Bleach 65 by Tite Kubo

ith Bleach 65, we’re still right in the middle of the Quincy battle. But finally we get Ichigo entering the scene and taking names – only to discover that his entrance gives Yhwach even more leverage to enter the private levels of soul society.

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Story: Kenpachi is down and about to be slaughtered until Ichigo arrives and saves him. More soul reaper comrades come to the rescue in the form of Rukia, Byakyua, Renji, and others; Kenpachi is too valuable to lose at this stage of the battle. But Ichigo has unwittingly opened the most secret level of Soul Society to Yhwach – and so must follow him with Chad and Orihime in tow. Sadly, it becomes clear that Uryu has betrayed everyone to follow the Quincy master.

Midway through this final battle arc, Soul Society is taking a heavy beating. We still have a bit of ‘monster of the week’ as we discover more about the powers of individual Quincy Sternritter. But this volume 65 definitely was a welcome return to a newly powered up Ichigo. It’s also great to see most of the original characters together again: Chad, Ichigo, Orihime, Yoruichi, Uruhara, and even Uryu.

There is some cute levity here – Orihime was given a rather revealing new costume by Urahara and Ichigo’s not quite sure how to handle it. Fortunately, we have Yoruichi to keep everyone in line right before they are once again shot out of a canon.

As always, great action and fun. I’m always amazed how Kubo can one-up himself with each new ‘Kurosaki power up’ and battle. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Reboot Your Body by Rashelle Brown

One the one hand, this definitely isn’t your typical diet/health/fitness book. But honestly, the title and description didn’t match what I was reading within. The book really doesn’t have anything to do with genetics and instead is based on CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) and confronting/recognizing/changing habits forcefully/repetitively to create a new, better person. As such, there are no diet programs here, though a lot of the current ‘trendy’ diets (from paleo to vegan) are discussed. At heart, Reboot Your Body is about mental attitude and has very little about genes or, honestly, your body.

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The book breaks down into two sections: a structural roadmap to permanent weight loss and tips, tricks, and practical guidance. Topics include: laying the foundation for success; do your research; what, why, and how; time to talk about food; exercise: move or die; set yourself up for success; step it up a notch; the final pieces of the puzzle; breaking through plateaus; all about exercise; you are how you eat; like it or not, you are in control, making it permanent.

Author Brown makes the case that the the reason there are so many diets out there is because there is no one size fits all for any person. As such, she wants every person to go through steps of accountability by writing down what they eat, when, why, how many calories, portions, examinations of whether they were hungry or not, social eating, emotional eating symptoms, what they want to get as a result of change, who they want to be at the end, what goals they can make to go to an end result, etc. Everything from positive visualization to quite a bit of positive self talking to guide people to believe they will lose weight. It really is almost a sort of self hypnotism where people will believe it if they say it enough – and then they will do it.

And therein lies the problem I had with this approach: you have to become obsessive about food and yourself and pretty much turn it into a form of a religion. It felt almost like a case of Stockholm syndrome but with food instead of a kidnapper. Admittedly, I had already had a problem when the author talked about people in South America who could handle venomous snakes and not died because they believed God would keep the snake from harming them. Perhaps I just lack the faith to walk into a pit full of venomous snakes and not be able to believe hard enough that I won’t get bitten.

One of the key points made by Brown in this book is that the one common denominator of successful and permanent weight loss is the level of belief that the person will take the weight off. That those successes had to do with creating change in behavioral patterns and creating new neural pathways that in time translate into better habits. Better habits that, if kept up, result in lifestyle changes to transform poor into healthy – and permanently rewire a body for good.

So yes, this book definitely takes on the subject from a different angle, though CBT (which always involves a lot of writing since it deals with being accountable and not letting oneself ignore the true problem(s)) is very popular right now from diets to teen problems. For many, it likely is time to recognize that the real diet involves taking off the blinders and seeing exactly where they are failing. Doing so means they can then address those problems and begin the process of fixing them – and losing weight/becoming healthier in the process.

Be prepared for a lot of hard work and honest truths, a lot of pep talks, analyzing, recording minutiae, and talking to oneself daily. If you can deal honestly with yourself, then this likely is the book for you. Certainly, I think there is a lot here for those who have tried many different diets and failed. For me, I honestly do not want to become obsessed with food, counting calories, etc. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Swimming Upstream by Laura Choate

Swimming upstream is a well written and thorough resource for parents guiding their daughters through puberty. Although the author does go on a few soapbox rants (e.g., body image and Barbie), most of the book is extremely useful and informative. For me, the best aspect of this book is that there were quite a few areas that made opening a dialogue with my daughter quick and easy. In discussing them with my 12 year old, I hope she will have the knowledge and confidence to avoid many of the pitfalls of middle school.

