Stay Fit For Life by Joshua Kozak

This is another DK books entry and it is just as fantastic as everything they publish. Ingeniously presented to make exercise fun, friendly, and easy to do – with full photographs that beautiful illustrate workouts and routines. More than just a pretty picture, the exercises make sense and are fully explained. Using graphics and photographs rather than endless monologues, the programs are easy to follow and provide great results. You’ll feel better and have more energy without having to spend hours fruitlessly at a gym. This is especially ideal for those who, after the age of 40, have become less active and have less energy.

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The book breaks down into four sections: fitness basics, exercises, workout routines, and fitness programs. The first section is to ensure you assess yourself properly, shows how to use the book, and discusses safety. The exercises in the second section are broken down by type: locomotion, pushing, pulling, rotation, raising and lowering. The routines are by type; e.g., balance and stability, lower back strength, cool down, warm up, core strength, etc. And then the programs in the fourth section are broken down by type: beginner, intermediate advanced.

To get you right into things, the book gives you a nice flow chart on performing the assessment tests (with step by step pictures and charts), finding your fitness program in the back based on the assessment (with basic instruction on how the plan works and how it is laid out. You then use that to flip to the workout routine with exercises chosen to work together to achieve the workout’s goals. You’ll know at the end of the workout which five fundamental movements the exercises stressed.

The exercises come with large, beautifully photographed images that are annotated to provide tips to make the exercises as easy as possible. The detailed step by step directions are nicely laid out next to the photographs and there are tips as well as suggestions if you need/want to make the exercises easier or harder.

The exercises require only a small set of dumbells and an aerobic step. A mat and chair are also helpful. So there is very little needed to get started right away.

Because this is by far the best book I’ve seen on exercise, especially for those after 40, I’m rating this a solid five stars. And because I only have the digital copy, I am also purchasing the hardback to have handy in my room. Easy, friendly, useful, well written, well designed, and everything one wants to make excise as friendly and useful as possible. I had no problem following any exercises and none were too hard or too easy. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Requiem of the Rose King 7 by Aya Kanno

Aya Kanno’s interesting take on the War of the Roses and Richard III continues as we are given the battle of Tewksbury and its aftermath. Unlike history, Richard plays a part in nearly every aspect – from the battle strategy to the accidental capture of Margaret’s son, Edward. The Yorkists gain a decisive victory thanks to Richard but it comes at a heavy price for our beleaguered protagonist.

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Story: Richard creates a risky plan to defeat the Margaret’s Lancaster army. Margaret, meanwhile, is fearful for her son and convinces her daughter-in-law Anne to make sure Edward doesn’t join the battle. But things don’t always go as planned and Anne herself will make a bold move to save her husband and her father Warwick’s memory. Richard, meanwhile, does not know how Edward feels for him and captures him in battle and must ensure he dies that day. Richard’s brothers and mother, however, are rejoicing now that the Yorkish army has conquered England and reign supreme. But there is still one more loose end to be taken care of – in the tower of London sits the mad former king whom Richard loves – and the person he is commanded to now kill.

In this volume, we finally get the nature of Richard’s ‘deformity’ as it is explained that he was born as both male and female. His mother continues to plot against her ‘demon’ child and is fearful that Richard’s ‘cursed fate’ will somehow tip the precarious balance of her eldest son’s new throne. Similarly, our other manipulative matron, Margaret, is desperate to ensure her son survives the battles and doesn’t rush in foolishly. Ironically, just that happens despite trying to keep her son from running headlong to his own death.

Those who know the history of the end of the War of the Roses will recognize the liberties taken. Although the story follows loosely around the known facts, it also weaves a fun tale while also giving an idea of what was happening in the medieval period. So this isn’t a replacement for actual history but it is an enjoyable overwrought melodrama as only a shoujo manga can do. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer

Creatures of Will and Temper is a book that will likely be divisive to many readers: it’s a literary take on a beloved literature icon that can be hard to get into initially but rewarding if followed to the end. Using The Portrait of Dorian Gray as a starting point, author Tanzer gives us a feminist take on the subject that is intriguing and thought provoking. But this is a slow burn story that is allowed to grow and develop organically if you are willing to stick with it. Also reminiscent of Sense and Sensibility, this is a story about a grounded older sister and a more romantic younger sister – rather than a romance of supernatural. In fact, the supernatural elements rarely come up and the conflicts come from people rather than demons.

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Story: Sisters Evadne and Dorina are complete opposites navigating London Society around 1900. Evadne is grounded and pragmatic while younger Dorina follows her passions recklessly. When the girls travel to London to come out for a season, both discover a world they had never known. Evadne, whose passion is the very manly sport of fencing, finds a home at a prestigious fencing school. Dorina, whose love is art and women, falls in love with a mysterious older noblewoman. Through their uncle, a painter, they find themselves embroiled with a mysterious hidden world where people can channel and communicate with demons. But demons don’t have a moral compass – they can be both good and evil. The sister will encounter both as their new friends bring them into the fold of cabals and loves lost.

