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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Month: October 2015

Guest Post by Suzanne Burdon, author of ALMOST INVINCIBLE

We will be reading and reviewing Suzanne Burdon‘s book at a later date, but in the meanwhile the author was kind enough to write this guest post for us! It’s quite apropos for the holiday.

 

Halloween – ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night. Whatever the early pagan or Christian origins of All Hallows’ Eve, the creatures of the netherworld are now thoroughly celebrated or lampooned, depending on your perspective, on October 31st. These are the creatures of the ‘natural’ world, but on a stormy night in 1816, Mary Shelley conceived a man-made monster that was to capture the imagination of generations and spawn many ‘hideous progeny’.

On All Hallows’ Eve in 1831, the Frankenstein novel that most people read today, was reprinted and published in a one volume popular format instead of the three volumes usual for the time, which gave it an even wider audience. The novel had already had considerable success since it was originally released in 1818 and almost immediately captured the popular imagination. Its fame was boosted by stage adaptations, notably Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein, which played at the Royal Opera House in London in 1823. Mary went to see the production and though she admitted that they had not followed the story closely, she thought it was well done. There were thunderstorms and a collapsing glacier and the monster was so suitably scary that women in the audience fainted.

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It is lucky that Mary was not precious about the representation of her work or she would surely be endlessly rotating in her grave. The themes and imagery from the novel have been recast into cartoons, music, plays, comedies, TV series and almost a hundred movies. The most iconic representation was of course Boris Karloff as the monster in the 1931 Hammer Horror movie adaption, with the monobrow and bolts through his neck. Frankenstein’s screen history started in 1910 in the first silent film from Edison studios and continues with new 2015 movie with James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe.

The story has been analysed and intellectualised endlessly, but the common, horror aspect of most incarnations has been the creation of an animated monster by human agency, and the failure to control it thereafter. Victor Frankenstein is a mad scientist who plays God and then refuses to take responsibility for his creation. The vulnerabilities of the characters and the moral and social implications of the original story are mostly marginalized. The abiding horror is contemplating human vanity and frailty.

Mary Shelley was only eighteen when she started her story and it was composed on a wild and stormy night in mid summer in Lord Byron’s villa on the lake at Geneva. That year, 1816, was known as The Year Without a Summer. Mount Tambora in Indonesia had erupted spectacularly – it was the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history – and Europe was blanketed in dust. People thought the end of the world had come. It was a suitable backdrop to the creation of a gothic story as Byron, Mary and her lover, Percy Bysshe Shelley, her stepsister Claire and Byron’s doctor, Polidori, huddled around the fire reading ghost stories. Byron then threw out the challenge for each of the company to try their hand at the creation of something frightening.

Mary had felt enormous pressure to validate her genes and produce a literary work of value, but until Frankenstein she had struggled to find the right outlet for her creativity. So Mary’s response to the challenge was inevitably more than a simple scary story. Her parents were both radical authors; her mother wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and is considered an early feminist and her father, William Godwin, wrote a groundbreaking anti-establishment book called Political Justice. So writing something that had social meaning was not surprising.

The scientific context of Frankenstein is more unexpected but was a result of her relationship with Shelley, the poet. When she eloped with him, Mary hadn’t realised the depth of his passion for chemical experiments, nor the potentially lethal impact of his obsession on working papers, tabletops or cushion covers, as smoke rose and glasses full of foul-coloured liquid shattered. Wires and crucibles of liquids would appear on the parlour table alongside the solar microscope and the extremely thumbed and stained copy of The Elements of Chemical Philosophy by Humphrey Davy. It didn’t add to their acceptability to landladies, but it did add to her inspiration for the science in Frankenstein.

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In the 1931 edition, published on October 31st 1831, Mary added a new preface where she explained the circumstances in which the novel had been conceived. By that time, Shelley was dead and she was largely supporting herself with her writing. Her other novels were ‘by the Author of Frankenstein’. Frankenstein and his monster have passed into popular culture and show no signs of diminishing impact. Indeed with current forays into gene modification and limb replacement, it is still, potentially, very much a modern horror story.

