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Friday, August 30, 2013

Tormented - J. Ann

J. Ann presents an original and detailed beginning to her vampire hunter series The Immortals with Tormented.

Angelina is a member of an elite force called "Ultorum", Avenger, who are responsible for the protection of the city. At the top of her class in nearly all physical and mental capacities, she would be the ultimate soldier if it weren't for her bull-headedness. When she pushes her superiors too far, she finds herself back at the academy, where they hope to bring her down a few levels; instead, she finds a way to prove that she is above their rules and laws.

Angelina is tired of reacting to the vampire attacks, and instead wants to go on the offensive. With the limited resources, the organization forbids it. When a strange man arrives, Angelina is forced to choose between everything she's known and the possibility of fulfilling her ultimate goal of ridding the planet of the vampires.

Detailed descriptions make it easy for the reader to be immersed in the world; however, sometimes detailed background information interrupts the flow of the story. I especially enjoyed the way she writes her action scenes. Ann's characters are each full of personality and their relationships are dynamic. Readers will find intrigue in both the mystery of the vampire world and the love triangle. While this novel comes to a final conclusion, it also leaves the plot open for more books with exciting action and romance.

Author's Facebook: J Ann Novels
Author's Blog: J Ann Novels

Recommended Reads:
Vampire Academy - Richelle Mead
Nightshade - Andrea Cremer

Recommended Viewing:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Would Virgins Taste Better - Jenna Bowman

Jenna Bowman's first offering to the world is an imaginative twist on the familiar virgin sacrifice.

The girl orphaned by a dragon attack is now a woman who finds herself victim of the religious ritual of sacrifice to the dragon who is meant to be feared and revered. Willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of those she loves, she bravely faces her death. But the gentle healer is determined to have revenge if she must die.

As Lilith takes on the black dragon with all her intelligence and might, she discovers that all is not as it seems. She may be able to save her people, but not in the way she originally thought.

Lilith's perspective rings clear and true with the use of first person narrative. The short length requires Bowman to use time lapses, which she uses with exceptional purpose. The reader can easily infer what happens between one point and another. Despite the length of only 22 pages, Bowman splendidly conveys despair, love, betrayal, and revenge.

I look forward to seeing what this new writer has to offer in the future.

Author's Facebook: Official Jenna Bowman
Author's Blog: Jenna Bowman

Recommended Reads:
Dragonheart - Charles Edward Pogue, Patric Read Johnson
Beauty and the Beast - Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve

Recommended Viewing:
Dragonheart

Monday, August 26, 2013

Hallucinations - Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks works with a variety of patients with neurological challenges. The most common types of hallucinations people are aware of with are visual and auditory, but Sacks reveals that hallucinations can be perceived through any of the five senses.

The most commonly known causes of hallucinations are things like concussions, trauma, migraines, and sensory deprivation; however, there are many more by unknown causes that still befuddle the scientific community.
My favorite chapters in this book were Silent Multitudes: Charles Bonnet Syndrome, Hearing Things, On the Threshold of Sleep, and Doppelgangers: Hallucinating Oneself. Charles Bonnet Syndrome occurs in people who have lost eyesight, but see, sometimes elaborate, imaginings. One woman describes that she often sees dancing productions like one would see on Broadway. Many people hear things and the causes may vary, but many of them are healthy and without any mental disorder. Just before sleeping many people experience strange sensations, like spinning in circles, being lifted from their bed, seeing strange movies, or even hearing voices. People who see doppelgangers can either see their own self projected on others or don't even recognize themselves in the mirror.

The chapter on migraines includes Sacks' own experience with auras during his migraines, giving it a personal touch. Other chapters include the experiences had by his patients and the testimony from journals and interviews of others. It mostly contained experiences and descriptions of the hallucinations with just a little bit of scientific data. Whether the reader is familiar with the topics or new, there will be something interesting to discover.

Books by this Author:
Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain
The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat: And Other Clinical Tales
Migraine

Recommended Reads:
The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers - Daniel L. Schacter
Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind - by Graham Hancock

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack - Nicholas Gurewitch

Nicholas Gurewitch first began writing his warped comic strips for a college newspaper. His twisted humor must have clicked with many other people, as he became more widely circulated in regular newspapers.

Some of his comics are both clean and straight forward, such as the strip The Masculator where a young man orders an item that is supposed to give him a more desirable physique. Others aren't so clean and are a bit more subtle, making the reader to a second glance to get the joke, like Stiff Breeze where a woman is hassled by the wind.

