Book Review – Instinct

I picked up Instinct by Jason M. Hough because I met the author many years ago and a con and I’ve enjoyed his other books. This one was a bit of a departure from his earlier novels because it isn’t science fiction, but more of a straight-forward thriller. I listed to this as an audiobook, narrated by Nancy Wu and George Newbern.

For my reviews on Jason’s other books, look here:

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Here is the blurb:

Welcome to Silvertown, Washington. Population 602 (for now).

Despite its small size, the small mountain town is home to more conspiracy theories than any other place in America. Officer Mary Whittaker is slowly acclimating to the daily weirdness of life here, but when the chief of police takes a leave of absence, she is left alone to confront a series of abnormal incidents—strange even by Silvertown standards.

An “indoor kid” who abhors nature dies on a random midnight walkabout with no explanation.

A hiker is found dead on a trail, smiling serenely after being mauled by a bear.

A woman known for being a helicopter parent abandons her toddler twins without a second thought.

It’s almost as if the townsfolk are losing their survival instinct, one by one…

As Whittaker digs deeper into her investigation, she uncovers a larger conspiracy with more twists and turns than a mountain road, and danger around every corner. To save Silvertown, she must distinguish the truth from paranoia-fueled lies before she ends up losing her own instincts…and her life!

This book kept me enthralled throughout and was a quick listen. Mary Whittaker is a sympathetic and competent protagonist and her actions are believable as she tries to figure out what has afflicted Silvertown. The action ramps up and places Mary and the entire town into life-threatening danger.

The mystery behind the strange incidents kept me guessing up until the end. I did figure out a few aspects of the plot before Mary herself solved them, but I think that added to the tension. And while this is a stand-alone novel, a few loose ends to the plot leave an opening for a sequel.

Have you read any of Jason Hough’s other novels? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The Dragon Reborn

I’ve been a bit slower to complete my reading over the past few weeks, but maybe choosing books that are over 600 pages long is part of the reason why. The Dragon Reborn is the third book (of 14) in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. I read this as an e-book.

For my reviews of earlier books in the series, look here:

  • Book 1 – The Eye of the World (oh, I skipped reviewing this one, might do it later)
  • Book 2 – The Great Hunt
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Here is the blurb:

The Dragon Reborn—the leader long prophesied who will save the world, but in the saving destroy it; the savior who will run mad and kill all those dearest to him—is on the run from his destiny.

Able to touch the One Power, but unable to control it, and with no one to teach him how—for no man has done it in three thousand years—Rand al’Thor knows only that he must face the Dark One. But how?

Winter has stopped the war—almost—yet men are dying, calling out for the Dragon. But where is he?

Perrin Aybara is in pursuit with Moiraine Sedai, her Warder Lan, and Loial the Ogier. Bedeviled by dreams, Perrin is grappling with another deadly problem—how is he to escape the loss of his own humanity?

Egwene, Elayne and Nynaeve are approaching Tar Valon, where Mat will be healed—if he lives until they arrive. But who will tell the Amyrlin their news—that the Black Ajah, long thought only a hideous rumor, is all too real? They cannot know that in Tar Valon far worse awaits…

Ahead, for all of them, in the Heart of the Stone, lies the next great test of the Dragon reborn….

Even though this book’s title implies that it will be about Rand, it follows a lot more of the other characters’ stories. With the storyline split through several point-of-view characters, it makes the overall action move more slowly as well.

So while I enjoyed this book, it felt more simple than I remember. We do get to see some new important characters introduced and seeing ancient powers (like balefire) return and an expansion of Egwene’s dreamer powers add to the mythic character of this story.

I’ll probably take a week or two off from The Wheel of Time before I jump into book 4, The Shadow Rising, next month.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Harrow the Ninth

Harrow the Ninth is the second book in The Locked Tomb series by New Zealand author Tamsyn Muir. Like my read of the first book (Gideon the Ninth – review here), I listened to this as an audiobook, narrated by Moira Quirk.

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Here is the blurb:

She answered the Emperor’s call.

She arrived with her arts, her wits, and her only friend.

In victory, her world has turned to ash.

After rocking the cosmos with her deathly debut, Tamsyn Muir continues the story of the penumbral Ninth House in Harrow the Ninth, a mind-twisting puzzle box of mystery, murder, magic, and mayhem. Nothing is as it seems in the halls of the Emperor, and the fate of the galaxy rests on one woman’s shoulders.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.

Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor’s Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?

I really wanted to like this book, but it was hard to follow and I found myself confused for much of it. The story is told in the present day, written in second person, and also has flashbacks that appear to be an alternate version of the events of Gideon the Ninth. The characters are superbly drawn and their interactions are fascinating, even if I didn’t understand the relevance of much of it.