 

 Suzanne Burdon: Author of Almost Invincible, A Biographical Novel of Mary Shelley

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Look for our review of ALMOST INVINCIBLE, coming soon! Many thanks to Ms Burdon for sharing her story.   

 

Need by Joelle Charbonneau (plus book GIVEAWAY!)

NEED

 

“No one gets something for nothing. We all should know better.”

Teenagers at Wisconsin’s Nottawa High School are drawn deeper into a social networking site that promises to grant their every need . . . regardless of the consequences. Soon the site turns sinister, with simple pranks escalating to malicious crimes. The body count rises. In this chilling YA thriller, the author of the best-selling Testing trilogy examines not only the dark side of social media, but the dark side of human nature.

 

Thanks to Rachel at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt  and the author for sending me this ARC! It will be offered as a giveaway to one lucky winner in the USA–link to the Rafflecopter is at the end of this post. 

 

As pervasive as social media is among today’s students, NEED illustrates what can happen when teens are faced with having every wish fulfulled so they can appear superior to their peers. Angst and stress rule in this small town in Wisconsin, where all troubled and misunderstood Kaylee wants (or NEEDs) is a kidney for her younger brother. She is doubtful of the site’s ability to grant wishes, yet she posts her request up anyway.

Getting deep into the story may take a while: there are many characters and each chapter is told in their own point of view. We see the social media site becoming larger and more greedy, in how it changes its requirements to submit a “need”. These “needs” morph rapidly into “wants”, and grow rapidly from a new pair of skis into setting up an entire VIP package – including car service and front row seats – for a concert. Greed and deceit go hand in hand, while Kaylee (who may or may not be completely innocent) tries to figure it all out. Authority figures see her as an unreliable narrator and thwart her efforts.

Soon, very bad things are happening, and deaths start occurring. As the plot unfolded, it went from believeable to almost over the top; how was it that the police and other school figures weren’t able to stop the killing? However, when you consider the teen hormones and lack of good judgement, it did kind of make sense. Towards the last third of the book, the dark twists suddenly started making sense, and I was on the edge of my seat, hoping Kaylee would be able to figure things out in time to save others from certain death.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from reading NEED, the most important being if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Plus, reading this from an adult aspect made me truly see how 17-somethings treat everything like life and death, whereas a jaded (read: older) person would see through all the convolutions and machinations and not become sucked in. Kaylee annoyed me sometimes when she was so hesitant to make a move, but given her past (which the author slowly reveals) she has reasons to be that way.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the cold weather and the bare emotions of the teenagers, just trying to get through the drama. The plot twists will keep you interested, and once details are shared, bit by bit you see the big picture and how all the narrators/characters tie in to each other.

NEED should be a big hit in today’s social media obsessed world. YA readers will enjoy the escalating greed of the members of NEED, as well as the ever fluid high school world of who-is-cool-this-moment dynamic. Charbonneau’s premise is brilliant without being too dystopian. Definitely one to check out.

 

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Here’s the link to our giveaway—-good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don’t want to enter the contest? Want to buy your own copy? Click here. NEED will be published on November 3, 2015.

 

 

 

The Dogist by Elias Weiss Friedman

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for this honest review.

Before I saw this book, I was not familiar with The Dogist, a site devoted to the photographic beauty of dogs. Now I’m an ardent follower on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. This lushly photographed book is a thing of beauty and truly a joy forever, as you can lose yourself in the liquid eyes of canines each time you open this book. No matter what page you are on, there is charm and detail.

Each section comes with an endearing title, such as “Seniors”, “Beards”,  and “Little Dogs”.  When you have multiple photos to compare side by side, you can truly appreciate the subtle differences between different dogs of the same breed–or the vast differences between various breeds with the same attributes. One of the cutest sections is called “Give a Dog a Bone” and shows dogs with, well, bones in their mouth. There is also a blurb about the author’s eponymous charity, which he calls a “Secret Santa for dogs”.

There is the occasional two page spread that showcases one dog across both pages, or shows a dog in multiple shots, usually an action photo that includes a toy or squirrel. These are well crafted and really captures the spirit of the playful dog in action.

