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Leveling up 1-3 kf Breene

Book Review: Leveling Up (#1-3), by K.F. Breene

leveling up 1-3 k.f. breene

After seeing them recommended in a Fans of Urban Fantasy group, I picked up copies of K. F. Breene‘s Magical Midlife Madness, Magical Midlife Dating, and Magical Midlife Invasion while they were free on Amazon.

magical midlife madness

Description from Goodreads:

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.

my review

I adored this. Yes, a couple jokes felt forced. As much as I loved Jessie giving the men how-to-be-better-for-women lectures they felt a little didactic at times. The idea of a magical house choosing a keeper isn’t new, and Jessie was just a little too flippant in her confidence sometime. But…but…but…but I just loved her and the story. I laughed so hard and so often reading this book that I couldn’t even steady my wine enough to sip it.

As a 43yo woman I could relate to so much of her struggle. I appreciated that she didn’t want getting a youthful body back to be the solution to middle age, especially for a woman. She liked herself as so many of us want to like ourselves in our older, more experienced bodies. The side characters cracked me up. The suggestion of romance was on a back burner and not focused on sex.

All in all, I had a hoot with this and can’t wait to jump into the next one.


magical midlife datingDescription from Goodreads:

The decision has been made. Jessie has taken the magic, and all the weird that goes with it. Including wings.

There’s only one problem – she can’t figure out how to access them.

Through a series of terrible decisions, Jessie realizes she must ask for help. Gargoyle help.

But she could’ve never predicted who answers her call – he’s an excellent flier, incredibly patient, and a good trainer. He’s also incredibly handsome. And interested.

Maybe flying isn’t the only thing she needs help with. Maybe she needs help getting back on that saddle, too, emerging into the dating pool.

Except, the new gargoyle is also an alpha, just like Austin, and the town isn’t big enough for two.

Turns out, flying is the least of her problems.

my review

I liked this one, but not as much as the first book. I understood her desire to get back in the ‘dating’ saddle again (really she just wants to try sex for the first time since her divorce and I respect that), but I didn’t understand why she didn’t call D on all his RED FLAGS before she did. I still adore the friends-for-now relationship she has with A though.

I was massively disappointed that, after saying in book one that she didn’t want getting a more youthful body to be the solution to middle age, especially for a woman, she essentially did just that. Maybe she didn’t go whole hog and get her 20yo body back, she just got some aspects of it back. But the way the book moved from her wearing chucks and no make-up in book one to slinky red or sparkly dresses, heals and smokey eyed make-up in this one negated the goodwill book one developed on that front. I almost felt it a betrayal. Whats more, it was just rude that she took those upgrades and didn’t think to do the same for the guardians who are all well past 40yo.

But all the side characters still made me laugh. I still like the main character and am having fun with the series. I have book three and I’m looking forward to reading it.


Description from Goodreads:

Jessie is well on her way to learning her new life and settling in. The tough alpha, Austin, has joined her team, and she has painstakingly learned to fly. At the moment, life couldn’t get any better.

But it can get a whole lot…more irritating.

Her parents have decided to visit. They don’t know anything about magic, about Jessie’s new digs, or about the crazy crew living in and around Jessie’s house. She must do everything in her power to keep the truth away from them.

Which would be much easier without the unfelt presence lurking within Ivy House’s borders. It seems an enemy has figured out a way to magically bypass Ivy House’s defenses. Jessie is completely exposed.

The real battle, however, won’t be with the incoming force. It will be between Mr. Tom and Jessie’s mom, each intent on being the most helpful. Mr. Tom might have met his match, and he is not pleased.

Just when things were finally settling down, Jessie is in the thick of it again, and this time, the turmoil is all around her.

my review

I’m flying through this series and still enjoying it. This one, book three, felt very much like a middle book though. Things happen—the visiting parents provide opportunity for slapstick comedy, Jessie and Austin remain in each-other’s orbits, a battle, members joining the council, etc. But the whole thing kind of lacked series arc focus in the way so many middle books do, done with the introductions, but not moving toward any kind of conclusion yet. All in all, I read it, enjoyed it, and am looking forward to more, but book one is still my favorite by a mile (so far, anyhow).

