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Brent: The Heart Reader Review

Brent The Heart Reader cover image

While browsing for a new novel to read, Brent: The Heart Reader caught my eye for a couple of reasons. First, it is described as a New Age Romance and as far as I can recall, I have not yet come across a New Age M/M book. Moreover, the hero Brent, is a Tarot card reader and I have to admit that I’ve myself dabbled quite a bit in Tarot over the years. The author of the book, Wynn Wagner, is also author of the Vamp Camp series which I really enjoyed so I thought I’d give this one a go as well.

Brent, from whose point of view the story is told, is not your typical young man. He is a kind-hearted, emotionally wounded tarot reader who has just suffered the loss of his adopted mother and is finding life more than a bit challenging at the moment. His remaining adopted family – religious zealot cousins – want nothing to do with their gay tarot-reading Swedish relative. But Brent isn’t alone for long. He receives a new tarot client named Takota, an extremely handsome Sioux man who is recovering from recently having lost his lover. Brent provides Takota an amazing reading which helps the Sioux man move on from his pain and loss. A subsequent visit from Takota leads to a romp in the bedroom and the two men almost immediately fall in love. Brent finds a new family in Takota and as their relationship progresses, Brent’s past scars begin to heal. But the story does not end there.

What follows is an exciting adventure as the two men get to know each other and deal with the difficulties that face them – namely numerous attempts on Brent’s life. Throughout the novel, we meet Takota’s zany family, Brent’s gun-toting best friend Kaela, and a sexy detective. But in the end, all is well and the healer is healed.

I can’t begin to express how much I loved this book. Not only was the sex between the two men sizzling, but the witty and cheeky dialog had me laughing out loud on many occasions. Now I will say that it helps if the reader is a bit open minded as tarot card reading, Reiki healing, spirit guides, karma and universal balance are just some of the topics that the reader encounters.

I found this to be a refreshing, rich, well-written novel that combines humor, suspense and romance into a tender, emotionally powerful story. Some folks may have a difficult time with some of the new age mystical elements but all it all, I find Brent: The Heart Reader to be well worth the time. Who knows? After reading this amazing book, you might want to run out and purchase your own tarot deck. Recommended!!

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Book Review: Frat Boy and Toppy

Frat Boy and Toppy Book Cover

I just finished another book on my TBR pile that I loved so I thought I’d share it with you. First off, let me admit that I have a bit of a weakness for the M/M stories where ” the Jock and the Nerd” get together. Guess that goes back to some very fond High School memories on my part involving my jock neighbor and myself – but that’s another story for another time.

So back to Frat Boy and Toppy, the title of the novel I’m about to discuss. This is the first book I’ve read by Anne Tenino and after this one, it will not be my last. The hero of our story, Brad, is a Frat Boy and football jock at college who slowly discovers that there seems to be something missing in his relationships with women. He then, to his initial horror, begins have locker room dreams and fantasies about hot naked men. He can no longer deny what he has suspected all along – he is gay.

He then develops a more than casual interest in Sebastian, the hot geeky Teaching Assistant in his history class. In fact, Brad determines that Sebastian is exactly his type. Luckily for Brad, it was a well known fact on campus that Sebastian is gay. So when a nervous and somewhat timid Brad approaches Sebastian and lets him know that he is attracted to him, Sebastian, not one to turn down the advances of a sexy young jock, takes Brad home with him for a night of lust. Sebastian doesn’t find out until they are in the middle of things that it was Brad’s first sexual experience but the evening turned out well for all involved.

What follows is a wonderfully sweet and sexy story of Brad’s sexual awakening and coming out. I was worried at first that this might be a “gay for you” type of story but after Brad’s first sexual experience, he was quite confident in his sexuality. In fact, after their first encounter, the two pretty much had sex whenever they could. Now I will say that typically, I am somewhat turned off by M/M books that have one sex scene after another once the main characters get together. It often seems in these cases that the plot line just drops away completely and the rest of the story is just sex, sex and more sex. I often find myself skimming through the sex scenes after awhile (this is just my preference – I know a lot of reader enjoy lots of sex in their stories). While there are certainly no shortage of sex scenes between Brad and Sebastian, I did not find myself skipping through them at all – in fact, I may have even re-read a few of them. Not only were they hot, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that the smaller, leaner, more bookish Sebastian ended up taking the dominant role during sex. It was refreshing to have an author break the Jock/Dom stereotype. The sex scenes were extremely well-written, sweet and sexy and I felt that each one added something to the plot of the novel.

