Book Review: Conquering Shame and Codependency

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Book: Conquering Shame and Codependency
Series:
Author: Darlene Lancer
Genres: non-fiction, self-help, psychology, codependency

Synopsis (from Amazon book page):

A nationally recognized author, speaker and codependency expert examines the roots of shame and its connection with codependent relationships. Learn how to heal from their destructive hold by implementing eight steps that will empower the real you and lead to healthier relationships.

Shame: the torment you feel when you’re exposed, humiliated, or rejected; the feeling of not being good enough. It’s a deeply painful and universal emotion, yet is not frequently discussed. For some, shame lurks in the unconscious, undermining self-esteem, destroying confidence, and leading to codependency. These codependent relationships–where we overlook our own needs and desires as we try to care for, protect, or please another–often cover up abuse, addiction, or other harmful behaviors. Shame and codependency feed off one another, making us feel stuck, never able to let go, move on, and become the true self we were meant to be.In Conquering Shame and Codependency, Darlene Lancer sheds new light on shame: how codependents’ feelings and beliefs about shame affect their identity, their behavior, and how shame can corrode relationships, destroying trust and love. She then provides eight steps to heal from shame, learn to love yourself, and develop healthy relationships.

Notes of Interest:

I usually start my reviews by talking about how or why I read a book. This time, my reasons are personal and so varied I wouldn’t know where to begin explaining them, even if I wanted to. Suffice to say, I’d heard the term “codependency” thrown around a few times, and assumed it meant two people who were dependent on each other to a harmful extent. But I never really paid attention to it beyond that, until I watched a TV show that brought up the topic. Out of curiosity, I Googled it. And to my surprise, I had the description and definition all wrong. In one sense codependency is like being addicted to an addict, but it is so much more. It was no surprise, however, to discover I had 16 out of 20 traits for codependency … according to a little quiz I found. I was so blown away by how much influence this previously unknown term had over my life, from childhood all through adulthood. So, I had to find out more.

I downloaded two e-books on the subject, and this was the first. This book is so relevant to my life that every page has at least one highlight or note. Before I do reviews, I always look back over my notes and highlights to see if there’s anything I could insert into the review as a quote or example of whatever topic I’m discussing. But as I scrolled through my notes and highlights this time, I laughed. There’s literally something from every page! So, there is no way I can condense everything I want to say about this book into one little blog review, but I will try to hit the major take-aways.

What could have made it better for me:

This book uses very clear language and has well-researched content presented with maximum relativity. It’s well-organized and easy to follow. No technical errors pulled my attention away. And I love that each chapter ends with questions to work on as a follow-up activity in a journal.

I have no suggestions for improvements. It was educational, useful, and met my expectations perfectly. And as always, I love it when I can find nothing to say under this heading.

What I liked about it:

Besides what I’ve already said, this book starts out discussing shame and the differences between shame and guilt. The reason for the focus on shame is because the author saw so many codependency connections to shame that she felt it deserved a book all to itself. She discusses the sources of shame in our lives and how they can lead to codependent behaviors traits. As she puts it, “Shame and disconnection from our authentic self lie at the core of codependency and addiction.” And of course, she explains what codependency is and what the traits are, and a little bit of background on how the term has evolved in modern therapy.

This book taught me that the list of symptoms for codependency is long and often seems contradictory. Low self-esteem, self-sacrifice, and inability to express feelings are all major traits of codependency — in other words, being a doormat. But an inflated sense of self-esteem, assertiveness, perfectionism, and manipulation of others are also codependency traits because there are different kinds of codependents and different circumstances that breed codependency.

One of the main traits of codependency is the presence of a loved one who has an addiction or some other form of compulsive behavior which, intentionally or unintentionally, controls the lives of those around him. It could be an alcoholic or drug addict. Or the compulsive behavior could take the form of shopping, sex, gambling, gaming or other addictions. The compulsive behavior could be an eating disorder. It could even be behavior compelled by religious or social customs. For the codependent, the type of addiction is secondary. In fact the addict is usually another codependent, since codependency often leads to compulsive behaviors. But the compulsive and codependent behaviors are always self-destructive and destructive to those around them. It takes only one person with a compulsive behavior disorder to affect as many as 10-20 people around them, producing codependents among spouses, children, parents, friends, and co-workers.

I learned there are three kinds of codependents. She could be an accommodater who builds her world around the addict, trying to keep him happy, trying to be the glue that holds things together, trying to love and rescue, trying to be loyal, sacrificing herself and her life to keep things as calm and smooth as possible. Or codependents can be masters of manipulation, needing to control everyone else around them in order for them to be happy and comfortable and okay. There is an in-between type of codependent, too — the bystander who distances herself and emotionally detaches leaving a void in the relationship. But most codependents are a combination of these traits depending on the circumstances. The codependent can become depressed and distraught, or enraged, when her efforts to control the situation or rescue the person fail. The codependent is someone whose reason for being lies outside of herself, who is so invested in someone else’s life that she loses touch with herself and her own identity. The codependent abandons her own life to serve and manage someone else’s, and in doing so, she feels loved or needed, and is always trying to control the situation, or is always being controlled by the situation.

This book puts most of its effort into education about the topic: breaking down the sources of codependency, the traits of codependency, and the types of codependency. The author points out that codependency is a learned pattern of behavior that is usually passed on generation to generation. So, learning how to identify it can unravel past abuses, uproot illogical thinking or harmful decisions as a result, and make us aware, so that we can not only recover from current bad relationships, but hopefully break the cycle before it takes root in good or new relationships.

The book ends with discussion and steps on how to do that, and I can summarize it in two words: self care. Once you discover and confront the roots of codependency, you can learn how to put your life back together by building your self-esteem, learning how to take care of yourself, and letting go of being victimized by other people’s problems. Detach and focus on yourself. It’s not selfish. It’s necessary because it returns responsibility for each person’s life to him or her self.

“By caring for your precious, vulnerable self, you become empowered. You stop relying on your defenses or others for your contentment. By loving yourself, you can begin to love and relate deeply and authentically to others.” (Diane Lancer, Conquering Shame and Codependency) The takeaway here is the act of learning how to be content from within yourself, rather than needing something or someone outside of yourself to provide contentment or fulfillment for you.

Recommendation:

Learning and reading about codependency has been a huge eye-opener for me. It has already changed my life in small, subtle ways. But as the book says, recovery is about aiming for progress, not perfection. “Recovery is a journey of self-discovery rather than a destination.” (Darlene Lancer, Conquering Shame and Codependency) Rediscovering 20-year-old me, the one who got buried underneath the abuse, the people pleasing expectations, the shame, and the extremist culture of my upbringing (and all of its long-reaching consequences), has led to the most authentic sense of self and joy I’ve felt in a long time. I feel like ME again.

This book complemented my readings on mindfulness and effectiveness because they all reiterate the principles of being aware, being present, and focusing on changing oneself, rather than obsessing over and trying to change other people or circumstances beyond our control. If you’re into mindfulness, cognitive behavior training, or improving personality and leadership skills, reading about codependency makes sense and could shine a light on the shadows that these other topics cannot. This book is an excellent starting point for learning what codependency is and how to retrain the behavior patterns because of how thoroughly it identifies the problems and characteristics, and gives comprehensive exercises to chew on while working through the food for thought. I will be purchasing more copies to give as gifts for a few loved ones whom I think will benefit from learning about this sooner rather than later, and I already know of one other family member who found it astonishingly relative and helpful.