I do want to make a note here of an experience I had literally minutes after I finished book two. I finished the book, put down my Kindle, and picked up my phone, so immediately after. I was checking in with the same Fans of Urban Fantasy group and someone had asked

Can someone please explain this whole paranormal women’s fiction thing of 40 year old women who have grown children, and no life at 40 (until their husband dumps them and they get a hot faerie bf, obviously)? As a 40-something woman myself, i am not finding I’m able to identify with this anymore than I can with the hot 22 year-olds who predominate in UF…

She went on to also mention women so often being inexperienced in sex. This prompted discussion, obviously, with responders all over the map from agreeing whole-heartedly to stating, “It’s fantasy, Karen.”

But as the debate rolled along, Breene popped in to comment. Now keep in mind PWF isn’t a particularly old genre. I don’t know a lot about how it came to be, but there seem to be 13 authors recognized as the originators and Breene is one of them. And while her response was NO WHERE near Author Behaving Badly level, she did say things like “But as the co-creator of pwf, I figured I’d better stand on the front lines and return fire.” And I just thought it was an oddly defensive stance, characterizing a reader discussion about preferences and dislikes in a genre as combat or an attack. In fact, that was my general read on her responses in generaldefensive, as if personally attacked, which wasn’t how I took the original post.

Facebook screen shotI made several comments (some of which I deleted because the commenters seemed to be starting to take sides and I didn’t want to find myself offending anyone by accident), one of which she ‘corrected.’

This was someone recommending Breene’s series to the woman who dislikes the divorce component. (Magical Midlife Madness starts with the heroine getting a divorce.)

Again, I thought it oddly defensive. Her clarification essentially said the same thing I did in the comment she was responding to. There had been a lack of good sex in the main character’s life. But the “ I won’t apologize for that” again seemed defensive. No one was criticizing her or even the book, nothing had been said that would necessitate an apology. The intent of my comment was solely to make sure the OP, who had just been recommend a book that contained the very element she stated she dislikes, knew that before picking it up. I wasn’t discouraging anyone reading it. In fact, I said I liked it.

As stated, I don’t think Breene was in Author Behaving Badly territory. But it was enough that I’d be cringing  and cautious if this post and review were a bad one. I’d wonder if and how she’d respond. Because she’s shown herself to be defensive, IMO, and willing to step into readers’ spaces to “return fire.” I’m noting all this here should I choose to pick up another of her series in the future. I probably will, I have enjoyed what I read of this one so far, but I don’t want to end up embroiled in any drama.

 

The Discovery of Spiritual Chivalry, by Dr Todd Greene

Book Review: The Discovery of Spiritual Chivalry, by Dr Todd Greene

the discovery of spiritual chivalry

This isn’t a review, per se, so much as a discussion of my experience with the book The Discovery of Spiritual Chivalry, by Dr Todd Greene. As such, it’s rambly, with a bit of a stream of consciousness effect.

There is whole loosely related story of how I ended up with this book and why, despite not generally reading religious books, I chose to read this one. It all started when I received an unsolicited copy of in the mail with the below note.

Normally, I would have done just as asked and put it directly in the LFL and forgotten about it. (Though there is no one more visible place than any other in my LFL. It would be lined up, spine out, like all the others.) But I have to admit I harrumphed at the wording of the note. And since I’m stuck in quarantine with no one to really show it to, I wrote an Instagram post basically saying I thought it was a little dictatorial. I don’t particularly like being told what to do, even when it’s phrased as a request.