The unique portrayal of necromancy continues in this volume with wonderfully creative descriptions of bone and blood magic. The narrator provides each character with a slightly different manner of speech and subtle differences in accent which helps to follow more complicated conversations.

I just wish more was cleared up by the end of this book. The confusion was the worst at the very beginning and then in the end. Don’t expect any resolution or explanations in this series yet. It looks like two more books are planned, with the next one (Nona the Ninth) releasing later this year.

Have you read anything by Tamsyn Muir? What did you think? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Fencing Around Injuries – Part II

Today I want to continue my post about fencing around injuries. If you didn’t see Part I – go find it here. For this second part, I want to continue with more specific tips on competing through injuries.

These are blisters that resulted from taking a different approach with my socks on race day for a half marathon.

When it comes time to compete, I want to go back to triathlon to mention one of the mantras of that sport. Nothing new on race day! While this isn’t always something I stick to in fencing, there is value in thinking about it. In triathlon, the idea is that you should be familiar with all of your kit and have trialed it in your training so that you know if it works for you. You don’t want to discover that the new top you bought for the race chafes at the beginning of a 13.1-mile run, or that the new nutrition you found at the pre-race expo is not agreeing with your stomach halfway through a 112-mile bike course. Or look at my toes to the left for a painful example.

In last weekend’s tournament I wore a new pair of fencing shoes. I had been wearing them in practice and they were the same brand, style, and size as my old shoes. But due to my elbow and shoulder problems, I hadn’t been practicing much, and after the first day of competition I found the shoe on my back foot was painfully pressing into a ligament on the inside of my foot. I couldn’t advance without pain in my warmup on the second day. Fortunately, I still had my old shoes in my bag and switching out the back foot shoe made movement tolerable.

When you know you have an injury, how can you go about fencing? If your injury is severe enough, you shouldn’t. My doctor told me to not do anything strenuous with my right arm for 1 – 3 weeks after the PRP injection I just had. I took two weeks off from fencing, and when I went back to practice, I took it very cautiously. So try to be a good patient!

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If you have a chronic injury or are recovering from something, here are some ideas that might help you get through a competition:

  • Be prepared – have everything you might need with you.
  • Warm up well and then stretch (but again, nothing new on race day, so aim for your normal warm up within the limitations of your injury).
  • Consider taping or braces (trial these in practice first).
  • Ice after the event.
  • Don’t be afraid to get help. Visit the trainers, take your injury break if something happens in the bout.
  • Don’t be afraid to withdraw if you have overestimated your readiness and might injure yourself more.
  • Get your mental game in shape. If you have been injured or unable to practice as much as you normally would, don’t hold yourself to the same expectations you would have if you were completely healthy. Accept your fencing for what it is that day and try to learn from the experience.
Photo by Esther Simpson, shared under Creative Commons license.

The last comment I wanted to make here was to add in another idea from triathlon – rest days and rest weeks. The idea is that you cycle through hard training days (usually Tuesday through Sunday) and then take a day off completely (often Mondays). Or if you get to a point where you feel very run down, take a rest day because it’s okay to skip a workout. Many triathlon training plans also run in blocks of 4 weeks where the first three weeks ramp up in intensity and distance, followed by a fourth week of comparatively easier workouts on the rest week. Right before a race, the workouts also become easier (the taper) so that your body has enough time to recover and reach peak performance by the race. Again, some of this may not directly transfer from an endurance sport to fencing, but the idea of rest days/weeks isn’t a bad one.

I hope this helps my fellow Veteran fencers and those soon to age in. Let me know any tips that have worked for you by chatting in the comments (above).

Find more of my writing about fencing here.

Fencing Around Injuries – Part I

I just returned from fencing at the March NAC (North American Cup) last week and I wanted to take some time to write about fencing injuries since that has been a popular topic in the past. As someone fencing the Veteran age groups (40+), it is also apparent that almost all of my fellow competitors have injuries. We are all taped up, icing, and limping, just to different degrees.

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So this isn’t intended as medical advice about specific injuries, but is more of a general guide to what I have found works for me to keep myself healthy enough to keep fencing so that I will still be around when I age into the Vet-80 category.

First off, I want to just list the variety of injuries that I’ve dealt with so anyone out there can compare notes if you’d like. Roughly in order of occurrence:

  • Ligament injury (back foot) caused by Morton’s toe
  • Nerve damage +/- neuroma (right hand)
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (back leg)
  • Severe ankle sprain (back foot)
  • Sprained knee (back leg)
  • Possible meniscal tear (back leg)
  • Subluxating tendons and osteochondral lesion of the talus (back foot/ankle), a consequence of the severe ankle sprain, required 3 surgeries to repair (Brostrom procedure, fibular osteotomy, bone graft, PRP injection for tendonitis, 9 weeks on crutches
  • Neck injury – fell on my head while snowboarding, required months of PT
  • Tendonitis right elbow – required rest and PT
  • Back injury – possibly herniated disc, ongoing problem
  • Severe ankle sprain (front foot) – 1 surgery to repair (Brostrom procedure) and another 3 weeks on crutches
  • Minor sprain (front foot) – during recovery from surgery
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Tendinitis (front foot) – resolved with rest, shockwave therapy
  • Tendonitis right elbow – currently recovering with PT and a PRP injection
  • Left shoulder pain – presumed impingement syndrome, currently recovering with PT