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Book Review: The Eye of God


Book: The Eye of God
Series: The Fall of Erelith
Author: R.J. Blain
Genres: fiction, fantasy, intrigue

Synopsis (from Amazon book page):

Blaise tries to act like a good human, but someone always manages to ruin things for him. When the Emperor’s most powerful weapon is stolen and its human vessel is kidnapped from the Arena, Blaise must choose between meddling in the affairs of mortals or remaining true to his duty. To make matters worse, the Archbishop has betrayed the church and God by giving the Emperor the second piece of the Triad, the Heart of God. Should Blaise stand idle and leave the mortals to their own devices, the people of Erelith won’t just lose their lives: Their souls will be destroyed by a power that was never meant to fall into mortal hands. If Blaise can find the Eye of God, he might be able to save the humans from themselves. Unfortunately, his only hope for success lies in the hands of a slave who wants nothing more than to die. If Blaise can’t save Terin and enlist his help, the Erelith Empire will fall.

Notes of Interest:

I got this book several years ago. I honestly don’t remember the details of how or why. It has been in my “To Be Read” list far too long (I’m ashamed to say.), so I recently decided it was time to dust it off. However, when I started reading, I soon had to put it down to finish some other books on loan by deadline. When I picked it up again, I was lost. Normally, I can remember the major details with the plot and characters by simply continuing where I left off, as long as the break isn’t more than a couple of months.

As I drafted this review, I looked up a few other reviews in hopes of clarifying a few questions. Like what, exactly, is Blaise supposed to be? Other reviewers apparently had trouble with this question, too, because while some referred to him as an angel, his true form is red, and he used to have a tail (not your usual angelic description). I thought he was a demon or fallen angel, until I was confronted with a reference to his beak. Did that mean he was a dragon? A griffin? Some beast unique to this fictional world? Other reviewers resorted to calling him an “otherworldly creature”, so perhaps that is the best label, but it frustrated me that I couldn’t get a grip on his species by name.

So, I have come to the conclusion that my break from reading is not what made this story hard to follow at some points. But I am noting the break in case I did miss something obvious as a result of my own inconsistency.

What could have made it better for me:

I’ve already mentioned the main thing that frustrated me: lack of clarity. It’s not just with Blaise’s true form. It’s in the world building of the religion and empire, as well as with the artifacts being sought. It’s not bad. I just felt it could have been better because the story left me with more questions than answers — questions about foundation elements more than what happens next.

Who is God? Is this the Judeo-Christian God, but in an alternate reality? Or are we talking about a different divine immortal? We are told what the artifacts are and a story about the spirits possessing them, but I’m still left wondering how they came to be what they are. They’re important, obviously, so I felt a little more precision on describing them and where they came from and what they can do was in order. Who is Blaise’s woman friend in the shop? She and her old language are notably different from everyone else, but with no solid explanation why. Is God’s garden a literal garden in this world, like how ancient Greek’s imagined Mount Olympus? Or is it a metaphysical place were roses are souls, unlike the roses of this world? Tarin was able to enter and steal an artifact, but he’s mortal and alive. The world’s physics feel undefined. Questions like this made me wish the author had spent a little more time on world building and descriptions.

Aside from clarity issues, there were a number of technical errors that pulled me out of the story. And with the exception of Blaise, the characters felt flat. Tarin is supposed to be the “chosen one” of the series, but Blaise’s complexity as a reluctant immortal pretending to be mortal is more interesting. We follow Tarin’s escape and mistreatment among his captors until he escapes again; but he is suicidal, and his agency is diminished by the more dominant characters around him.

What I liked about it:

In spite of the lack of clarity, the ideas in this story have potential. I like stories that involve conspiracies against religions and governments, and that is the core of what’s brewing here. If the conspiracy becomes the center focus, there is potential for intrigue and some good plot twists because that is the nature of conspiracies.

Quest stories are usually adventurous, so the search for the artifact thief makes up the bulk of the action in this book, and there is potential for the protagonist to have more agency in the follow-up books as the artifacts become more important to solving the problem of the conspiracy.

But perhaps my favourite device in this story is the use of the Scripture as a tool for magic. Because the plot encompasses an organized religion, adherents of the faith can literally recite a passage of Scripture to produce magic in the same manner one would vocalize casting a spell. The power that a mortal has to Speak the Word of God would obviously depend on how well they know the Scriptures by heart, and perhaps the strength of their faith. Immortals, like Blaise, have more power. This may seem like nothing new if you’re familiar with any of the literal-based branches of Judeo-Christian faiths, but on a fictional level this is unique because of how these sacred scriptures are literally grimoires full of very powerful, tangible magic. I love how this concept seems so obvious in the real world, and yet we hardly ever see it handled quite like this in secular fiction. I thought it was well done throughout.

Recommendation:

This is a tough book for me to reach a conclusion about. I view it the same way I view abstract art. I can appreciate it as something unique, based on colors and mood alone. But if I stare at it long enough, I see things that may or may not exist, because my brain defaults to needing a more solid picture in order to make sense of it. I see the potential in the world, the characters, and what’s going on with the artifacts, but I don’t enjoy rereading passages when I feel like I missed something important. The reader who prefers to know exactly what the author envisioned might have a more difficult time following this book than the reader who prefers to fill in some of the details himself.

Book Review: Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

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Book: Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
Series:
Author: Stephen Covey
Genres: non-fiction, self-help, motivation

Synopsis (from Amazon book page):

What are the habits of successful people? The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has captivated readers for 25 years. It has transformed the lives of Presidents and CEOs, educators, parents, and students — in short, millions of people of all ages and occupations have benefited from Dr. Covey’s 7 Habits book. And, it can transform you.

Infographics Edition: Stephen Covey’s cherished classic commemorates the timeless wisdom and power of the 7 Habits book, and does it in a highly readable and understandable, infographics format.

This 7 Habits book guides you through each habit step-by-step:

• Habit 1: Be Proactive

• Habit 2: Begin With The End In Mind

• Habit 3: Put First Things First

• Habit 4: Think Win-Win

• Habit 5: Seek First To Understand Then Be Understood

• Habit 6: Synergize

• Habit 7: Sharpen The Saw

Dr. Covey’s 7 Habits book is one of the most inspiring and impactful books ever written. Now you can enjoy and learn critical lessons about the habits of successful people that will enrich your life’s experience. And, it’s in an inforgraphics format that makes it easy for you to learn and apply Dr. Covey’s habits of successful people.

Notes of Interest:

Does this book really need any more reviews? Probably not, but I’ll throw in my two cents anyway. I got this book as another Amazon Prime grab. It’s one that I always kind of had in mind to read someday, so when it popped up in my feed, I decided someday was now. I will get back to my fiction reviews after this, I swear it. I’m just reading a little more than usual in the non-fiction scope this year. I believe that a good education and wise perspective on life comes from reading a wide variety of literature, so I try to practice what I preach by mixing it up now and then. I guess I’ve nailed Habit 5, in seeking to understand so much, right? (If only it were that easy.)

What could have made it better for me:

One of the reasons I’ve stayed away from this book was because, even though the title intrigued me and on some level I figured this could help anyone, anywhere, at any time, I assumed it was a business book. I guess I was waiting for the college student in me to get over the bad memories of economics class first. I was a business major for one whole semester between being an art major and English major, if that tells you anything about how bored I was with lectures on marketing, management, and money. Though everyone seemed to be praising it, to me the idea of reading this book was about as thrilling as setting aside a couple of weeks to read a text on trigonometry theory.