Inevitably, the relationship between Brad and Sebastian deepens and it finally reaches a turning point when Brad, now confident in what he is – and what and who he wants – declares his love for Sebastian. But does Sebastian feel the same? While I won’t tell you how it all plays out, I will say that I found it refreshing that the timid “jock” who had just come out of the closet ended up being much more emotionally mature and together than the sexually experienced Sebastian.

The supporting characters – his roommate Colin, his straight friend Kyle and recently ex-girlfriend Ashley were wonderful additions to the story and it was a delight to see the support they gave to Brad upon his coming out. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Brad comes out to his entire frat at a frat house meeting!

I found all of the characters to be well-developed, strong and exceptionally likeable, especially Brad. Frat Boy and Toppy is a sweet love story with plenty of wit, humor and of course, hot sex. Recommended!

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Book Review: Gives Light

Book Cover image for Gives Light

I belong to a few book clubs on Goodreads and one of the monthly reads was a YA book entitled Gives Light by Rose Christo.  I often enjoy reading YA novels and I was not disappointed by this one.

The hero of our story is 16-year-old Skylar St. Clair, half white and half Native American who is not your typical teenage boy.  He was almost killed when his throat was cut by his mother’s murderer 11 years ago and the attack left him physically unable to speak.  Thus, we follow the story through Skylar’s thoughts (which are often clever, witty and laugh-out-loud funny) and his interactions with others. He lives with his mysterious father and during this particular summer, his father fails to return home.  Skylar find himself placed on the Nettlebush Indian Reservation is the custody of his only living relative – his estranged Grandmother (but never call her Granny!), whom he has never met until now.  On the reservation, he connects with his people and his roots as learns the customs of his tribe (the Shoshone).  Here, Skylar discovers an entirely new side of himself and finally seems to find his place in the world.

But the story is a much more complicated than that.  Shortly after his arrival at the reservation, Skylar meets a brooding, moody young man named Rafael who most of the people on the reservation tend to either dislike or fear.  Skylar feels a flash of recognition when they meet and he soon realizes why: Rafael is the son of the man who murdered his mother.  But even though they should be enemies, Skylar finds himself gravitating towards the surly young man and soon they develop an unlikely friendship. Through Rafael, Skylar learns the truth behind his mother’s murder and his own attack.  As the story progresses, we learn much more about Rafael’s past and understand that he carries his own scars from the horrific events in his life and his fear that he will turn out to be *his father’s son*.  A mystery also begins to unfold as the author brings to light the reason for the disappearance of Skylar’s father, why the FBI keeps showing up on Skylar’s doorstep and the truth about what really happened 11 years ago.

What follows is a tender yet intense coming of age story of first love as Skylar and Rafael slowly discover — then accept — their growing attraction to each other. But the book is much more that a simple love story.  It is a novel about innocence, forgiveness, revenge and the scars we carry both on the inside and on the outside.  It’s a story of acceptance and the importance of the connection we make with our community — and how important it is not to judge others based upon outward appearances for there is always so much more beneath the surface.

While heartbreaking in some places, I’m pleased to say that the book is not “angsty”(a genre that I’m not particularly fond of) and is actually a sweet and beautifully written story combining romance, excellent character development all wrapped up in a mystery that slowly unravels as the story progresses.  After reading this novel, I learned that it is part of a 4 book series and I can’t wait to continue with the next book.  Now if you’re looking for a hot, steamy, M/M romance, you won’t find it here (remember – YA novel).  Instead, you will find an emotional yet gripping story of the unlikely friendship — then romance — of two boys with scarred and painful pasts.  Again, it’s not a dark story, but rather a heartfelt, upbeat one with rich, well-developed characters and a compelling plot.  I think that Gives Light is very likely the best novel I have read in along time and in my humble opinion, is not to be missed.

I give it 5 speechless stars out of 5!

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Queerwolf: A Fun Read

Book Cover image for Queerwolf

I have had bad mornings over the years but nothing like the morning our hero Ted faced inQueerwolf by Rob Rosen. He woke up one morning on a ferry, naked, lying in a pool of blood with neither his wallet nor his keys to be found. Luckily, he runs into his super-hunky next door neighbor Blake outside of his apartment building who helps him out by letting him use his phone and take a shower.