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The book breaks down into two parts: the first explaining the world into which our girls are emerging and then part two on how to deal with that world. Topics include: appearance, attention, accomplishments: toxic cultural expectations for today’s girls; girls in transition; vulnerable girls and common mental health issues; parenting from your inner core; developing a positive body image; cultivating healthy relationships, keeping success in perspective; charting a life course.

A strong focus in the book is vulnerability due to insecurity: especially body image and ‘frenemies’.  Cultural norms such as having to be perfect, suppress emotions like anger, vicious backbiting and underhandedness by supposed friends, and unrealistic expectations that girls can’t possibly meet confuse and confound new teens.  Drugs, mental issues, and dangerous relationships with boys often have a common source in that insecurity. The book aims to give girls a strong foundation upon which to develop resilience and strength.

I’ve read quite a few books on the topic now and I found Swimming Upstream to be surprisingly useful. It’s rare that I want to read a book near my daughter so we can discuss various examples or topics – but this book definitely encouraged that interaction. Especially since there were so many topics covered that are already bothering her in 6th grade: friendship problems, girls changing, and expectations in her social circles constantly morphing.

I feel like I have armed my daughter with the ability to make better decisions and not let media/friends/etc. devastate her self-esteem. As well, I can help her recognize toxic situations, messages, and friends – and give advice but let her navigate the tricky middle grade years.

In all, this is definitely an excellent book. A few rants aside, smoothly written and highly useful. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Skip Trace by Jenn Burke and Kelly Jensen

Words cannot express how much I am enjoying this series. From wonderful, relatable characters to an interesting storyline that keeps escalating in unpredictable ways, Jenn Burke and Kelly Jensen have created a winner here. Like a warm, well worn leather chair that welcomes you with each sit, so too is each book in this series easy to fall right back into and enjoy. The authors always leave on a strong note, finish a satisfying book-long arc, set up a surprise that will lead to the plot of the next, and manage a great balance between romance and science fiction. The plot moves assuredly and as new characters are introduced, the worldbuilding becomes richer and more engaging.

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Story: Zed is alive and able to return home. Reuniting with his family, who thought him dead, is a wonderful experience for him but less so for partner Fixer. Felix feels every inch of his scarred face, worn clothes, and damaged body – and it is hard for him to measure up to Zed’s aristocratic family. When word of the Dreamweaver project begins to leak into the media, Zed is suspected and the AEF decide he (and his project colleagues) are too dangerous to be left alive. While Fixer runs away from Zed (and his past) in order to save an endangered Dreamweaver vet, Zed and his family begin a very dangerous cat and mouse game with the military. For not even the Anatolius family has enough money or power to save the youngest from the wrath of a military intent on a cover-up.

Where the first book introduced us to both characters, the second book was about Zander’s coming to terms with his failing body, this third book is very much Felix’s story. There’s a lot of emotion here and that really is the heart of all these books. From Chaos shipmates and their compassion and tough love for Fixer to Zander’s family and former colleagues fighting to save themselves and each other. It makes for a story with a lot of action but also a nice undercurrent of pathos. These are characters we genuinely like and want to root for; even the side characters are given very distinct personalities.

As with the two previous books, there is a big surprise reveal at the end. At least two more books in the series are forthcoming (yay!) and I greatly look forward to the release of the next book after the big twist at the end of Skip Trace. This is turning out to be one of my favorite sci fi/romance books ever; certainly the best M/M I’ve read by far. Highly recommended. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

The Blackthorn Key is an engaging middle grade historical/mystery that reads very much like a 12-year-old-friendly version of an Umberto Eco book. Set during the English Restoration (17th century, when Charles II was restored to the throne after Olive Cromwell’s puritan revolution/civil war) the book has wonderful historical perspectives on the times that aren’t overbearing or obtrusive to the story. But at heart, this is a book about a boy’s adventures in London trying to solve the mystery of his apothecary master’s mysterious nightly excursions.

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Story: Christopher Rowe was saved from the orphanage when a apothecary guildmember noted his mixing skills. Apprenticed to Master Blackthorn, a gentle and kind person boss, Christopher is learning valuable skills that will elevate him above his humble beginnings. But when fellow apothecary guild members begin turning up dead, and with a rumor of a mysterious “cult of the Archangel” behind the killings, Christopher and friend Tom will have to use all their courage and mettle to survive.

The Blackthorn Key makes great use of astronomy, botany and especially chemistry to solve puzzles that will lead to the source of the murders. Christopher is intent on saving his master, Blackthorn, from the deadly cult – one intent on discovering an alchemical reaction that could change the course of British (and perhaps the world) history.