My assumptions were largely wrong. Yes, there is a large portion of the book devoted to business management and leadership because that is what the author did for a living. He was a business consultant. And I’m guessing the “infographics version” was designed to help with visual presentations, or to help visual and linguistic people like me maintain interest, but I found the charts and graphics repetitive. They weren’t bad. I just felt the text was sufficient to get the point across, so I found myself skipping through the pages with the graphics after encountering the first few. But I have good reading comprehension skills, so perhaps people who find reading comprehension challenging or who lean more heavily toward visual learning can benefit from those. Also, though I still find business subject matter boring, I’m at least at a point in my life now where I can learn something from it. Whereas college-student-me selected a business major under pressure to pick something, and business seemed the most practical path, though I had absolutely no passion for it. (I seriously wonder how many other college students do this, too. But that’s another rant for another time.)

What I didn’t expect, and was pleasantly surprised to discover, is that this book backed up a lot of the study I’ve been doing recently on mindfulness meditation, cognitive behavior training, and other mental health and psychology topics. In other words, good psychology is good psychology no matter how it’s dressed. This book just happens to be dressed in a business suit, which might be a turn-off if someone isn’t looking for advice on how to be more effective in business. Fortunately, the common psychological links with what I’ve previously studied concerning how the human brain works made it easily digestible for non-business reading. So, I will say that once my own assumptions were no longer obstacles (due to marketing, perhaps), I was able to enjoy the stories, diagrams, and well-organized paradigm this book uses to teach psychological effectiveness for personal life and relationships, as well as business.

What I liked about it:

The first thing that strikes me about this book is how extremely organized it is, almost to the point of redundancy. The information is introduced in a graphic, discussed in text, broken down into lots of little graphics, and then summarized again as a graphic. As the book progresses, information builds upon previous references like laying bricks in a wall. However, while I did find this repetition a bit over the top while reading, perhaps that will make it easy to search for information in the future. In fact, one glance at the very first infographic sums up the whole theory behind the book, once you know how to interpret it. He said the book was designed to be used again and again, so I can appreciate after-the-fact that it’s structured like a well-organized reference book.

The second thing that struck me was the psychological foundation for the seven habits themselves. Because the first three habits are private victories they depend on who you are inside — your values and character. In other words, work on yourself first. Because only when you take care of yourself responsibly are you capable of working well in interpersonal relationships like friendship, marriage, parenting, employment, community, etc. This is basic “Adulting 101” stuff that every person on the planet should be exposed to as life skills or ethics lessons. And he points out at the end of the book how universal these concepts are, even though people practice them differently.

The first habit, Be Proactive, backs up much of what I’ve learned regarding awareness or mindfulness — the concept that the only time you truly have is right here, right now, so that is where your action needs to be focused. Begin with the End in Mind, habit 2, repeats what I’ve learned about how to go deep into yourself, get real, and set goals so that (as he puts it) you are living the life YOU WANT, rather than allowing your life to be lived for you by someone else. Habit 3, Put First Things First, is about priorities and management … breaking down goals into realistic steps, then breaking steps down into doable, scheduled tasks. It’s about prioritizing what truly matters to you, and keeping promises.  These are all challenges for the integrity of self, and they are prerequisites for everything else.

Habit 4, Think Win-Win, pulls in interpersonal relationships, stressing why it’s important to learn how to appreciate people’s differences and find ways to maximize benefits for everyone. Competitive relationships, whether at home or in the workplace do not build strong interpersonal relations. So instead of seeking to dominate, we need to be seeking ways to help everyone win. This is an extremely important concept to me, though I’m more familiar with it through the term ubuntu (an African humanist philosophy meaning “I am because we are”) and via my experiences living in Japan. This is such a fundamental human value that I marvel at the fact that it has to be explained and taught. But it’s necessary because our paradigms in society are so far off-track!

Complementing habit 4 is habit 5: Seek First to Understand Then to Be Understood. The world needs more of all of these principles for living, but this is perhaps the hardest and most needed of all — listen, understand, then problem solve. We tend to jump straight to wanting to be understood, without having empathy or compassion or being willing to listen to people’s different perspectives. We end up in shouting matches about beliefs or politics. Or we get stuck with the consequences of prejudices and exclusionary organizations and social circles. And those things feed more competitive relationships, which ends up damaging people and communities. Every sociology study stresses the importance of humanity’s interdependence. Every biological science stresses the importance of interdependence in the natural world. But we still don’t get it! We still insist on “my way or the highway” thinking when it comes to people who are different. World, we need to work on this. Desperately. And it starts with me. It starts with you. Making the world a better place, whether on a global, community, business, or family level, always begins and ends with every individual.

Which leads us to habit 6, Synergy … the harmony experienced when everything and everyone works well together. That’s the “end” we should all be striving for. He said in the book that once you’ve experienced it, you know it, and it’s something akin to magic. It sounds surreal sometimes, but humanity IS capable of achieving synergy on many levels. It is a process that involves effort on everyone’s behalf because it’s built on consideration of others, which is built on being aware and mindful of your own internal state of affairs.

So, habits 4-6 make up what he calls public victories. Public victories can only happen when private victories are put first. A person without integrity cannot function in a public office where integrity is necessary. A relationship with self has to be understood and maintained before interpersonal relationships can succeed. In the book, he likened it to learning how to crawl before learning how to walk or run — a natural, necessary progression through stages of growth that cannot be skipped.

The 7th and final habit is Sharpening the Saw and is again a universal principle found in many, many other resources, but can be summed up in a quote by Maya Angelou.  “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”  Always make time to review and reassess your values, your goals, your progress to see if you’re staying on the path you truly want for your life. Check in frequently with your inner self, your habits, your relationships, etc. to make sure you’re doing what you can to do better for yourself, your loved ones, your coworkers, your community, etc. These are life maintenance practices, not tasks you accomplish once and you’re finished.

At the end of each chapter, he also offers assignments for application for the reader to begin work on in his or her own life, which I made use of through journaling.

Recommendation:

I have pages and pages of notes from this book — far more than I ever thought I would take. Much of it is a repeat of I’ve learned from other studies, but Covey was gifted with clear thought and teaching skills to be able to relate experiences, demonstrations, and core matter in such a well-developed format. I loved his story examples of principles in action. There is a light humor to the book that I appreciated, so it wasn’t a “dry” read at all. And he presented these universal principles in a manner I feel most people would be receptive to. I kind of wish this book had been recommended reading for my own Interpersonal Communications class in college, but the book didn’t exist back then.

I understand now why so many copies of this book has sold, and why so many people praise it. I’m glad to have it in my library now, right alongside my mindfulness and psychology books. I will be referencing it again in the future. And, yes, this book will be the foundation of my business library from now on, too. It’s a good book for individuals, parents, students, couples, business leaders … just about anyone serious about making changes through practical application toward a more genuine and improved outlook on life.

 

Book Review: Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World

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Book: Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World
Series:
Author: Mark Williams and Danny Penman
Genres: non-fiction, self-help, mindfulness/meditation

Synopsis (from Amazon book page):

The Life-Changing International Bestseller
Mindfulness reveals a set of simple yet powerful practices that you can incorporate into daily life to help break the cycle of anxiety, stress, unhappiness, and exhaustion. It promotes the kind of happiness and peace that gets into your bones. It seeps into everything you do and helps you meet the worst that life throws at you with new courage.

The book is based on Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). MBCT revolves around a straightforward form of mindfulness meditation which takes just a few minutes a day for the full benefits to be revealed. MBCT has been clinically proven to be at least as effective as drugs for depression and is widely recommended by US physicians and the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence—in other words, it works. More importantly it also works for people who are not depressed but who are struggling to keep up with the constant demands of the modern world.

MBCT was developed by the book’s author, Oxford professor Mark Williams, and his colleagues at the Universities of Cambridge and Toronto. By investing just 10 to 20 minutes each day, you can learn the simple mindfulness meditations at the heart of MBCT and fully reap their benefits. The book includes links to audio meditations to help guide you through the process. You’ll be surprised by how quickly these techniques will have you enjoying life again.

