Review: New York 2140

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Posted on : 4/06/2018 11:34:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

New York 2140 New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a 2-Star review of a book that I DNF.

I read this book in preparation for voting in the 2018 Hugo awards. I'm familiar with KSR's general outlook on the world and have purposefully avoided reading his works as a result. But he's nominated this year and I try to give each author as much of an equal shot as possible.

The premise of the book is that global warming has melted the icecaps. The seas have risen. And New York is largely underwater. Or at least the water is high enough to cover the first couple of floors of most buildings. And then there is a story told within that milieu.

The book deviates from reality, science/economics, you-name-it so many times that is felt like the ghost of Dorothy Parker was reading over my shoulder.

Spoilers
(view spoiler)



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Review: The Collapsing Empire

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Posted on : 4/06/2018 11:10:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

The Collapsing Empire The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a 4-star review. A 3.5 star rating represents my experience with this book.

I read this book in preparation for voting for the 2018 Hugo Awards.

John Scalzi once again tells an entertaining and serviceable tale. The book relates the story of an empire that is about to collapse; hence the book's title, natch. The empire in question is based on human travel through the "Flow" to reach solar systems that would otherwise take decades to millennia at sub-FTL speeds. Human habitation in those many systems trade among one another for various goods necessary for their mutual survival.

The empire is threatened when access to those systems is about to end as the Flow undergoes a periodic but unpredictable shift. Those habitations are about to be cut off from one another as the Flow will presently shift in a way that stops all trade between those systems.

That ability to trade is controlled/regulated by the monarchy-based Interdependency, ruled by an Emperox, that controls who can access the Flow at the central hub, or Hub, world.

If you don't think about it too much, the story is quite a satisfying little romp. The characters engage the reader by being sufficiently complex in their motivations and experiences. There is political intrigue between the ruling house of Wu, the various other trading families or houses, and the religion that ties the worlds together.

When you consider some of the details, large and small, the story begins to unravel a bit.

Spoilers
(view spoiler)
As long as you don't put a lot of thought into the mechanics of the world building, this is an engaging and entertaining story. Be entertained and then move on.

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2018 Hugo Novel

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Posted on : 4/03/2018 03:33:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

This is where I will review and rate the nominees in the novel category for the 2018 Hugo awards.

I make a point of purchasing all of the nominees in the novel category.  Authors should get paid whenever possible.

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  • No Award
  • The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi - longer thoughts to come soon.  The short version is that while it is enjoyable, it is not one of the five best books of 2017.  It isn't even close.  The longer version is that the world building was poorly executed, there were problematic characters, and there were features in the storytelling that undercut a more serious reading experience.  While reading this book was an enjoyable experience, it was not of the stellar quality that one associates with being a Hugo Award-winning book.  [For the record, I have found other works by Mr. Scalzi to be definitely worthy of such recognition.  This book is just not in that category.]
  • New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson - The level of utter nonsense in this book made it a Do Not Finish tome worthy of Dorothy Parker's best.

Trump - A Year Plus In

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Posted on : 3/09/2018 04:39:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Here we are a year and several weeks into the Trump Presidency.  It seems like a good time to account for where we seem to be going.

I could probably write a couple pages on each of the topics below.  To keep this from getting too tedious, I'm only going to keep it as brief as possible.  If there is a part of a topic where you, dear reader, are inclined to say "except.....", please assume that I am not suggesting that successes (or failures) are being offered as without flaw (or completely flawed).

Where are we experiencing progress - 

Judicial Appointments - Mr. Trump has largely been appointing men and women of experience, probity, and temperament to apply the Constitution as written.  The US Constitution was written to think expansively of individual liberty and restrictively towards the size and scope of the federal government.  His appointments mostly are pointed in the correct direction.

Tax Cuts for the Middle Class - The recently passed tax cuts appear to be largely aimed at folks that are not rich.  The updated tax laws apparently will increase the total tax burden on the folks at the top of the income scale by limiting SALT deductions.  Those are reasonable changes.

