Archive for December, 2011

2011 Year in Review

It’s hard to believe that we at Shiny Book Review are going on our second year in existence. It seems like only yesterday when we came up with the concept of reviewing books for our own enjoyment. Who knew that so many of you would agree with us? We are all very, very flattered and thankful that you’ve hung around and continued to support our efforts.

In 2011 we reviewed 81 books and had 1 interview. That’s about 1.5 book reviews a week, give or take. 2012 looks even more promising as we continue to receive more and more books from publishers looking at us to review their latest (and upcoming) wares, as well as other books coming out later in the year that all of us really want to read. We also had guest reviewers for the first time, and welcomed new potential reviewers to the fold. We also said goodbye to friends who have moved on to greener pastures or have been forced to focus more on their studies.

So here are our favorite books of 2011. We hope you enjoyed them as much as we did. They are listed in no particular order.

The Lion of Cairo (Scott Oden, Thomas Dunne Books — Reviewed March 2011) – Oden had a winner here. The Lion of Cairo is a fun, fantastic trip through the ancient middle east during a time of great upheaval – the Crusades. Intrigue, murder and mayhem follow the hero of the story as he tries to make sense of it all… while accomplishing his mission. (Jason)

— Against All Things Ending (Stephen R. Donaldson, Putnam — Reviewed January 2011) – This is a book that does many things, including: continuing on a major fantasy world, reanimating a dead character in a humane, interesting, intelligent way, showing a complex and multifaceted love story, and using all sorts of unusual, arcane words to both prove erudition (which wasn’t necessary) and to promote the sense of another place and time (necessary).  A book well worth studying, because as I said at the time I reviewed it, it’s both “depressing and hopeful.”  How many books can do that at the same time?  Especially in a long-running genre series? (Barb)

— Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure (Tim Harford, Farrar, Straus & Giroux — Reviewed July 2011) – This is an excellent nonfiction book that proves the power of persistence, melded with the powers of creativity, will always net rewards if you give it time enough and actually learn from why your first attempt (or attempts) didn’t work. (Barb)

— Inventing George Washington (Edward G. Lengel, HarperCollins — Reviewed March 2011) – My fifth selection was tough, but of all the non-fiction books I read this year, Lendel’s Inventing George Washington was the most fascinating. A historian who writes the way I like to read (not too dry, well paced, interesting), this was a very good book that I simply devoured. (Jason)

— Fat White Vampire Blues (Andrew Fox, Ballantine Books — Reviewed March 2011) – This one was tough, primarily because it’s not nearly as fast paced as the other fiction stories on this list. However, the idea of an obese vampire fighting for survival in a changing world tickled me silly and Fox’s writing style was enthralling, to say the least. Can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel. (Jason)

— Countdown: The Liberators (Tom Kratman, Baen — Reviewed August 2011) – Liberators is a venture into modern military fiction by acclaimed SF author Tom Kratman. Despite a long buildup, the action is fast and thrilling when it does finally happen. Well-drawn characters and Kratman’s extensive military knowledge make it a book very worth your time. (Leo)

— Triptych (J. M. Frey, Dragon Moon Press — Reviewed December 2011) – This is the story of the alien, Kalp, and his two human lovers, scientist Gwen Pierson and engineer Dr. Basil Grey. It starts out with Kalp suddenly dead and his lovers back in time trying to stop yet another atrocity from taking place. Then, in the middle, we see things from Kalp’s perspective — how he does his best to integrate into our society by way of the “Institute,” where both Pierson and Grey work. How they take an interest in him, getting him out of the communal alien barracks he lives in and bringing him to live with them; how, eventually, they all become lovers, which seems just right to Kalp as his people marry in threes. Excellent and highly readable, it’s hard to believe this is Frey’s debut novel. (Barb)

— Monster Hunter Alpha (Larry Correia, Baen — Reviewed October 2011) – Please. Like I was going to leave a Monster Hunter book off this list? Granted, Monster Hunter Alpha wasn’t written from the usual point of view of the series hero, but I think this created an added depth to the series and this book could very well be the linchpin that ties everything from here on out together in one neat bow. (Jason)