Soon we learned how Ted ended up in such an unseemly situation: he turned into a werewolf for the first time while out on a date and then ate a sea lion (hence, all the blood). But the plot thickens as he learns that he’s not only a werewolf but an alpha and that the local pack of werewolves wants him dead. Thus begins the hilarious misadventures of Blake and Ted as they try to figure a way out of their predicament (Oh yeah – did I neglect to mention that Ted ends up sleeping with Blake? Many times?).

While what I described above doesn’t seem all humorous at the surface, the novel is indeed truly hysterical and I spent a good portion of my reading time either smiling or laughing out loud. I can best describe this story as a adrenaline-fuel romantic comic romp with a tinge of horror, mystery, family drama and hot sex thrown in. Rob Rosen gives us an entirely new kind of werewolf who has to deal with many of the same issues as all of us: trying to fit in and dealing with being different.

I so loved this book! It was funny, gripping, fun and very well written. Recommended!!!!

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Review of Subsurdity by Eric Arvin

Cover from Subsurdity

Not too long ago, I read a book entitled Woke Up in a Strange Place by Eric Arvin and I loved it so much that I simply had to check out this author’s other work. I decided to start with SubSurdity: Vignettes from Jasper Lane and what a hoot!

Jasper Lane appears to be a typical middle-class neighborhood complete with manicured lawns and manicured wives. However, once we go behind the scenes and meet the residents of Jasper Lane, we quickly discover that Jasper Lane is anything but typical. We meet all sorts of zany and complicated characters:

  • Religious fanatic Melinda Gold and her “flatulent” mother (who is even more of a religious kook than Melinda)
  • Melinda’s son Patrick who is suffocating from his mother’s oppressive rules religious views – and starts working for neighbor Cassie Bloom
  • Cassie Bloom who throws porn parties to which the entire neighborhood is invited to attend and who may or may not have murdered her husband (and buried him in the back yard)
  • Vera, a transexual club owner
  • The sexy UPS man who ran into an issue with his Prince Albert and another man’s lip ring
  • Rick Cooper – a one-eyed gay man who has the hots for an ex-army neighbor, James
  • James, who really needs to come out of the closet
  • Rick’s gay roomates David and Terrance
  • Cliff, David’s muscled-by-steroids boyfriend who is also a porn star
  • Terrance, a somewhat effeminate gay man who discovers that he has a 17-year old son – and his son wants to meet him
  • Sandy and Steve Jones who at at first glance, appear to be the most “normal” couple on the block….but not for long.
  • And of course gayhound, the gay dog

I can’t begin to describe how much fun this zany book was. I laughed out loud many, many times while reading and ended up absorbing all 200 pages in one sitting – I simply could not put it down.

While the characters and the situations portrayed in the book are hilarously over-the-top, this quirky novel does make a biting commentary about the crazy suburbinization of our society as well as how extreme beliefs can alienate you from others.

This talented author not only pens a fantastic tale, he does so with wit, style and elegance. The novel reminded me a tad of Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” series with perhaps a bit of influence from Desperate Housewives. My only disappointment with this book was that it eventually came to an end. Luckily for me, I learned that there is a sequel!

Recommended – I give this book 5 zany, romping stars out of 5!!

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Book Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

Million MIles in a Thousand Years book cover image

This was the first book I had read by Miller so I didn’t quite know what to expect. This was another recommendation that I stumbled across on a blog that I found interesting so I thought I’d give it a try.

The book is autobiographical. Donald Miller is approached by two movie producers who want to make a movie based upon his best-selling memoir. As the three work together on the screenplay, the script for the movie begins to slant more towards fiction than real-life and it is at this point where Miller decides he’s going to edit his current life into a better story. This reminded me a bit of what I wrote in my recent post about keeping a journal, in which one journal writer wrote that keeping a journal forces him to lead an interesting life – otherwise, he’d have nothing to write about.

In this book, Miller deconstructs his life and begins a quest to live a meaningful story while including all the necessary elements that make a story worth reading – conflict, emotion, negative turns, a positive turns, adventure, memorable scenes and more. He takes all of these story elements and attempts to weave them into his own life. Along the way, he recounts some beautiful, touching and meaningful anecdotes and stories, each with their own life lesson. His rewriting of his life story reminded me of an old adage that goes something to the effect of – “Your life is a script. If you don’t like the way the script is unfolding, then rewrite it!” Every life is a story – but whether it’s a memorable story or a story worth retelling, is up to us.