The section called “Costumes” will make every dog lover smile broadly and marvel at how well the canines and clothing fit together. The expressions of the dogs range from being proud of their sartorial splendor, to merely tolerating their owner’s foibles.

Yes, it’s easy to anthropomorphize in some of these photos; but do not all dog lovers do this? THE DOGIST is food for the soul, in that it gives everyone a chance to look deep into the very being of man’s best friend. Friedman’s utter command of the camera focus highlights each whisker, each tooth, each drip of slobber, and captures it for posterity.

Finally, there is enjoyment in simply reading the dog’s name and breed.  Every type of appellation is here; from whimsical to apropos. To me, this is one of the best parts of the book: people who normally may not see, for instance, a Dogue De Bordeaux will have a close up, extremely personal view. Some breeds are over represented, such as the Bulldog and Pit Bull, but there are some rare ones here too.

I thoroughly loved looking through this book. Opening it at some random page will always elicit a smile and a feeling of a full heart. Dog lovers will rejoice in the familiarity of the poses, and those who appreciate fine photography will appreciate the unique images captured here.

Yes–you want your own copy! Click here to purchase it.

They Called Her Paperback Rose by Ellie DeFarr (Hera Hunter mystery #3)

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The streets are a dangerous place for young runaways. PI Hera Hunter knows. She’s been there. So when Paperback Rose falls to her death and the police call it a suicide, Hera is skeptical. Calamity Jane, another street urchin, insists that Rose was not alone when she fell. Hera isn’t sure she believes Jane since the girl’s a thief, pickpocket, liar, and peeping Tom. But when Rose’s parents hire her to determine what happened to their daughter, Hera soon finds that she must discover the evil lurking in her town that gives reason for throwing a child off the top of a three-story tenement house.

 

Thanks to the author for offering me this book for review.  This is the 3rd book in the Hera Hunter series, and it’s another winner! You can see my review of Melancholy Manor, book 2, here.

All our favorites are back in this installment: Toby, Gwen, Billy (Hera’s sister), and intrepid crime fighting dog Lucky. His presence adds a unique touch to many scenes and DeFarr’s wonderful descriptions of him warm my heart. His tail just doesn’t wag, it “sweeps across the bedspread”. And he always wins races down the hallway, because Hera lets him. (Don’t tell!)

We also delve deeper into Hera’s personality, as she experiences disappointment in her attempt to have a relationship. Her beau is rarely free, and falls asleep on Hera during a date. Good thing Lucky is there to keep her company.

Hera is a loner by nature, and finds her heart being tugged by the urchins of Centreville, an emotion she is not entirely comfortable with. I liked DeFarr’s broadening of the character here, as it adds another layer that complements the plot perfectly. Learning more about what makes a character tick is a joyful thing.

In fact, almost everything about PAPERBACK ROSE is done well. We see a new side of Centreville–the homeless children with their street names have their own community suspicious of outsiders, and this reluctance to share things drives the plot forward, as Hera tries to figure out if things are clues or red herrings. We see the sly humor undermining the pathos also, as Hera laments the copious use of tissues by a grieving woman. It’s a soft touch that many writers can’t pull off but it works well here.

Dirty politics rears its head also, under the guise of Toby’s brother Clement Isles, the villanous Senator.  He seems to be mixed up in something nefarious (as usual) and irritates Hera by becoming a bit too familiar with her. It is rare to have a main character that is opposed to getting ahead by flirting, and Hera is a refreshing woman. Her “all business” exterior may be off putting to some, but it keeps the plot moving forward at a constant speed.

The final few pages of this book are riveting, as DeFarr outdoes herself. The intense plot twist left me shocked and in disbelief, both at the events that transpired and the significance of those events. No spoilers here, as usual! You will have to pick up this stellar book and read for yourself. Get your copy here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daimones (Daimones Trilogy, Vol. 1) by Massimo Marino

 

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“Nothing prepared us for the last day.”

