Review: Cancer Redux, authored by my body

In our last episode, I said I was scheduled for surgery “soon”. That was supposed to happen last week, on the 16th. That day came and went, and….no surgery. Why, you may ask?

Glad you asked!

Earlier this month, I had an appointment with an ENT.  I have been working with my torture device (as I fondly describe my Therabite) to work on my trismus. If you’re unfamiliar with that word, think of  it as a particularly wicked and ongoing case of lockjaw. I’ve said before that one of the things I wish someone had stressed before I began taking blasts to the head and neck was the importance of maintaining the oral opening. It would make many things much easier, including going to the ENT and allowing them to examine my mouth and neck.

Within my mouth is a mass, on the lower right side. This effectively torpedoed my date in the OR on the 16th. Back to the CT, back for a biopsy, back to the wait on the pathology report.  That finally came back, and it was negative. Hooray! I think I’ll have to slate a removal for that mass at some point, as it’s annoying.

I am back  to having a date in the OR, now scheduled for the 31st. I’m really hoping to be booted out of the place early (Saturday? The Captain can dream!) as I’d rather not still be there when the “Hold my beer!” crowd starts turning up to the ER and being admitted as the Labor Day weekend kicks into gear.

Follow along as more pieces of my body attempt to escape!

The Captain vs The Big C – Round 3! AKA, the shitty third movie in the franchise

“Round three?” you ask. “What was round two?”

That was 13 years ago, in 2010. It was a serendipitous find, as it was found by accident. A short story about that one: I was having teeth pulled on a regular basis – radiation to your head and neck destroys your salivary glands, and without that spit bathing your teeth 24/7, your mouth ends up looking like a particularly aggressive hockey enforcer or a tweaker, although for very different reasons.

In any case, part of my treatment was going for hyperbaric dives, to force blood into the areas where the teeth had been pulled. This is done to speed healing and to try to prevent bone death (osteonecrosis), another thrilling gift from radiation treatments.

As part of the dive process, you’re required to have a chest xray periodically. And one day, there it was: a shadow on my right lung, in the upper lobe. What followed thereafter was a CT, then a PET, then a CT-guided biopsy where they punched a 20 foot needle into my chest (guesstimate) and pulled out a sample. Cancer. In I went for a wedge resection: they remove the nasty, cancer-laden blob, sewed me back up, and I didn’t even have to go through radiation and chemo, yay!

Fast forward 13 years: I head to my pulmonologist for a routine followup. As usual, he breaks out his stethoscope and listens to me, front and back. Out of the blue, he asks, “When was the last time we had a CT of your chest?”

“Beats me, I don’t keep track of that shit. I got people for that,” I typed.

“I’m going to order one and we’ll see you back in a month.”

He order the thing, I go hop on the table for 15 minutes, then I go back to his office. Since the report had already hit my patient portal, I knew it wasn’t good.

“PET time!” they said. Not in a cheery way, of course, because what kind of psycho would do that? But very calmly, very matter-of-fact, which is good, because that’s how I like my potentially bad news.

PET time: several nodules, one glowing like a supernova, except instead of exploding a zillion years ago, it came up within a year or so from my last chest CT. That one was large enough to see clearly, and other spots were, as they like to say, too small to differentiate. I.e., w have no fucking idea if those are (fuck) cancer too, but we’re pretty damn sure that one spot is. To confirm, another chest biopsy, CT-guided.

Now, the biggest difference between the old one and the new one is that the new one is in the center lobe of my right lung, very near the medial pleural – that is, pretty close to my heart. I already knew the biopsy was going to be malignant, and so it was. Once again, it hit my patient portal first, so I knew when I went back to see my lung dude that we’d be ramping up the Fuck Cancer Dog and Pony Show.

After making the rounds of the thoracic surgeon, the medical oncologist, and the radiation oncologist, and after discussing things with my family, I opted for surgery. They’re going to yank that middle lobe entirely in a couple of weeks. The good news is that they may not have to flense me like a damn whale this time – the first surgery left me with a scar that runs from near the top of my right shoulder blade, down along it, across my side, and then up to just below my right boob. Healing from that was a nightmare. Not for the incision itself. It as all the muscle that was cut through to get to the lung.