Notes of Interest:

I have been a student of meditation for about 3 years now. I meditate at least once a day, sometimes two or more, and have experienced its benefits first-hand. So when I come across books on mindfulness or meditation, I snatch them up. This is one I downloaded through Amazon Prime’s first reads. For someone who has been meditating for a while, it’s a basic refresher course on mindfulness and meditation, but it also had a few new things which I found helpful and intriguing. (More on that in a minute.) For the person who has never meditated before, or is new to the practice, this is an excellent resource, complete with audio file downloads to help you through the guided meditation exercises.

What could have made it better for me:

I have no complaints or issues with this book: none, nada, rien, nani mo. It was well-organized, covered essential ground, had lots of thoughtful content, and an actual plan for implementing the practice. So, let’s jump to the juicy stuff, shall we?

What I liked about it:

The book starts by stressing that meditation and mindfulness are practices. That’s extremely important to understand. Mindfulness is not a magic pill that will solve problems. It’s not something you do a few times, learn the skills, and you’re done. It’s a lifelong journey that must be practiced regularly to demonstrate improvement, like learning a language fluently, excelling in sports, mastering musical instruments, etc.

These practices are based on cognitive behavior training techniques and are scientifically proven to “exert a powerful influence on one’s health, well-being, and happiness ….” It’s about training your mind. Therefore, one thing I appreciated about this book is it outlines an actual plan for practice. At the end of each chapter, there are suggested meditations to download from the publisher website, principles to review, and activities called “Habit Breakers”. I wasn’t able to follow the plan exactly in the eight-week time frame they set up, but I did read or incorporate their activity suggestions on a daily-to-weekly basis based on the time I had for it.

The authors begin by addressing what meditation and mindfulness are … and what they are not. So, the first chapter delves into the overview of what to expect from the plan and discusses the scientific evidence backing the effects this practice can have on things like severe depression, anxiety, memory, creativity, and more. The next few chapters encourage the reader to think deeply and honestly about their present state of mind and introduces basic principles of mindfulness meditation, one principle at a time.

For example, the second chapter is called, “Why Do We Attack Ourselves?” and discusses the role negative thoughts play in allowing our thinking to rule our moods, habits, and reactions. The chapter then discusses how human brain thought processes work and stresses that when we are aware that we are not our emotions, that emotions are impermanent things, we can detach from a bad mood or self-criticism before it leads us by the nose into a tailspin. We can choose to let go, knowing that dwelling on problems doesn’t solve them. To solve problems, we have to be proactive — a different frame of mine. The purpose of practice is training the mind to transform destructive thoughts or reactions into proactive action … to separate the thinking mind from the doing mind and give each the proper space to do their thing, rather than attempting to solve problems by worrying. Transforming your psychological habits can transform your life. Mindfulness practice builds resilience, and resilience is where the magic happens when it comes to being able to handle life’s pitfalls.

Besides focusing on coping with depression, other topics covered include breathing spaces for anxiety; body scans for turning toward adversity and non-reactivity; pressures of guilt, shame, and fear; and acceptance of self-forgiveness and compassion. The Habit Breakers are simple activities. I altered a couple to suit my circumstances better, but the idea is to pay attention to how much we humans do on auto-pilot on a regular basis without knowing it, and then intentionally do something different. Intent matters. Awareness matters. Especially when trying to break bad habits and form good ones.

Some quotes from the book …

* “Happiness is looking at the same things with different eyes. Life only happens here — at this very moment. Tomorrow and yesterday are no more than a thought.”

* “John was on his way to school. He was worried about the math lesson. He was not sure he could control the class again today. It was not part of a janitor’s duty.

What did you notice when you read these sentences? Most people find that they repeatedly update their view of the scene in their mind’s eye. First of all, they see a little boy winding his way to school and worrying about his math lesson. Then they’re forced to update the scene as the little boy changes into a teacher, before finally morphing into a janitor. This example illustrates how the mind is continuously working “behind the scenes” to build a picture of the world as best it can. We never see a scene in photographic detail, but instead make inferences based on the “facts” that we are given. The mind elaborates on the details, judging them, fitting them with past experience, anticipating how they’ll be in the future and attaching meaning to them. It’s a fantastically elaborate mental juggling act. And this whole process is run and rerun every time we read a magazine, recall a memory, engage in conversation or anticipate the future. As a result, events seen in the mind’s eye can end up differing wildly from person to person and from any objective “reality”: we don’t see the world as it is, but as we are. We are constantly making guesses about the world—and we’re barely conscious of it. We only notice it when someone comes along and plays a trick on us, as in the John scenario.” [Blog note: This is part of a discussion on how the mind forms thoughts as “facts” based on assumptions and guesses. When we become aware that the things we tell ourselves are not facts (I’m a failure, I can’t do this, I just want out, etc.), we gain different choices. We can let those thoughts go because we recognize they are half-truths or false. I felt this was an excellent example of how the mind automatically, though incorrectly, forms assumptions.]

* “The experienced meditator is not someone whose mind does not wander, but one who gets very used to beginning again.”

* “Breathing Spaces , of themselves , do not solve anything in the short term. But they may give you the perspective to act more skillfully.”

* “[Acceptance] allows us to become fully aware of difficulties, with all of their painful nuances, and to respond to them in the most skillful way possible. It gives us more time and space to respond. And often, we may discover, the wisest way of responding is to do nothing at all.”

* “Well, here it is : now is the future that you promised yourself last year, last month, last week. Now is the only moment you’ll ever really have. Mindfulness is about waking up to this. It’s about becoming fully aware of the life you’ve already got, rather than the life you wish you had.”

* “Indeed , one of the words that we translate into English as “meditation” actually means “cultivation” in the original Pali language . It originally referred to cultivation of crops in the fields and flowers in the garden . So how long should the cultivation of the mindfulness garden take each day ? It is best to go into the garden and see for yourself .”

* “Practice as if your life depended on it, as in many ways, it surely does. For then you will be able to live the life you have — and live it as if it truly mattered.”

Recommendation:

It’s hard for me to separate discussion about a mindfulness book from the topic of mindfulness itself, but I think this is an excellent read for covering the topics necessary to begin learning the practice of mindfulness meditation. If anyone is suffering from depression, anxiety, or just feels like life is so frantic you don’t have time to breathe, I encourage you to give the plan in this book a try. These are good basic life skills for learning resilience and healthy coping strategies for everyone from all walks of life, in my opinion. For more experienced meditators, much of it will sound familiar, but the eight-week plan might offer a few new challenges to try. It’s a good fundamentals reference tool.

Fantasy Meets Quantum Physics

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“Wyrmhole” by Melody Daggerhart

This week I started the second draft on book 6, and it has led to some very interesting research turn of events. One was relative to the elf gates themselves, so I’ll share it first and come back to the other later.

The very-ever-first-very-very-FIRST version of book 1 of this series, The Changeling (of which there have been many “first” drafts over the years, but I’m talking about the one I built from scratch, rather than the multitude of start-over revisions) was a sci-fi story.  The elf gates started as portals that had nothing to do with elves, but they were built by a non-human, alien race. I remember using my dad’s encyclopedia set to look up tons of anything I could get my hands on about black holes, anti-matter, etc. This was my original idea for explaining how these portals between worlds worked. But eventually I threw in the towel because I was trying to understand quantum physics at a time when no such phrase had even been coined, and my despair at not having adequate information or understanding was stalling the story. My favourite sci-fi author at the time was Isaac Asimov, and frankly, I am NOT a mathematician or a physicist; so I just don’t have that depth of scientific knowledge to employ in stories the way he did … the way I wished I could to write really mind-blowing science fiction.