Author Tanzer stays true to the novel’s literature roots by telling the story in the same languid way as the source material. It’s not a retelling; rather, this uses many aspects of Dorian Gray but changes them quite a bit as well. Those invested in Oscar Wilde will likely enjoy where Tanzer took the story. Those not familiar with Wilde’s works can enjoy the story on its own since it was inspired by (and not a rewrite of) Dorian Gray.

The sisters are an excellent contrast – one who falls deeply in love while the other chases romantic moments. Each girl finds the person they think is the perfect soulmate for them – but things are not always what they see in a society based upon appearances. There is a lot of growth of the characters as well as a lot of action and drama. Evadnes, the fencing master, especially gets to take on the knight chivalric role in impressive ways.

Although fairly slow in the beginning as the girls move to the City and navigate its waters, the mystery unfolds smoothly and organically. Tanzer allows the plot to develop naturally and doesn’t rush it – this is not a typical YA that is all rushed and hurried and written for teens with low attention spans. But the half way part, the mysteries and explanation, twists and turns begin and we have a great story to follow. Be prepared for surprises aplenty.

If I had one problem with the book, it’s that it was too anachronistic in several places. Characters would use modern turns of phrases that were jarring and ruined a lot of the atmosphere. There weren’t many and for the most part, the book was written as if it was penned at the turn of the century. Mannerisms and dialogue felt right for the time. But there were enough ‘slip ups’ that is was noticeable.

In all, a fascinating take on Portrait of Dorian Gray, giving it a feminist twist as viewed through the lens of fin de siecle England. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt

The Wrong Stars is an entertaining and accessible sci fi opera/romp featuring imaginative aliens, cyborgs, pirates, and space battles. The pace is quick and the story never lags or gets lost in the technology. But we also have a female lead written exactly like a male character so the shallow instalust is made more acceptable. It perhaps ends a bit too quickly at the end with too much happening but there are nice twists and turns along the way to make for an enjoyable read.

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Although Captain Callie Machedo works for the system’s authorities, she also employs crew members who are highly competent but also very unusual. It’s given her a bit of a reputation but she doesn’t care as long as the job gets done. They come across a true relic – a drifting Goldilocks ship that was sent 500 years ago into deep space with a cryosleep crew to find a new home for a failing Earth. What it is doing in her system is a mystery that is cracked when the only surviving crew member awakens – a very hot and diminutive Elena Oh who instantly captures the captain’s eye. As the two work out their lust for each other, the crew and ship have to deal what else they found on Elena’s ship – something that could spell disaster for not only the human race but their alien allies as well.

Obviously, I found the whole ‘romance’ aspect annoying and wish it had been jettisoned. There are a lot of very heavy liberal “love where you want” themes that, while nice, were sledgehammered into the plot. Female readers may want more character interactions but this felt more like a guy checking out a hot chick (the captain spends a lot of time sweating over scenes of Elena’s cleavage) than one female interested in another. It was hard not to roll my eyes at the fail here and clearly the future is about physical and not emotional connection between partners.

But that said, the plot was inventive and the side characters very interesting. As with all these type of ‘Firefly’ confluence of quirky characters, each one has a story to tell as to why they are unusual. And each has no problem telling Elena, our hot little neophyte, the how and why. It was nice to read the backstories but in some instances it was so overtell that you’d think no one understood privacy at all. E.g., an alien species just suddenly giving a VERY thorough and unnecessarily in depth history of their people all to explain one small situation. There was a lot of overtell.

The space and space station battles were fun. Our crew gets to explore new technology, find lots of surprises, and deal with interesting situations. It translated into a lot of action and adventure but the brevity of the scenes did make them fly a bit too fast. Especially at the end, a lot happened but felt glossed over.

In all, despite the reservations above, I have no problem giving this a four star rating as an enjoyable sci fi opera adventure. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Avatar The Last Airbender North and South Library Edition

It would be hard to find something to criticize about this wonderful Library Edition of the North and South arc. We have a complete story, it marks the final, five-year run of Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru, and it brings together again most of the main story characters. Gurihiru’s art is, as always, fantastic and looks like it was drawn directly from the animation with bright colors and clean lines. For Avatar fans, this is a true gift and joy as we also get commentary from the author for most of the pages.

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Story: Sokka and Katara finally return home for the first time since they met Aang and began their advanetures. But what they find is a world completely changed – the small huts/igloos of the village have been replaced by a huge bustling city – with their father as mayor! But many are resisting the change and feel they are losing themselves in the name of progress. Sokka and Katara are stuck in the middle – Katara also wonders if the changes are good while Sokka heartily embraces all the advances. It is a clash of wills as their father’s old friend leads a terrifying rebellion in the hope of stopping the North from taking over and destroying their Southern ways.

As with so much in Avatar, there are no clear answers or right or wrong. It’s about values, the price of progress, and perhaps even a bit about greed. Although it wraps up fairly neatly and quickly, there is plenty of adventure for the kids and a lot of though provoking ideas for the adults.