I found the book inspiring, thought-provoking and entertaining. It pulled me out of my comfort zone, stretched my thinking and caused me to examine my own life to see what kind of “story” I was living.

The book can inspire you to action, inspire you to take chances and could be especially helpful if you find yourself in a rut, going through a challenging time in your life or if you are searching for more meaning in your life. Miller’s conversational style and wit renders the book easy to read and enjoyable – and after finishing it, you may feel encouraged to “live a better story” yourself. Recommended!

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Admit One Review

Admit One Book Cover image

Some of us prefer to hide in a safe, comfortable life, never taking risks, never daring to dream or to love. But then someone or something comes along and drags us out, kicking and screaming from our comfortable oasis, forcing us to face the world, to face life.

Such is what happened to gay high school teacher Tom Smith, in Jenna Hilary Sinclair’s book “Admit One.” Tom went to work every day at a high school in a small conservative Texas town, lived a quiet life (except for the occasional sexual adventure out of town) and was more than content to remain deep within the closet, living a life of solitude. In order to accomplish this, he had one rule: Do not sleep with anyone twice. So his life went along fine until he meet handsome Kevin Bannerman at a gay club. He sleeps with Kevin in what he believes to be one of his usual meaningless one night stands. Months later, he meets Kevin again and against his better judgment, sleeps with him again. But this time, things are a bit different. At the end of the weekend, he finds himself not wanting to leave Kevin, especially when Kevin suggests that perhaps more could develop between them. But instead, Tom ran as fast as he could. Ran back to his safe life, a life disconnected from other human beings.

Even though he returned to his normal life, he was not the same after that weekend and he found himself often thinking of Kevin. He ended up regretting his decision, but realizing ultimately that it was all for the best.

But alas, he find himself pulled out of his comfort zone once again, when the theater director recruits him as an assistant director for the school’s production of “Rent”, a controversial play with a strong gay theme. But that’s not all – Tom encounters Kevin once again, this time at school and discovers that one of his students, who recently moved to the area, is Kevin’s daughter.

What follows is a powerful and gripping story of a man who comes to terms with the horrifying physical and emotional tragedy in his past that has paralyzed him for the past sixteen years. This is a heartfelt, complex story that was not only engaging, but uplifting as we learn about Tom’s true reason for emotionally disconnecting from life and witness his healing as Kevin refuses to abandon him.

Now I will admit that I almost gave up while reading the first part of the book. It definitely got off to a bit of a slow start and I debated whether or not to complete it. Well, I am so glad that I did! I laughed, cried, and did a fair amount of nail-biting throughout the rest of this wonderful story. So don’t be put off by the slow start. Hang in there — it is definitely worth sticking with it.

This is the first novel I have read by this author and am looking forward to reading more. The book was well-written, the characters realistic and the plot gripping. Highly recommended!!

You can check out the book HERE

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Book Review: Everyday Zen

Everyday Zen Cover image

I didn’t know what to expect when I first picked up Everyday Zen. I saw it mentioned on an e-mail list quite awhile ago and subsequently added it to my “To Be Read” list. The author, Charlotte Joko Beck, teaches at the Zen Center in San Diego and this introductory book is compilation of her talks aimed at those who are newcomers to Zen (although experienced Zen folks certainly can derive benefit as well).

The author takes familiar Zen concepts and helps us to apply them to our everyday lives. Some topics discussed are: feelings, religion love, anger, relationships, suffering, renunciation, tragedy, aspiration, expectation and more. While most people associate Zen with “sitting”, the author shows us that real action is necessary as well for a rounded practice – and provides practical advice on recommended actions. I found that reading this book opened my eyes and made me think about the manner in which I approach my life – and my relationships with others.

The author communicated her ideas in easy-to-understand plain English and included several excellent stories to make her point, making the book accessible to a wide audience. I admit that I have read some Zen books in the past where every page was a struggle. Not so with Everyday Zen. Her easygoing style helps make the book practical as well as full of wisdom.

A good portion of the book had to do with the ego or as Echart Tolle refers to it “The drama that is me.” Joko Beck leads us down the path of learning to not only keep the ego (she refers to the ego as “pride”) in check, but how to recognize ego interruption when it is occurring. She teaches how to step back and observe. When we are angry, we learn to observe that we are angry (rather than just experiencing the anger). Once we do this, wisdom comes in, allowing us to see the world as it really is, not just the way we want it to be.