— Mouse and Dragon (Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Baen — Reviewed January 2011) – This book is a sequel to “Scout’s Progress” and a prequel to “I Dare,” so an avid reader of Lee and Miller’s Liaden Universe (TM) knows what will happen but can’t help but be riveted to the page anyway.  Liadens Da’av, Delm Korval, and his lover, Aelliana Caylon, may be fated for one another as they’re mystically suited to each other beyond anyone else.  But that doesn’t mean all the temporal problems have faded away; oh, no. An excellent book from many perspectives. (Barb)

— Ex-Heroes (Peter Clines, Permuted Press — Reviewed February 2011) – By far the best superhero novel I’ve ever read, Ex-Heroes takes the superhero idea and meshes it seamlessly with the growing zombie genre. Mixing adventure, mystery and action around the lives of extraordinary heroes, this novel was, by a huge distance, my favorite novel of 2011. Considering the list of contenders this little book went up against, that’s saying quite a bit. (Jason)

— In the Garden of Beasts (Erik Larson, Crown — Reviewed April 2011) – Best book of the year? Without question, that’s Erik Larson’s “In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin.”  This is by far the book with the most depth and breadth to it; it’s both personal and historical and it gets to the bottom of things fast.  The detailing is excellent.  There’s new stuff in there for people who’ve read a lot about WWII and the run-up to it (as I have) that’s both terrifying and interesting — maybe it’s interesting in its terror?  And the writing is superb. (Barb)

So there you have it, our favorite books of 2011. Agree? Disagree? Let us know.

Enjoy your New Year’s celebration. We’ll see you January 1st.


“Triptych” by J.M. Frey Among Best Books of 2011

J.M. Frey’s TRIPTYCH does the nearly impossible — it’s a love story with remarkable depth, it’s a debut novel written with the assurance of a master, and it describes humanity in three different ways: from the perspective of scientist heroine Gwen Pierson, from the perspective of engineer hero Dr. Basil Grey, and from the perspective of the alien Kalp — and all work.  Very well.

It’s easiest to describe Kalp, who you might want to think of as similar to Valentine Michael Smith in Robert A. Heinlein’s STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND — except that he’s an alien, Kalp has many of the same characteristics as RAH’s character.  Kalp is smart.  He is innocent in a way that’s hard to describe, but easy to spot — and it’s an innocence that treats sex and sexuality in a clean, matter-of-fact way.  “We all want sex,” so goes this treatment — “even aliens.  So why fight it?”

Kalp is an extremely sympathetic figure; he lost his mates in the scramble to get off-world (a terrible disaster occurred, and only a single spaceship managed to get off-planet before the world was destroyed).  As the sole survivor of his marriage, he feels completely adrift; this, perhaps, is why he resonates so strongly to Pierson and Grey when he meets them.  See, Kalp is a keen observer and understands that Pierson and Grey have a long-term relationship going on — but he doesn’t see why he can’t be part of that, because he really doesn’t understand why human relationships should always stay “just” as twosomes, because in his own culture, marriages come in threes.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

TRIPTYCH starts off with Kalp dead and Pierson and Grey having gone into the past to find out why he’s been killed.  Time travel is only one of the conceits, here; that we’re back in time into the early 1980s means that Pierson and Grey feel nearly as alien compared to the humans they meet back then as Kalp feels in 2011-2.  And mostly, the time travel tells them much more about themselves than they’d ever expected, even though it does give them an answer as to who killed Kalp, and why.

The next section is Kalp’s section in his own point of view.  We see him trying to assimilate into our culture.  We see him live in an “alien barracks,’ and the two heroes, Pierson and Grey, taking him out of there.  We see him getting to know Pierson and Grey as people, and falling for them both as they also fall for him — and there are logical reasons as to why this happens.  It’s not all just proximity, or Kalp needing tenderness and caring after his mates had died; it’s that Pierson and Grey are the right people for him, just as he was perhaps the only person who could actually add something to their twosome rather than take it away.   And we see his successful acclimation to human society, only to have it all end tragically and senselessly — but why?

