Thursday, May 11, 2017

Come out of the proverbial cat closet

We've all heard of the "crazy cat lady" but what about the crazy cat men?  There must be some out there.  Author Sam Kalda takes a look at some famous men throughout history who loved their feline friends in Of Cats and Men.

Starting in the 10th century with Welsh King Hywel the Good (who recognized the value of cats as cheap vermin controllers and therefore protected them through law) on down the centuries to the present day, many influential men have been inspired, amused and comforted by cats.  This colorful book takes a page to describe the man in question, his history, and his connection to cats.  Each page also includes a drawing of the man and his inspirational cat.  There are many cat-admiring quotes sprinkled throughout the book as well.

Anyone who loves cats will be entertained by the many achievements of cats -- while their owners may take credit, it's really the cats who were responsible for inventing the cat flap (Sir Isaac Newton), alternating current (Nicola Tesla) Companion cats have also inspired poetry, musicals, art and even dance performances.  It was also somewhat surprising for me to learn that somewhat stereotypically "gruff" men, including Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain and Winston Churchill are among the famous cat lovers. You can even follow some of the more outgoing modern cats on social media.

This book is a charming look at how cats have been loving, loyal and amusing companions to some of history's greatest leaders, artists and scientists.  Those ancient Egyptians, who revered cats as gods, were certainly on to something!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Of Cats and Men from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review

Monday, May 1, 2017

It's really all about me

While we all need to earn money to survive, equally important is having an enjoyable and healthy life away from work.  In Wellth, author Jason Wachob looks at various components that make up a happy and well-balanced life.

The book is divided into sections such as Eat, Move, Thank, Laugh, etc.  The author gives experiences from his own life for each section, and also usually has an expert on the topic give further information.  He quotes the doctor and author Aviva Romm's instructions for visualization and justification for why this practice is so important. However, most of these experts are introduced with, "My friend so-and-so . . ." (except for the instances where the quoted expert is his "good friend). There are also small "blurbs" scattered throughout the book from famous authors/speakers (but we are mercifully spared his relationship to them).

While there are some words of wisdom throughout the book (mostly in the "Quick Deposit in Your Wellth Account" summary at the end of each chapter), the book is more of a biography of the author and how he got where he is today.  The first chapter, Eat, starts out stating that no diet can work for everyone, because we're all different.  He then goes on to tell (throughout the entire rest of the book) the way he does things -- although to be fair,  he usually gives alternatives in case his way doesn't appeal to you. I just found the book to be too centered on the author, his background, education, business failures and personal life, to be useful to a general audience.  For instance, he goes into great detail about a health scare his wife had and includes the sentence, "The next day Colleen's sister Kerry came by to see us with her fiance (now husband) Eric, as well as Tara Stiles and Michael Taylor."  Now what possible interest could that be to anyone who isn't personally acquainted with these people??? He also mentions his current business venture many, many times (including on the cover of the book).  If you can skim through the ends of each chapter to the "Wellth Account" advice, you'll save a lot of time.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Wellth from Blogging For Books in exchange for this review.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Here we go again

Journalist Leslie Kean wanted to investigate the evidence for an afterlife.  In her book Surviving Death, she looks at phenomena such as "life before birth" (children recounting details of previous lives), out of body experiences by people who died and came back, medium activities and "full-form materializations."  Her conclusion is that there is plenty of evidence for consciousness surviving outside the body, and that humans have yet to fully understand all of the implications of this fact.  Several chapters in the book are written by people who were actively involved in the individual cases being discussed.

The book looks at several cases of young children who spontaneously began to recount details from previous lives.  Far from claiming to be Cleopatra or Napoleon, the lives being recalled were of "average Joes."  One child had vivid and terrifying nightmares about being unable to escape from a plane crash.  Another one recalled working on films in Hollywood.  The parents of the children documented their statements and were eventually able to track down the people their children had been in previous lives.  It is uncanny to hear that the children could recall details that they would have had no way of knowing.  In the cases that Kean documents, once the children are able to visit the places they knew in previous lives, they become calmer and eventually the distressing or overwhelming memories of their past selves fade.  Interestingly, these children also report "intermission memories" which occur after one life ends but before the next one begins.