In other words, I realize now that back then I was trying to teach myself how to become a quantum physicist rather than being a story teller. Writing is about stories. And fiction, especially any kind of speculative fiction, is based on elements of the fantastic. So, if you’re an expert in  some non-writing profession, and you’re watching TV, or reading, but you come across something that is just not true or in alignment with your expertise, you have to remember that writers are not all these other hats their characters have to wear, or that their plots explore. Their true profession is constructing plots and characters to entertain you. Writers are accountable to do a reasonable amount of research to make certain concepts, places, or characters credible. But beyond that they can’t be held accountable for not having the same expertise as someone like Stephen Hawking. The point of a story is to open the imagination to alternate, even impossible realities, while exploring the human condition. But perfectionist-me wanted to be as correct as possible, so writer-me was having a hard time progressing with the story.

Eventually, I waved the white flag of surrender on science fiction and rewrote the entire thing as a fantasy series. As soon as I switched the story’s genre, I knew I had come “home” to my niche. The novel and the entire series blossomed after that. But eventually I hit another bump — this time I was distraught to realize I didn’t have enough medical knowledge to handle what I wanted to do combining medicine and magic. (Sounds silly, right?)  I can remember talking to my neighbour, who was an ER nurse, about a scene in which a character was shot with a bullet. And I asked if I wrote the scene realistically, or if I needed to change it. Her words of wisdom have stuck with me ever since. She said, “Just write what you want to write. Medical professionals who read fiction know what they’re getting into when they pick fiction. The lasers used in the majority of sci-fi books are nothing like real lasers, but we accept that because fiction isn’t real.”

This blew my mind! Her answer made me realize I could give myself permission to NOT have to know everything, if I wanted to explore a concept as a writer.  In fact, the reason science fiction literature appeals to me, and so many other people, is because, like fantasy, it’s an escape from reality. And probably more than any other genre, science fiction and its various sub-genres have contributed an amazing amount of inspiration to real life science and social change. Remember when Captain Kirk’s Star Trek communicator was something stupendously marvelous that looked nothing like a flip-phone because no such thing existed yet? Yeah, if you’re old enough to remember life before mobile phones, you remember thinking how amazing it would be to talk to people in a space ship while you’re on the planet … no wires, not even with that huge distance between them! …  Aw, it seems quaint now.

So, here I am, decades later, with book 6 of the Elf Gate series, which delves into familiar, although somewhat dreaded territory for me, in the sense that I am back to researching black holes and worm holes and all kinds of other mind-bending theories and discoveries for the sake of my fantasy book. Sure enough, I started to panic after a certain point. I began to feel like an inadequate fraud writing about something I myself couldn’t fully grasp. What if my way of weaving these concepts together is unrealistic? What if what I’m proposing is stupidly impossible? What if someone who understands real quantum physics shreds my book with a one-star review because it’s obvious I have no idea what the hell I’m talking about! (GASP!) … And then I remembered my neighbour’s words. And I realized, if someone expects me to have a Ph.D. in quantum physics just so I can write about dragon-created portals into the fae realms, maybe I’m not the one with issues about unrealistic expectations. 😉 Fantasy is fantasy … after all.

Anyway, having said all that, I wrote this article because the kid-author in me is super excited to be digging into this kind of research again from a whole new angle, especially since I have infinite resources at my fingertips through the Internet and technology has advanced exponentially on the subject matter since then. And I wanted to share what I think is the best ever “layman’s terms” article on the differences between black holes and worm holes. If I had found this article when I was writing that very first draft of Changling, perhaps the entire series would have remained science fiction. But of course only time travel can take me back to that “What if?” Meanwhile, there is fantasy … and wyrmholes … and ley lines … and elf gates … and magic and imagination.

This article is from the Ask a Mathematician/Ask a Physicist blog and was written by “The Physicist”. … Enjoy. 🙂

 

Book Review: Song of Edmon

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Book: Song of Edmon
Series: The Fractured Worlds, Book 1
Author: Adam Burch
Genres: science fiction, epic science fiction

 

Synopsis (from Amazon book page):

In Adam Burch’s thrilling series debut, a young man must choose between violence and peace in a distant world divided between those who thrive in endless sunlight and those who survive in eternal darkness.

The isolated planet of Tao is a house divided: the peaceful Daysiders live in harmony while the pale Nightsiders pursue power and racial purity through the violent ritual of the Combat.

Edmon Leontes, the gentle son of a ruthless warrior noble and a proud Daysider, embodies Tao’s split nature. The product of diametrically opposed races, Edmon hopes to live a quiet life pursuing the music of his mother’s people, but his Nightsider father cruelly forces him to continue in his bloody footsteps to ensure his legacy.

Edmon’s defiance will cost him everything…and spark a revolution that will shake the foundations of Tao. His choice—to embrace the light or surrender to the darkness—will shape his own fate and that of his divided world.”

Notes of Interest:

I got this book because it was an Amazon First Read offering with Prime. I used to be an avid science fiction fan and originally wanted to write science fiction. But I got discouraged when I realized not everyone is cut out to be an Isaac Asimov, and turned my attention toward my other literary love: fantasy. I’ve been in a life-long romance with it ever since. But on occasion, I miss sci-fi stories and will reach for one. So, I went into this with no expectations or skepticism … pretty neutral ground for escapism literature.

What could have made it better for me:

There were a number of technical errors that drew me out of the story, especially in the beginning. These were mostly grammar-related missing commas, to be exact. But either those faded or the story absorbed me more toward the middle and end. It wasn’t a big distraction the further I went in.

The other thing that kind of lowered my enthusiasm at one point may be debatable in terms of whether it could be done better or not. There is a period of darkness in that transition between Edmon being a peace maker and a killer that stretches on for several chapters. And I noticed that my mood was sinking with his mood. The good thing about this is it means those sections of the story were effective in conveying his spiral down. But the fact that I almost made me lose interest in the story isn’t good. Perhaps it could have been shorter? Or perhaps I just wasn’t enjoying reading such a depressing passage. Either way, I definitely wanted him to get out of the dungeon and be a nice guy again — SOON! But it’s understandable why he became hard and cold the way he did after enduring those kinds of experiences for so long.

What I liked about it:

Looking through my notes on this book, I’ve realized that most of my favourite points were quotes. This is unusual for me because, while I love a good pearl of wisdom, when I read fiction I’m usually more about the adventure … and so is the book. Adventures don’t often drop a lot of pearls of wisdom that make you think deeply while you’re along for the wild ride. But this one had more than average.  Here are some examples.

“Humanity’s savageness is what makes it civilized,” he answers. Do all people from Meridian think this way? I wonder, “Technology, trade, computers, space travel,” he goes on. “All are products of competition and conflict.”

“Meditate to master the self,” he says. “You can master nothing until that’s mastered. So that’s the only end worth anything.”

“Without apology or tenderness, he tells me that knowing my limits is more important than pushing them.”

“Wars are petty things. They rob men of dignity, turn them into meat and guts.”

And “Religious fervor often brings out the violence in the human soul.”

There are more, but I appreciate when fictional stories meant for escapism can also give me something deep to roil around in my head on many levels. So, I considered this a big plus for the book’s depth. There is also the fact that the plot itself tackles some pretty tough topics within the human experience, like racism and supremacy, “might is right” philosophies, and what becomes of a civilization that is built on the backs of exploitation of others. Dividing the planet into a day side and night side reminded me a little of H.G. Wells’s Time Machine, in which humanity had divided (devolved over the ages) into two distinctly separate kinds of society — the childlike prey vs. the monstrous predators — since they were incapable of co-existing without the strong taking advantage of the weak. The difference in this book is that it’s not too late and sets the stage for a revolution, which I’m almost certain is coming in a later book.