Each page is populated by a single comic strip spanning between 3 to 4 panels with a plain white background. At the end there are rejected, unfinished, or preliminary comic strips. There are also a few he includes and admits embarrassment over because they are in such poor taste or just plain not funny (even to him).

The reader never quite knows what awaits on any random page. Those with a twisted or warped sense of humor won't be disappointed.

Nicholas Gurewitch's website:
PBFComics.com

Recommended Reads:
The Complete Far Side - Gary Larson
The Argyle Sweater: A Cartoon Collection - Scott Hilburn
Cyanide and Happiness - Kris Wilson, Matt Melvin, Rob Denbleyker, Dave McElfatric

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Four Agreements - Don Miguel Ruiz





The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz is a series of simple guidelines with heartfelt explanations to help the reader improve his or her life.

Be Impeccable with Your Word

Don't Take Anything Personally

Don't Make Assumptions

Always Do Your Best

These are simple in concept, but they involve a lot more than at first glance. When it comes to words, we need to be careful of what we say, what we don't say, when, and how we say it. But it also applies to our own thoughts. There are many things we say to ourselves that we wouldn't stand from another. Our internal words are just as important as those we speak aloud.

It's so easy to take things personally. Just because somebody says an unkind word or cuts us off in traffic may not have anything to do with us, though. That is the other person's reality. Not making assumptions goes in hand with this, of course. We often inadvertently assume the worst intentions of people, rather than giving them a chance.

We've been hearing "do your best" since we were children, but do we really adhere to it. And did you ever experience that moment where somebody accused you of not doing "your best" when you really had. Sometimes our best isn't as good as we want, but it is all we can give. We should work to accept that and continue to improve in our own right.

While some find the simple guidelines and accompanying commentary trite, I find it enjoyable due to its simplicity. Because of its short length, I often recommend this to friends who are looking for a simple way to change their outlook on life.

Books in the series:
The Voice of Knowledge
The Mastery of Love
The Fifth Agreement

Recommended Reads:
The Seat of the Soul - Gary Zukav
The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Jonathan Livingston Seagull - Richard Bach

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Untamed - Lisa Harper

Lisa Harper reveals an often unexplored personality of the Christian Savior in Untamed: How the Wild Side of Jesus Frees Us to Live and Love with Abandon.

Many churches and groups tend to focus more on the gentler side of Jesus, who is known for his forgiveness and healing. While these qualities are important, some people find that they need somebody that seems stronger in their lives. By grounding her revelations in scripture from many different translations and including tales of her own life experiences, Harper makes these "wild" parts of Jesus alive.

Throughout the chapters the author provides engaging questions and considerations for the reader or group to explore. With the additional questions at the end of each chapter the reader is encouraged to consider the events in his or her own life that can relate to the scenarios that occurred during Jesus's time.

I liked that the author quotes from many different version of the Bible, including the New International Translation (NIV), New Century (NCV), New Living Translation (NLV), English Standard Version (ESV) and The Message (MSG); however, I disliked the fact that the author chose to quote from The Message in particular because it is merely a paraphrase of scripture and riddled with inaccuracies. It's also problematic as whenever the author quotes from the English Standard Version (ESV), she does not note it in the text like she does with the others.

In chapter 4, Harper opens with a story of her father saving her from a charging bull. She recalls that until that moment, she hadn't realized how strong her father was, and she goes on to relate how it took her a while to realize how "wildy tough" Jesus was, as well. Unfortunately, not all of the author's personal experiences are this brilliantly entwined with her ideas; in fact, some inadequately illustrate her points. Harper talks about an embarrassing incident with her all-time favorite Bible teacher, but fails to express why she likes her so much, which makes her following rendition of John meeting Jesus fall flat.

Harper also engages in what I tend to call unnecessary and ineffective modernization. When describing how people reacted to various sermons Jesus gave, she says she imagines people texting about their disagreements, when she could have just as easily simply had people whispering to each other. There's also an instance where she describes Joseph and Mary searching for their son with a photo of him with braces. Without setting a modern stage for the entire ordeal, thinking about people with cell phones or visualizing Mary and Joseph with a photo of Jesus is jarring.

I loved the concept of this book, as it explores many sides of Jesus that most people don't consider. Each chapter is subtitled with Our Savior is Wildly followed by an idea: tough, compelling, confident, confrontational, and more. I'm sure many people will find this an enlightening read simply because of its contents; however, I was disappointed with the author's ineffective writing.