This time, there may be robots! Or at least one robot, which they may be able to get between my ribs versus having to take a circuitous detour like trying to get back to Russia from Crimea (which is Ukraine, in case anyone is confused about that) since the Kerch bridge was damaged.

If they cannot, alas, it will be another slice and dice, and uncomfy and all that other crap. Fuck you, cancer.

It was caught supremely early, though, and basically by luck. I’m not sure if my lung dude heard something he didn’t like, or if it just occurred to him that we should probably get a CT, but the guy is a life saver and I’m happy I drive to the end of our little earth here to get to him. The hospital network he works for must think so as well, because they made him Chief Medical Officer for his particular specialty at their new campus. Well deserved.

So that’s where we stand right now. As usual, fuck cancer and the horse it rode in on.

I hope to be back posting more content in the near future.

Review: The Writing Retreat (Julia Barth)

Imagine knocking your first novel right out of the park and becoming an overnight success. Then you have a bit of a setback, with your sophomore effort suffering…well, the sophomore effect: not great reviews, fewer sales, and people wondering if you can even come near, much less match, the success of your first book. The next time out, though, you’re back in that rarefied air, and before you know it, you have a string of bestsellers under your belt. That’s Roza Vallo, who runs a writing retreat every year for five promising female authors under the age of 30.

One of those writers heading to the retreat is Alex, who started a novel but didn’t finish it, and has been blocked for over a year on what to write and how to write it. She doesn’t think she has a chance to get one of those five coveted spots with one of her favorite authors, but as luck would have it, she gets her chance. The only thing that threatens to sour her mood is that her ex-BFF Wren will also be there. She’s resolved to not let this hamper her in her quest to best the block and start making her own way in the literary world.

Off she goes to the retreat, meeting the other women and the mansion, which has its own story. I had already not been liking needy, whiny Alex all that much. When she reaches the mansion, she meets the other women, and all of them have some rather forced, awkward conversations. They head to their respective rooms to clean up for dinner, where they meet their odd host and mentor, Roza. Roza tells them they will all be writing an entire novel during their stay. Of those, she will select one, and the writer of that one will be given a seven figure deal for their book. They will all meet every day, and all of them will also meet one on one with Roza.

I don’t mind novels about novels – Misery by Stephen King is one of my favorite books. Alex, who still has no idea what to write, prowls the library in the mansion, and finds a spark in an account of a crime that happened right in this very mansion. This starts to gel for her, and she begins to write, as do the others, all of whom are under the same deadline to produce as Alex. The book she writes, the excepts of which are given to us, the reader, just was not interesting to me at all – I’m not a regular reader of paranormal stuff. Still, she’s writing, even if she is still fairly whiny.

The aspiring novelists could be rearranged, renamed, and reassigned with virtually no loss or confusion, as they’re not that deep. Roza as a character is not just eccentric but seriously odd, and in fact, a criminal. Spiking peoples’ drinks with LSD is not okay. She also seems to be weird just for the sake of being weird and also speaks like someone from the 18th century.

A giant storm has isolated the mansion from the rest of the world, making it a locked room mystery, effectively. Strange things begin happening throughout, Alex discovers Roza isn’t exactly on the level, and the book devolved for me into cliches and tropes – including the one thing we always shout at characters in movies about to descend into a dark basement: don’t go down those stairs. But, that’s exactly what happens.

The last 20% or so of the book has some decent action as well as actual murder, so all was not lost, although the ending was not entirely pleasing and left things open-ended and a bit vague. The rationale behind what’s going on was something I’d already guessed long before the writers even got to the mansion, thanks to a scene where the author might as well have drawn a giant red circle on the scene, in case it wasn’t obvious enough.

Overall, it isn’t a terrible book. The writing is fine, although I wish there had been something to differentiate the women in the group, as they all sounded a lot alike, and their personalities alone really were not enough. It isn’t a great book – too many cliches/tropes, and a lot of “female empowerment” gong on, which is fine, but something that slowed down the story. It is something you can read in an afternoon and not feel like you wasted any time, which is a major point in my scoring system.