Well, the third and final part of the book answers that.  It seems we haven’t outgrown our xenophobia, and some on Earth could not handle these triple marriages at all.  (See, Kalp, Pierson and Grey were only the first.  They were not the last.)  So their typical reactions, while shocking and senseless, go hand in hand with our history — but can we rise above this?  And if so, what kind of people will we become?  And on a more personal level, how can Grey and Pierson go back to being “merely” a couple again?

Truly, TRIPTYCH is a work of art in the best of senses — you’ll get more and more out of it the longer you read it.  It is deeply personal — what’s more personal than who we love and why? — it’s psychological, in that what makes a person “human” is definitely one of the biggest parts of the subtext.  It seems like something that could actually happen — alien refugees being taken in, then people like Grey and Pierson working with them at a place like Frey’s described “Institute” — and even the love and sexual relationships being depicted are something that is sensible and seem right in context rather than being thrown in there for the shock value.

In fact, one of the reasons TRIPTYCH is one of the best novels of 2011 is precisely because it doesn’t do that — Kalp’s reactions are priceless, and they grow out of his character.  He does not make decisions merely for the Hell of it; instead, he clearly reasons as to why he’s going to do something, and like a child — or like Valentine Michael Smith — Kalp doesn’t try to suppress his basic reactions.  So everything seems logical, but there is real love there — something to be cherished and protected.  Which is why it’s still tragic in the extreme after Kalp is killed; though the reader knows that Kalp isn’t going to survive from the beginning, seeing who Kalp is and why he matters so much, then sensing just a little of what Pierson and Grey are going through at the novel’s start comes down like a hammer.

In short, Ms. Frey is a writer who’s well worth watching; in TRIPTYCH, she’s managed to write a novel that’s both expressive and interesting, something that can be appreciated on many different levels, as her debut novel

Grade: A-plus.  (In other words — read this novel.  Read this novel now.   You’ll be glad you did.)

— reviewed by Barb

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Sabrina Jeffries “How to Woo a Reluctant Lady” is a Fun, Quick Read

Sabrina Jeffries’s English historical romance HOW TO WOO A RELUCTANT LADY features heroine Lady Miranda Sharpe, who writes Gothic romance novels for fun and profit.  Miranda’s novels feature a character that’s based off the one man she’s ever loved, Giles Masters, because Giles kissed her and then made rude and cutting comments afterward when Miranda was only nineteen years old.

Miranda’s now twenty-eight, a successful writer, and an embarrassment to her family because she (gasp!  shudders!  horrors!) writes under her own name.   Her grandmother, Hetty, wants Miranda married ASAP, but Miranda would rather be left alone; considering the only man she’s ever loved doesn’t want her, why should she be bothered?  So she hatches what she believes is a clever scheme to get her grandma to back down — Miranda takes out a personal ad in a magazine, and hopes this latest scandal will get her grandma to write her off for good.

Instead, Hetty decides that Giles Masters should be given a chance, and summons him imperiously to talk with Miranda once he, too, shows up at the appointed time and place.  Giles tells Hetty the truth, but not all of it — he kissed Miranda years ago, never forgot her, but wasn’t in position to marry her then.  But now, he’s a successful barrister with a booming career; he can easily support a wife.  So Hetty gives him her blessing, and the engagement commences, with the wedding held in due course.

While all of what Giles said to Hetty was true, it wasn’t the whole truth; this is because Giles has been a secret agent for the British government for many years.  Now that he’s become such a high-profile person (about to be named as a “King’s Counsel,” which is an incredibly prestigious thing), his career as a spy has ended — yet Miranda, all unknowingly, has just the right knowledge to unwittingly expose him.

