Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Review: How To Make Sure Your Life Doesn’t Suck By Maggie Gilewicz PhD

I will be refraining from giving a star rating and focusing on discussing the value of this book to audiences and potential difficulties some may face if they read it before they are ready to take in its information. A lack of star rating is NOT a bad review. I highly recommend this book to anyone that would benefit from Dr. Gilewicz work, of which I believe there are many, including individuals within the neurodiverse community.

Summary:

In “How To Make Sure Your Lie Doesn’t Suck” Dr. Maggie Gilewicz breaks down the basic principles of Inside-Out self understanding for an audience that may not be familiar with its use in branding, marketing, customer experience, data analytics and elsewhere in the business world. She introduces her readers to a holistic interpretation of the body of works by Michael Neill in a friendly and easy to digest way that takes the time to incorporate elements of psychology useful to the individual reader. Throughout this book she encourages readers to shift their focus to self-actualizing behaviors and reframed thought patterns as opposed to those governed by shoulds, woulds, and coulds as created by the pressures of society and outside forces we view as authorities. In language easily accessible to an audience without training in psychology, this book gives readers suggestions on how to find their own unique paths to embracing authenticity and happiness.

Overall Response (Caution: Spoilers) :

Dr. Gilewicz connects with her audience through anecdotes addressing transitioning our thoughts from the pressures of the world around us to thinking about what makes us happy and what we want in life. She does this without telling her audience what to want and how to be cautious of others telling them what they should want, encouraging critical thinking.

She shares how her thinking has changed on writing, exercise, minor childhood trauma, and fighting with her partner about making the bed, emphasizing how changing thinking helped her embrace the variability of her moods and the moods of others. Her words encourage readers to take responsibility for their own moods, emotions, and thoughts without over analyzing or passing judgment. With these anecdotes, she shows vulnerability and shares her own moodiness to explain how this is normal. She encourages readers to accept we are all human in this regard and to consider the moods and internal influences of those around us so we can improve communication.

Dr. Gilewicz takes the time to write the kind of book the self-help industry should be afraid of because it aims to tell the average neurotypical person that they’re okay just the way they are.

Even though she does not have a PhD in psychology, I’d like to emphasize that her PhD in sociology allows her to examine the problems of the individual from a societal, big-picture level and that truly comes through and shines in her writing as she provides compassionate and understanding insights for the average person. I do wish she would give herself more credit on this front.

So far I’ve used the words “neurotypical”, “average” and “normal” to describe the audience suited to read this book with no prior learning. That said, I believe this book has value beyond that limited audience. As a neurodiverse individual that uses inside-out thinking, I need to caution potential neurodiverse audiences that changing the way you think on its own does not stop the physiological/neurological responses of trauma, illness, or neurodevelopmental differences. Additionally, if you’re like me, it may be frustrating and take a long time to learn. There will be no “aha!” moment and instead be a gradual change back to an emotional/mental place that feels familiar, but you can’t explain it. You may come to find that inside-out thinking looks different for neurodiverse individuals and that’s okay. Using myself as an example, I have to over-analyze everything in a detached way similar to a child playing with a new toy as a means to determine which emotion I’m feeling in a language neurotypical individuals understand to communicate and, as a bonus, this provides me with a means of emotional regulation to interact with the outer world. There’s also the issue of intuition. Inside-out thinking works differently in neurodiverse individuals due to differences in how intuition works and you will need to learn your differences in intuition. As an example, I may be able to do rather bizarre mathematical and spatial calculations “intuitively” including looking for patterns and connections in data sets others may not have noticed, but I cannot do the same thing with my emotions. This is okay. Simply be aware, inside-out thinking for the neurodiverse brain is not covered in this book, but it’s not judged as wrong either. Once you know how your own neurodiverse “intuition” works, I still recommend reading this book to gain a unique perspective that demonstrates its benefits and some applications you might not have thought about.