Cutting the Corporate Tax Rate - Our corporate income tax rate was one of the highest in the world.  It discouraged companies from bringing overseas profits home.  It discouraged overseas companies from investing in facilities and jobs in America.  That is no longer the case with positive results, thus far.

Reductions in Regulations - Just as we are Taxed Enough Already, we are similarly regulated enough already.  While there are areas where new regulation might be useful, there are far more areas where existing regulations are numerous and counterproductive.

Trade/Treaties - I support free trade.  I believe that our general trend towards engaging in free trade agreements has largely served to improve conditions in the United States while also benefiting our trading partners.  At the same time, I also believe in fair trade.  It is hard for American workers to compete in a global marketplace where other nations do not have the same level of environmental and employment regulations.  Persuading our trading partners to embrace worker and environmental protections should be a part of crafting effective trade agreements.

The Economy - I am generally of the opinion that a President's actions take months and years to impact the economy.  I am generally of the opinion that government policy has less impact on the economy than some people imagine.

But you have to admit that the US economy came busting loose starting in November/December of 2016.  Mr. Trump wasn't even in office and things were improving.  Why?

Because we knew that we would not have to face another 8 years of an administration that could not express a limit as to how much government should collect in taxes, how much government should spend, and how much government should regulate.

Couple what Mr. Trump's administration is not taxing/spending/regulating with their other actions and I am hopeful for our economic future.

But not everything is rosy...see below.

Beating the ISIS/ISIL "Caliphate" - ISIS was in control of regions of Iraq and Syria before Mr. Trump assumed the Presidency.  Our military had been supporting local efforts to undermine ISIS for years without much measurable progress.  Within 10 months of taking office, ISIS no longer controlled cities in Syria or Iraq.  The US military can accomplish a great deal worth accomplishing when they are unfettered by overly restrictive rules of engagement.

Foreign Policy/Diplomacy - Right at the start, I want to point out that Nikki Haley is precisely the sort of person that we need at the United Nations.  She fearlessly highlights abusive and despotic regimes with precision and passion.

It is also useful to note that our belligerent administration has caused Iran to cease harassing our ships in the Persian Gulf.  It has motivated North Korea to begin a rapprochement with South Korea without conditioning that action on meeting with the U.S.  Neighbors should talk without the US having to be at the table.  This is what diplomatic progress looks like.

We could also include the change in attitude in the Middle East following our recognition of Israel's capital of Jerusalem as their legitimate capital.  There is a growing recognition that the PA has little interest in a negotiated solution.  As such, the world is moving past their concerns and forcing them to re-evaluate their perspective.

As with every diplomatic issue, events will unfold over time.  History may well render this reading as overly optimistic.  One year in and things appear pointed in the right direction.

Cabinet Appointments - From Jim Mattis to John Kelly, Rex Tillerson, Ben Carson, and Betsy DeVos, the cabinet seems to be staffed by people that are capable and competent.  Mr. Trump appears to be listening to those people...at least some of the time.

Immigration - While a bit of a mixed bag, we have seen some progress in this area.  The Obama administration's DACA program was illegal.  Only Congress can establish our immigration standards.  By terminating the DACA program, Mr. Trump has put the proverbial ball back where it belongs; in Congress.  I'm generally supportive of giving the DACA kids a legal path to residency.  Citizenship begins at a US embassy or consulate.  Not by jumping a fence or overstaying a legitimate visa.

I appreciate the desire to move towards a merit-based immigration system.  I also think we need to re-balance our immigration quota system to make it fairer for people in more populous countries.  (A special hint for those in need, that means that we'd have more legal immigrants from Mexico and fewer from some European nations.)

We need to discuss positive changes to our immigration system.  But at the core of that discussion needs to be the twin principles that our representatives in Congress get to determine the conditions of immigration and that respecting US immigration laws is a pre-requisite for eventually becoming a US citizen.