So will Miranda do this to gain her freedom, once she learns the whole truth?  Or will Miranda decide that this makes Giles even more fascinating than before, especially considering how Giles loves Miranda’s writing, loves her, and wants to be with her?  (Hint, hint: if you picked option #1, you haven’t read too many British historical romance novels.)

While the outcome of this novel was never in doubt, I enjoyed the “spy stuff,” I really liked the authenticity of the historical background, and I appreciated the fully believable plot.  The writing here was crisp and clean, the romance was deft and light, and I enjoyed every minute I spent reading HOW TO WOO A RELUCTANT LADY.  And if you enjoy historical romances as much as I do, you’ll probably enjoy this a great deal, too.

The only thing that annoyed me, and kept me from giving HOW TO WOO A RELUCTANT LADY an A, was some of the nature of Miranda’s personal story; she has some shady relatives, and I just didn’t see the point to them being in this novel at all except to perhaps throw her into a bit of danger and make Giles realize a bit quicker how much he truly loves Miranda.  Even there, that whole plot complication smacked of a deus ex machina and was completely unnecessary.

Grade: B-plus.

— Reviewed by Barb

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SBR 2-for-1 Special: Lackey and Edghill’s “Shadow Grail” Series off to a Rousing Start

Tonight’s reviews are for the first two books in Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill’s new “Shadow Grail” series, those being Legacies and Conspiracies.  These are urban fantasies and feature as their main character Spirit White, an ordinary teen from Indiana. 

Legacies coverLegacies starts off with a terrible accident, as Spirit’s whole family has been killed in a car accident.  That same accident landed Spirit in the hospital; she endures extensive rehabilitation in order to be able to walk around.  When she starts feeling a little better, at least physically, she finds that her parents had apparently left a will saying that Spirit should be sent to Oakhurst Academy in the event of their deaths — and as she’s never heard of Oakhurst Academy before, she doesn’t really like this.  Spirit’s parents weren’t wealthy, and she wonders, once she sees the lavish school (which is in the middle of Montana, far from the maddening crowd), how she ended up there of all places.   It turns out that Spirit is a Legacy — that Spirit’s parents had attended Oakhurst themselves, and never discussed it with her — and apparently there are many other Legacies out there in similar situations to Spirit’s own.

Despite these other folks in similar situations, Spirit immediately starts to flounder because Oakhurst isn’t just a preparatory school with an outstanding record; oh, no.  It’s a magical school, and everyone who attends must have magic — so even though Spirit hasn’t any more magic than a flea as far as she knows, she’s quickly ensconced in the school.  And she becomes friends with four others, all of whom have evinced magical talents Spirit herself doesn’t have: Muirin Shae (a chocoholic and caffeine addict; she’s wealthy and her stepmother doesn’t like her), Adelaide (“Addie”) Lake (a sweet girl who rarely raises her voice), Lachlann (“Loch”) Spears (he’s wealthy, he’s gay, and he quickly becomes Spirit’s BFF), and Burke Hallows (a jock, and Spirit’s eventual love interest).  These disparate teens all know that something about Oakhurst Academy has set them off, and they aren’t buying what the director of the Academy, Doctor Ambrosius, is selling, which is the main reason they take to Spirit right away.

But of course there are other reasons, the primary one being that Spirit is grieving.  She misses her parents.  She misses her sister.  She’s been thrown into demanding educational coursework, and even though Spirit herself doesn’t have a clue what her magical talent is (if she even has one), she knows magic is real by the talents her friends have — and accepts it rather placidly at first, as Spirit obviously has only so much energy and she’s using it all just to live.

But then, terrible things start happening; some students go missing.  And in doing some research, Spirit and her friends find out this has been going on for many years — the Wild Hunt seems to be involved (this, by the way, is the only “typical” arcane referent here, and the only sidewise reference to the Court of King Arthur), and yet the teachers aren’t doing anything about it.

So Spirit and her friends decide to mix in . . . while I’ll stop my review for Legacies right there, know that the action-adventure was crisp and believable, and the “teen speak” makes sense.  All the conventional trappings are there: this is present-day, so we have IPods, computers, instant messaging (IMs), e-books, you name it.  And we have a believable, workable system of magic, plus some authority figures that don’t ring true and some real bad juju going on.