Another section of the book details OBE (Out of Body Experiences), where the consciousness of a person leaves the body during cardiac arrest.  These people describe floating above their bodies and being able to relate things that happened while they were unconscious. An interesting aspect to OBEs is that some blind people have reported being able to see during them.  These situations are different from NDEs (Near Death Experiences) where people in cardiac arrest travel to different dimensions beyond the physical world.  Cases involving these types of experiences have been reported from around the world, and from people of various cultures and religions.  The striking thing about both OBE and NDE situations are that they are remarkably similar when people who have experienced them relate what happened.  Scientists who have studied the phenomena don't know if this is attributable to a physiological reaction of the body/brain, or if it is an actual experience that occurs when the consciousness is freed from physical limitations.

Similarly, some people experience ELEs (End of Life Experiences) where, on their deathbeds, they are visited by deceased relatives or friends who reassure them about the process of dying. These experiences are positive, with the people often reported to be "joyous" after they occur.  Occasionally even bystanders or relatives see the apparitions, or see light or a form surrounding or leaving the dying person.

The author also works with mediums who claim to be able to converse with those who have died.  She found that some mediums were able to reveal remarkably accurate information.  While many people claim to have the ability to communicate with the dead, two mediums who were able to reveal accurate information were able to describe to the author how they receive messages from "the other side."

The author mentions that when asked if she believes in life after death, she responds, "The question must be moved from the field of belief into the field of data."  Her research into the inexplicable events that have been recounted by those who are dying, have "come back" from death or describe previous lives, shows that we have much yet to learn about what happens to us after death.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Surviving Death from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Serial Killer Blog Junkie

Richard Carter is a deputy sheriff in a rural Missouri town in Journey Man.  One day, he is called out to a cemetery where a tombstone with his name (and a death date two months in the future) has been recently erected.  While it’s apparently not a crime to put up a tombstone for someone who is still alive, the event leaves Carter unnerved.  Is this meant as a joke or is it something more sinister?

Whatever the cause, he doesn’t have long to ponder the significance, because a body is soon discovered in the woods.  The young woman is found elaborately bound, with a plastic bag over her head and a length of plastic tubing tied around her neck.  The victim isn’t from the area, so the first thing Carter and his fellow deputies must do is attempt to establish her identity.  The sheriff’s department has recently been expanded.  Joining Carter, his boss “Shug” Shively and fellow deputy Ron Guidry are Jared “JMac” McAnulty and Cicely “Kit” Kitteridge.  The two new officers apparently have hopes of eventually moving on to work with the FBI, a dream Carter has had to give up due to some events in his past.

As Carter begins to investigate the murder, he is required to be away from home for longer and longer periods.  This is particularly bad timing, as his wife Jill is going through a particularly rough time in her life.  The couple live in a cabin outside of town along with 8-year-old daughter Mirabelle, with only young neighbors Raven and Shane nearby.  Due to the area of Missouri where they live, Jill has become increasingly worried about safety during storms, so she is having a storm shelter, as well as a bedroom for Mirabelle, added onto their cabin.  As well as her worry about storms, she is also having dreams about previous events where she or her family have been in danger.  Even though the family has a large dog, she continually hears noises in the house.  She works as a community college instructor, but sometimes her anxiety is so bad that she skips her classes rather than leave the house.

When news about the murder hits the media, a woman comes forward with an unbelievable tale.  She tells Carter that she was attacked and left for dead a few years ago, and she believes the same person who attacked her also killed the young woman.  Nicole Whitmer was married to a pastor at the time, and he persuaded her not to report the attack at the time, since he feared the publicity would impact his church negatively.  Still, Carter (and other policemen) are skeptical of her story.  As Carter learns more about her and the events surrounding her situation, he begins to believe her.  But if she was also attacked by the same man, what has he been doing in the 3 years since that first crime?  Carter has an FBI friend who tells him that they are tracking a serial killer known as “Journey Man” who as a similar MO to Carter’s killer.  He’s called “Journey Man” because victims have been found across the US, meaning he’s a killer on the move.  Has he made a stop in Carter’s town?

