather of that unwarranted jealousy that Regal exudes. It’s just in her writing. Hobb is the queen of emotive writing. Another thing about her writing that is especially notable in this book, is that she relishes imagery. The world she writes is so lush, that you feel you could sink your hands into the soil, smell the mountain air, or feeling the sobering coolness of a stream. Her writing is almost feel interactive in her ability to pull you into the scenery. She can bring scenery, people, and emotions to life effortlessly.

“It is also the Wit that sends a mother to her child’s bedside just as the babe is awakening. I believe it is at the heart of all wordless communication, and that all humans possess some small aptitude for it, recognized or not.”

What I find interesting and beautiful about this book, is that besides The Wit (which people actually consider a curse, WHAT?!), Fitz isn’t this naturally talented hero. He’s well-trained and well-educated, but he doesn’t naturally excel at the Skill. He isn’t able to fully protect himself against those stronger, his triumphs in life aren’t because he’s this amazingly strong Skilled man. He actually fucks up a decent amount. The love and support of those around him has helped him overcome the most astounding of setbacks. One of the things about Fitz’s story that draws me back again and again, is that this isn’t a story where the bastard comes up and takes the kingdom by storm. We have seen those underdog stories where it is a rag to riches, *powerless to most powerful* type of tale. This isn’t one of those. Fitz’s life is most likely harder than his life would have been as a simple villager. He may have been poorer if he never came to Buckeep, but his life wouldn’t be as complicated. The path of his life would have been up to him a bit more. His story is riddled with tragedy and hardship, and that makes it more real and endearing to me. On the flip side, he also experiences a safety net of love, loyalty, and adoration that he likely would have never experienced if he were just a simple villager.

“It is only that she thinks that you love me,” I tried to explain.
He gave me an odd look. “I do.”
“I mean, as a man and a woman love.”
He took a breath. “And how is that?”
“I mean …” It half-angered me that he pretended not to understand me. “For bedding. For …”
“And is that how a man loves a woman?” he interrupted me suddenly. “For bedding?”
“It’s a part of it!” I felt suddenly defensive but could not say why.
He arched an eyebrow at me and said calmly, “You are confusing plumbing and love again.”

This is the first time that we start to see the deep connection between Fitz and the Fool. Before, the Fool was a friend to Fitz and King Shrewd, an interesting, yet significant side character. In this, we realize how intrinsic he is to Fitz’s life. Hobb captures an intimacy here that has always struck me to my core. This idea that platonic love can be as strong as love that includes sexual acts, that a friend can be as much of a soulmate as your actual mate. This is something that needs to be explored more often, and Hobb does so tenderly and eloquently. The Fool is much more in tune with his emotions and he helps Fitz become comfortable with his sexuality and with expressing this deep love between them. I know there’s people that want The Fool and Fitz to be together, but aren’t they? They are joined as much, if not more, than Fitz and Molly. It doesn’t have to be a sexual relationship, and I don’t think The Fool WANTS a sexual relationship with Fitz. They have LITERALLY shared minds and bared souls to each other. They are pack, as Nighteyes reiterates. This hang up that sex equals intimacy is one of the big messages that Hobb and The Fool are there to debunk.

“Not a song of heroic strength and mighty-thewed warriors. No. A song of two, graced only with friendship’s strength. Each possessed of a loyalty to a king that would not be denied.”

“The White Prophet” by Michelle Tolo

When it comes to The Fool, she also has created this air of mystery. Fitz thinks of “him” as “he” while Starling confides that she believes The Fool is a woman. Are they human? Are they a man or woman? Does it matter? The androgyny in The Fool is so natural and The Fool is quite a progressive character compared to the traditional fantasy published in that time. As of recent, modern fantasy has become more and more inclusive but Hobb was truly (maybe unknowingly) a pioneer in this regard. Not to mention the fact that she firmly planted her feet in a genre that was predominantly male, AND fights against toxic masculinity with each stroke of her pen.