Where things are off the rails:

Immigration -  This issue can get just flat divisive.  Normal folks just want to know that the government is reviewing potential immigrants to filter out criminals.  I know too many people that have followed US immigration laws to become valued and productive US citizens to want that process to be shut down.

Mr. Trump's insistence on shutting down immigration from south of our southern border while simultaneously signaling that people from Norway would be welcome gives the appearance of racism in public policy.  Given his history, this is probably something more than "appearance".  And it is a deeply disturbing distraction from the process of negotiating sane changes to our nation's immigration policies.

TWITTER! and other acts of randomness -  There just isn't enough space to list all of the weird "ideas" coming out of the White House these days.

There was his idea for a military parade like the one he saw in France.  I will bet that the number of folks serving in the military that would be willing to trade a long, holiday weekend with the chance to practice drill for a couple of months before participating in a general cluster of a parade could be safely contained in a public restroom.  A very small public restroom.

The most recent weirdness was Mr. Trump's praise for Xi Jinping effectively declaring himself China's "president for life".  Mr. Trump suggested that he'd have to try that sometime soon.  Ummm...no.  Just....no.

And as a final example, there was his approval of eliminating due process considerations when seizing guns from people deemed a threat.  Has he never read the Constitution?  On second thought, don't answer that.

We will all have another group of bizarre proclamations to discuss by this time next week.  Fixing that problem will not be easy.

Constant brinksmanship and randomness - While some of his "tactics" have yielded positive results, his other tactics are downright ghastly.  Challenging North Korea was sound.  The use of diminutions like "rocket man" and discussions about who has a bigger red button ought to be beyond discussion.  The man has impulse control issues on a staggering scale.

Again, fixing that problem will not be easy.

The Economy - This was originally rolled into the Twitter and Randomness above, but it rates its own entry.  Now we are going to engage in a trade/tariff war?  Has the man never heard of Smoot-Hawley?  Is he unfamiliar with American history?

I am all for fair trade, but that support ends when it morphs into outright protectionism.  I predict that this "trade war" will not end well for anyone if it continues unchecked.

Racism/Sexism -

My outline for this section used the phrase "whiff of racial animus", but that is a poisonous use of euphemism.  Donald Trump may not be actively racist in the vein of the Klan or other such groups.  His comments in the wake of events in Charlottesville, VA may only represent his being habitually and/or reflexively racist.

The racism is there either way.  His history as a New York landlord also suggests that he is as committed to classifying people based on their race as any left-wing activist engaged identity politics.

His denigration of women from claiming to grab 'em by the pussy....we're going euphemism free here....or cheating on his wife with a porn star are easy indications of how he perceives women's roles in our modern society.

I have no desire to have either perspective as a part of our national leadership.

What are the alternatives?

A Republican could certainly enter the primary against Mr. Trump.  As I didn't vote for Mr. Trump in either the primary or the general in 2016, I'm certainly willing to look at alternatives.

The Democrats could run a viable candidate for a change.  Had they done so in 2016, I believe that Mr. Trump would have been significantly less likely to win.

What would a "viable" Democrat look like?  Not Hillary Clinton.  Not Bernie Sanders.  Not Elizabeth Warren.  They need to find someone willing to supporter lower tax rates and a simpler tax code.  This prospective candidate needs to appreciate the sterling benefits of free markets.  They need to support simplifying and modernizing government regulations.  They should support a position of American strength on the global stage...diplomatic, economic, and military...to support oppressed people that are denied their individual human rights.  They should be focused on broad-scale public policies aimed at blue-collar voters.  They need to abandon the left's obsession with identity politics.

If the Democrats run a candidate that displays most of those qualities, then they might well get my vote.

If they don't, then at the least we will have a President that is guaranteed to have at least one success every day as soon as they get out of bed.  They will not be Hillary Clinton.



