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Book Review: The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown

January 14, 2014 5 comments

cover_giftsimperfectionSummary:
Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, is a social work research professor.  She’s spent years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.  In this book, she presents her research on what she calls “Wholehearted living,” a way of living shared by the most content people she has interviewed in her years of research.  Dr. Brown argues that the key to a happy, fulfilled life is to engage with the world from a place of worthiness.  The book also offers 10 guideposts on how to fully achieve Wholehearted living.

Review:
Dr. Brown was a guest speaker on the only podcast I listen to (On Being with Krista Tippett).  Her episode where she discussed the power of vulnerability struck such a chord with me that I sought out one of her books to read.  This was the first one I could get my hands on.  Although at first the text seems simplistic, particularly compared to the podcast I listened to, with time the overarching picture Dr. Brown is painting becomes clear, and it truly is inspirational.

The guideposts each consist of one thing to cultivate and one thing to let go of.  Each guidepost ends with suggestions for working on both.  For instance, guidepost two is cultivate self-compassion and let go of perfectionism.  The chapter ends with a link to an online quiz to see which areas of self-compassion you need more work on.  I like that Dr. Brown gives the reader both something to stop doing and something to replace it with.  It’s easy to say, “Don’t do this,” but it’s much harder to give someone something positive to replace it with.  Some of the guideposts felt more relevant than others, but that will definitely be a personal thing for each reader.  For instance, I didn’t really need someone to tell me to get creative instead of comparing myself to others, but I did need to hear about cultivating calm and stillness and letting go of anxiety.  How useful you will find the book will probably be related to how many guideposts are applicable to your own life.  Skim through the table of contents and see how the different guideposts resonate with you.

Dr. Brown’s advice is based on scientific research, but she also brings a real person element to her book.  She is very honest with the reader about her own vulnerabilities as a person and as a woman and which guideposts she struggles the most with herself.  Some of her stories may seem a bit silly at first to the reader, particularly since Dr. Brown’s life seems to be a relatively easy one, but ultimately they lend a sense of connection and realness to the book that allows the reader to ponder the information at a deeper level.

The issues she addresses are quite universal, including: the desire to fit in, shame, authenticity, perfectionism, resilience, hope, addiction, and power.  At first what she states may seem obvious or too simple, but the reader will find themselves returning to these simple sentences later on at key moments and saying, “Huh, it’s not as obvious or as simple as I thought at first.”  Here are just a few examples:

Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance. (page 26)

Healthy striving is self-focused–How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused–What will they think? (page 5)

I define calm as creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity. (page 106)

When we value being cool and in control over granting ourselves the freedom to unleash the passionate, goofy, heartfelt, and soulful expressions of who we are, we betray ourselves. When we consistently betray ourselves, we can expect to do the same to the people we love. (page 123)

Although the book can at first seem obvious and Dr. Brown’s personal examples overly simple, this book actually takes a complex topic and clearly explains it at a personable level, complete with suggested methods to implement the changes Dr. Brown suggests.  This book presents the scientifically-researched fact that a happy, fulfilled life comes from living authentically and being kinder to yourself.  Recommended to anyone feeling frazzled, stressed, or generally dissatisfied with their life.  Dr. Brown’s book shows another, simpler way to be.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: The Final Descent by Rick Yancey (Series, #4)

October 17, 2013 1 comment

Cover of The Final Descent. An orange sky with a moon is covered by a black silhouette of birds on tree branches and a bridge. Summary:
The man investigating the folios found with an elderly man who claimed to be over a hundred years old and named Will Henry has reached the final folio containing what this elderly man claimed to have been his life story.  The final folio is discombobulated and poetic, and so the investigator arranges it for us to read following the style of Dante’s Inferno.  And what a story it tells.

Will Henry is now a bitter, cold teenager still serving Dr. Warthrop.  When a man shows up at the door claiming to have a previously thought extinct monstrous snake’s egg for sale, Will Henry takes the acquisition into his own hands.  When they bring the egg to New York City for the annual meeting of Monstrumologists, Dr. Warthrop begins to question Will Henry’s loyalty, and Will Henry increasingly ignores all advice, going off on his own bloody ideas.  What direction will Will Henry’s and Dr. Warthrop’s lives ultimately take?

Review:
There were hints throughout the Monstrumologist series that it was going to continually descend to a dark place.  But I must admit I was slightly fooled by the idea put forth multiple times that Will Henry at least for part of his life is happily married.  I thought there would be a glimmer of hope in the ending.  Boy was I wrong.  This is an incredibly dark book, and a series ending that surprised me.  While still a strong read, it didn’t hold all the all-encompassing power and grotesque beauty I found in the first two entries in the series.