On any given day, I may also have muscle soreness, bruises, or a toenail that is about to fall off. At this point, the right elbow tendinitis and the back pain are only ongoing issues I have, but as I increase my training, I’m always on alert for new problems to start. (And note, through all of this, I haven’t actually been stabbed by a blade.)

So through all of these setbacks, how have I managed to pull through and return to fencing? Some of it has to be luck. I mean with the back ankle, I’m extremely fortunate that my body healed well and I was able to regain full mobility in the joint. At one point before surgery, the topic of an ankle replacement had come up, so yeah, it was bad. What else have I learned about injury prevention and continuing to train and practice between injuries?

One thing that I had to learn as I went through my 20’s was that I had to listen to my body. Mental toughness can carry you through pain, but as your joints, tendons, and ligaments age, they don’t heal as quickly. I had to learn to identify different types of pain. Muscle soreness is one thing and is part of being an athlete. The sharp pain of an aggravated tendon is a warning sign and something that should not be ignored. There are many days at practice now where I would love to keep bouting, but I know that I need to step away so that I will be well enough to return the next day.

Another important way to avoid injuries is to maintain consistency in your practice. It is easier on my body to practice at a moderate level three days a week than to go as hard as I can one day a week. I also have to take it easy on my first day back to practice after some time away. I also see this problem when former fencers try to return to practice after a break from the sport. Take it slowly and don’t overdo it! You will be sore enough just from using muscles in a way they haven’t been in years. When getting back into a practice routine, gradually increase the amount of time you practice instead of jumping into hard training.

One other thing that is helpful if you have the time is to do it is cross-training in a more symmetrical sport. This is also valuable for general fitness and to improve your cardiovascular endurance. I took up triathlon a few years back (swimming, cycling, running) and this helped me a lot with fencing. Strength training is also valuable to help to avoid injury. It can lead to increased bone and muscle strength, decrease the risk of lower back injuries, and can help with balance in people as we age.

Coming up in my next post – more specific tips on fencing around injuries!

Part II is here.

Find more of my writing about fencing here.

Book Review – Dune Messiah

While I have been a fan of Dune for decades, I have never delved beyond the first book or a few different movie and miniseries versions of the story. After seeing Denis Villeneuve’s recent cinematic masterpiece, I decided I needed to read the core six books of the series that were written by the original author. Dune Messiah is book #2 in the series.

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Here is the blurb:

Dune Messiah continues the story of Paul Atreides, better known—and feared—as the man christened Muad’Dib. As Emperor of the known universe, he possesses more power than a single man was ever meant to wield. Worshipped as a religious icon by the fanatical Fremen, Paul faces the enmity of the political houses he displaced when he assumed the throne—and a conspiracy conducted within his own sphere of influence.

And even as House Atreides begins to crumble around him from the machinations of his enemies, the true threat to Paul comes to his lover, Chani, and the unborn heir to his family’s dynasty…

This was a hard book to read, but was at turns fascinating and confusing. Not much happens in terms of a plot, but the commentary on power, religion, and government that twisted itself together with Paul’s prescience and struggles with his predetermined fate made for a captivating read.

I did find that I had some prescience of my own when reading this. As events in the book unfolded, I half-remembered them from the SyFy Channel’s Children of Dune miniseries. Even so, Paul certainly foreshadows enough of the events that nothing was terribly shocking in this book. But it still kept me reading in a trippy series of visions of unavoidable tragedy.

This was a book that I couldn’t read when I was tired, but I’m ready to move on to the next volume after I finish something a little more straight-forward (The Dragon Reborn).

How much of Dune are you familiar with? Did you start with the books or one of the movies? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my book reviews here.

March Reading and Writing Updates

Wow! Somehow it got to be March already! And of course I’m behind schedule from where I wanted to be on my reading, but I’m not surprised, given that I set a bit of an unrealistic goal.

Looking back at February, here is how it went: I managed to finish Magical Midlife Madness by K. F. Breene (review here) and All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai (review here). I just finished Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert this past weekend (technically in March) and I have a review coming up on that book later this week. With some work-related projects and other obligations, I got bogged down and didn’t get through all the other books I wanted to.

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The other books I’m currently reading are The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan and Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. With a long drive this weekend, I’m making solid progress on Harrow the Ninth because I’m listening to that as an audiobook. I also pulled out The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett (my physical non-e-book read) after I finished Magical Midlife Madness, but then decided I needed to catch up on The Dragon Reborn before starting it.