Because this is the last in the series of comics from this team, they bring in most of the animation characters to either fight with Katara and Sokka or to send help/greetings. It was great seeing everyone in motion and Katara even got to introduce Aang to her father for the first time. Sure, most will probably cringe each time Katara and Aang call each other ‘Sweetie’ (ok, me too!) but that is offset by the great humor throughout. There are some great zingers in there, especially with our intrepid Sokka, to keep faces smiling throughout the story.

The art is, of course, superb. Exactly like the animation with rich colors and beautiful character designs. Really, it’s as if the animation was screen captured and put into creative panel for a graphic novelization. I can’t imagine that fans could find any fault with any part of North and South. Everything about the comics stayed exquisitely true to the original animation.

This library edition includes short commentary on the side of most of the pages that explain a bit about what the author or artist was trying to convey. Sure, we do get the usual self congratulation of the team members telling us how great the other team members are – but there are also interesting tidbits. E.g., how action was created, how the scene was difficult to set up, how characters changed from how they were originally written, etc.

In all, this is a beautiful deluxe edition perfect for kids and adults. It’s something I would enjoy reading to my son or daughter as a continuation of the excellent Avatar series.

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Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation is an enjoyable read – Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies but exchanging an historic for a literary inspiration. In other words, this is your typical YA alternative universe, with instalust, kickbutt heroine who is unfortunately highly unrealistic, and plenty of imaginative adventure. I did not love Dread Nation but it was a nice way to pass the time.

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Story: The Civil War ended and the dead rose soon after. Whole cities were decimated by the ‘plague’ of zombies. Former slaves and native Indians were considered inferior and rounded up and sent to combat schools to protect the white population. Jane McKee is the daughter of a white woman and black man – and therefore was among those rounded up to learn combat. She excels despite the overt prejudice against her until she and her friends uncover a plot with huge and widespread ramifications.

The premise is sound and the author draws upon history nicely rather than superficially. From the language and mores of the antebellum era that persisted even after the war to the way that Indians and blacks were treated. The story takes place in Baltimore, Maryland, as the US is falling apart due to the ever increasing numbers of zombies.

Our heroine, Jane, is strong willed but highly pragmatic. She has no problem killing and I’m glad the author didn’t shy away from giving her a more period-appropriate shifting moral compass. The first part of the book is about learning to fight and interacting with city folk. The second half is a zombie Western of survival and desperation. Although most will appreciate Jane’s ability to think clearly in emergencies and to survive/persevere, I admittedly felt at times that she was written too strongly – I just didn’t feel that this is a person who would have, in reality, survived in the situations she was placed. So although the book is very grounded in facts from the period, I just didn’t believe in Jane as being a true character.

The writing is a bit choppy and doesn’t flow. It felt more like a series of vignettes – fight here, make friend here, meet old flame here, lust after sexy doctor there. Each chapter is headed by a letter to Jane’s family or from Jane’s family, which gave a nice introduction to what we’d find inside. The side characters were interesting and again, we didn’t have one dimensional good or evil characters; each was following their own needs/wants/desires.

The messages and morals are heavy here. If you don’t mind a complete and utter lack of subtlety then you won’t have a problem with Dread Nation. If, on the other hand, you get tired of being beat over the head with certain themes about the wrongs of the times, the book can get tedious. Author Ireland makes good points but she does it just a bit too emphatically and repeatedly.

In all, it’s a fun romp along the lines of Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies – but with a black Scarlett O’Hara/Gone With The Wind feeling instead. Because the author didn’t have to be slavish to a novel, she had more free reign with characters and characterizations. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Queen’s Quality 2 by Kyousuke Motomi

Volume 2 proves why it was a good idea to take the originaly QQ Sweeper in a different direction, renaming it Queen’s Quality and changing the premise. Where before it was two kids battling demons who dirty people’s minds, now it is about Fumi having a secret ability and history that is intrinsically linked to Kyutaro. We almost get a bit of magical girl transformations since Fumi contains versions of ‘queens’ inside of herself. Admittedly, I find the whole idea of cleaners and cleaning completely disenchanting but motomi has such a way with romance that I’ll keep reading.

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Story: Fumi and Kyutaro have banded together to keep Fumi from turning into the black queen while also continuing to sweep bugs. Both take on a mission to cleanse the mind of the tainted teacher who was contaminating students with her unhappiness bugs. But unknown to the couple, there is a brother-sister bug handler team that also want to remove the teacher’s mother bug – regardless if it destroys the teacher. They are fighting on different sides of the same battle and in the middle is the most powerful cleaner of all – the hidden queen that makes an appearance out of Fumi.

The brother-sister tag team were interesting in their ‘lone wolf’ all-or-nothing approach to cleansing. Where Fumi wants to try to save the core of the person being taken over, they feel that is a waste of time and efforts and needlessly dangerous and ineffective. So although they are battling the same problem, their methods and methodology cause a huge clash.

Minor spoilers: This volume was interesting because it brought out a new queen – hinting that there is much more to Fumi than just turning into a white or black queen. As well, the new queen recognizes Kyutaro and he isn’t sure if she is the person he has been trying to get Fumi to remember or not. This new queen appears to be someone lying dormant inside of Fumi.

Looks like we have interesting plotlines coming as the series continues. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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