Reviewing: My Star Guideline

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Posted on : 3/02/2018 05:09:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

A recent post by Lela Buis prompted me to recover my personal guideline for using stars in my book reviews.  I had originally posted this in the comments over at Clarkesworld.

As Goodreads uses a 5 star based rating system, all of my reviews use up to 5 stars.  I'll note in my review if a book might fall in between by calling it an x.5 star review or by indicating that the book is either "weak" or "strong" relative to a given number of stars.

My use of 5 stars...
1 star - really....bad. (probably did not finish)
2 stars - poorly told story, but it might work OK for someone else (possibility that I did not finish)
3 stars - good story. if I loan you the book, you can keep it or pass it on
4 stars - really good story. if I loan you the book, I expect it back so I can read it again
5 stars - really, really good story. I might just buy the book for you so you can read it.

I am not shy about giving out 1-star and 2-star ratings.  If my experience with a book is bad for reasons beyond a surface level reaction, then I'm going to pass that information along.  I try not to be stingy with the 4-star reviews as authors put a lot of effort into completing their work.

A good sign that a book will end up with a 3-star rating....or lower... is if I start making notes via Kindle.  That activity generally means that the book has plot holes or discontinuities, and/or it has a slew of spelling or grammar errors.

As of this moment, my starred ratings on Goodreads are:

32% (120)
41% (153)
17% (66)
7% (27)
1% (6)

Edited to add the paragraph about 3-star ratings.

On The (political) Spectrum

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Posted on : 2/08/2018 02:20:00 PM | By : Dann

I took this particular political quiz back in 2010.  I'm sure the questions have changed some.  So I'm not sure if the change in my score is due to changes in the questions or changes in me.  Both are reasonable options.

My complaints remain the same as before.  Some of the questions are loaded to get a specific emotional response.  Other questions ask the respondent to endorse A and B where I was inclined to support A but oppose B.  So which one do you choose; support both or oppose both?

Formerly, I was Economic Left/Right: 4.12 and Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -2.92.  Now I seem to be Economic Left/Right 4.5 and Social Libertarian/Authoritarian -4.46.


They also had a series of graphs of various governments and political parties for comparison purposes.
The US presidential candidates in 2016.  No wonder I voted for Gary Johnson.



The UK in 2015.  I'm not close to anybody there.



Germany in 2017.  Same story.  Glad I'm an American.




France in 2017.  Curiously, Macron is close to Gary Johnson.




Australia in 2016.  Again, I'm all alone.




Canada in 2015.  I could manage there OK.




Ireland in 2011.  I'd manage there as well, oddly enough.




And a conglomeration of European nations.  I'm assuming that they are plotted based on government policies rather than on any specific party.  Here's an odd thing.  Of my interlocutors regarding political subjects that live within the EU, the most earnest opposition that I receive comes from people in countries like The Netherlands, Sweden, and Germany.  And those are the countries to which I am more closely aligned politically!

Mostly these are folks that perceive of their nations as being essentially "socialist".  The truth is that those nations clearly are not socialist.

-------------

I modest note.  I've added the word "political" to the title of this post.  As it was originally posted, the title was a bit too "click bait-y" for me.

Hugo Awards Nominations - 2018

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Posted on : 2/06/2018 01:25:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Nomination season for this year's Hugo Awards has opened.  The Hugos are the annual award presented by the WSFS for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy.  Nominations will continue until March 16, 2018.  Shortly thereafter, the short list of nominees will be released on March 31, 2018, with voting in the final round continuing over the first half of the summer.  The awards will be presented at the WSFS Worldcon.  This year's Worldcon will take place in San Jose, CA.  Information on participating in the Hugo Awards is at the Worldcon website.

Should you choose to participate, please only nominate works that you have directly experienced.  Don't nominate something just because I (or someone else) recommends it.

There are several categories where I do not expect to have a nomination.  I just do not believe that I have either experienced something that is noteworthy or that I have a broad enough experience to make an informed nomination in those categories.