“She needed someone to confide in and, for a time, chose me. Perhaps it was easier for her to do that if she believed I was a woman, also.” He sighed again. “That is one thing that in all my years among your folk I have never become accustomed to. The great importance that you attach to what gender one is.”
“Well, it is important …” I began.
“Rubbish!” he exclaimed. “Mere plumbing, when all is said and done. Why is it important?”

In this volume, we have another added source of magic: memories. Rowling might have learned a thing or two from Hobb. I don’t want to say HOW memories are used and spoil the wonder of finding out, but it’s truly an inspiring incorporation. We also see the full power of the Skill as we haven’t seen before. There’s a moment that the Skill, these memories, and the Wit combine into a moment where we FEEL the sheer breadth of Fitz’s tragedies and his triumphs. It is excruciating, humbling, and heart-wrenching. Hobb also follows by the rules of nature, to use these strong magics WILL cost, often at a dear price. You don’t get away with these bursts of unexplainable power without giving something in return. There’s reason and limits to magic in this world.

“Comes the Catalyst, to make stone of flesh and flesh of stone. At his touch shall be wakened the dragons of the earth. The sleeping city shall tremble and waken to him. Comes the Catalyst.” The Fool’s voice was dreamy.

We get our first true glimpse of the Elderlings. At this point, we get a bit more world building than we usually get from Hobb. Because she’s such a character driven person this bit went a bit slower for me but if you’re all about world building, the time spent weaving the world is pretty cool. Fitz’s time on the skill road holds this hazy, fever-dream quality to it and Hobb’s artistry flourishes. This moment can seem to drag, but having read all of the books, I think it is important to soak in the Elderlings and how far they are from the reality of the current world.

A difference with this book to the last two is that there a few more moments of info dumps and lingering scenes devoted to that imagery I mentioned earlier. Is this enough to make me give this less than 5 stars? Nope. I thought about giving it 4 stars and it hurt my heart too much. Hobb is just AMAZING. This book may have some moments that lasted longer but THAT ENDING. The WRITING. The deep relationships. Knowing the wider scope of things and the JOURNEY that has only just begun. The true life lessons she weaves in through all of our characters. She’s a mastermind. Nope, she deserves all the stars in the world. I could truly ramble on and dissect every character; the strength and vulnerability in Molly (who is often much disliked), the devastation of corrupt leadership, the trajectory of the Catalyst, HOW MUCH I FREAKING LOVE NIGHTEYES AND THE PACK (…“This? This is Nighteyes? This mighty warrior, this great heart?”) but I’ll leave some stuff up to imagination. It takes everything in my willpower to not spoil this whole story just because I want to talk about it. She’s genius, she is QUEEN. If you can handle emotional, gut wrenching storytelling, read some Hobb.

Also… YES. You should read the all the series in the order she intended you to read them even if you want to skip back to Fitz.

•The Farseer Trilogy •The Liveship Traders Trilogy •The Tawny Man Trilogy •The Rain Wild Chronicles •Fitz and the Fool Trilogy • There’s also some short stories

Kings and Daemons: A Review

When Marcus Lee approached me with his self published novel Kings and Daemons, I thought it sounded intriguing. It happens to be included on Kindle Unlimited, so I downloaded it and here we are. I wasn’t expecting such an enthralling and well written book. I was hooked pretty much from the start.

You follow a couple different perspectives and I think they all play off of each other really well. Maya’s touch can heal blight and ruin, illnesses and broken bones. Taran is strong and courageous. Rakan is brutal but loyal. Kalas suffers but never waivers in his strength. The Witch King is single minded and terrible, destructive to everything in his path, sucking vitality from the land. We have a cast of characters that are—true to the title—as cursed as they are blessed. Throughout the novel, our cast of characters will intertwine storylines.

I found that this book has a lot of aspects that appeal to a wide variety of fantasy fans. If you like that medieval feel, if you like intense battles, fun magic systems, light romance, great friendships, mystical beings and creatures… Kings and Daemons has it all for you. I enjoyed that one minute our characters could be exchanging witty banter and the next they were cracking skulls or running for their lives. There was a streak of tenderness balancing the harshness of this world. Well done, Marcus. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the next book. It ends in a good spot that leaves you wondering what is going to happen next.