I haven’t given any writing updates recently. I hardly made any progress in February, but I’m expecting that to improve in March. Current projects include the first draft of a hard sci-fi stand alone novel with a working title of East of the Sun, continued work on a stand along sword and sorcery novel called Daughter of the Sun, and a rewrite of a short story involving dream magic. I don’t know why both novel projects involve the sun, but I think East of the Sun will get renamed at some point.

Also, if you haven’t seen it already, Brandon Sanderson sort of shamed all writers out there in regards to productivity last week. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out his video here. So clearly I need to up my writing game.

Are you reading as much as you had hoped this year? Are you a writer? Tell me about your projects in the comments above.

Book Review – Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary is the newest book by Andy Weir (author of The Martian). I read this last year but wanted to still review it here. This book is a stand-alone hard science fiction story set on a space ship. Like The Martian, it features a lone protagonist who must survive his predicament, but in this story, he also must save all of humanity.

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Here is the blurb:

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the Earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian–while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

I enjoyed this book a lot and found it took several surprising twists that kept me guessing at the outcome until the end. Being a fan of Andy Weir’s earlier books (The Martian, Artemis), I did go into this with certain expectations. While parts of the story are told in a non-linear fashion, it worked out well to fill in the gaps in Ryland Grace’s memory and give the reader the full story.

The ally that he meets was a wonderful character and I found their initial interactions believable despite the need for fiction to speed these types of challenges along. And I know that I’m being intentionally vague here because I don’t want to spoil this for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet.

Overall this was one of my favorite reads of 2021! It won the Goodreads Choice award for Best Science Fiction for 2021 and is under development as a movie.

Did you read Project Hail Mary yet? Let me know in the comments above. Have you read The Martian or Artemis (my review here)? How do they compare to this new book?

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Magical Midlife Madness

This book was gifted to me and I’ve had it sitting on my desk for a while now, taunting me with it’s pretty cover. Magical Midlife Madness is the first book in a paranormal romance series (Leveling Up) by K. F. Breene. It appears to be self-published, which isn’t necessarily a strike against it as I used to do book reviews for “indie” press books and am open to the idea of reading books that aren’t a product of a major publisher.

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Here is the blurb:

A woman starting over. A new house with an unexpected twist. A cape wearing butler acting as the world’s worst life coach.

“Happily Ever After” wasn’t supposed to come with a do-over option. But when my husband of twenty years packs up and heads for greener pastures and my son leaves for college, that’s exactly what my life becomes.

Do-over.

This time, though, I plan to do things differently. Age is just a number, after all, and at forty I’m ready to carve my own path.

Eager for a fresh start, I make a somewhat unorthodox decision and move to a tiny town in the Sierra foothills. I’ll be taking care of a centuries old house that called to me when I was a kid. It’s just temporary, I tell myself. It’ll just be for a while.

That is, until I learn what the house really is, something I never could’ve imagined.

Thankfully forty isn’t too old to start an adventure, because that’s exactly what I do. A very dangerous adventure that will change my life forever. I have a chance to start again, and this time, I make the rules.

This book had a fun premise and while parts at the beginning were a bit awkwardly written, it got better in the middle. Jessie is an entertaining character that takes a risk on a new chapter in her life and discovers strange magic in a small town and within herself.

There is a romance aspect to the story and a larger threat that is not fully explored in this book, so don’t expect any resolution to either of those parts of Jessie’s tale. I don’t know if I’ll keep reading this series or not. It was easy and fast to read, but didn’t grab me as much as some other books.

Have you read any books by K. F. Breene? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – All Our Wrong Todays

I’m not sure how I heard about this book, but I ended up reading it for a book club, or rather, I listened to the audiobook version. All Our Wrong Todays is written and narrated by Elan Mastai.

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Here is the blurb:

You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed . . . because it wasn’t necessary.

Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland.

But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and—maybe, just maybe—his soul mate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents, and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future—our future—is supposed to be.

This is a book about time travel and what can happen when you try to change the past. Tom Barren starts out as an unlikeable character in a utopian society where you can infer that no one is truly happy. When he ends up in an alternate time line, he must decide if it’s right or wrong to try to put things back the way they were. And what if he continues to make the world worse?

The opening of this book was a big turn off for me because of the way in which it is written (all exposition, with Tom essentially writing about what had happened), but also because I didn’t like Tom. Once he used the time machine, the story was easier to read. I did find some of the concepts interesting. Some examples include the author’s take on what happens to your consciousness when you time travel and have changed your own past, and also the horrifying experience of the traveler in one form of time travel in this story.

Elan Mastai is also a producer and writer on the television series This Is Us. Have you watched that show (I have not)? Does it share any themes with this book? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my reviews here.

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