Three stars out of five.

Thanks to Atria Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: The Bullet Garden, Earl Swagger #3 (Stephen Hunter)

The D-Day landings have been a success. The Allies are now in France. But they’re not making a great deal of headway because of one dreaded word: snipers.

The areas between the hedges are being called the bullet garden, thanks to snipers working seemingly without any limitations, picking off soldiers at will. It’s clear that to get going inland, the Allies are going to have to solve this particular problem.

Enter Gunnery Sergeant Earl Swagger. He is not, at this time, working as a sniper. Injured in the Pacific campaign, he’s now instructing fresh new Marines at Parris Island, dealing out hard truths. He’s talked into going to Europe for the OSS (the precursor to the CIA) to flush out the snipers gumming up the works. He agrees, is giving a commission as a Major in the US Army, and put on a plane.

He’s given a staff, some offices, and told to get to work, which he does – much to the chagrin and annoyance of another officer, who doesn’t like any other fiefdoms clogging up his own fiefdom. Swagger isn’t one much for office politics and tells his staff – primarily, his second in command, who in reality outranks him, and his aide de camp – to ignore the other officer, as he’ll handle it. He does this as well, in a subtle way, the amusing lesson worthy of being taught to office workers in modern times.

In the meantime, in a sequence I personally thought funny as hell thanks to the crazy reasoning he gives, Swagger puts together a profile of the snipers to his boss and a couple of other brass, which they accept as sound. I’ll leave it at that so as not to spoil it, but I urge you to think hard on it as the book continues, to see if you can spot the reason why before Swagger explains it.

Swagger is then given a field team to go sniper hunting, which includes two young soldiers who left Harvard to join, and whom we met in the opening chapters. While some readers may be able to figure out the how of the snipers striking as they do, it’s much more difficult to get to the who of the group – and I certainly didn’t guess their identities.

There’s a subplot about a romance and a spy in the office, but the latter was dead easy to spot. That aside, it’s a terrific read and well worth the time to invest.

Four and a half out of five stars, rounded up to five.

Thanks to Atria/Emily Bestler Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Dark Circles (Caite Dolan-Leach)

Synopsis? Great! Title? I like it! Story? Not terrible, but convoluted and I don’t think yet another entry into NXIVM or other batshit cults was entirely necessary. I could forgive this if the book was better written, but it just didn’t do it for me. It is slow – VERY slow – to start, and while it does get some giddyup going about half-ish way through before barreling on to the end, some of the supposed secrets are just so weird and silly that by that point I just cared about getting through it, having decided that 2022 was going to be my year of zero DNFs.

Young actress gets shipped to rehab after doing bad-but-not-terrible things. While there, she stumbles on to a “this place ain’t right” vibe, and when she gets out, decides to become a podcaster (at least it wasn’t “become a youtuber”) in the true crime arena. First out of the box: the cultish rehab, where women have died under mysterious circumstances. By the way, Editor, whoever you are: leaving the ads in a printed representation of a spoken podcast? What in the world were you thinking?

The main character was really, really difficult for me to care about. At all. When the meat of the story got going, I managed to put her aside, but authors, please: you don’t have to have a character who is entirely unlikable. It’s very hard to care one way or the other whether they meet their goals or not, or if they die after ten pages or three hundred. There’s middle ground there. Find it.

Two out of five stars. Sorry, author. Not this one, not for me.

Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: The Inconvenient Heiress (Jane Walsh)

Famine to feast. Friends to lovers. What more could one ask?

A tad more chemistry, perhaps, but it isn’t difficult to believe that two women, lifelong friends – one a painter, one unexpectedly in charge of all her siblings after their parents died – who have always been close would be able to inch that “close” gap to nothing.

Arabella is the artist, living with er brother and his very pregnant wife, painting and selling a bit here and there, and generally fine with life,if starting to chafe a bit at what else may be out there in the world for her. Caroline, riding herd on her siblings, can only imagine what her life could be once all the kids are grown and gone on to their own lives.