In other words, as book one was a success, next is book two, CONSPIRACIES.conspiracies cover  Here, Spirit White and her friends continue to fight against the Wild Hunt as more kids — and even some teachers — have been taken.  No one is helping Spirit and her friends out openly, though there may be a teacher or two who is willing to help covertly as Spirit gets help from an unlikely and unusual source, one that is not named.  And now, Doctor Ambrosius has asked the alumni to come back to Oakhurst Academy in order to help the students “fight the evil,” yet these alumni don’t necessarily seem all that much on the side of the “good and the right,” either . . . so what’s to do?

Once again, Spirit and her friends are able to keep themselves alive, and they learn a few more things.  It turns out that at least some of them are Knights of the Grail — that is, they’ve been reincarnated, even though neither Spirit nor any of her friends know which person they might’ve been in the past.  And there also are Shadow Knights out there — those who originally backed Mordred (Arthur’s son) against him — and this conflict has escalated because of a number of factors (all of which I’d have to blow the plot out of the water to explain, so apologies for stopping with that).

Here’s what’s going on with Spirit’s friends:

Muirin is courted by one of the alumni assiduously, to the point that it sets Spirit’s “antennae” off because Muirin is only sixteen, at most, and this guy courting Muirin has to be at least twenty-one.  Spirit and Muirin become closer due to this and Muirin starts teaching Spirit about fashion (one of Muirin’s passions).

Loch is nearly outed by one of the alumni, which really worries Spirit as she’s not sure what to do about this.  (Loch doesn’t seem overly concerned, except they are in Montana and Montana isn’t exactly known to be gay-friendly.)  Loch had already determined that most of the alumni called in by Doctor Ambrosius were up to no good; that someone would be willing to “out” him for no reason just confirms his belief that these alumni must be fought.

Burke and Spirit become much closer, and their romantic relationship starts to deepen; unfortunately, his foster family (with whom he was very close) has been killed and he’s very upset.  (This might be one reason he takes to Spirit, though, even though it’s more subtextual than out in the open.  Spirit lost her whole family; Burke’s family was already dead, but he had a vibrant foster family he loved very much.  Then they, too, were killed, reasons unknown, but signs definitely point to one of the returning alums.)

Addie realizes she has a Destiny — soon after, the other three of Spirit’s friends also realize this (though Spirit, herself, doesn’t seem to have one) — and that means either something very good is in her future, or very bad.  In either sense, though, Addie won’t be able to avoid it, as a Destiny is something that absolutely must come to be even if you’re not exactly sure what it is.  (This seems akin to clairvoyance without actually needing a clairvoyant around to muddy up the works.)  Addie helps hold the disparate group together, as she definitely seems the most maternal; she’s gifted at organization, planning, and compassion.

So that’s where the Shadow Grail series stands thus far; we have five people who know they must fight against magical evil.  They know reincarnation has something to do with it.  They know that the Morte d’Arthur has more than a little to do with it, no matter how odd it seems.  And yet, they’re teens, with typical teen problems and angst, with the additive problems of these chaotic alumni and the fact that two of the five are seriously grieving at the moment.

I definitely recommend this series; it is a must-buy, mostly because it gets the issues right that teens have to deal with, and partly because it gets the grief issues absolutely right.  I’m looking forward to reading books three and four, and will be very interested to find out what Spirit’s magical talent is (as it’s still not been revealed), whether she and Burke will stay together, whether Loch will be “outed,” and whether the alumni truly are as evil as they seem.


B-plus, Legacies, only because of a slow start.  (I honestly don’t know of a better way to get all the information in there than what Lackey and Edghill did, mind you; they didn’t “info-dump,” for which I thank them.)  Nice action, intrigue, and hints of menace, along with getting the major “teen stuff” right.