Another thing I liked about it was the base concept presented so far with the world building in terms of putting humanity into space on other planets. Not much is said about this, but I have a feeling more exploration of the concepts will take place in the other books in the series. It’s off to a good start, at least.

The cast of characters is diverse, which is a plus. And I love the mingling of the various “past” earth cultures into something new. I tend to love stories that explore that kind of thing, guessing at how culture might continue to evolve and blend in the future or in alternate time lines, compared to our past and present. I have trouble deciding whether this is a character-driven story or a plot-driven story because it is told in first person present through Edmon’s eyes and is a dynamic character, but the plot is heavier in terms of who is doing the pushing. This book almost feels like a prequel with something bigger coming.

Finally, I love the way the author pulled the themes together regarding music. Music as a warrior theme doesn’t usually happen. At. All. … So to have a main character who is a music lover and charismatic artist rejecting martial arts, only to be drawn into the area time and time again against his choice to the point where his “freedom song” ends up being a tragedy (which I will say nothing more about because … spoilers), is unique. And then to package such a story with each chapter falling back to the theme of musical terminology that is appropriate to the movement of the plot … I’ve just never seen anything done like that before and thought it was very well executed, binding the whole work together as one whole “concert” of sorts.

Recommendation:

I really enjoyed this book overall. I have not read the rest of the series yet, but would definitely be open to it. It was a nice escape from my fantasy back into sci-fi. And for it to touch on social issues the way it did, is (in my opinion) the best kind of sci-fi, reminiscent of works like Star Trek, which put real social issues under a distant lens to help us step back and take another look from a more objective point of view. If you like speculative fiction with a layer of depth on social issues, or if you enjoy epic science fiction, you might enjoy this book, too.

Book Review: How to Work from Home and Make Money in 2017

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Book: How to Work from Home and Make Money in 2017
Series: N/A
Author: Sam Kerns
Genres: non-fiction, home business

Synopsis (from Amazon book page):
“Sam Kearns is a resource you can trust no matter what stage of your career you are in. I have purchased 3 of his books so far and I have not been disappointed.” Lene C

Are you tired of struggling just to get by with a paycheck that doesn’t quite stretch far enough? Or are you one of the millions of people who are out of work in an economy gone bad? Maybe you long to be your own boss so you can set your own schedule and choose the path your life will take.

Whatever it is that brought you to this page, you’re obviously looking for answers. The good news is you’ve come to the right place.

I’ve spent the past 20 years working for myself, and I would never dream of punching another clock or trudging to someone else’s office every day to collect a meager paycheck. That’s because I’ve discovered the secret: when you work for yourself, you’re happier, more productive, and you have unlimited earning potential.

After all, why would you want to work so hard to fund someone else’s dreams?

Working for myself has allowed me to live a lifestyle that many people can only dream about. I have the flexibility to create the life I want, take days off when I need to, and I decide how much money I make by choosing the hours I work

But don’t be fooled. Working from home at a home-based business isn’t easy. It takes hard work and dedication to build a successful business that makes money.

In my book, I’m pleased to offer you 13 proven, realistic ways to work from home and earn a great income. And I won’t just offer you a brief explanation of each method like some other books do.

In each chapter, I provide you with the information and facts you need to determine if that business is right for you.But I don’t stop there. I’ll also give you important links and resources, so if you decide you want to pursue one of the home-based business ideas listed in this book, you’ll have everything you need to begin.

So, the choice is yours. Will you wake up tomorrow morning and spend your day funding someone else’s dreams, or will you finally take the steps needed to claim your own success?

Why not start right now by buying How to Work From Home and Make Money? It’s one of the most important things you’ll do to begin the process of achieving your own dreams.

Notes of Interest:
I should probably start this review by saying I don’t normally gobble up “get rich quick” type books. I am a natural skeptic when anyone tries to sell me something and was born saying the mantra, “If something sounds too good to be true it probably is.” I downloaded this book as an Amazon Prime free read, and I admit parts of the book that didn’t appeal to my interests got skimmed, rather than read. However, I paid close attention to the parts that did interest me and tried to keep an open mind.

My motive in downloading it could probably best be described as “covering all my bases” because I have already done my homework researching work-at-home options for my specialty skills. However, making money from working at home requires a completely different set of skills. So, that is where I’m open to new ideas from a variety of resources, even if it means dealing with some repeat information.

What could have made this book better for me:

There were a few technical errors and an overall vibe that I couldn’t shake. I think the technical errors stood out because this was a non-fiction book partially devoted to how to be a professional freelance writer and author. But then he turned around and talked about hiring writer underlings to ghostwrite for him. That left me with the impression that I don’t know if I’m reading this author’s work, or his underling’s work. Am I seeing his errors or his underling’s errors? The overall vibe for the book fell for me after that.

I get the “entrepreneurial spirit” and wanting to maximize profit. And ghostwriting is a legit job; a lot of people do it. But paying underlings to do jobs you don’t have time to fulfill, while paying them less than what was originally offered, to skim part of their profit, just made me angry. Maybe I’m interpreting it wrong, but creating a middle-management man is not what most freelancers have in mind … if they’re aware of it. Most freelancers work for themselves to escape that kind of thing. But it’s hard to earn a living as a freelance writer. They don’t get benefits or health insurance. They sometimes can’t count on a regular income. And the gig economy, by its unregulated nature, opens opportunities for some profit-minded people to exploit the hell out of others. Have you ever seen a doctor or auto mechanic do free work in exchange for free advertising? I think not. Yet writers, artists, and other freelancer/self-employed people often work long hours for little pay or get scammed into doing work for nothing. Whether you’re talking about freelance contractors working at home or overseas factories paying for cheap labor, “outsourcing” is just another word for “greedy” if the worker is not paid full wages.

So, the shark-tank philosophy behind that advice pushed all the wrong buttons for me. It triggered the skepticism that normally makes me avoid these kinds of books. And it confirmed my understanding that there are two kinds of entrepreneurs. There is the person who always wanted to own his own bakery, so he puts his heart and soul into his craft, store, employers, and everything he loves about what he’s doing. And then there is the person who wants quick, easy money and will do whatever it takes to get it, even if it means taking advantage of someone lower on the ladder. Business is a self-sufficient dream job to the first type. It is a game based on winner-takes-all strategies to the second. Both can be successful, but ethics of method usually have very different outcomes for hirelings.

Having said that, I will add that this book is not about how to take advantage of people lower on the ladder. Only the section on freelance writing hit that nerve for me. If you’re going to outsource your work, don’t do it to cheat your workers and maximize your own profits. They’re trying to earn a living just like you. If you want to write 10 books and don’t have time, so you want to hire 10 ghostwriters, fine. But don’t take 10 full-pay freelancing jobs off the board and hire 10 writers to do them at half-price.

Onward …

What I liked about this book:

This is a neat little collection of the most popular, doable ideas for being your own boss and working at home. The book is divided into two sections for internet-based work and local-based work. And then each of those sections is further divided by job type. So, the first half will have information on jobs like freelance writing, on-line shops, and virtual assistance services. Then the second half will discuss jobs like pet sitting, cleaning services, or home-cooked goods delivery. In this respect, it’s a well-organized resource with basic “how-to” steps for set-up, initial expenses, what to expect in short-term and long-term maintenance, along with lots of links for further information.