Enter a courier, with good news: the Reeves have inherited not a vast fortune, but certainly more than they’ve ever sen in their lives. Caroline, ever the worrier, frets that someone will turn up, laying a greater claim to the monies than her little clan has. This turns out to be unfounded, although she now finds herself the unwelcome spot of attention in a pool of fortune hunters. She’s more concerned about getting her sisters properly married – without allowing them to tarnish their reputations in the process.

It’s a fun read, and if you know the typical arcs of these stories, you’ll find no surprises, really. It was fun watching Caroline saving her siblings from themselves, often with help from Arabella and others. Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

Three and a half stars, rounded to four.

Thanks to Bold Strokes Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Doomed Legacy – Rick Cahill #19 (Matt Coyle)

We’ve known for awhile that things are going downhill for poor Rick Cahill. A title with the word “doomed” in it – well, things aren’t looking good.

PI Rick Cahill, previously diagnosed with CTE thanks to all the various head injuries he’s sustained over the years, is not getting much better. He isn’t dead – not quite yet, anyhow – and this leaves him some time to work, be there for his family, and all those things in life people wish they did more of when they lay dying.

But he isn’t doing much in the way of working beyond doing mundane, routine things that keep him of the streets, behind his desk, and bored out of his mind. That includes things like background checks on new hires for various companies.

A business acquaintance contacts him, requesting a rather secretive meeting at an out of the way location. Why? Cahill isn’t sure, but agrees to it anyway. He humors her, as she talks to him about – what else? – background checks for her company, something they’ve always done through him, but she’s found a couple of irregulars: employees whose checks were done through another company with whom she’s not familiar and never heard of.

Cahill doesn’t think much of it, and tells her he can look into it, but it’s probably nothing. He can tell she isn’t happy, and when she ends up dead – the presumed latest victim of a violent, serial rapist in the area – he isn’t very happy either, especially when he’s explaining to the police (again) why he’s on the scene, discovering another dead body (again).

With guilt weighing on him, Cahill accepts a contract from her mother to look into her death.

Thus begins Cahill as we know him: obsessed with the case,he goes up against cops, what seems to be the evil company now doing those background checks (and who may very well be doing much more, sinister things), threats, attempts to pay him of the case, and all the things that put strain on his already strained marriage – and put his family in danger, again.

There really are two stories here, both equally good, both devastating: the actual investigatory job, at which Cahill excels, and the fallout there is to his family and how to deal with it, at which he does not. While he’s capable of unwinding the former, the latter seems beyond his grasp, and it’s rather sad, really.

Another excellent entry into the series, which makes its inevitable end, whenever that may be, sadder.

Five out of five stars.

Thanks to Oceanview Publishing and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Lucky Hitler’s Big Mistakes (Paul Ballard-Whyte)

First thought: terrible title. Each time I returned to the book, I disliked it more.

Second thought: history is not just something that happens *to* people. Everyone exerts a force, no matter how small, on history, which in turn reacts in some fashion. Taken over a long enough span of time, we could construe any number of events in our own lives we could deem as “lucky” – and thus beyond our control, as the author seems to think some of Hitler’s “luck” was. Certainly there are some elements he could not control: the end of WWI, for instance. Other things, though, like the Reichstag fire, which the author seems to lie down at the feet of “luck”, Hitler having nothing whatsoever to do with it, ignore that it’s quite possible Hitler had a hand in it, as well as other things. It’s easy enough to point at events well after the fact and deem them luck.

I would accept instead of “luck” that Hitler (and Stalin, and Mao, and [insert other dictatorial names through history here]) benefited from a confluence of events that served to propel him to the top of the Germanic mountain. However, we must never forget that he willingly took advantage of these things. A lax prison sentence, which came with his own personal secretary, for instance, Hitler used to polish off his horrific screed Mein Kampf. Hindenburg’s ill health? Vaulting into the Chancellor’s office and from there to dictator. Terrible penalties assessed on Germany following WWI? Stoked ultra-nationalism and decrying anyone “foreign”. And so forth.