There are limitations to this book and inside-out thinking. Inside-out thinking will not prevent or alter the physiological experiences of extreme grief when you lose multiple family members to death one after another in a short period of time or to a severe tragedy. It will not change the DNA methylation or histone modifications that are the result of severe trauma your grandparents or great grandparents experienced (as far as we know). It will not change the way your amygdala and adrenal glands physiologically responds to a trigger if you have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (For this, I personally had good experiences with EMDR, music assisted EMDR – talk to a professional and see what they recommend for you). It will not change the chemical imbalances that can lead to dissociation or extreme distorted thinking. It will not change the neurological circuits associated with compulsions or the physiological damage associated with loss of impulse control or other loss of function diagnoses. Inside-out thinking will not fix everything, but it will help with resilience when you are faced with worst case scenarios. It will give you the ability to let go of the self judgment that your experiences are inherently wrong because there’s nothing wrong with them. With that understanding, you will gain the resilience to keep going through the absolute worst imaginable life events, even when it seems like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. It will also help you better use the tactics you’ve learned in therapy, such as reframing your thoughts and avoiding ruminations to not spiral into a nonfunctioning state. For audiences that resonate with the limitations listed, don’t let this book be your first introduction to the concept, but do not dismiss it. Go to a trained professional in psychology for therapy. You’ll recognize CBT, DBT, and other therapies subtly referenced in this book after working with a professional. When you are in an emotionally secure, safe place I encourage you to sit with Dr. Gilewicz’s book and take in her perspective because, beyond resilience, the parts where she encourages readers to keep growing and discover their innermost desires and addresses self-actualization (without using that word) is uplifting and essential for anyone.

Another audience that may struggle with this book are those with diverse neurodevelopmental experiences and/or those that have faced active interference from outside forces in response to immutable traits such as their neurodiverse status, sexuality, gender, chronic health status, or any aspect of their appearance. This book will not help you achieve your deepest desires in the face of a world that will put roadblocks in your way and will tell you “no” regardless of your legal protections. There are points in this book (or any book related to this topic) where a reader may say “what happened to me was not fate and did not have to happen! What about everything you said about free will?!” For this audience I still suggest inside-out thinking, but I remember a time when I thought what I was learning “felt” invalidating to my experiences. If you start to read this book and find yourself in that place, take a step back. Try again later. Do so when you can understand that Dr. Gilewicz wrote this with the absolute best of intentions: a place of love and to encourage a reader to make peace with the events that cannot be changed and to embrace how they have shaped you into the beautiful human you are instead of carrying your feelings around that event as baggage into the future. She wrote this book because she genuinely believes every single person reading it deserves to have a life that doesn’t suck.

In all honesty, while I do think audiences need to take a moment to ask themselves if they are in the right internal place to approach Dr. Gilewicz’s book, I think its information and the way it is presented is valuable. The language is accessible, avoiding jargon and keeping a friendly tone. It pushes individuals to think critically and purposefully about what they are incorporating into their lives and to consider how the way they process that information impacts their emotions. This book, much like the books “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” and “Furiously Happy” by Jenny Lawson, encourages readers to take control of their mental health and the way they view the “worst” events of their lives by trying to find the ability to reframe the narrative or situation so they can feel differently. And maybe even laugh.

LGBTQA+

I do believe this book to be valuable to an LGBTQA+ audience, though it does not address this audience directly.

Grammar+

This book meets or exceeds the 1 error/10,000 words industry standard.

About The Author & Where To Buy

Dr. Maggie Gilewicz is a sociologist and transformative coach living in London, UK. You can visit her website here or follow her on Twitter. You can purchase a copy of the book here.

Book Review: Trajelon By Alyssa Marie Bethancourt

Front cover of Trajelon – The Way Of The Falling Star Book 2

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Trajelon in exchange for a review. While I attempt to keep my reviews as fair and unbiased as possible, it is important to note that I received this copy as a gift and read it in two sittings while traveling to/from Seattle while planning our upcoming move. Also, I have known the author since 2011, though I was unaware of her writing endeavors at the time.

Summary (Low Spoiler)

Before you proceed reader, I insist you go back and read the first book in this series: Mornnovin – you can buy it here. The digital version is currently on sale through 7 January 2021.