 

Then, I thought to share it in the LFL stewards group (without the book details). It generated an interesting discussion, with about half the responders being like, “Yep, that reads like, ‘Here’s a free gift you didn’t ask for, now do what I want with it.” And the rest being like, “Why on earth would you be mad at that?” (No matter that I said repeatedly that I wasn’t mad, just making an observation.)

Several people pointed out that the note includes both please and thank you, therefore can’t be anything but polite, which honestly made me laugh. Having grown up in and out of the American South, some of the most devastatingly cutting remarks every made to my face have been bracketed in please and thank you.

Later that afternoon, I went on a dog-walk with my husband and we ended up discussing how what really struck me  about the thread in the LFL group was a parallel between my experience in the group and that of the note-writer. Both of our comments were being read and judged by others as having a tone and intent probably not intended. I know plenty of the people in a group of ~15,000 just told me to get over myself, there’s nothing wrong with the note. One even asked if I was in a bad mood and if that was maybe why I was reading it the way I was. And I acknowledged from the start that, while I disliked the tone of the note, the author probably didn’t actually mean it to come across as if dictated from a position of authority.

In the end, because it had generated two interesting discussions (the one in the LFL group and then the one with my husband about the experience in the LFL group) and because it is short, I decided to give it a quick read. (Honestly, that quick read became a chapter every few days. So, maybe not as quick as expected.) What’s more, in the course of reading it I was prompted to further interesting discussions about the actual book and its content with my both my husband and mother. So, while well outside my normal reading lane and not wholly persuasive, in my opinion, I found worth in it.

But reading it was a journey and it began badly, which is reflected in my somewhat ranty review. The book starts with too many comments like this: “I have heard many people voice that chivalry, in the twenty-first century US, is dead. Being old enough to have known the WWII generation, I agree that chivalrous behavior and norms have substantially declined.”

I was confounded because during the WWII generation they had Segregation and Jim Crow, the Klan still rode openly. Hell, if you’re from the south like me, they still marched in the Fourth of July Parade. That’s not chivalry! When large swaths of the population are kept silent and ‘polite’ through terror, that’s not chivalry. And when a member of the most privileged group to exist in that time says that because he didn’t see discord it didn’t exist, all credibility is shot. Right there on page 13. What he seems to mean is “I’m old enough to remember when I didn’t have to SEE the rude response to my own ignorance.”

I’ll grant that according to his definition of chivalry people can behave chivalrously while society isn’t. But it is PEOPLE who upheld those same social institutions. So, I have a hard time agreeing that the WWII generation was so much more chivalrous (even by his own definition) than the Millennials simply because they endured the depression and sacrificed for a war, while also oppressing large portions of the populations.

He then goes on to give an example on page 28 that I found particularly illuminating. I thought it clearly highlighted his inability to see some circumstances from any but his own position and therefore might not be as qualified as he seems to think himself to become the self-appointed spiritual guide to the younger generation. This discussion is a little lengthy, but it stood out above everything else in the book to me. I’ll quote it.

Last semester, though I spoke on chivalry for the first time. I did not wake up with that intention but the day prompted it. A blizzard drifted snow across campus the night before. Morning classes were cancelled. While plodding through waist-high drifts to teach my afternoon course, I noticed a female student standing stationary in a snowdrift. She seemed to be stuck there. One step at a time, I made my way over to her, Being in my 50s, and having already walked far, I arrived a little out of breath, I asked if I could help her. My tie, briefcase, and grey sideburns hinted that I was a professor. She gave me a bizarre and seemingly hostile look, as though I was some kind of deviant. She didn’t reply. I asked her a couple more times. She still wouldn’t speak to me or look me in the eyes. She did pull out her smartphone and started to text someone. Baffled, I turned around and plodded toward my building.