Death has swept away the lives of billions of people, but Dan and his family were spared. By whom, and why?
Surviving, to give meaning to their lives, and looking for other survivors lead Dan to discover the truth about the extermination of the human race.
The encounter with Laura, a young and sexy girl of Italian origin, raises ethical and moral questions that had never touched the Amentas family before.
Other survivors force Dan to confront his past to find answers to the many questions.
The past and the present come together and upset the fragile balance, physical and mental, which allowed the Amentas to find a new meaning to their existence.
Dan discovers his final role in a plan with a million years of roots, and survivors have to choose a future that has no past, or remain in a past with no future.

Many thanks to the author for gifting me this book in exchange for a review.

DAIMONES is unusual because it’s a thinking man’s science fiction story. The plot is familiar; aliens annhilating the population of Earth, save a few chosen ones. The difference here is that the main characters realize the implications of why it occurred and understand that they need to adapt.

Marino’s writing style is descriptive and puts you directly into the deserted world. Familiar landmarks such as the CERN building fall silent as they are devoid of human life. Nature slowly takes over, as weeds and animal life proliferate, even as Dan and his family despair of ever coming in contact with another human.

This strength is also his weakness. In Book One, most of the first half is taken up by more of the same: empty malls, stores, roads without traffic, and many conversations between the survivors about “why did this happen” and “what can we do”. I grew weary of the minimal action and navel gazing. Yes, it is an apocalyptic event, but the pace was quite slow until Laura was discovered and welcomed into the family. Perhaps Marino spent so much detail on the abandoned Earth because he really wanted to drive the point home of how it would be if everyone vanished. He firmly establishes the POV of the novel as a lonely, eerie, and hushed place to be. The world struck dumb is not an easy thing to imagine, especially if you live in a crowded area. As I read, I certainly felt the sense of alone-ness growing around me, as I simultaneously felt cut off from the planet yet annoyed that the book wasn’t moving forward fast enough for me.

When things do start happening, everything speeds up all at once. Dan and his wife encounter a moral dilemma, daughter Annah is going through her young adult years realizing she may never have someone to love, and Dan starts to experience vague “feelings” that they are not alone anymore. Annah’s plight resonated deeply with me; I can’t even imagine being a teen, cut off from friends and Facebook, wondering if the future holds anything promising. Excellent touch by the author!

The final section of the book is where Marino uses his alien characters to wax poetic about the future of the Earth and its population. One speech in particular is a kind of soapbox that will resonate with those who care about the prevalence of man’s hubris and over-reaching grasp. The cause of the mass kill off is explained, with the caveat that it can be prevented again with the proper actions. I liked how history was tied in with the narrative; it made it believeable  and relevant.

DAIMONES is not a book to quickly read and put aside. The author wants to call attention to man’s actions and reactions, and the effects they have upon our life. Those readers who like a little brain stimulation with their sci-fi will have something to ponder as they get through this book.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Poet’s Secret – Q&A with author Kenneth Zak

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Elia Aloundra, a young lit student, sees a reclusive poet, Cameron Beck, recite a poem at a campus pub before he vanishes. Ten years earlier, Beck had published a popular collection of ninety-nine odes to one anonymous muse before dropping from the public eye, leaving behind a decade of speculation over his disappearance and the identity of the muse. Elia always found sanctuary within the pages of great books and raised Beck’s work into that pantheon, memorizing every verse by heart.

But her love life pales in comparison to the great romances of literature, and she sets off in search of Beck hoping to finally leap from the page and unveil the secret to love incarnate. What she doesn’t know is that as her quest begins, Beck is perched atop a cliff on a remote Caribbean island and about to attempt suicide. Decades earlier a Spanish shipwreck entombing mystical Aztec relics was found off that same island.  Elia must win her way through Beck’s protective circle: Isabella, a robust island matriarch with heavy voodoo juju, Paco, a local fisherman and cantina owner, and Fatty, a burnt out, transplanted New Orleans crawdad of a doc. What Elia cannot fathom is that Beck’s secret will change both their lives forever.

This fascinating Q&A was brought to you by Kenneth Zak and PR By The Book!

Watch the book trailer here:

What inspired you to write The Poet’s Secret?