Yancey takes the poetic language found in the first three books and kicks it up a notch with the inclusion of the Dante-styled method for dividing the book into sections.  Beyond that, the language itself becomes increasingly poetic.  One line that is repeated a few times throughout the book is:

Time is a line. But we are circles. (page 4)

I found both the structure and the language interesting and gorgeous, and I really appreciate their inclusion in YA literature.  I can imagine that many of the younger readers of the book might never have read Dante and seeing this structure in this book might spur them on to check it out.  One thing that I’ve enjoyed throughout the series is that Yancey doesn’t shy away from challenging YA readers, and I’m glad to see that continued here.

The monster in this story is delightfully terrifying.  An egg that hatches a snake that eats its prey from the inside out? There’s nothing not terrifying about that.  Plus the monster is revealed early on, a nice change of pace from The Isle of Blood where we’re left to wonder about it for a long time.  There is also a secondary, surprise monster later on that I found to be a disgustingly nice touch.

The plot is quite complex, and yet also makes sense when various aspects of it are revealed.  It also manages to still be fresh, even though The Curse of the Wendigo was also set half in New York City.  The plot revolves much more around Will Henry and his choices and his personality than around the monster itself, which is appropriate.  Dr. Warthrop’s choices are also touched upon, but how everything has affected Will Henry is truly the focus of the plot.  It’s an interesting psychiatric study, and I was left truly wondering how things could possibly have worked out differently for either Will Henry or Dr. Warthrop.  There are no easy answers, and that gray area is a great setting for horror.

The book spends a lot of time wondering both what makes a monster and if madness can be avoided or escaped.  The first is a question addressed earlier in the series, and I think Yancey deals with it eloquently.  The second takes quite a dark turn in this book, and I was left feeling empty, hopeless, and saddened.

Madness is a wholly human malady borne in a brain too evolved—or not quite evolved enough—to bear the awful burden of its own existence. (page 170)

It’s certainly valid to view madness as an inescapable pariah for some.  I suppose I just have more hope for the world than that.  That’s what left me disappointed with the ending.  I wanted more hope.  Other readers might be less bothered by the tragic end.

Overall, this is a strong final entry in the acclaimed Monstrumologist series.  The poetic language is beefed up with a Dante style structure, and the plot is complex, following the ultimate impact on Will Henry of growing up as Dr. Warthrop’s apprentice in Monstrumology.  Some readers may be disappointed or overly saddened by the ending lacking a glimmer of hope but others will enjoy its incredibly dark turn.  Readers of the previous three books should not miss this one.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
The Monstrumologist, review
The Curse of the Wendigo, review
The Isle of Blood, review

Book Review: The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

September 7, 2013 11 comments

Simple cover image containing a broad off-white background on the top third of the cover and a red background on the bottom two thirds.  The book's title and author are printed on the background.Summary:
Nobody is quite sure whether to believe their eccentric scientist friend when he claims to have invented the ability to travel through time.  But when he shows up late to a dinner party with a tale of traveling to the year 802,700 and meeting the human race, now divided into the child-like Eloi and the pale ape-like ground-dwelling Morlocks, they find themselves wanting to believe him.

Review:
I was always aware of this scifi classic but oddly had managed to never hear any spoilers.  When I saw it available for free on the kindle, I decided I should download it for when a classic scifi mood struck me in the future.  I’m glad I did because it was there and waiting for me when that mood did strike, and it was completely satisfying.  Like when you eat a food you’ve been craving for days.

The structure and writing style are typical for the late 1800s.  An unnamed narrator tells us of a strange person he met who then takes over the narration to tell us about an event that happened to him.  In this case, that second narrator is the Time Traveler.  The Time Traveler then expounds quite eloquently and philosophically on everything that has happened to him.  I enjoy this storytelling method, because it gives space for the narrator of the strange tale to do this philosophical thinking.  It makes sense to think about what you’ve learned when you’re talking about a past event.  The events are exciting, but they don’t happen at such a break-neck speed that the reader doesn’t have time to think on what they might mean.  After reading a lot of more modern dystopias, it was interesting to read a slower paced one.  Both storytelling techniques work well, but it was definitely a nice change of pace for my reading personally.

The dystopia is really enjoyable.  Instead of getting hung up on politics or climate change, the dystopia revolves entirely around evolution.  The Morlock/Eloi split happened because of the ever-increasing gap between the haves (the future Eloi) and the have-nots (the future Morlocks).  The Eloi are childlike in both stature and behavior.  They are the ultimate end result for what happens when people have no responsibilities and everything done for them, which is clearly how Wells sees the then modern-day elite functioning.  The Time Traveler talks about the ultimate evolutionary faults of a living that is too easy at multiple times.