One example that she used that really resonated with me was being in an argument. When we are in the midst of arguing with someone, it’s almost impossible for us to look at and label our thoughts because a huge block stands in our way. This block is our need to be “right”. This need to be right is one of the reasons why it’s so hard for us to back away and look at our ego. This is something I myself have worked on and struggled with over the years — these days, I find that being right is not as important to me as it was when I was younger and more “ego-driven”. It certainly makes for a lot less stressful life.

Consistent with Zen teachings, the author stresses over and over the need to be present, to be in the moment. She points out that when we live mainly in our daydreams and hopes, we miss actual life as it is happening. We give our life over to hopes, thoughts and fantasies. We daydream, we hope for something special, something ideal – and when it doesn’t come to pass, we are not only disappointed, but also anxious, even desperate.

What I liked about the book is that she shows how to relate these teachings to our everyday lives in our busy, ego-centric Western world – how to put Zen teaching into practical everyday use.

I found the book to be full of wisdom and helpful advice — and I believe that those not even on a Zen path can derive benefit from it. Recommended!

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Book Review: How To Disappear

How to Disappear Cover ImageJust finished reading How to Disappear: Erase Your Digital Footprint, Leave False Trails and Vanish Without a Trace by Frank M. Ahearn. Why this book? The title intrigued me. Now I am not planning on disappearing or going “on the lam” but I thought the book might have some guidance on how to perhaps minimize my digital footprint (not easy to do these day) as well as help to protect my privacy both while online and offline.

The author was a “professional skip tracer” by trade – that is to say, someone whose job it was to find people who didn’t want to be found. His anecdotes and real-world scenarios on his successful finds were entertaining, intriguing and provided some excellent advice on what NOT to do. He has since then, changed careers and now he helps people to disappear. Why would you want to disappear? Perhaps you are being stalked or just want to start over. He covers all of these things and much more.

The chapters of the book include:

  • Meet your enemy: the skip tracer
  • Time to disappear
  • Misinformation
  • Tracks and clues in the home
  • Disinformation
  • Your reformation arsenal
  • Reformation
  • How not to disappear
  • Disappear form identity thieves
  • Disappear from social media
  • Disappear from a frog
  • Disappear from a stalker
  • Disappear from the country
  • Pseudocide

Overall, I felt the book contained a lot of valuable information. One chapter I especially liked was the one on Disinformation (destroying data about you) – how to start leaving less of a digital footprint by using false information such as a fake e-mail address, misspellings in your address and name, false employment history and more. Now the idea here is not to do this in order to engage in illegal activities, but rather to protect your privacy – to stop the spam email, telemarketing calls, junk mail and make it more difficult for people (stalkers, ex’s, etc.) to find you.

The book also paints a real life picture of what’s really involved with disappearing. Many people imagine spending their days in a tropical island paradise, being served Pina Coladas on a beach all day long by a handsome young men or women. The reality is a complicated web of multiple mail drops, prepaid credit cards, prepaid cellphones, public internet access points, as well as giving up your hobbies or interests and having good amount of cash. I personally felt the the portions of the book that pertained to the Internet and privacy were most beneficial but then again, I’m not about to go into hiding. If you are being stalked by someone or are the victim in an abusive relationship, then these other sections may be of particular interest to you. Many of the techniques Frank recommends could also be a good way to avoid – or at minimize the possibility of – identity theft.

The conversational and easy-to-understand tone of the book makes it pleasurable to read. Even if you are not yourself planning on disappearing, the book has many useful tips on guarding your privacy and reducing your digital footprint. If you are serious about disappearing, then this book in indispensable (I also would recommend J.J. Luna’s book “How to be Invisible” as well). Recommended!

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Book Review: Man’s Search for Meaning

Man's Search for Meaning cover image

This week’s book was Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. This book has been on my list for quite some time – I believe I read a review of it a couple of years back and it intrigued me. In the book, Frankl describes his life in four different Nazi concentrations camps, including Auschwitz, from 1942 to 1945 and his subsequent theories of logotherapy that resulted from his experiences at the camps.

In the first part of the book, Frankl relates some of his own experiences at the camps. While many of his descriptions of day to day life depicted a horrifying existence, Frankl, a psychiatrist, often approached the narration from a psychological perspective. He demonstrates that even though one’s comrades were dying all around them, one could still find hope and peace amidst all the horror.