At the time I wrote The Poet’s Secret, I was on a personal pilgrimage. I essentially took a three­year sabbatical, sort of an adult “time out,” and embarked on a new path. I dedicated myself to explore the meaning of life and love and particularly the arc of passion. I became consumed by the idea of living in the present, honoring the “now” as the only real moment in time, the only authentic eternity, which allowed me to both disconnect and connect like never before and let go of the constructs of past and future as fictions created by the mind. I gained a new appreciation for relatively brief moments and encounters as having potentially profound effects. I was living abroad, reading, writing, surfing and slowing down my existence.

The tale that became The Poet’s Secret was conceived in a hovel perched atop a one­table taverna in the hillside village of Avdou, just a scooter ride from the blue waters of the Aegean Sea on the island of Crete. I was sequestered alone, halfway around the world from my home, and recovering from a life, and a relationship, that had left me hollow, or at least I thought at the time. But it turned out words kept flowing out of me, first in raw, chunky verse that faintly resembled poetry and then in images and scenes that bore an even fainter resemblance to a novel. For months I wrote, swam in healing waters and disappeared into this remote, antiquated Greek village. I had never done anything like that before, but at the time it was the only existence that made any sense.

So many miracles happened during those months. I experienced a cleansing, a healing and an awakening, and I began to perceive light and water and imagery and words and the souls around me like never before. I eventually returned to California, and then traveled to Bali, Mexico, Costa Rica, Thailand, Cambodia and South America, following the sea and surf with laptop in hand and continuing to write. The backstory to writing The Poet’s Secret is a story in itself.

How did you select the locations for the novel?

It was tempting to set the bulk of the novel in Greece, a country I adore. However, as the story evolved the compass for the island setting spun toward the West Indies, and the story’s life raft washed ashore on the fictional island of Mataki. I was fortunate to spend a good part of my sabbatical on tropical islands and coastal villages that certainly informed the setting. As for the early campus setting, I based it on a fictionalized version of my beloved alma mater, The Ohio State University.

What was your particular process in terms of plot, outlining and character?

I essentially began the novel with two scenes that were haunting me. First, I had a reclusive poet on a remote island cliff about to attempt suicide. Second, I had a bookish young woman captured within the confines of the great romances of literature. I really had no idea about their connection, if any, but those two images would not let go of me. As I began to write, the concept of the woman yearning for what nearly kills the poet began to take hold.

The process was fairly organic. I let the characters breathe and lead me into the story. I wasn’t even sure whose story it was until shortly after the first draft. Once the closing scene appeared to me I realized that it was really Elia’s story. I then just had to navigate getting there. While I did not develop any formal outline, I downloaded scenes as they appeared, stockpiled them and later wove them in when they seemed to make sense. It was a bit like swimming across a sea, not sure which direction land might be but hoping that if I kept going I would eventually find my way.

Stumbling, a bit blindly, through this creative process was both exasperating and exhilarating. As I was working on revisions, I attended several writers’ conferences that stressed the necessity of thorough plotting, which made me feel a tad vulnerable. I later read an interview about Michael Ondaatje’s process in writing The English Patient and realized I was in good company.

The novel is filled with excerpts of poetry, which came first, the poetry or the narrative arc?

Most of the poetry was written before any narrative took form. The poetry came in often painful and soul­ searching flourishes, and then was revised over time. There is a line in The Poet’s Secret where Dean Baltutis refers to the poet’s inspiration being “survival.” That is precisely how it felt at times. I also wanted to combine both poetry and prose into one novel and attempt to slow down the reader a bit at the beginning of each chapter to contemplate and absorb the poetry, to be in that moment so to speak, before continuing on the narrative journey.

What in particular surprised you about the process of writing The Poet’s Secret?

I didn’t want to force plot twists or preconceived outcomes. I let the characters find the story. I let go of expectations and trusted the story to evolve. Tapping into this creative process was freeing, exhilarating and challenging, sort of like jumping off a cliff into the sea for the first time. I had never done anything quite like it, but this particular process for me felt authentic. I certainly was surprised how well the early drafts of the poetry and manuscript were received, which bolstered my confidence to pursue the project through publication.

Water imagery is abundant throughout the novel, what is the particular connection for you with water and particularly with respect to this novel?