Welcome back to the world of Asrellion where, over 3,000 years later, the elves and humans are finally signing a peace treaty to officially end the genocide that sent all elves into hiding to the extent they were assumed extinct. Our Míyahídéna is still waiting for her prince of Grenlec to return from his quest to seek out the Elven god Vaian in the sea, and her coronation day is quickly approaching. But what will happen if he doesn’t arrive? And what evil forces lurking beyond the sea could be involved in preventing his return? As the ruler of Elvédíen becomes more erratic in her behavior and eventually disappears, what will her kingdom do?

Response (Spoilers & Content Warning)

Driven mad by the absence of the one other being to which her soul is magically bound, Loralíenasa descends into the depths of despair, bringing the reader along for the ride.

Dear reader, if you have never experienced a major depressive episode, dissociative episodes, personality changes due to severe trauma, or have first hand knowledge of various types of emotional, sexual, and physical abuse… you will. For readers that have experienced these abuses first hand, be assured that Bethancourt has taken great care in her writing on these topics. Chapter breaks, perspective changes, and timeline retrospectives are all used as mechanisms for grounding the reader when the scenes become too intense.

On the bright side, you won’t have to go through years of therapy after the fact to be able to recognize the warning signs for these traumatic experiences. Plus, you will enjoy the educational ride along the way through the incredible story telling mechanics, much like all of the Magic School Bus kids with their super secret Stockholm Syndrome.

If Mornnovin was the book to introduce us to Asrellion and the universe’s clashing cultures, Trajelon is the book that introduces us to the wide cast of characters. With this cast of a new and old characters, we explore the Elven world with new depth and breadth. With no character fully innocent, it’s easier to see these characters as flawed when put under duress. One thing is certain: every character has a unique perspective on events driven by their own motivations and this influences their actions accordingly. We also gain better understanding of how hard they work to appear as a singular presentation of their choosing on the surface as per their training with the Qíarnos – the “Seven Principles of Wisdom” and how these principles impact the culture we’ve come to expect from our cold, pointy eared companions.

With expansions on language and trade relations intermixed with customs, history, and a powerful storyline that will leave a reader emotionally scarred, but begging for more, Trajelon is the sequel we needed.

Yet another brilliant work of art by Bethancourt, Trajelon reveals that she can write epic adventures of the mind and spirit in addition to the sword.

LGBTQA

Major and minor characters represent all potential combinations and it is revealed that elves are very sexual creatures in ways that tend to be left to the imagination. While there are many questions I still have as a reader (re: Galvanos), I’m sure these will be answered in upcoming sequels. So many details have been slow, subtle reveals that are delightful puzzles in this series and I highly recommend readers paying attention to the uses of coding by the author.

Grammar+

This book meets or exceeds the 1/10,000 word error industry standard.

Twilight Zone Moment

What happened to the wedding ring? I know this is a very small and minor question, but I had to wonder.

About The Author And The First Book

You can read more about Alyssa Marie Bethancourt in her interview from last year here or on her website. Follow her on social media via Twitter. You can purchase a copy of Trajelon for yourself here or through amazon here (the digital versions of Mornnovin and Trajelon are on sale for $1.99 through 7 January 2021).

Book Review:”The Death Doll” by Brian P White

Summary

As the zombie apocalypse descends upon the United States, a truck appears with scavengers rescuing survivors while dispatching the undead. But when these survivors arrive at their new home, nothing is quite as it seems. With the end times near, how will a group of survivors so different from one another in ideologies, backgrounds, and desires band together to make a new way? Or will pride, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, sloth and wrath be the downfall of any chance at a new society?

The standard apocalypse and Book of Revelations tropes get upgraded with zombies, more diversity, three dimensional characters, the beauty of redemption, and the impacts of American racism and social prejudices in a post-apocalyptic scenario. Want to throw America under a magnifying glass? “The Death Doll” is not a zombie novel to miss.

Overall Response (Caution: accidental mild spoilers)

I mentioned on Twitter that this is my favorite zombie book of all time. I’m saying this as a former resident of Pittsburgh that relished in Halloween every year because it meant celebrating Pittsburgh’s history as one of the cities where zombie mania began. This meant that I saw “Night Of The Living Dead! The Musical!” and did zombie themed weekend adventures around the city. I loved World War Z and I’ve loved every unique spin on zombies out there. Nothing compares to this book, and it has nothing to do with the zombies.