At times, his anecdotes were so vivid and so disturbing (but not gruesome), that I had to put the book down for a bit and digest what I had read. However, while there were certainly scenes of unspeakable suffering, there was also hope and inspiration, as Frankl describes how he found the emotional strength to survive the camps. In the book, he looks more at how the prisoners respond to the events rather than looking at the events themselves – how some of them coped and subsequently survived while staring death in the face on a daily basis, while others did not.

The main thrust of the book was how people strive to make meaning of their lives above all else. He also demonstrated by example how those who felt life did not have meaning, simply did not survive the camps. That above all else, one must strive to make meaning out of the suffering, to believe that life does have meaning. He recounted an excellent and moving anecdote of a fellow prisoner who had a dream that they would be freed on a certain date. He awaited the date with anticipation – the hope of being freed kept him going. When the date finally came and went, the man lost all hope. He was dead within a week.

Through his writing, Frank demonstrates the courage and strength that people are capable of when faced with a seemingly hopeless situation. It is when we surrender to nihilism and despair in dire circumstances that we lose. Even though the prisoners were stripped of their very identity and relegated to a status no higher than that cattle, many of them rose above the situation by focusing on the the deeper meaning of their life. Though they had lost everything – their freedom, their spouse, their family, their very identity – they themselves chose how to respond to the horrendous situation and by doing so gave meaning to their suffering. They believed that they existed for something – a spouse, a child, a future dream, or future plans. Frankl states in the book that the one thing that cannot be taken away from us is our attitude, the way we respond:

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

In the second part of the book, Frankl discusses his theories of logotherapy. Here, he talks about what he believes drives man to survive, even in the most grim of circumstances. This part of the book moves from the anecdotal to the psychological. The basis of logotherapy is that man’s primary motivating force is a search for meaning and this search for meaning even ranks above our pursuit of happiness. In this way, much of the depression and despair we experience is a result of a lack of meaning in our life. When we find our higher purpose for living, we will be able to overcome insurmountable obstacles and make it through nearly anything. I will say that the second part of the book is more technical than the first but is easily readable even if you do not have a scientific background.

The life lessons on the human condition contained in this small book are too numerous to identify here. This extraordinary book is moving, fascinating, powerful and inspiring – and can cause the reader to ponder the meaning in his or her own life. At the most, this book has the potential to be life-changing. Recommended!

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Review: Accidental Genius

Accidental Genius Cover image

I just finished a book entitled: Accidental Genius: Revolutionize Your Thinking Through Private Writing by Mark Levy. Through the use of what Levy calls “Private Writing”, he teaches us how to generate amazing “genius” ideas (and have fun doing it) – all while breaking us out of the ruts in which we may find ourselves.

Private Writing is a free-writing technique that Levy presents, in which you write as fast as you can without worrying about grammar, spelling or whether our ideas are any good. The goal here, is to silence the inner critic – that part of us that censors our work (and often tells us that our work is garbage). How does this work? In the book he states, “If your mind knows your head won’t stop moving, it’ll ease up on trying to edit out your ‘inappropriate’ and underdeveloped thoughts.” I personally have used something similar when creating mind maps and each time, I have been amazed at the new and worthy ideas that crop up. By writing quickly and putting down anything that comes to your mind, the inner critic no longer bothers to keep up with you and instead, gives your free reign.

At first glance, the technique reminded me of the Morning Pages method that Julia Cameron discussed in her popular book “The Artist’s Way”. But there is a big difference between the two. While it is true you are writing whatever comes into your head, you are doing so with a focus. Perhaps you are examining a problem in your life or want to come up with ideas on how to move the plot of your novel forward. This is where the inspiration part comes in. By focused free-writing, we no longer only stick with what we know to be safe and sure to be accepted by others – instead, we open ourselves to new ideas and new ways of looking at things. According to Levy, this method is excellent for problem solving.

In the book, Levy provides us with six secrets to private writing, including “Write Fast and Continuously”, “Work Against a Limit” and “Write the Way you Think.” I found these three secrets especially helpful and relevant to my own work. In the next section of the book entitled “Powerful Refinements”, the author takes these secrets even further and gives us many methods using the six secrets, to expand our creativity and solve problems. Lastly, he shows us know to take the concept of private writing and apply in publicly in our blogs, presentations and published works.