He then went to his class and talked about this encounter. Let me ask the women in the audience, what do you do when confronted with unwanted male attention in public? Do you:

  1. avoid eye contact
  2. not respond in fear that it will encourage the behavior and/or may inexplicably anger the man resulting in violence
  3. pull out your phone in the hope that looking occupied will give the hint you wish to be left alone
  4. call or text a friend to let them know you’re in an uncomfortable situation and to be available if you need help

These are the things girls and women are explicitly taught to do. Now, maybe she really was just being rude. But I rather think it’s equally likely that there was a whole second set of codified behaviors being enacted and Dr. Greene was too wrapped up in his own behavioral expectations to recognize them. This didn’t stop him from following her script though.

Again, ladies, what’s the next step for the men in these situation when they aren’t given the response they want? Anger and insults, usually. Example: “Smile little lady, it’s a beautiful day” becomes, “Bitch I was just being nice,” if she walks by without the smile. Dr. Greene may not have called her a bitch. But he went to his classroom and ranted about her, felt so confident in his offense, in fact, that he used it as an example of why his book on chivalry is needed by the younger generations. Claimed that the positive response from his students encouraged this idea. (Though I’d have to ask how many of those students so eagerly agreeing with him that this female student who may have found herself feeling stuck and vulnerable and then approached by an unknown man, even one identifiable as a professor, were also male.)

Instead, I saw it as further evidence that he doesn’t truly understand the very people he’s taken it on himself to mansplain chivalry to. He’s quite explicit that he wrote the book for the Millennials and Gen-Zs. Plus, he seemed to conflates social chivalry with spiritual chivalry. By his own definition they aren’t interchangeable. Being polite and fawning doesn’t seem necessary to progress on one’s spiritual, heroic journey and reach states of chivalry. He especially can’t make this claim if he is willing to excuse the racism of the WWII generation, while claiming them so much more noble-spirited and chivalrous.

He even says, “What did bother me, though, was that she didn’t have the basic courtesy to answer me one way or another–let alone thank me for offering help.” He took it on himself to take an unsolicited course of action, placing expectations on her response, and then was bothered when she didn’t respond in the way he wanted. That’s on him, seems to me she was being pretty clear she didn’t wish his attention, so why thank him? Ladies, how many times have we lived this experience?

As an aside, it was also very like the note included in the book when he sent it to me. I’ve taken it on myself to send you this book that you didn’t ask for. You should be so grateful you’ll do what I tell you with it. The and you’re being ungrateful and rude if you bristle at my expectations on your time, after all, I said please and thank you is implied. It’s that same sense of expectation and entitlement.

My very strong sense in the beginning was that Greene may understand the generational statistics, but, in the same way it doesn’t seem to have occurred to him that the female student in the snow may tell an entirely different story of meeting him in the quad that day, he seems incapable to separating himself from his own lived experiences to avoid judging them according to his own generations standards and expectations. To use the new vernacular, there was a very strong “OK Boomer” vibe going on. And as a Gen Xer–mostly left out of the discussion as normal–I felt appalled on the younger generations’ behalf.

But I’ll admit some of this faded as the book progressed and became focused more on making his argument than convincing the reader it’s needed. When Greene brought up research on homelessness and resilience, Internal Family Systems—really anything data-drivenhe had some interesting things to say. These sections were without fail well written, edited, and thought out. I sense he’s probably a very good academic writer.

And if this had been a book on character development or even just the development of spiritual chivalry I’d call it a success. But Green had a secondary goal…or rather, it’s the primary goal, but slipped as if it unquestionably belongs.

There were so many chapters where Greene was discussing important and interesting aspects of the human condition and I’d think, “Well, that makes sense.” Then he’d essentially tack on “and Q.E.D God.” And I’d blink in confusion. Building character, going on hero’s journeys, healing traumas, absorbing personality exiles, etc, they’re all internal processes. They’re internal and integral to a person. God is external and I never could follow the step from ‘do all this internal work’ to ‘and you must have this external relationship.’ I just sat there and went, “Why?” Even his explanations left me unconvinced the same accomplishments couldn’t be achieved without God. (Of course, Greene’s argument is that they can’t. So, that’s a fundamental difference that probably can’t be breached at this point.)