A, Conspiracies.  Great action is shown here, and many more hints of menace, with the ante being upped by the additional attacks on teachers at Oakhurst.  When the alumni show up to “save the day,” but don’t end up saving much of anything, the plot deepens . . . excellent all the way ’round.  (Hurry up and write the sequels, please!)

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Maya Rodale’s historical romance “A Tale of Two Lovers” falls flat

Maya Rodale has been called “one of the freshest, most delightful new voices in romantic fiction” by her publisher, Avon Books, and perhaps that’s why her newest historical romance A TALE OF TWO LOVERS tries so hard to be something it’s not.  The premise is original in that a woman writes a gossip column called “Fashionable Intelligence” in 1823 for the London Weekly as “the Lady of Distinction.”  The writer’s name is Lady Julianna Somerset, and she regularly goes to balls, routs, masquerades, etc., because she is a titled widow.  But her late husband didn’t leave her with a lot of money, so she had to do something to support herself — thus, this gossip column.

As the Lady of Distinction, she sees something between Lord Simon Roxbury and another man that looks suspiciously like a romantic clinch, and she writes about it.  (Whether this is something that would really be written about in 1823 is debatable, but this is the premise of the novel.)  Roxbury is known as a womanizer — a passionate womanizer who’s slept with nearly every eligible woman in town, and quite a few who aren’t.  But this news in a major London paper has hurt him at the worst possible time; he’s been given an ultimatum to marry, or else.  Yet no one will have him because of the salacious gossip.

So Lord Roxbury and Lady Somerset enter into a marriage of convenience.  They spar verbally, they spar physically (Roxbury even teaches her how to box, in case she needs to defend herself), and eventually he fully gets behind his wife’s writing.  (Once again, I’m not certain a man of his station in 1823 is likely to do this.  Writing by itself, I can grant — there’s enough historical precedent for it — but considering she writes a notorious gossip column, that really seems like a stretch.  But it is the premise of the novel.)

Here’s the most troublesome piece of writing in this novel, about a rival gossip columnist:

From page 368-9:

The first rule of the Man About Town is that you do not speak of the Man About Town.

Of course, all of London breaks this regularly and the Lady of Distinction shall be no exception because this lady has news about the gentleman — or gentlemen? — that composes that popular column in a small room in High Holborn.  This lady learned the secrets of the Man About Town and might reveal them at any time.

Now, this is just ridiculous, all of it.  First, the reason Lady Somerset (now Lady Roxbury) knows all this is because her husband, Roxbury, helped her figure it out.  Second, to say that she “knows all” and “could reveal it” at any time is also absurd because that’s obvious by the way she’s written this up.  And third, and by far the worst, is that this echoes too nearly the line from the contemporary movie Fight Club — that being, “The first rule of the fight club is never to speak of the fight club.” — and is not something anyone would’ve said in 1823.

This is one of Rodale’s “Writing Girls” novels, and the period detailing of the balls, masquerades, etc., is spot on.  Most of the dialogue works.  The romance is acceptable, though I really had a hard time believing that a notorious rake like Roxbury would settle down with Lady Somerset, even if she had inadvertently “outed” him in a way that wasn’t truthful and felt responsible for his social ostracization.

But here’s the main problem I had with this novel — it tries too hard to do something different, and it just doesn’t work.  Way too much of what drives this novel is not just implausible, but wildly implausible considering that this is supposedly happening in 1823 — not 1923, where much of this exact, same plot would’ve worked far better.

My view is that if you like originality and can gloss over the fact that this plot never could’ve happened in 1823, you’ll enjoy A TALE OF TWO LOVERS because the writing is witty, the dialogue is crisp, the detailing is fine and overall, it’s a fun book to read.  But if you’re like me and demand historical authenticity in your plot construction, you should avoid it because despite all of its pluses, that one, big minus will throw you out of the reading trance over and over again.

Grade: C-plus.