I was thrown onto a swim team at age 8 even before I passed beginners swim lessons (I was terrible at the back float). But water soon became my life and in many ways my salvation. Throughout my youth I swam, played water polo, lifeguarded and hung around Lake Erie in northeastern Ohio. Somehow, I didn’t even see an ocean until I was 18. But I recall climbing out of the backseat of a Datsun 210 hatchback (or what they claimed to be a backseat) after driving for 22 hours to Ft. Lauderdale for spring break and telling my college buddies to just pick me up in a few hours. I was mesmerized. I sprinted into the Atlantic Ocean and swam and bodysurfed until dark. Today, I surf or swim almost every day. I feel like I am about eighty percent water, the remaining twenty percent made up mostly of curiosity and mischief.

Much of the water in the universe is said to be a byproduct of star formation. I’m no scientist, but I like the way that sounds. Because when I look up at the night stars it feels a lot like gazing west an hour before the sun dips into the sea, at least at my secret little spot by the water. Flickering diamonds scatter everywhere along the surface, and if I squint just right, I forget the sea is even there. Instead, it looks like a galaxy of stars shimmering right into me, washing across my heart, reflecting off my smile and filling me with the belief that I can just float away into the universe. So I often do.

Spiritually, water often represents purification and healing. To me, water represents so many things, perhaps most importantly love and life and the sacred feminine. I once nearly died underwater while surfing in Uluwatu, a place few have ever heard of and even fewer have visited. But I know on so many occasions water has saved me, water has healed me, and water has reset my compass when I have been spinning in some uncontrollable vortex. So for me, my life and my love seem to be tied to returning to the great aquatic source, again and again, maybe just to fill the chasm that still exists in me, and maybe to some degree still exists in all of us.

I have been fortunate to swim with sea turtles and dolphins in the wild on many occasions. When I stare into the eyes of a sea turtle or a dolphin I cannot help but believe that they understand this great aquatic connection, a connection beyond humanity, beyond species, beyond even the stars. So when I am writing about passion, heartbreak, healing, life and love, it is only natural for me to write in a particularly aquatic language and style.

Where is your favorite place to write?

My favorite place to write is on that squeaky metal spring cot in that hovel above Mihalis’ taverna in Avdou, Crete. After that, any place as long as I have my noise cancellation headphones. I’ve written and revised all over from kitchen tables to airplanes.

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing over thirty years now in one form or another. I wrote a bit of poetry in high school and then did a bunch of required writing in my legal profession. It was sometime after law school that I penned my first novel (unpublished), and then about ten years ago when the idea for The Poet’s Secret first took flight. I also have some published short fiction and poetry.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Haruki Murakami, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Paulo Coehlo, Milan Kundera, John Steinbeck, Michael Ondaatje, Jorge Luis Borges, Rumi, A.S. Byatt, Carl Safina, Tom Spanbauer and so many more.

How did those authors influence your work?

My favorite authors inspire, entertain, challenge and provoke me. I don’t try to write or emulate any particular style. But when I read the opening of Cannery Row time stops.

How did you become affiliated with the Romance Writers of America?

Someone recommended I send an early draft of The Poet’s Secret to the RWA. While The Poet’s Secret is by no means a traditional genre romance, it was selected an RWA Golden Heart Finalist in romantic suspense. I was the only male nominated that year (attending the national conference and award ceremony is another story altogether). When my face went up on the Jumbotron in front of thousands of mostly female authors at the award ceremony it was a bit unnerving. Writing anything can be fraught with self­doubt. The RWA could not have been more welcoming and supportive and certainly gave me a bolt of confidence to continue writing and revising, as did the nominee class from that year, the appropriately named Unsinkables.

How did your professional career as an attorney influence your writing and how do you balance the two careers?

I think practicing law actually spurred my interest in creative writing. While I was in private practice, I felt constrained by the form restrictions requisite within the legal profession. I also felt a lot of legal writing often served more to obfuscate than illuminate and writing poetry and fiction allowed me the freedom to explore and express myself in a different medium. The Poet’s Secret is not “another lawyer’s courtroom thriller” in any respect, nor am I particularly drawn to that genre since I’ve lived it. Nonetheless, my legal career (now as General Counsel for a large private brokerage company) is both fascinating and challenging. I draw some inspiration from the poet Wallace Stevens who for years continued his vibrant writing career while an executive for an insurance company. As far as balance goes, my evenings and weekends are spent around the keyboard as much as possible.