My list of nominations will be updated as I go through the process.

I hope to have nominations in most of the following categories:

Your nominations for Best Novel:

  • All Good Things  - Emma Newman  - Diversion Books
  • The Core  - Peter V. Brett  - Del Rey
  • Tyrant's Throne - Sebastien de Castell - Jo Fletcher Books
  • Wizard's Sun Rising - Damien Black - Amazon Digital Services LLC

Your nominations for Best Short Story:

  • Empty Nest - Brian Keene - Aliens - Bug Hunt / Titan Books 
  • Chance Encounter - Paul Kupperberg - Aliens - Bug Hunt / Titan Books 
  • The Divine Death of Jirella Martigore - Alex Marshall - Evil is a Matter of Perspective / Grimdark Magazine


Your nominations for Best Series:

While not a requirement according to WSFS rules, I will not be nominating a series unless it has been completed.  I might vote for an incomplete series in the final round, but I do not expect to nominate an incomplete series.
  • The Split World - Emma Newman - All Good Things - Diversion Books
  • The Demon Cycle - Peter V. Brett - The Core - Del Rey
  • Great Coats - Sebastien de Castell - Tyrant's Throne - Jo Fletcher Books


Your nominations for Best Related Work:


Your nominations for Best Graphic Story:


Your nominations for Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form):
  • Bright - David Ayer - Netflix
  • Logan  - Marvel Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, and The Donners' Company
  • Stranger Things Season 2  - Netflix


Your nominations for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form):
  • The Mission - Styx (band) - Blackbird Studios

    Styx is one of my favorite bands.  This album tells the story of a mission to the planet Mars.  I think it that is worthy of consideration from both a musical and story-telling perspective.


Your nominations for Best Professional Editor (Short Form):
  • Jonathan Maberry - Alien: Bug Hunt (anthology)
  • Adrian Collins - Evil is a Matter of Perspective (anthology); Grim Dark Magazine


Your nominations for Best Fanzine:


Your nominations for Best Fancast:
  • SinCast - by Cinema Sins - Chris Atkinson, Jeremy Scott, Barrett Share
  • The Sarcastic Voyage - Ron "Algar" Watt, Matt Rowbotham, & cast
  • The Grim Tidings Podcast - Philip Overby and Rob Matheny Ron "Algar" Watt, Matt Rowbotham
  • The Horror Show with Brian Keene - Brian Keene, Dave Thomas. Geoff Cooper, Mary SanGiovanni, Mike Lombardo, Phoebe, Dungeonmaster 77.1
  • Tea & Jeopardy - Emma & Peter Newman

I changed my ballot at the last minute to include The Grim Tidings Podcast.  As a result, The Post Atomic Horror Podcast with Ron "Algar" Watt & Matt Rowbotham got bumped off the list.  PAH has become a bit repetitive in their discussions of more recent Star Trek properties while GTP had some outstanding author interviews last year.  And there are only 5 nomination slots to be filled. The edit of this blog entry reflects that change.

Your nominations for Best Fan Writer:


Your nominations for Award for Best Young Adult Book (not a Hugo):


Your nominations for The John W. Campbell Award (not a Hugo):
  • Damien Black - Devil's Night Dawning 2016/Wizard's Sun Rising 2017
  • Nicholas Eames - Kings of the Wyld 2017
  • JR Handley - The Legion Awakes 2016

Review: Aliens: Bug Hunt

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Posted on : 1/15/2018 07:37:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Aliens: Bug Hunt Aliens: Bug Hunt by Jonathan Maberry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a 4-star review. It is a weak 4-star book; closer to 3.5 stars.

The premise of the book it a series of short stories told in the Alien universe. While the aliens are not all xenomorphs of the type shown in the Alien movies, most of them are close to that.

A few of the early stories are quite good. They expand on the premise of humanity discovering a harsh and dangerous universe and present characters that are short-sighted in their pursuit of success.