— reviewed by Barb

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Kevin Sorbo’s Autobiography “True Strength:” Truly Good Writing

Actor Kevin Sorbo’s autobiography TRUE STRENGTH: My Journey From Hercules to Mere Mortal and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life, co-written with his wife, Sam, is both surprisingly well written and an interesting memoir.  Sorbo is best known for his portrayal of Hercules in the TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and Sorbo is aware that when most people think about him, they think about his muscles (gained from years of training at the gym), or perhaps his career as an actor (as he also had a lead role in the long-running Andromeda TV series).  They certainly don’t think about the medical crisis that nearly took his life at age thirty-eight, partly because Sorbo’s “camp” (his agent, his publicist, etc.) kept it very quiet.

You see, Sorbo had a very unusual thing happen to him.  His arm had blood clots all through it, and he nearly lost not only the use of his arm but his life as well.  The life-saving treatment he endured included staying absolutely still for hours and days on end, while antibiotics and anti-coagulants coursed through his body.  As a highly active person before this — someone who only was used to sleeping four and a half hours per day, to boot — Sorbo was not ready to have to confront his mortality.

Worse yet, he was in a new relationship with actress Sam Jenkins, the woman who eventually became his wife.  She turned down acting and modeling gigs to stay by his side, and she was a source of strength to him as he fought depression, despair, and the overall feeling of hopelessness.  But at the time, he had to be worrying that his new relationship was about to fall apart, too (even though he glosses over this in his memoir, his wife and co-writer, Sam, discusses this in some detail).

So here he was; wealthy due to his wildly successful turn as Hercules.  He was portraying the strongest man in the world, someone who was supposedly born of a liaison between a God (Zeus) and a mortal, Alcmene.  And yet, he was extremely ill and nearly died.  This wasn’t easy to deal with.  At all.

Then, he had so many problems after the weeks of hospitalization for his arm issues that he was sure he’d had some strokes.  But the doctors originally misdiagnosed him and sent him on his way.  They even told him he was OK to go back to work — apparently not realizing how many stunts he did in his regular “day job” as an actor (maybe they never saw his show?) — yet he knew something was wrong.  And he was right to listen to whatever the still, small voice inside him was, because it turned out he’d had not one stroke, but three.

So once again, here he was.  A victim of three strokes.  He’d lost weight — twenty pounds or more — and muscle mass due to not being able to move in the hospital while his arm problems were being dealt with — and he had so many problems he could barely read, he could barely function, was battling severe depression, and was as much like any normal, human being could be during this time.

What saved Sorbo was a belief in a Higher Power.  Not the stereotypical conversion, mind you, but the fact that before his health had gone south, he’d heard something — from somewhere — telling him to be careful, and not to let his chiropractor crack his neck.  (This last in specific is why he believes that he had the strokes.  No one in the medical community is sure why the blood clots in his arm traveled the wrong way up to his brain, but this is the best guess.)

So this book does many things.  First, it proves that Sorbo is as mortal as anyone else, and that he believes in faith, family, and friendship above his career — though he admits his career has been very good to him and is appreciative of it, the way he lives his life now reminds me a great deal of Gale Sayers’ self-portrayal in his book I AM THIRD.  Second, it proves that confronting your worst fears — being incapacitated for a lengthy period of time, as he was during this illness — will not change who you really are; instead, what they’ll do is force you to focus on what really matters.  Finally, the writing here is first-rate; whether it’s Sorbo, his wife, or his various friends who chime in with anecdotes from their own perspective, the writing is outstanding.  And I hadn’t expected that from an actor’s memoir, even one about having to confront his own mortality due to a severe, life-threatening illness.

This is a very good book to read in many senses, but it’s particularly impressive from a standpoint of a strong man having to admit that in this way, he’s as weak as anyone else.  So in admitting that, Sorbo gained a devoted wife, he regained his health, he started sleeping regularly (more than four and half hours a night, too), and he deepened his relationship with the Higher Power.  All of that is inspiring and well worth reading, especially for those dealing with chronic illnesses in their own lives, or in the lives of their friends or family members.

Final grade: A.

— reviewed by Barb

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