In “The Death Doll”, Brian P. White takes a hard look at various subgroups within the United States and places the reader inside representative characters’ heads. As described in a thoughtful disclaimer at the beginning of the book, this does include the use of bigoted language to demonstrate bigoted characters. If you would prefer to not read a book with swearing and bigoted language for demonstrative purposes, then this is not a book for you. The author does a great job of giving the reader warning ahead of time at the front of the book.

Head hopping is hard. In this book it felt natural. I never had to guess the character currently holding the point of view, and the writing style adapts to each character’s personality traits. Head hopping can only work when it is done well, and in my opinion “The Death Doll” nailed it.

I mentioned that racism and social prejudices are put on full display. Let me be blunt: no character is left flawless and racism is sometimes the base layer expectation. Every character reveals their true nature and grows when given the opportunity to incorporate new information into their world views. The characters that don’t? These are the antagonists because during a zombie apocalypse the zombies aren’t your biggest problem: other humans are. Even with conflict resolutions, the story is written without the white savior trope playing out. In fact, the book turns that trope on its head and gives it the finger in a way that does not feel forced, rather, as a reader, it seems the most competent characters are recognized for their merit.

I love that the characters make choices in actions that have consequences they must live (or die) with. Small choices around the placement of objects are brought back to have huge consequences with constantly logical chains of events (there’s a pun there you’ll only catch if you read the book).

While I do not identify as Christian, that doesn’t mean I don’t love when the Bible is used as a story telling aid for readers with high attention to detail. This book is full of biblical references that add to the symbolism and foreshadowing already present. These references are extensive enough that I would recommend “The Death Doll” for Christian book clubs that really want to delve deep into the teachings brought up and don’t mind the other details previously mentioned. I have to admit, some references are too good, bringing on laughter or groans at the incredible puns that turn into legitimate literary devices. Remember that high school friend of mine that’s a church leader? This book 100% got recommended to him.

Saving the best for last, my absolute favorite aspect of this story may be the story arc of the Death Doll herself, but, to avoid spoilers, readers will have to read the book to find out why.

LGBTQA

While there is no overt representation of the LGBTQA community, this does not impact my rating of this book because there’s an overwhelming message of love and inclusiveness.

Grammar+

Any errors fell within the 1/10,000 words industry standard.

Twilight Zone Moment

There were 2 Twilight Zone Moments:

  1. How do cell phones work in a post-zombie apocalypse world? This is nit picking and is unlikely to bother the average reader. My brain went into a lot of unnecessary technical details.
  2. CPR/AED scene – There is one CPR/AED scene that I struggled with as a healthcare worker, but this could be fixed by characters reminding each other of modifications to the CPR procedure to reduce infection risk.

More About The Author

You can buy the book here and other online book retailers such as Barnes & Noble and BookBub. To learn more about the author, you can follow Brian P. White on Twitter and through his website here.

Things In Writing I Pay Attention To That Other People Might Not Care About

If Haskell gets any closer Nyxie will show him the consequences

Yes A Does Really Have To Get To B Eventually

Cause And Effect

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Unresolved situations are frustrating.

Example: If a character experiences trauma, they will be traumatized and then display signs of trauma as a result of the event.

To not experience trauma in response to a traumatic event indicates something other. This could be used as a literary device. If it is not being used as a device it is distracting and takes away from the work. Make sure all actions have consequences.

Does The Characterization Of Each Character Match Up With The Timeline?

Characters are on a journey. Each character is moving from A to B and some will go on to C or D. Along those paths each character is changed. This creates the timeline of a book. How a character is portrayed in a scene needs to match the point in the timeline a character is at.

Example: A character that is in her twenties thinks about bills and her job as opposed to a character in her teens that is thinking about school. Because of this, the relationships formed around these areas are most important in life and are the most emotionally impactful outside of family and those that might as well be family.

We Didn’t Go Anywhere

When the setting of a story changes it’s important to have some form of transition to show movement of time and place.