Tell us about your involvement with 1% for the Planet and The Surfrider Foundation.

Perhaps only a poet would give away money before it is even earned, but that is what I felt compelled to do given my love of the ocean and conservation causes. In addition to ocean swimming, free diving and water polo, I have been an avid surfer for nearly two decades and have surfed around the world. Subtle conservation themes are laced through The Poet’s Secret, but my love of the ocean and our planet is anything but subtle. I hope to leave this world and particularly our oceans better than I found them. Penju Publishing’s membership with 1% For the Planet and my pledged donations to The Surfrider Foundation are an effort to spread awareness, give back and pay it forward.

Woman on Fire by Amy Jo Goddard

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Based on her sought-after sexuality workshops, the coauthor of Lesbian Sex Secrets for Men shows women how to master the 9 elements of sexual empowerment to reclaim their desire and live the sexually fulfilling lives they want.

The prevalence of low sexual desire ranges from 26.7% among premenopausal women to 52.4% among naturally menopausal women. That is an enormous segment of women who are frustrated about their lack of desire and wonder what’s wrong. But in Woman on Fire, Amy Jo Goddard shows us that the more whole we are as sexual beings, the more fulfilled we are as human beings. In this accessible, prescriptive book, Amy Jo reveals her holistic, inside-out approach to developing Sexual Empowerment. Women from 20 to 70 come to her workshops with issues like these: “What am I missing?” “I don’t like sex the way everyone else seems to.” “How do I maintain desire after having kids?” “How do I build sexual confidence?”

In answer, Amy Jo shows us how to master the 9 Elements of a Sexually Empowered Life and includes stories from the thousands of women she has worked with. She shows us how to get (back) in touch with desire, explore vulnerability and play, and push the boundaries of what we think is acceptable. We will not just have better sex, we will have more pleasure throughout life and more intimate relationships, whether we have many partners or one.

Thanks to  Roshe Anderson at Penguin Random House for gifting me this review copy!

Amy Jo Goddard is a world reknowned sexual empowerment coach. She has done many things to promote sexuality, feminism, and couple’s communication. With those credentials under her belt, I expected a whole lot from this book –and I wasn’t disappointed!

I started highlighting stuff about 20 pages in. Goddard’s vision is refreshing in that, if society would stop sending women sex-negative messages, they would be able to enjoy themselves more. Women are shamed and made to feel guilty on a regular basis. Mothers tell their daughters to be protective of their body and not be a tease. Girlfriends talk about each other behind their backs, using terms like “slut” and whore”, when peer pressure is at its most effective. Men use their strength against women and hurt their psyche with rape or other types of abuse. Goddard’s message is to let go of your “story”, the tale you may tell yourself and live your life around it (I am a victim, I am a slut, I am someone who has strange sexual tastes) and embrace who you really are. People identify so strongly with their own stories that it can keep them from moving forward.

Goddard says that some of your story, while relevant in the past, may be outdated now. Perhaps you are divorced; perhaps you feel attracted to women now instead of men; perhaps there are things going on in your life that has changed you in other ways. No matter what is happening, it’s time for you to find your voice and speak up for yourself. There is no need for any woman to feel powerless in her life. There is no reason for any woman to hold onto beliefs that don’t serve you (sex before marriage is bad, good girls don’t have that type of fantasy).

In WOMAN ON FIRE, the author outlines 9 elements that are essential to sexual empowerment. She also includes an online portal with exercises and resources that will help the reader get the most out of her book.

As I read each chapter, I could feel myself figuratively “catching on fire” and wanting to become the woman that Goddard says is inside all of us.

I was especially moved by the chapter on emotion and showing up emotionally powerful. Goddard says there is a cause and effect for everything, and that YOU are the cause and your life circumstances are the effects. It makes perfect sense to me—and somehow no other book has every conveyed that in such a clarifying way before.