It’s also terribly simple to look back in hindsight and see the big blunders Hitler made. Simpler still to use those as stepping stones to decide how Germany could have won WWII, even though, as I said, history is not made in a vacuum. There are times when the author sounds quite bullish about Nazi chances to dominate and conquer all of Europe and much of Asia, if only Hitler had done XYZ instead of ABC. If Hitler had ordered the destruction of the soldiers at Dunkirk, he could have invaded Britain. If Hitler had listened to his generals, he could have taken Moscow. Could he? Really? While I agree that wiping up the beaches at Dunkirk would have gone a great deal of the way in securing the western front, equating that with an automatic W on invading Britain is not a step I would take as a given. Ditto taking Moscow as a death knell for Russia. Make no mistake, Hitler made a great number of blunders, some incredibly large – but again,we’re looking at it in hindsight. We could say the same about any time, any place, any conflict.

Third thought: the author spends a lot of time on the same points, over and over. In one instance (the exact memory of which escapes me, as I just did tick marks on the repetition) I saw the same point repeated five different times. We get it. ABC was a mistake, undoing the “luck” Hitler had back in year YYYY. The point was made, move on.

The result is a book that at times reads a bit like a student giving a presentation. Fair play to the author for writing the thing, but it could have done with some editing.

And a much better title.

Two out of five stars. Sorry, author, not for me.

Thanks to Pen & Sword Press and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Tastes Better From Scratch Cookbook (Lauren Allen)

I picked this up because I absolutely agree with the title: things do taste better from scratch.

I’d say this would be a fair cookbook for someone just learning to cook (or who says they don’t like to). The recipes are basic, and there isn’t a lot that would be out of range for people who are new to or don’t like cooking: familiar recipe names, nothing terribly challenging, and they’ll know what it should taste like when they’ve finished cooking.

There are plenty of images, but unfortunately, many of them I just didn’t find that good. In the Kindle edition, the images are also flattened and stretched, both in portrait and landscape view. In landscape, I found that at times, the text would be over the image, but the color of the text versus the image made the text impossible to read. Those were the descriptive parts of the recipes, but the recipes and instructions themselves were fine.

I would not recommend this for moderately skilled or advanced cooks.

Three out of five stars.

Thanks to Greenleaf Book Club and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Reclaiming Love (Amanda Radley)

Two lesbians enter a Scottish island….

Just kidding. Kind of.

Sarah, a go-getter type, has been tapped by her company to run a top-secret experiment. That experiment? To see how a small underwater data center concept works. It’s been placed into the waters off the island, and connections run to a shed behind a small house,where she is to stay for the duration of the experiment. he house is something probably described as “quaint” in real estate speak, and it is – but it needs a lot of work.

Enter Pippa, the island’s resident handywoman. She agrees to start repairing all the things that need repairing, and there’s quite the list. Each thinks the other is a bit rude/standoffish. Always a great start.

Things are progressing well on the house until Sarah, who has told her mother that she’s gone to the island with her new (also nonexistent) girlfriend, finds out her mother decides this is a perfect time to come visit and meet. Sarah knows this is a disaster in the making: one, there’s no girlfriend, and two, her mother would certainly not like the offshore data center.

Desperate, Sarah asks Pippa to stand in. Pippa, dealing with the death of her wife, tells her no, she can’t do that. But she will take Sarah up to pick her mother up from the ferry. After listening to Sarah’s mother, she suddenly steps and introduces herself as the new (fake) girlfriend.

Sarah’s mother is a real piece of work, and not a Very Nice Person. But Sarah and Pippa keep up the charade, and naturally start falling for one another. This is an age gap romance, so bear that in mind.

There are a variety of goings-on, and eventually Sarah’s mother does her main thing, which you’ll recognize when you see it. Sarah and Pippa have some issues, Sarah’s mother leaves, Sarah and Pippa….well, you’ll have to read it.

Not a bad way to pass a couple of hours, but as I’ve said before with Radley’s books, they tend to end a bit too abruptly for me.

Four out of five stars.

Thanks to Bold Stroke Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Reflections on gardening, cooking, and life