There are some stories that don’t include enough details about objective indicators of passage of time and check that they are consistent such that all of the details of the story align temporally.

There are some stories that don’t include them at all and it’s somehow eternal summer somewhere bizarre like Alaska.

There are some stories that include way too much detail. It’s overwhelming and distracting from the story. I am suddenly studying the passage of time and the changing of the seasons instead of the nature of man.

There are some stories that include lots and lots of details. So many details. All the details. But none of them align temporally, so suddenly April was both 6 months ago and 2 months ago with Winter only 3 months away. This is when I start getting headaches. James Joyce does this. A lot.

Characters Have Hidden Lives

It’s Okay To Have “Offensive” Characters

There’s a huge difference between an “offensive” character that upsets readers and an overdone inaccurate stereotyped character that upsets readers because it doesn’t resonate.

The best offensive characters speak to the group they’re offending because they are too accurate and too real. This will be upsetting to some people. That’s the kind of “offensive” I relish. There may be those that demand a content warning. Good – research is showing that content warnings increase the reads a piece gets much like good tagging because people are seeking them out.

I don’t care who the author is – I promise if you have done your research and shaped your character in a way that reveals truths in your observations, I will love your character even if people get really upset with you over it. Cut the wound deep and hit where it hurts, not where it’s been done ad nauseum unless it’s real. Reveal something no one else has, but remember that pen names exist for your protection.

Your Characters Have Conversations The Reader Doesn’t Know About And Doesn’t See

An author cannot document everything. They are writing down a snapshot of a potential alternate universe that could exist because someone thought of it, right? That means all of those characters have private inner lives the reader can’t possibly know in its entirety. This means characters can have relationships with each other that are implied instead of explicitly stated. All of this helps to create depth.

It helps to come up with a full backstory for every character in a story even if it’s never talked about or mentioned. This will influence how dialogue is written and how hidden relationships between characters are revealed.

Your Characters Have Moods

Depending on your character’s internal state they will have a mood. This mood will translate into action or inaction in response to a stimulus and that will result in some consequence. Moods and energy levels related to exhaustion as an effect of the story timeline should all be cohesive.

Your Characters Of Different Cultures Are Going To Have Trouble Getting Along

Culture clash is real. The minority of people will be peaceful and fine and that’s great, but your characters aren’t the saints you think they are. Nope. They are averse to change and other cultures and view other as dangerous. This goes all ways. Be real – your characters from different cultures are going to be uneasy around each other and hesitant to make friends for legitimate reasons evolutionary wired in (if they’re humanoid).

Settings Are Places That Can Only Be Known Through Experience

Setting Descriptions Have A Time And Place With Characters In Them

It is not uncommon that I run into setting descriptions that are detached from the story either by the characters not interacting with the setting features or by the characters existing completely separate from setting descriptions.

By integrating setting details with the story as a whole the sensory experience can be the focus. The integrated sensory experience of the setting provides the reader with a greater sense of passage of time.

Settings Indicate Culture

Think about it – In the United States, if I set a story in the South a reader is going to anticipate a lot of passive aggressive saccharine manipulation straddled by y’alls happening. If I set a story in the Northeast, there’s a more WASPy social norm puppet show expectation.

But that’s based on the dominant culture of an area. What about when you’re writing about an area’s subculture?

I like to refer to framing subculture structures in writing as “country clubs” – it’s exclusive, you need to know someone to be someone, and there are generally specific central gathering places.

TL;DR

  • Make sure everything makes sense temporally
  • Ground the reader in temporal details outside the character
  • Offend by speaking the truth and make very effort to ensure that truth resonates in an effective and impactful way with the audience
  • Characters have conversations the reader won’t see but totally influence what the final dialogue will be.
  • Characters have inner lives, states, and energy levels that change as a result of the story. Write that.
  • Culture clash is real. Observe it and describe it. Be curious and nuanced. This gives a story so much depth.
  • Details of setting can be added to show passage of time in the story and immerse the characters and action in the location.
  • Settings indicate dominant culture and can somewhat indicate subcultures.

Thank you for reading! If you like this post on writing please like and let me know. What are things in books that drive you crazy?