Strength is the outcome of need; security sets a premium on feebleness. (page 30)

In contrast, the Morlocks live underground in old industrial tunnels.  They are physically strong but have lost their humanity due to a lack of the finer things.  They have no contact with the natural beauty of the world and so have turned into these ape-like, cannibalistic creatures.  The Time Traveler expounds on this:

Even now, does not an East-end worker live in such artificial conditions as practically to be cut off from the natural surface of the earth? (page 50)

I really like that this dystopia is so well thought-out but simultaneously so simple and easy to understand.

The plot itself kept me on the edge of my seat and constantly surprised at what happened.  Although it’s obvious the Time Traveler makes it back from his first voyage, there are other threats and dangers that are sufficient to keep the reader engaged.  The ending actually surprised me as well.

This book has withstood the test of time extremely well.  It has not yet saturated pop culture to the extent that the potential reader is unavoidably spoiled for the details of the plot or the ending.  The dystopia is unique and interesting, in spite of the proliferation of dystopian literature since then.  The philosophical thoughts of the Time Traveler are still applicable to modern society.

Overall, this is a piece of classic scifi that has aged very well.  It simultaneously entertains and challenges the reader.  In addition, it is a short read for a classic, more similar in length to modern fiction.  It is the ideal read for both hard-core scifi fans and those interested in dipping their toe in classic scifi.  Highly recommended!

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Note: the Kindle edition is free

Book Review: Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig (Series, #2)

June 25, 2013 1 comment

Woman holding a knife with hair made out of birds.Summary:
Miriam hasn’t touched a person and seen a new death in months.  She’s settled down in Jersey with Louis, and part of the deal is no touching.  But her fingers are twitching for a vision, and quickly a regular afternoon turns into a horrifying one.  Still.  Louis suggests a way for her to use her gift for the good.  Prove to a hypochondria that she isn’t dying.  But this hypochondriac happens to work at a problem girls boarding school, and when Miriam touches one of the girls, all hell breaks loose.

Review:
I was so glad to jump back into Miriam’s gritty world that is so unique in urban fantasy, although at first I was surprised by how settled down she seemed to be.  Thankfully, that quickly changes, and a disturbing, rollicking plot comes into play.

What makes this series is the characterization of Miriam.  She is not a nice girl. And she’s not bad in some fake-ass way designed to appeal to a hormonal teenage boy.  She doesn’t run around in tight leather pants proclaiming her badness while batting her eyes and tossing her hair.  Miriam is dark and brutally honest.  She has a delightfully foul mouth.  She wears what she wants to wear whether or not people like it or it’s in fashion.  She doesn’t care if she’s attractive.  She can be bitingly mean.  But she still works as a heroine because she truly has a good heart and is willing to inconvenience her entire life to help other people.  Reading Miriam is deeply refreshing to me, as a woman reader.  She’s allowed to be precisely who she is without any restraints of gender norms by the author.  Here is just a sampling of Miriam’s voice in the book:

Home Again, Home Again, Fuckity-Fuck (location 259)

A tattoo is an expression of your inner self inked on your outer self. It’s some deeply spiritual shit. (location 2143)

The plot this time at first appears to be purely about who is killing young girls, but slowly it becomes apparent that we’re learning more about Fate or what I think of as the crazy birds that control Miriam’s life.  It appears that Fate is displeased that Miriam fucked with it by saving Louis, and now it’s out to get her.  Although this addresses some of the issues I had in the first book about how confusing Fate is and what exactly the rules for this universe are, I must admit, I still found a lot of the information revealed to be a bit fuzzy, albeit wonderfully creepy.  The fantasy information was better than in the first book, but it was still a bit too at arm’s length.  I don’t want to have to wait out the whole series to finally understand even one significant aspect of what is up with Miriam.

One plot issue to do with the murders bothered me.  Spoiler ahead!

*spoilers* I have a very hard time believing that after being fooled once by the killer who can imitate other people’s voices like a mockingbird that Miriam would fall for it a second time.  She’s smarter than that, and it felt like a very clunky plot device to me.  *end spoilers*

That said, the mystery was dark, gritty, and nail-biting.  A lot happened, and Miriam’s story definitely moved forward.  There is a self-contained mystery within this book, but the overarching plot got more traction as well.

The writing continues to be a mix of beautiful and grotesque that would keep me coming back even if the characterization of Miriam wasn’t so strong.  Wendig’s description powers are truly stellar.

Her mouth brimming with foulness the way a soup can bulges with botulism. (location 2460)

They invited her to move back home but she’s not going to do that, oh hell no, she’d much rather snap her tits in a bear-trap than go back to that hell. (location 1633)

She gets on her tippy-toes and kisses him. Long, slow, deep. The kind of kiss where you can feel little pieces of your soul trading places as mouths open and breath mingles. (location 3722)

How can you not read a book with writing like that?