The weakness of the book is that the stories trade extensively on the standard premise of the movies. An evil corporation sends an unwitting military patrol to someplace where the corporation knows is the home of an evil critter. The military discovers that they are suckers far too late in the game.

Mayhem...ensues.

If you enjoy the Alien franchise, then you will largely enjoy this book. The stories are largely entertaining even if it becomes a bit repetitive by the end.

Two standout stories were by Larry Correia and Brian Keene. Larry's story was the most disappointing as it ended up being largely gun porn. Brian's story was the best of the bunch as it delved deeper into his characters rather than focusing on the aliens.

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Review: Evil is a Matter of Perspective: An Anthology of Antagonists

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Posted on : 1/15/2018 07:37:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Evil is a Matter of Perspective: An Anthology of Antagonists Evil is a Matter of Perspective: An Anthology of Antagonists by Adrian Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a 5-star review.

The premise of this book is to tell stories from the vantage point of the antagonist. It is supposed to present a logical, if not sympathetic, perspective on why villains do what they do.

The stories in this book largely deliver on that premise. I believe that all of the stories take place in fictional worlds that were used to write longer books. So each story ends up being a vignette into a world that already has a book in place. If you like a story, then the chances are that you will like the book (or books) that also take place in the story.

I found the stories by Peter Orullian, Alex Marshall, and R. Scott Baker to inspire much greater interest in their work. If I wasn't already a fan of Brian Stavely, then his entry would have caused me to want to read more of his work as well.

Every story delivers on the premise of the book. Even if you never quite buy into the justifications that the antagonist has for their evil, you will eventually appreciate the logic that supports their actions.

I fully expect this to be a book that I will read again in the future.

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Review: Kings of the Wyld

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Posted on : 1/15/2018 07:36:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Kings of the Wyld Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a 5-star review.

Kings of the Wyld is a lovely bit of farce. Bands of adventurers are treated like rock and roll bands. They show off. They "tour". The "play" big halls. They have groupies.

They get old. They retire. They have kids. And then those kids...or at least one of them...decides to show old dad exactly how many poor life choices a person can make.

And one of the bands has to come out of retirement to go save a wayward daughter intent on having her own adventure. Even if it kills here. Which it probably will.

The old bandmates aren't exactly enthusiastic about going back on the road and into the "Wyld". The Wyld is where all the dangerous monsters live. In truth, all the younger bands avoid going into the Wyld because it is dangerous.

Instead their lives are an imitation of how the old bands used to do it. The young bands fight creatures from the Wyld in stadiums where it is easier for the humans to win. The young bands focus on putting on a good show with parades instead of actually going out into the world and having adventures.

In some respects, the book is a great reflection on our modern society where real risk is managed almost to the point of avoidance. Where individuals seem less likely to experience a larger world first hand.

While being a bit of a farce, the book also deals in deeper truths regarding the bonds of friendship, how success can be a bit illusory, and why doing things for real matters more than doing things just to look good.

Saga rides again! Hang on for a wild and entertaining ride.

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Review: The Grey Bastards

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Posted on : 1/15/2018 07:36:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

The Grey Bastards The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What happens when a group of half-orcs stands between full orcs and the destruction of humanity? Are the orcs willing defenders or dupes? Is there something else holding back the tide or orcs?

These and so many other questions get explored in this outstanding book from Jonathan French.

The story revolves around a group of almost exclusively male fighters that are loyal to the cause. They know how to fight the orcs and win. They are defending their homeland; bestowed upon them by the humans they protect.

It is only somewhat later that the reader learns that not everything is as it seems.

One one level, this is a straightforward story about males doing male-oriented things and living male-oriented lives. On a second level, this is a story about being cautious about accepting the narrative that you are handed. Both levels are entertaining, engaging, and intriguing.

I recommend this book to everyone except one type of reader. That would be the reader that disdains reading about masculine characters being happily masculine. 'Cause there's a fair amount of that here.

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