Looking back over my highlights and bookmarks, I was surprised I took as many notes as I did. As I said, this isn’t the first time I’ve read about home-based business relevant to me, but I guess I was working on the premise it’s better to have duplicate information than to miss something helpful. I paid closer attention to the on-line based business sections because I’m an indie author who self-publishes. I run my own blog. I am available for freelance hire in writing, editing, and illustration services. And I have done English language tutoring in the past and am considering doing that again in the future. I’m studying marketing and updating my tech skills to aid in the quest of monetizing these services, but the book doesn’t cover things like that. It is strictly about generating ideas for home-based businesses. For example, instead of telling you how to write, it says you need to know how to write well or hire someone who can do it for you. Then you can figure out how to earn passive income from the product.

For the novel-writing section, the information sounded spot-on, but again, it’s not designed to teach how to write a novel or how to market it. It just shares what’s involved in production of a typical book. The information on blogs is something I’m actively digesting alongside my other research because I’m making plans to revise mine. For freelance services, I felt he was right to bring up the fact that ratio of time it takes to do a good job versus number of jobs you might take in order to pay your bills can lead to missed deadlines or jobs left unfinished. He does point out that self-sufficient income on freelancing alone is a challenge, especially for beginners, so I appreciate that he’s not making it sound like these means of generating income are effortless. I have not dug too deeply into language tutoring as an option, so I’m looking forward to checking out new resources in that part of the book. I had considered tutoring as a local option, but for some reason did not think of doing it on-line. That could make a big difference, since I prefer to work with ESL students.

Recommendation:

If you are new to research on home-based business this is a good place to start reading. If you are well-versed on the subject, this book might still offer some new options you otherwise missed. Do NOT expect this book to help you make money without investment or effort. DO expect this book to serve as an idea generator that offers resources for turning ideas into action. You still must do the action. Nobody’s going to do it for you. And if someone works hard helping you achieve your goals, do the right thing and pay them well.

(Edit: Almost forgot to add that this book is updated annually, so I have seen that there is already a 2018 edition.)

Oshougatsu Boke

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Ozouni, gyoza, gohan … nom. ^_^ Ozouni, gyoza, gohan … nom. ^_^ Ozouni, gyoza, gohan … nom.

Another year behind us; a new year ahead of us. I hope everyone has been enjoying whatever winter holidays most appeal to you, and that you’ve all had some well-spent time off enjoying food, fun, friends, and family, or just some much-needed peace and rest. 2017, for me, was a very tiring year. Honestly, it left me angry and exhausted far too much, mostly due to watching what was going on in the world around me and feeling frustrated beyond break-point to be able to do anything to change it. So, one of my intentions for 2018 is to stop focusing on what I can’t change and double-down efforts where I can make a difference.

Living in Japan, New Year’s Eve and the first week of the New Year were the most special time of the year — a time to revisit treasured traditions, time to reflect on what has passed, and time to set new challenges for ourselves in the coming year. This is true in most places around the world, I think, but New Year celebrations aren’t complete for me without scouring my house to start January with a clean space and a fresh spirit, cooking a big pot of ozouni with mochi, munching on gyoza, mikan, and other traditional and non-traditional favourite foods, enjoying a few rounds of kendama and hanetsuki, and listening to all of my Japanese music in a playlist long enough to rival NHK’s Kouhaku Uta Gassen. Lessons learned on impermanence speak loudest to me at this time of year, as well as lessons on resilience, letting go, and living in the present moment for most of my day-to-day life. So my “homecoming” of the holiday season always involves setting aside the first week of the New Year to go back in my mind to this atmosphere and these life lessons.

But this is usually accompanied by or followed by “Oshougatsu Boke” … a phrase that means “New Year’s Blur/Forgetfulness/Fog.” It describes that transition period between winding down at the end of the old year and returning to the everyday grind in the new year. We might be a little more forgetful, a little less mindful. Everyone looks like they just dragged themselves out of bed. And we are having to forego all the yummy leftovers to lose the 10 lbs. gained from the past month of indulgences. There might be a slight grouchiness about having to return to former routines. Or resolutions that challenge us might turn frustrating too quickly, leaving us disappointed. It’s a scattered time when we’re still writing last year’s date on everything well into the second week of January. Reality might have a surreal feel to it until we can return to “normal”.

This is where I am right now: Oshougatsu Boke. I have been spending the past few days mind mapping 2018 so that it does not turn out like 2017 … so that it turns out better because I intend to be more pro-active. … As part of these plans, I will be slowly revising this tired old web site. I have completely taken down my old blog now, and I will be rethinking this blog’s purpose, reorganizing its elements, and maybe even redesigning it. I don’t know exactly what kind of changes I’m going to implement yet: that’s the “boke” part of where my mind is at. But I definitely want to something new and fresh.

As a result of shifting my focus, my blog posts might not be as regular. My goal last year was to post once a week, and I accomplished that, for the most part. I will still try to post often this year. Maybe I can keep up the once-a-week schedule. But if not, it’s because I’m using my previous article-writing days to make more progress on the final books in the Elf Gate series, spending more time marketing my books, and revising this space to get more of what I want from it. I will still review the books on my reading table because I will never be able to resist discussing a good book. I will still discuss the craft of writing and related topics. I will still offer updates on my writing projects for readers. I may even add additional content. But I may have a less reliable schedule for doing these things to make time for reorganization and tasks for new goals.

Hopefully the holiday fog will fade by the end of the week. I’m sure I’m not the only bleary-eyed person out there struggling to focus on marketing when I’d rather be scarfing down some hot chocolate by the fireplace, lazily watching the snow fall. So, I want to wish everyone a happy, healthy, safe, peaceful 2018. And I hope everyone finds something they can be excited and pro-active about in the months ahead.

Book Review: The Sword of Shannara Trilogy

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Book: The Sword of Shannara Trilogy (includes: The Sword of Shannara, The Elfstones of Shannara, and The Wishsong of Shannara)
Series: The Sword of Shannara Trilogy
Author: Terry Brooks
Genres: high fantasy, epic fantasy, adventure

 

Synopsis (from Amazon book page):

“Twenty-five years ago, New York Times bestselling author Terry Brooks wrote a novel that brought to life a dazzling world that would become one of the most popular fantasy epics of all time, beloved by millions of fans around the world. Ten more Shannara books would follow. Now, for the first time in one elegant collector’s edition hardcover, and featuring an introduction by the author, here are the first three novels of that classic series: The Sword of Shannara, The Elfstones of Shannara, and The Wishsong of Shannara—the beginning of a phenomenal epic of good and evil.

The Sword of Shannara
Long ago, the wars of the ancient Evil ruined the world. In peaceful Shady Vale, half-elfin Shea Ohmsford knows little of such troubles. But the supposedly dead Warlock Lord is plotting to destroy everything in his wake. The sole weapon against this Power of Darkness is the Sword of Shannara, which can be used only by a true heir of Shannara. On Shea, last of the bloodline, rests the hope of all the races.

The Elfstones of Shannara
The magical Ellcrys tree is dying, loosening the spell that bars the Demons from enacting vengeance upon the land. Now Wil Ohmsford must guard the Elven girl Amberle on a perilous quest as she carries one of the Ellcrys’ seeds to a mysterious place where it can be quickened into a powerful new force. But dark on their trail comes the Reaper, most fearsome of all Demons, aiming to crush their mission at any cost.