Recommended Reads:
Jesus Calling - Sarah Young
Self Talk, Soul Talk - Jennifer Rothchild
Keeping a Princess Heart: In a Not-So-Fairy-Tale World - Nicole Johnson

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Metamorphosis and Other Stories - Franz Kafka

The Metamorphosis and Other Stories presents five disturbing short stories by Franz Kafka.

Franz Kafka is a short story writer, who was highly influential especially when it comes to the concept of existentialism. Translations of his original works from German are difficult due to his use of idioms, sentence structure, and ambiguous terminology.

As indicated by the title of this anthology, he is probably best known for The Metamorphosis, which follows a man named Gregor, who works incredibly hard to support his parents and sister. One day he awakens to find himself in the shape of a bug and slowly even his mind transforms into one.

Another lengthy short story in this anthology is titled The Penal Colony in which an explorer is ordered to observe the penal system of an unfamiliar land. He watches and decides whether or not this system is just, and in so doing finds himself guilty of a crime himself.

The remainder of the anthology is made up of three short works. In The Judgement a young man struggles to explain the realities of life to his father who is failing in health of both body and mind. Despite all of his help, his old man curses him with grave consequences. A Country Doctor finds himself at the mercy of fate when he goes out to heal a injured young man. And finally, a captured monkey gives his view of being imprisoned in A Report to an Academy.

Each of these works has an obvious interpretation, such as self-loathing in The Metamorphosis, but others may be hidden to the lay reader. Kafka's stories are most often read by students in literature classes, but they are enjoyable on their own, as well.

Recommended Reads:
Death of a Salesman - Arthur Miller
The Stranger - Albert Camus
The Glass Menagerie - Tennessee Williams

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Parenthood Decision - Beverly Engel M.F.C.C

Beverly Engel M.F.C.C. present a logical analysis for making The Parenthood Decision: Discovering Whether You Are Ready and Willing to Become a Parent.

Many people, both partnered and single, struggle with the idea of having children. With insight from her 35 years of experience as a therapist, Engel is familiar with the challenges facing families as they choose what is right for themselves and their families. Each chapter begins with a short introduction to the topic it will be focusing on and then asks the reader to answer several questions honestly. After answering the questions, the reader can move on to the rest of the chapter where the author explains answers others have given and why or why not these are good reasons, often in a patient's own words.

Why do you want to have children? Is it something you've always wanted, are you being pressured by others, or do you feel your "biological clock" ticking? How do you intend to care for the child? Can you or do you want to stay at home with the child? Or would you rather enroll your child in day care or child care? Can you monetarily afford to raise a child? Do you have misgiving about having a child due to your own past? Do you have certain expectations of the temperament of your child? Do you have a preference for a male of female? Have you considered the possibility of your child being born with a disability? What if you happen to have more than one child during a pregnancy?

Even though this was originally published in 1998, the questions the author asks remain relevant. An excellent feature of this book is the fact that the author addresses couples (both straight and gay), as well as people considering being single parents. This book provides a logical and realistic approach to the many questions involved that a person and a couple need to ask themselves if they are considering having a child.

Recommended Reads:
Two is Enough: A Couple's Guide to Living Childless by Choice - Laura S. Scott
The Childless Revolution - Madelyn Cain

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Eternal Cycle: Indian Myth - Charles Phillips, Michael Kerrigan, David Gould

The Eternal Cycle: Indian Myth by Charles Phillips, Michael Kerrigan, and David Gould is a good basic introduction to Indian myth and religion, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

The beginning of the book is briefly used to cover the history of India in order to help the reader acclimate himself to the environment and culture he is about to read more about. The majority of the book is dedicated to Hinduism. It covers the Trimurti gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. It discusses the stories of a few of Vishnu's incarnations, such as Rama and Krishna, as well as those of Shiva. Brief recaps of various Vedas and stories of the various gods and goddesses are included.

Near the end is a fairly lengthy overview of Buddhism and some of Buddha's incarnations. And at the very end is a brief explanation of Jainism.

This version is filled with full color photos and illustrations of statues, temples, and landscape to give the reader an additional advantage in visualizing many of these complex descriptions.

A book for introductory purposes, not for in-depth study.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Dreamcatcher - Stephen King

Stephen King's Dreamcatcher is an unusual tale of the paranormal.