I discussed this book with my mother, who is a devout Catholic (though she didn’t come to religion until after I was an adult) and she could follow that step seamlessly. So, I strongly suspect that this is one of those, ‘if you already believe’ it’ll make sense scenarios. But as an apathist I was not convinced or converted. I felt it the weak link of the book. Rather, I felt it weakened what could have been a stronger book without it. But as I also feel it was the primary purpose of the book“teaching people that they need God to truly succeed on their Hero’s journey and reach the pinnacle of spiritual chivalry”what the book could be without it is a moot point.

 

marked title

Book Review: Marked, by Lacey Silks

I purchased a paperback copy of Marked, by Lacey Silks.

Marked Lacey Silks

The underworld is stirring. And it’s calling out my name.

One kill. One life. One snap of a demon’s neck and I will be marked with a sphere. It will not only give me purpose and strength but it will also bind me and my sister to a demon lord, Aseret.

He’s killed our kin, disturbed the underworld’s resting souls and now he’s preparing to strike at the humans and vampires. If we don’t stop him, another genocide will ensue.

Gifted with abilities from our ancestors, we are the last shifters. Except my sister believes that our destiny is to bear the water mark instead.

Fortunately for me, every marking comes with a price. For me, her name is Xela. The sinfully sexy dark witch with secrets flips my world upside down. She takes hold of my heart, opening the door to the underworld.

After all, there’s something good about being bad.

Note: Marked is Book 1 in the Two Halves Series with a HFN ending. Contains mature themes and is suitable for adult audience only.

I’ll start by saying the writing here is fine. But beyond that I don’t have a lot of praise to lavish on it. I thought the whole thing too full of talking about doing things and not enough actual doing of things. And when the action finally started RIGHT AT THE END, the main characters were barely part of it. They were there, but not much more. The big fight the book was leading up to was quite anticlimactic.

Plus, Xander felt about 15-years-old but the book is full of sex. Not all of it was explicit but there was a lot of it. So much, in fact, that I wondered if a man really should be able to come that many times in a night. That was practically more of a fantasy element that the witches and shifters.

But my big complaint comes with that note you see in the last paragraph of the blurb. “Marked is Book 1 in the Two Halves Series with a HFN ending.” It is a lie on two fronts. Happy for now infers that the plot has reached some sort of plateau and the couple has reached a moment of happiness, even if it isn’t for ever. This book ends on a precipitous cliffhanger. There is no sense of anything being completed. This feels very much like half (if not a quarter) of a book. And as it’s only 143 pages long, there isn’t really any reason it couldn’t have continued. It didn’t stop at any sort of natural stopping point.

Second, and more importantly, HFN required the characters have found some sort of happiness, preferably together. This books ends with one character essentially dead (for the moment) and the other running away and knowing they can’t even look for the other for years. There is nothing about that that is happy, for now or otherwise. NOTHING. That sentence is a lie and an important one. I wouldn’t have purchased the book if I’d known how it would end…or not end.

Just about the only thing I enjoyed about this book was the laugh I got at the printing mishap on the cover. I read the blurb when I bought it. But then it took a little while to arrive and sat on my table for days. I didn’t really remember what it was about when I picked it up to read. So, I read the back of cover. OK. I dove in and nothing made sense. The character names were wrong, the plot wrong, it didn’t even feel like the same book.

So, I did a little googling and realized it didn’t feel like the same book because it’s not!

Marked wrong back

That blurd you see on the back of my copy of Marked belongs to Baby Me. I can’t imagine how printing the wrong blurb on a book happened, but I got a kick out of it and it made me laugh.

Since I’m talking about covers I’ll also mention that the man on the cover, who one assumes is Xander (the main character) is wearing the wrong mark in the wrong place. That will only make sense if you’ve read the book. But I noticed. Reader notice these things.