The Wishsong of Shannara
An ancient Evil is stirring to new life, sending its ghastly Mord Wraiths to destroy Mankind. To win through the vile growth that protects this dark force, the Druid Allanon needs Brin Ohmsford—for she alone holds the magic power of the wishsong. Reluctantly Brin joins the Druid on his dangerous journey. But a prophecy foretells doom, as Evil nurses its plans to trap the unsuspecting Brin into a fate far more horrible than death. Thus begins Terry Brooks’s thrilling Shannara epic, an unforgettable tale of adventure, magic, and myth.”

Notes of Interest:

I have never read any Terry Brooks books until now, but they have kind of always been on my “someday/TBR” list, so last year I bought The Sword of Shannara Trilogy. Over the course of the past year, I have read each of the books and just finished the last one as my last book for this year. I have decided to review all three books as a set this time, rather than reviewing them individually. This is partly to save time for me. But it’s also partly because I bought them together, and my feelings regarding all three books are the same. They are very similar in style and content, but where I noticed differences, I will point that out.

I decided to buy this trilogy after watching the Shannara Chronicles TV series — one of the few times that I’ve purchased a book after watching a visual media production. So, let me say here that they are very different. The TV series is based on the books, but it doesn’t follow them. The TV series is mostly based in the second book of the trilogy, The Elfstones of Shannara. The books are, of course, more intricately detailed with more content. But the TV series makes good use of the main content in its visual adaptation.

What could have made it better for me:

The one big fault I found with the series, particularly the first book of the trilogy, was telling more than showing. Brooks even mentioned this in the forward of book 2 or 3, admitting this was something that had to improve with time. I happen to be big on character interactions and backgrounds, so I really wish I had seen more showing than telling when it came to character interactions. As a result, the characters are developed with potential for standing out as unique personalities, but except for a few, most are more like archetypes for the hero quest. We are told about their actions more than we see their personalities drawn out by interacting with their travel companions. This makes for a good action-adventure story, but I, personally, need more character dialog and interaction to prevent stories from being “just” hero quests.

Also, my favourite aspect of this series, is underplayed: the setting of the world itself. These are high fantasy stories that take place on an earth where modern civilization as we know it has had a great war that spawned new races and reshaped the land itself. Some of those races (elves) are from the age of myth and magic, but have magic no more. Some of the races come from evolved forms of humanity. A few references are made to things like torches with no fire or earth magic in the form of a black powder. But the TV series makes better use of this concept for a post-modern earth, in my opinion. Again, I see so much potential, so it’s a little disappointing more wasn’t done with it. Without emphasizing fallen freeways, steel towers in ruins, or rusty cars in overgrown streets the books feel like an ordinary “Medieval/ Middle Earth” type fantasy setting full of dark forests, bleak mountain passes, and foggy swamps … which works well for any fantasy adventure story.

Lastly, book 1, The Sword of Shannara, was a bit confusing with the point of view for the narrative.

What I liked about it:

One of the characters that stood out to me the way I like characters to stand out was the dark druid Allanon. He appears in all three books as a mystic druid that raises more questions than he offers answers for. So though he doesn’t say or reveal much, the lack of background or intent from him suits his personality and purposes well. Another character that stood out to me was a minor character, Cogline. He’s a crazy old coot with a penchant for explosives, and if that doesn’t set him apart right there, his dialog will do it.

Brooks has a talent with describing scenery well. A lot of the word count is dedicated to setting the atmosphere of the settings, so you get a real feel for the changes of the seasons, the darkness of the abandoned keeps, the bleakness of the mountains, the horror of the monsters encountered, etc. The descriptions of the monsters as evil incarnate are particularly well done, so the challenge for each set of travelers is never underestimated.

The plots are fairly straight-forward, so pages turn quickly; but in each plot there is a price to pay for victories had. That’s not to offer spoilers, but to say Brook’s world is one in which magic itself is something rare and to be reckoned with. It does not come easily or freely to those capable of wielding it … which I think is a nice touch we don’t see very often in fantasy. In most fantasy worlds, magic is a given staple.

Which brings me back to my comments about the new earth setting. It reminds me a bit of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, in which a modern civilization fell to ruins and humanity divided and evolved into different races of predators and prey, both of whom have lost important, forgotten knowledge about their past. I love these kinds of concepts because of the way they blend dystopian and paradisaical elements of a new civilization rising from the ashes of something that literally destroyed the world as we know it today. These survivors often must hunt down something of great value that we take for granted in present times because it’s so common we don’t see the value in it, but in the case of the Shannara series it is the attempt to reclaim magic from before the age of man while living in the ruins of the age of man. I am disappointed this setting wasn’t milked for everything it was worth, but it’s a brilliant concept that I adore.

I found very few errors in these books; technical distractions were not a problem. The plots are solid. The style is fluid and easy to follow. These are good, basic heroic fantasy genre books that offer the adventure quest, escapism into new lands, and battles between good and evil that high fantasy and epic fantasy tales are best known for.

Recommendation:

If you like Tolkien-style, epic, high-fantasy quests, but have a hard time muddling through the old-fashioned wordiness of Tolkien’s overly detailed world building, Brooks might be more your style. The characters are solid, the quests are challenging, and the journey itself is a large part of each story. But the poems, song lyrics, fictional languages, and histories of whose fathers were fathers of fathers and so on is minimized. I’m glad I bought the trilogy because over the course of all three books, Allanon’s life is presented as more of an arc over three mortal lifetimes. It was also nice to see how previous generations affected the futures of those who left with the consequences of their actions. In this way, it builds the world history as you read and see it happening. I liked these books. They’re a good “classic” addition to my bookshelf.

Scammed

HelpWanted
Tax refund recipients and job seekers are the most likely targets of identity theft and fraud.

I was going to write a book review today. Instead, I am posting a warning about a possible case of identity fraud and theft.

Yesterday, I was scammed by a freelancing employer. So, for now, I have removed my services page here, and I will be removing my services pages elsewhere on job sites, until further notice. I need time to make sure my accounts are safe before considering new clients, as well as to consider what additional steps I must take to protect myself when offering freelance services.

Therefore, if anyone is visiting this blog because they wish to verify whether I am a real person because they suspect they are being scammed, too … yes, I am a real person. But because I am a writer, I delight in exposing hypocrisy and lies. I can suffer a moment of public humiliation to say I was the victim of a scam if it means preventing someone else from falling for the same lies.

Let it be known that I am not hiring anyone for anything. If someone pretending to be me tells you otherwise, whether they gave you this link or you looked it up to verify if a real person owns that name or not, back out immediately. Don’t sign anything legally binding. Report it to the job site. I was able to get a refund for my job finding fee, and I found out that though the employer said he deleted his own account right after hiring me because he was charged unexpected hidden fees, it was actually the job site that deleted the employer’s account for violating terms and conditions policies.

Save all of your contact information and conversations with whoever is pretending to be me. (Google Hangouts can be saved as emails, FYI.) Then check your bank accounts and alert them to a possible fraud so they can watch for unusual activity. Be on the lookout for any suspicious activity in the near future regarding emails, tax refunds, job offers, credit cards, etc.

No place on the Internet is entirely safe these days, and job seekers are particularly vulnerable because of the give-and-take communications necessary for payment information and contract terms that are a natural part of seeking employment. In cases where no experience is required, new job seekers may think they’re getting a fair break from a patient benefactor, but the truth is without experience, new job seekers are targets.

If the employer wishes to speak off-site, shuts down his account right after hiring for a project, uses multiple identities because he doesn’t want to use his real name on a public platform, seems rushed to start right away, dismisses personal small talk, doesn’t bother to look at your submissions so you end up repeating information directly to him rather than him reading that information himself, or asks where or how you bank or to verify your street address twice, these are red flags. Beware of the employer who says you will not be required to do anything illegal. You don’t have to do anything illegal for them to do something illegal to you.