"Jonesy", Pete, Henry, and "Beav" have been friends for a long time. After saving a young man named Douglas, a boy with down syndrome from a bully when they were kids, they end up adding a 5th to their group. "Duddits", as his friends and family affectionately call Douglas, falls behind once his friends move on to adult life. And his inadvertent exclusion from their yearly hunting trip keeps him safe from the alien invasion, at least for a little while.

Jonesy comes across a lost man in the woods and decides to take him into their cabin, until they can get a hold of authorities. It turns out that this was a bad idea, as the man is infected with some kind of sickness. Jonesy and Beav try to help him, but only end up suffering the consequences. Meanwhile, Pete and Henry are on their way back from the store only to get thrown into a ditch when they swerve to avoid a woman in the middle of the road.

Things just keep going from bad to worse as animals start behaving strangely, a group that looks vaguely like a military comes into the area, and more people get infected by the strange virus.

The narrative jumps between times and between characters throughout the entire novel in a disorganized way, which I felt marred the storytelling. There is a lot of gore and some cursing. Certain portions that have good prose, but overall the writing was mediocre and unfocused.

Another disappointment by King.

Recommended Viewing:
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
They Live
The X-Files

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Mystical Life of Jesus - H. Spencer Lewis Ph.D, F.R.C.

H. Spencer Lewis, Ph. D., F.R.C. presents a Rosicrucian biographical view of The Mystical Life of Jesus.

Lewis begins with an analysis of the Essenes, a religious society in Egypt that, according to the author, paved the way for Jesus's coming. He also talks about the environment and people that Jesus was around in the chapter about "Neighbors".

Lewis discusses Jesus's parents: Mary and Joseph. The tales of Mary's upbringing can be found in such compilations as The Lost Books of the Bible, which can verify the author's tales. Lewis does deviate from known apocrypha when it comes to Mary and Joseph's relationship when she becomes pregnant.

In an attempt to validate Jesus's status as an Avatar or Messiah, Lewis turns to comparative mythology to present other virgin births such as that of Krishna and Buddha, among others. Unfortunately, it turns out that many of these examples, while considered Miraculous births were not actually "virgin births" by their own mythos. The author makes more comparative mythos mistakes in this book, such as saying that Krishna was crucified when he was actually hung from a tree.

For as many things as the author gets wrong when it comes to comparative mythology, he seems to get an equal amount right. When he talks about the birth of Jesus, the arrival of the Magi, and the shepherds in the fields, he correctly identifies where these stories may have originated and why the birth story is inconsistent. He also mentions how the official birthday of Jesus was chosen and how the story came into its most accepted incarnation as we know it today.

The stories the author reports about of Jesus's childhood can be verified with currently published works; however, the missing years of his adolescence are pieces not available to the public.

While the author references some well-known apocrypha, he in no way identifies which scrolls or books these are from; therefore, readers who are unfamiliar with these stories will be at a loss as to how to research the author's claims. To make matters worse, the author alludes to works that are apparently only available in the Rosicrucian archives. The majority of the time he does not distinguish between the two, either.

I would only recommend this book to those who are already familiar with the apocrypha of the New Testament and comparative mythology, as there are too many factual errors in accordance with current evidence for the average reader to filter while reading.

Recommended Reading:
The Lost Books of the Bible - William Hone
The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls - Geza Vermes
The Gospel of Judas - by Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, Gregor Wurst, Francois Gaudard

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Men on Strike - Helen Smith

Many women have written articles and books about boys and men, but it seems like many of them don't bother to actually consult these beings themselves to see if their theories are correct. Helen Smith interviews men and presents her findings in Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream - and Why It Matters.

Are men just afraid of committing to long-term relationships? Maybe these men have actually witnessed a buddy watch his life fall apart when a woman accuses him of something he didn't do like domestic abuse. Maybe he watched as a friend lost his livelihood when his wife divorced and won more than her fair share in court.

Are men just not prone to domestic chores such as raising kids? Maybe he witnessed a pal get his kids taken away from him where he has limited visitation rights because of a divorce and now he's afraid to get attached. Maybe he's heard of all of the cases where men have been raising children they thoughts were theirs for years only to find out the woman chose to place the burden on him because he was the "reliable" man she was dating.

If a man divorces a woman, even if he can prove she has been cheating, he still may be forced to pay alimony. Even if DNA proves that a child isn't his, the court can still force him to pay child support.