The writing is supportive, empowering, powerful and bold. This is not a burn-your-bra missive; this is a search-within-yourself journey that just happens to have sex at its core. Women that have contented sex lives will benefit from reading this as well, because Goddard forces you to think about things in a new way.

Her theory is acceptance: of yourself, of your needs, of your desires, of your body. Element 4 is all about your body and the media lies that force unobtainable standards upon women. There is also a section that illustrates the sex organs and explains their function.

Goddard is frank about her past abuse and how she freed herself of her own story, lest there be some women who discredit her theories as being too glib for comfort. Healing from past shame/abuse/loss of power is not easily gained, yet the author is open about her situation and the ways she learned to let go and regain self esteem again. To me, this makes her words more real and more empowering.

Women must learn to be whoever THEY want to be, not trying to live up to someone else’s idea. True, the major portion of this book urges you to awaken your erotic core, but it is also helpful for anyone wanting to gain more self love, confidence, and mindfulness. Here’s an example of how much Goddard wants women to make themselves the best they can be: her confidence quiz. Her website is full of information and encouragement for women of all ages.

Today’s world is full of self help books and buzzwords to make women feel empowered–WOMAN ON FIRE is a book that delivers and supports this attitude with real stories, real scenarios, and authentic support. Kudos to Amy Jo for telling it like it is, free of shame or embarrassment. I hope this book takes the world by storm.

Get your own copy here.

Spritz – Does this app help you read faster?

 

spritz better

 

I know that many people will disagree with my opinion on this matter, but I think that the vast majority of Americans actually enjoy reading, passionately. I say this in spite of every survey and study that says otherwise. Why?

If you ask a significant number of people how many books they’ve read this year, the majority of them will probably express some kind of embarrassment at the number that their actions have forced them to divulge. They will likely try to explain the number away. They didn’t have time. New job. New wife. New kids. New eyeballs aren’t calibrated correctly yet. You’re likely thinking that same thing I am: give these people all the time in the world, and they won’t read even one book more. Right?

But does that necessarily mean that they don’t want to read?

I think that almost everybody wants to read lots of books. I think that the problem lies in that most people can absorb knowledge much more quickly than they can read. Imagine that you had to watch your favorite television show or film at quarter-speed. Would you still enjoy it? Would you still enjoy a morning stroll the same way if you were so narrow-sighted that you couldn’t take in the view? This is the experience of being a slow reader.

I’m a slow reader. I normally read at about 250 wpm (words per minute), but I know that I am capable of consuming information much more quickly than that. For most fiction, I can top out at about 1,000 wpm. For non-fiction, I like to move between 500 and 700 wpm, depending on the topic. Just as you wouldn’t want to watch your favorite show anymore if you had to watch it in slo-mo, I wouldn’t want to read very much if I had to consume books at a painful 250 wpm. That’s why instead of reading, I Spritz!

I gave up trying to learn how to speed read more times than I care to remember. The problem with speed reading is that it requires you to learn two very different skills simultaneously, both of which give you no benefit until you’ve mastered them both. First, you need to learn to recognize entire phrases at once by their shape, like you do with words. That’s a big leap. But in addition to that, you need to change the way you move your eyes across the page. Instead of halting your eye movement on each word, you’re now halting your eye movement on some optimal location within a chunk of words. It’s overwhelming, and for some, not worth the painful learning process.

Spritz speeds up your reading by eliminating the time you would normally spend moving your eyes from one word to the next. You don’t have to learn anything. It just flashes the words at you, and each word is positioned in the way that best facilitates quick recognition. Just keep your eyes pointed at the same spot.

I’ll admit that Spritz takes some getting used to. It only takes a few minutes to surpass your own average reading speed with it, and probably 30 minutes to double it. However, the feeling of strangeness that comes with using it didn’t go away for a few weeks. After finishing my first book with it, I felt like Neo near the beginning of the first Matrix film. Unhooking himself from the simulator, he said, “I know kung-fu,” too bewildered to celebrate that fact.

Just like in the Matrix, where living in the real world was worth it in the end, Spritz is worth the bewilderment. You get to read more books. You get to enjoy the books you read ; more than you might otherwise.  On top of all that, when people see you Spritzing, you’ll look like a super-genius!

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