Overall, fans of the first book in the Miriam Black series will not be disappointed by this entry.  Everything that made the first book unique in the urban fantasy genre has returned with strength, particularly the writing style and the characterization of Miriam.  The overarching plot moves forward at a pace fast enough to maintain interest, although not enough about the rules of the fantasy world is revealed.  The self-contained plot is gritty, dark, and sufficiently mysterious, although one moment detracts from it a bit.  Miriam and the writing more than make up for it, though.  Wendig fans will not be disappointed.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Previous Books in Series:
Blackbirds, review

Book Review: The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King (Series, #4.5)

July 26, 2012 4 comments

Tiger in a cage overlooking a gorge.Summary:
There’s a tale we have yet to hear about the ka-tet in the time between facing the man in the green castle and the wolves of the Calla.  A time when the ka-tet hunkered down and learned a special billy-bumbler talent, an old tale of Gilead, and the first task Roland faced as a young gunslinger after the events at Mejis.

Review:
When I heard there was going to be a new Dark Tower book, I had basically three reactions. 1) Yay! 2) Shit he better not ruin them. 3) Guess I didn’t actually finish that series after all, did I? May have written the series review a bit too soon…..

But mainly my reaction was a skeptical excitement.  I love the world of the Dark Tower and was ecstatic to be able to get more of it (yes, I know there are the young gunslinger comic books, but they feel slightly less the same to me since they are in a different format).  However, I was also terrified because well we’ve all been in an instance where we mess with something that was good to the point where it’s not good anymore, right?  I was worried King was going to do that to the Dark Tower.  I am so so so happy to be able to say that worry was unfounded.

This book goes to show just how clearly the entire world of the Dark Tower series exists in King’s mind.  The format is a story within a story within a story.  The ka-tet have to hunker down to wait out a storm, so Roland starts to tell them a story from when he was a young gunslinger.  Within that story, the young Roland tells someone else an old story of Gilead.  The Gilead story wraps up, then the young gunslinger, then the ka-tet.  A writer must know his world very well to be able to handle such a structure smoothly without confusing his reader, and King does just that.  There was no confusion and each story felt fully told. Or as fully told as anything is in the world of the Dark Tower.

I’ve said before that every book in the series basically is a different genre, which is part of what makes it so fun.  So what genre is this one?  I’d say it’s fairy tales. Once upon a times.  And fairy tales generally have a lesson to be learned within them, so what is it in these three?  Well, they vary, but I would say overall it’s about leaving aside childish things and childish ways to become an adult.  (And, I might add, that happens much much earlier in the Dark Tower than it does in our particular world).

I will say, although I certainly had the impression that this book was going to be about Jake and Oy, it really isn’t.  It isn’t much about the ka-tet at all.  It’s about Roland and the role of billy-bumblers in the world.  Although, personally I wanted more billy-bumblers, but I *always* want more billy-bumblers, because they are definitely my favorite fantastical creature.  I’m still holding out hope that King will write something sometime entirely about Oy or billy-bumblers.  But this book is not it.

That said, I was oddly not disappointed to see far less of the ka-tet than I was expecting, because the two stories within the frame of the ka-tet are so strongly told.  They are just….wow. Terrifying, horrifying, unpredictable, and hilarious simultaneously.

That’s the thing that makes any Dark Tower book fun.  It contains all of those things.

Lines can go from laugh out loud humor (with a touch of truth):

Turn yer ears from their promises and yer eyes from their titties. (page 43)

To the starkly sad truth:

Those were good years, but as we know—from stories and from life—the good years never last long. (page 110)

To the simply universal:

“What if I fail?” Tim cried.
Maerlyn laughed. “Sooner or later, we all do.” (page 255)

*shrugs* I admit I’m a bit of a fan girl of the series, but even a fan girl can be sorely disappointed, and I was really and truly not disappointed at all.  I laughed, I nodded, I wondered, I quaked, I wished for an illustration sometime somewhere of billy-bumblers dancing in a clearing in the moonlight.  Although, speaking of illustrations, how gorgeous is the US kindle cover?! So fucking gorgeous, that’s how.

Back to the point, I was not disappointed at all. I was ultimately elated and wishing for more. And other fans will be too.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Books in Series:
I’m listing all of the books so you can easily see where The Wind Through the Keyhole falls.
The Gunslinger (review)
The Drawing of the Three (review)
The Waste Lands (review)
Wizard and Glass (review)
The Wind Through the Keyhole
Wolves of the Calla (review)
Song of Susannah (review)
The Dark Tower (review)
Series Review (written before we knew there would be more)