Man caves are great, right? They allow men to have a space of their own. But why are these "man caves" so often located in undesirable spots in the house like the basement, the garage, or the attic. Many women relegate men to a certain part of the household instead of inviting them in.

Why is there such a massive drop-off of men in the educational system? This drop is seen in both regular schooling and in higher education. The curriculum has changed vastly over the years and so has the culture.

Since I work in I.T. most of my coworkers are men, which also means that's who I most often socialize with. The thoughts, words, and evidence Smith provides in this book only puts to paper what I have been hearing for years from men's own mouths. Men are interested in these things; they're just on strike!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Nordish Quest - Richard McCulloch

Richard McCulloch makes a case for race separatism in The Nordish Quest.

At a mere 109 pages it doesn't seem like much, but because it addresses the controversial topic of race it is exceptional difficult. Before I began I had to decide to be of an open mind while reading this particular piece.

Like many people living in a society with many integrated cultures, McCulloch feels threatened that he and his people will lose their culture if it continues. While many people think that sharing their traditions through community activities like festivals will help spread them, McCulloch fears that with all this does is dilute them. I hear these fears from people of all races and cultures, whether that be moving to a new area or new people moving into theirs.

McCulloch's view is extreme, though. He proposes that the world instate a "Prime Directive", like in Star Trek where non-interference ensures the natural growth of a culture. In fact, much later in the book, he proposes that everybody go join their birth culture and keep it that way.

Born into a bi-racial family and also being a military brat, I find it difficult to even imagine a world that is so separated. Those two things are the same reason why I also understand what he's saying. Cultural exchange, whether that is material goods or ideas, makes a vast change over the short and long term.

Above all, I found this a fascinating read because of the clarity of thought the author gives to such a different point of view.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Happiness Project - Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin realized one day on her bus ride home that she really wasn't all that happy with her life. She had many things she was happy for having in her life, like her family, but she didn't feel happy. That's when she started The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.

Each month Rubin focuses on a particular part of her life that she wants to improve. In order to do this Rubin starts with a theme for each month and then sets forth specific goals in order to complete it. Some take place over time and some daily. For January, the beginning of her project, she chose "Boost Energy". Many of her plans are what most people would do in order to improve, like getting to bed earlier, exercising better, and acting more energetic, but some were a bit unusual, like cleaning her house and to quit nagging. "Be Serious About Play" in May sounds a bit strange at first, until the author presents examples of her daily interaction. Rubin realizes she sometimes takes herself too seriously during unnecessary times. Her quest to become more open to the opportunities for fun are something many people will be able to relate to themselves. Even though she isn't religious, Rubin chooses to "Contemplate the Heavens" in August. As Rubin learns more about various Saints and religious people, she realizes that despite being a non-religious type, she can learn a lot from these people that will improve her own life.

By revealing both her successes and failures throughout her one year project, readers will find a person just like themselves behind this narrative. At the end Rubin invites readers to do their own Happiness Project, start a group, or even join a group in their area. On the last few pages are ideas that readers can utilize for their own path, which I think many readers will find themselves doing after reading about this one woman's amazing journey.

Recommended Reads:
The Artist's Way - Julia Cameron
The Four Agreements - Don Miguel Ruiz
The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible - A. J. Jacobs

Recommended Sites:
The Happiness Project
43 Things
SuperBetter

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Wasties - Frederick Reuss

I'm not quite sure what to make of Frederick Reuss's The Wasties.

Michael Taylor, a professor, is slowly losing his mind. He's forgotten how to communicate orally, so he relies on other means to communicate, such as using his laptop and scribbling notes. He starts seeing famous people, like the President or some famous poets, in unusual places. Seeing that he is steadily getting worse, his wife hires a caretaker and she eventually puts him in a home because it's just too much to handle in her own household.

Reuss utilizes unreliable narrative in a pointed way. Michael, or Caruso's, mind wanders from current events to the past and sometimes the future without warning. He constantly misunderstands what's going on around him and sometimes reacts in unexpected and violent ways.

The dust cover says that the work is supposed to be "satirical" and "funny", but I have a difficult time seeing either of these. "Wasties" appears to be very much like Alzheimer's. As a person with many relatives who have (or had) this disease, I simply found the whole book horrifying. I would not recommend this book for anybody who has personal experience with Alzheimer's or any other extreme mental illness.

Recommended Reads:
Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut
Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes
The Stranger - Albert Camus