I enjoyed reading about the very real themes that were explored in this book: male/female roles, overcoming stereotypes and working through anxiety.  It showed real situations where men in positions of authority treat male and female subordinates in the same job very differently.  It also showed how females in non-traditional roles work hard to prove themselves and how they can become overly defensive or interpret actions as being hostile when no offense was intended.  At the same time, there were some odd quirks with the book.  There were long, long, LONG conversations between characters, some job related but mostly personal, that went on and on.  For instance, when Jared McAnulty arrives, Carter is instructed to give him an overview of the job and what it entails.  They go out for coffee and he explains how “Shug” is a good boss, how to get along with him, and that drinking on the job is immediate grounds for dismissal.  A few days later, Kit Kitteridge arrives, and the boss once again asks Carter to show her the ropes.  They go out for coffee and he explains how “Shug” is a good boss, how to get along with him, and that drinking on the job is immediate grounds for dismissal.  It wasn’t really necessary to go over the same ground again! The Guidry character was supposedly a cross-word fanatic, and he was forever stopping in mid-sentence to give a long drawn-out explanation of word origins.  And he wasn’t the only one.  Jill, who, as a teacher and a mother undoubtedly wanted to educate her daughter, would respond to questions from her daughter in a word-for-word dictionary definition.  For instance, when she was cooking and the daughter asked what the word “macerate” meant, Jill responded, “To soften by steeping in liquid over a low heat.”   Also, when consulting a doctor for her physical problems, she tells the doctor she realizes “inappropriate activation of the involuntary nervous system can cause my glands to excrete excessively.” Who speaks like that?  Her poor students!


This is book 11 in a series, so there were some past events that were referred to that I was unfamiliar with.  There was a “Cast of Characters” section at the end that detailed the main characters and some events that have happened in previous books.  There was a lot going on, but the book tied up all the loose ends in a satisfying manner.  

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Journey Man in exchange for this review

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Inspiration to Write that Novel

National Novel Writing Month occurs every November and is a challenge open to everyone to complete a 50,000 word
novel in 30 days. Hundreds of thousands of people attempt the challenge every year. While not all are successful, many of them are helped and encouraged along the journey by their fellow participants. The book “50,000: Tributes to the Journey of Writing a Novel in One Month” is a collection of essays detailing the personal journeys of people who participated in the project.

There are 73 short essays in the book (written in 2011), each documenting a writer’s experience with the “NaNoWriMo” project. Some have been involved for several years, others only once. They document the discipline it takes to commit to writing 2000 words per day, and the ways that they were able to motivate themselves to complete their novels (some involved chocolate cake). Some people write of how the work of writing a novel empowered them to branch out into other creative work. Some people even found friendships and love through the supportive community of fellow writers.

The essays (some no longer than a paragraph, others several pages long) are all very inspiring and come from authors in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe aged from teens through to adults who’ve been attempting to finish novels for decades. Some people write fan fiction, others chronicle painful autobiographical events. What really comes through all of the essays is the appreciation for the self-confidence and discipline that turned regular people into novelists. The sense of accomplishment and determination to continue writing is repeated in almost every essay.

The only thing I didn’t like about the essays was that sometimes acronyms are used that people unfamiliar with non-NaNoWriMo don’t understand (several mention being “MLs” with no further elaboration, for instance). Also, many of the essays are directed to and express appreciation for (to the point of being somewhat overly sentimental) Chris Baty, the founder of the project who has since moved on to other things and turned it over to others to run. Since the chapters are somewhat similar in describing how people came to write and what their experiences were, it’s hard to read all in one go. It is definitely a book that would be more enjoyable to dip in and out of for inspiration, especially for budding authors.

While I’ve never attempted to write a novel, reading about what a positive and supportive experience it was very inspiring!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

I Can Be All I Will Be

Using positive thinking to achieve what you want in life is a concept that has been around for a long time. Recently several authors have explored this idea in books and videos. The book Your Invincible Power looks at ways that everyone can stop negativity and use positive thoughts to increase not only personal well-being and prosperity, but to collectively uplift all people through our interconnected higher energy.
The authors do a good job of explaining how the Universe (or God or the Universal Mind, etc.) connects all energy and how the Law of Attraction governs all of us. There is also an explanation of the difference between the conscious mind and the more powerful subconscious mind and what we can do to allow the subconscious mind to work behind the scenes. The most important thing is to silence negative thoughts by positive affirmations. Having a positive outlook will bring positive results into your life. This sounds easier said than done, so I like that the book included exercises that can be used to help overcome negative thoughts and channel positive energy into your life and the universe. The end of the book includes a chapter on how to put the ideas in the book into action, including step-by-step daily routines. There is also a list of positive affirmations that can be used to combat negative thoughts. People are also cautioned to use the power of attraction for good, because you get back what you give out. Hoping to use the Law of Attraction to bring bad luck to another person will only bring down bad luck upon yourself.