There are several surprises along the way and certainly Christopher and Tom have great adventures that middle graders will love. But this is also a book that adults can appreciate – from the historical details/milieu, a touch of supernatural mystery, to some great twists and turns.

The characters are true to the era as well as their ages. Combined with a very easy and fast read, this is a book that achieves much and rewards on several levels. Certainly, as an adult I enjoyed reading this and then passing it to my 12 year old. It led to some interesting discussions about the English Civil War and the Restoration period.

Recommended for all ages. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Briefly Seen by Harvey Stein

Delving into this book came interestingly enough after seeing an exhibition on photographer Vivian Maier’s work. The precision and cleanness of Maier’s work makes for a stark contrast to Stein’s distracted, dark, and almost tortuously labored images. Two views of the same city, one photographer shot mostly during the day and one shot mostly at night, one shot natural light and the other often with flash, one natural and one with artifice, and one observational while the other very in-your-face. Both provide compelling evidence that photography is indeed an art and not merely a random click of a shutter.

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In Stein’s New York, shot over a 30 year period but from nearly the same two or so locations in midtown Manhattan, we have a New York that is bustling, crowded, and very dark. To provide artistic license, Stein employs blur, reflections, harsh flash, blocked shadows, grain, and a variety of conceits in this collection of black and white images. Because he shoots very wide angle (21mm and 35mm) and nearly every shoot is wall to wall people, the images are almost manic in their intensity – harsh, with odd angles, and a lack of regard to compositional rules or elements. It’s a free for all, the equivalent of throwing paint at a canvas while turning around 10 times and after a 5 martini lunch. As such, one finds pinpoint glimpses of interest among throngs of suited backsides, cut off heads, umbrellas coming out of noses, skyscrapers floating out of heads, decapitated arms, blurred features, shots up noses, crazy reflections, and a surprising amount of breasts and male crotch shots. You’ll have to be patient – sometimes it takes awhile to figure out what prompted the interest within the image.

What Briefly Seen represents to me is the fulmination of the 1960s/1970s photography world, responding to the common feeling that photography was not considered an art at that time. As such, this is the epitomal expression of ‘photojournalism’ that became so rampant in those decades and in college/university photography degrees. It differs so greatly from photography on the streets today, which is so often about form, function, precision, beauty, and impact: heavily planned and the antithesis of what Stein is doing in this book with spontaneity.

Whether you enjoy Stein’s works will likely depend on which photograph era/discipline you prefer. Those doing formal portraiture may find the crazy comps and randomness of so much of the photographs in this book daunting and perhaps frustrating. Those looking for a pure expression of the 1970s photojournalism as art movement will likely fall absolutely in love with Stein’s images. But as with the discussions of preferring a Picasso or a Rembrandt, it all comes down to art. For those curious about what may be contained inside this book, the cover image is perfectly representative of the images inside. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Fitness after 40 by Vondra Wright

In this second edition, revised for 2015, author Wright updates several sections (especially adding new exercises and plans as well as better nutritional information) but essentially keeps a large portion of the original version intact. At heart is her system, nicknamed “FACE”: Flexibility, Aerobic exercise, Carry a load, Equilibrium/balance. There is a strong emphasis on running and her perspective seems to come more from people who were fit once than were never fit ever in their life. But on the whole, the book is comprehensive and easy to use.

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Among the topics covered are: new science of aging, fitness beyond 40, moving to be stronger/smarter/happier, a six week jumps start to mobility plan (20 minutes at day), maximizing performance while minimizing injury, hip replacement issues, guide to smart nutrition, creating a positive mindset, and choosing the right fitness shoes. She’s also included further resources and references.

Her exercise programs come in ‘bricks’ – a mix and match set of routines/stretches which should be put together in groups of five. She gives suggestions on how to put together the “FACE” components – mixing and matching aerobic, carrying a load, equilibrium, etc. She suggests either the included plans or making one’s own depending on needs. Also provided are graphs and charts to help with compiling a fitness plan. Fortunately, they aren’t annoying or difficult to either assemble or perform.

Due consideration is given to ages as well as issues with injuries – from broken hips to tendon issues and arthritis. As well, a nutrition section gives suggestions from supplements to the usual avoiding of processed foods.

Due to the formatting, the hardcover is much more useful than a Kindle version (unless you have a graphical version such as the Fire). And I would have really liked to have had more images of the exercises – beyond the small and relatively few black and whites provided.

Author Wright has covered the topic well and the book is suitable for those even well into the 70s to stay fit and alert. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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