If are someone who is paralyzed by the inner critic, using Levy’s easy and enjoyable methods will no doubt help you break free and stimulate your creativity – and stimulate that sometimes elusive “genius.” I believe this book would be useful to novelists, bloggers, journalists, marketers, presenters, troubleshooters – pretty much anyone who puts words to the page or needs to find a solution to a challenging situation. Recommended!

 

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Book Review: Walk Across America

Walk Across America Book Cover image

Just finished  “Walk Across America” by Peter Jenkins, which chronicles his journey across America from 1973 to 1975 with Cooper, his half Husky/Alaskan Malamute companion. As a young man of 21, Peter was bitter and disillusioned with American society. So he decided to take a pilgrimage across the country, from New York to New Orleans, to see if his negative opinions about his people and his country were correct. I admit that I am a fan of these types of books – the “road trip adventures finding yourself” novels – and this one did not disappoint.

Peter takes us along a fascinating journey and tells of the many interesting people he and Cooper came across, most of them loving, generous, and kind-hearted, all demonstrating hospitality in different ways. Some of my favorites included Homer, the reclusive hermit who lived in a shack on top of a mountain, Mary Elizabeth and Pau Pau, the mother and the patriarch of the family in Texana who “adopted” Peter for several months, and Governor George Wallace who Peter met with privately at the Governor’s office . He met all matter of eccentric, patriotic, wise, funny, loving, generous characters (some even a tad frightening) along his route, each with something to teach Peter about himself and life. Each new adventure in the book has its own lesson to teach and to me, each chapter was its own story with its own theme, each leading to self-discovery on Peter’s part. As he continued his hike across America, the lines of race, politics, socio-economic status and his own preconceived notions about “Southerners” and “Rednecks” seemed to disappear as he saw people as they are – just people. I can’t help but wonder how true this would still be today.

Peter did an excellent job of presenting the conversations he had although I did find the attempted use of dialects irritating and difficult to read. There is a reason that authors should avoid transcribing conversations into a local dialect unless they are exceptionally adept at doing so. This was just a minor irritation for me however and did not diminish my enjoyment of the book.

The novel is simple, well-written and easy to read — and by the end of it, I considered Peter somewhat of a friend. What really added to the book’s value was the inclusion of several pictures he took along the way, that made me feel as if I had been there myself. Towards the end, Peter discovers his spiritual side during a Southern revival so he not only made discoveries about Americans but also transforming realizations about himself.

The book was funny, entertaining and touching and in addition to being an enjoyable read, it can help you question stereotypes you may hold and perhaps even rekindle your faith in people. There is a follow-up to this book called “The Walk West: Walk Across America 2” that I may have to add to my reading list.

If you like travelogues, stories of self-discovery or fun road-trip adventure stories, I recommend this excellent tale. Be careful though – it may give you itchy feet and a desire to hit the road!

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Book Review: The Happiness Project

Happiness Project Book Cover image

I’ve been a devoted reader of Gretchen Rubin’s blog “The Happiness Project” for quite some time and was delighted to finally sit down and read her book “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”. The book chronicles Rubin’s year of trying to discover what makes us happy and how to increase happiness in our own life – the Happiness Project.

First off, I will say that I loved the book. While many things she suggested could be constituted as common sense, they often were things that I personally knew but did not consciously apply to my life. The book is peppered with thought-provoking advice, tips and encouragement to help us lead a fuller, richer life. The book looks at many different aspects of one’s life such as marriage, family, friendship, leisure, money, and mindfulness and provides advice on how to experiences them more deeply.

She breaks the book down into 12 monthly manageable portions, each with a main theme or resolution. Each theme then, is broken down into several resolutions that help you to experience and/or accomplish the theme. For instance, the main theme for January is “Boost Energy” and the resolutions that help you accomplish this are: Go to sleep earlier, exercise better, toss, restore organize, tackle a nagging task and act more energetic”. I found some relevant, some not so much. That is the beauty of this book – you take what you want – what resonates with you – and leave the rest.

Rubin also quotes all manner of experts and studies so that book isn’t just entirely a memoir of a year in the life of a woman. Rather, she applies this research to her own life and reports the results. What I found especially effective about this book, is that it is inspiring and motivating — Rubin’s passion for the subject is evident.

I’m glad that I chose this book. It was thought-provoking, well-researched, easy and fun to read as well as potentially life-changing. Recommended!