Of course, part of attracting good things into your life also involves being active in identifying and overcoming barriers that might be holding you back. One way this can be achieved is to stop focusing on the things you don't have and instead become mindfully grateful for what you do have. Another one is to plan and visualize, rather than make excuses and give up.

While the message of the book is very positive and encouraging, the text could have used some editing. There were many grammatical and punctuation errors (subject/verb disagreements, run on sentences and a positive explosion of commas where no commas were necessary). Often I had to read a sentence numerous times to figure out what the authors were trying to say. Another issue I had with the book was inclusion of some rather startling facts that were just thrown out without any sort of references as to where this information was obtained. Some doozies: eighty-five percent of the Earths entire population live in negativity (was that the conclusion of a Gallup poll?), our conscious mind sets in motion impulses traveling at 120 to 140 mph (who in the world used the stopwatch that measured that?) and my personal favorite, your subconscious mind can typically process 4,000,000,000 bits of information per second (again, this was measured . . . how exactly?). Not to say that the authors aren't quoting information they discovered somewhere, but some context would have been helpful.

Overall, I think there are many positive messages in the book as to how people can take charge of their lives and have a happier, more prosperous outlook. While there is more to achieving this than just positive thinking, the authors give many examples and exercises to help everyone attract more good things into their lives.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Staying true to yourself

Jackson Mason has a lot to be angry about in the YA novel Ice Cold.  The 18 year old high school student has to come to terms with the fact that his father is coming home after spending 5 years in prison.  To add to his problems, his parents decide to move to a new town for a fresh start, meaning Jackson has to start at a new school, one where there aren't many black students.  Luckily, he soon catches sight of a pretty girl that helps with the adjustment.

Jackson has a hard time forgiving his father.  Before his father Lincoln was sent to prison, the family was getting by with both parents working in the construction industry.  But then 5 year old daughter Shanice was diagnosed with leukemia.  The financial stress of medical appointments and unpaid bills caused Lincoln, in a moment of desperation, to rob a jewelry store.  After he was sent to prison, the family fell on seriously hard times.  They were homeless for a while, and Jackson had to take on emotional and financial burdens far beyond his years.  So it's no wonder that he's not very welcoming when his father comes back into the family home (which also includes a grandparent, his father's father).

Lincoln is not too concerned about starting in a new school.  Everyone at his old school was aware of what happened to his father.  The kids at the school seemed to split into two groups -- those who no longer wanted to associate with a poor convict's kid, and those who were enamored of the "gangster life" that Jackson wanted no part of.  His dream is to become a professional hockey player, so he only wants to concentrate on making the team, playing well, and impressing the college scouts.  His anger towards his father softens a bit when his grandfather tells him that Lincoln also had hopes of becoming a professional hockey player until multiple head injuries ended his career.

On arriving at the new school, he quickly befriends Peanut, a young man who sells peanuts and rides a skateboard around the school (Quirky friend? Check!).  Jackson also is instantly smitten with Heather, a strikingly beautiful blonde girl who seems to have an air of sadness and fragility about her. Unfortunately, it turns out she's the girlfriend of Brady, the racist, loutish captain of the hockey team.  Still, Jackson and Heather begin talking and soon recognize that they have a lot in common.  Although she is outwardly beautiful and confident, Heather is being bullied online by harassing, negative comments about her appearance.  It has become so bad that she's developed an eating disorder.  Although she and Brady are in a relationship, he is only wrapped up in his own concerns and doesn't notice anything wrong.  She's able to confide in Jackson, and he's tells her that, like him, she shouldn't be concerned with what others think and also that she could do better that the uncaring Brady.

Although Jackson's parents are an interracial couple, once he begins dating Heather he is confronted by both black and white people who are not happy about their relationship.  The book does a good job of tackling problems that young people face today, from dealing with incarcerated parents, to racism and peer pressure to eating disorders.  One problem I had with the book was that EVERYONE (teens, parents, coaches, etc.) had the same bad grammar issues ("It don't matter," "I ain't afraid," "He don't like it," "How we gonna know who done it," etc.).  While teenagers of course don't speak "the Queen's English" to each other, surely some people would have learned the correct third person use of "do."  It also got a little preachy at times, with the saintly Jackson rising above all adversity to stay true to himself and his values.  But overall it was an enjoyable book with characters that you care about and hope will succeed.

I received a copy of Ice Cold in exchange for this review.