Book Reviews: Era of the Beautiful Women by Valeria Johnson

Update 12/15/2017: Learn more about healthy living through the Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts for Valeria Johnson’s blog, Passionate Clouds.

Happy Friday, everyone! Sorry for my scarcity this week; it’s been another busy one for me and I’ve had migraine attacks and headaches off and on for days. I’m back—at least for today—and here to bring you a combination of a special announcement and a review. This time the announcement and review are for a self-help book crossed with an inspirational story. Today’s book is Era of the Beautiful Women by Valeria Johnson.

As the title might indicate, this book is for my female readers more than the males. In Era of the Beautiful Women, Johnson takes the reader on a journey to discover the true key to health, beauty, and, by extension, happiness. This key does not have to do with any of the artificial make-up, fad diets, or mounds upon mounds of products which the commercial and fashion worlds try to force on us. Instead, this key can be found in the natural and organic worlds.


Image retrieved from Amazon

Johnson utilizes the story of Samantha, a rising writer who has fallen into some bad habits, to illustrate tips for restoring your waistline, energy level, hair, and more. We start with Samantha’s moment of clarity, the moment when she realizes she isn’t happy with living off junk food and a sedentary lifestyle, while hanging out with her beautiful, healthy, and happily-married older sister. We follow Samantha through her attempts to become happier, from adapting a healthier diet to fulfilling her dream of living abroad. All the while, Samantha encounters “beautiful” women and health professionals who share their secrets with her, which Samantha gladly absorbs and applies to her daily life. These tips begin to add up until, finally, Samantha has become the sort of person who is not only healthy and beautiful but also someone she is proud of and happy to be.

I have always had a love/hate relationship with the issues of health and beauty. Standards for both issues are very unrealistic and, often, harmful when taken too far. Between body-shaming and the complete societal rejection of any minute imperfection, I am always wary of anything which promises the secret to beauty. However, Johnson doesn’t necessarily promise that. Instead, her book provides women with tips which will make them look better and feel better. Beauty, after all, is not just about how you look to others but about how you feel about yourself.

Johnson emphasizes this fact in Samantha’s story and I really appreciate how she does it. Namely, Johnson uses Samantha’s hair color to demonstrate that what “looks good” isn’t always the best thing for you. Everyone thinks Samantha looks gorgeous when she dyes her hair blonde. Over the years, though, her constant coloring, bleaching, and other assorted hair treatments causes her hair to become fragile, dry, and unhealthy in general. Although she eventually lands on being blonde again, Samantha cuts back on the artificial treatments of her hair, choosing to use natural treatments like honey to bring life back to her hair. She feels better when she stops trying to conform to societal standards of beauty (i.e. constantly dying her hair just to have some new look). That is what I appreciate most about Johnson’s book; it’s not about conforming to this or that societal standard but doing what makes you feel healthy, happy, and, yes, beautiful.

Johnson weaves her tips and tools for a healthier and more beautiful life throughout Samantha’s narrative and gradually shows how the changes are making Samantha feel better and more confident. This method requires the reader to pay closer attention to the story in order to get the information, but I don’t think that at all detracts from the experience. In fact, I think that it helps the information stick in the readers’ heads. Which would you remember better, someone telling you that you should eat more fruit to have more energy or a story about a woman seeing positive changes in her life because her new diet increases her energy level?

I think that female writers and editors in particular will appreciate Samantha’s story. She’s a rising writer and has worked some editing jobs. While she works on her projects, she snacks on junk food and does not move for hours. Who here hasn’t experienced that pitfall of the writing life? Era of the Beautiful Women offers alternatives to this vicious cycle which any writer can incorporate into their everyday lives, so long as they try.

Still, this book is not without its flaws. I noticed multiple proofreading and editing errors, including misplaced punctuation, awkward sentences, the occasional typo, and one instance of a character’s name being misspelled. As this book is meant to help readers improve their lives, I don’t think these errors take away from the main messages. The errors are easy enough for Johnson to fix, so I don’t think they’re a huge detraction from the quality of the book.

I also wish that the book were longer. At only 47 pages, I feel that Johnson did not include all the advice she has for readers and that we could have seen so much more of Samantha’s inspirational tale. The short length makes for a quick read but, as the advice is so valuable and Samantha’s tale so motivating, I feel that expanding the book would only make it better.

Overall, I recommend this book for any woman—especially female writers—looking to improve her energy level, outlook on life, and, yes, her appearance. Johnson’s simple, yet relatable and heart-touching, introduction pulls you in and you’ll want to continue right through the end to see if Samantha finally gets the joy and romance which she deserves—and, of course, get the tips and tools to find your own happiness and beauty. Johnson is even kind enough to include a link at the end of the book to blog which can help readers follow up on the organic, active life.

The best part is that the Kindle edition of Era of the Beautiful Women is currently free! This promotion started today (December 15th) and will continue through December 19th. Follow this Amazon link to snag it while you can.

Do you know of any books I should read? Want your work reviewed on this blog? E-mail me at thewritersscrapbin@gmail.com or message me on Fiverr and we’ll see if we can arrange something.

 


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Book Reviews: Implicit: Soul Invictus by Mark Tiro

Trigger Warning: The subject of today’s review, Implicit: Soul Invictus by Mark Tiro, contains detailed scenes of violence and sex. If you are triggered by such depictions or wish to otherwise avoid such subjects, proceed with caution.

As I promised a couple days ago, today I am reviewing Implicit: Soul Invictus by Mark Tiro. I found that I enjoyed this book very much, but I must warn readers that this book is not the ordinary fantasy/science fiction novel. It is very cerebral and requires a fair level of concentration to follow, so it’s not exactly a light read. Of course, I wouldn’t expect a fantasy book about reincarnation to be easy—if it were, I would probably be a bit disappointed.

Some souls travel together out love, others out of animosity, but always by the choice of the universe to convey crucial spiritual lessons. At least, that’s what Implicit: Soul Invictus would have you think.

Maya is a well-accomplished and respected law school teacher; before becoming a teacher, she was just as successful as in criminal law. That all comes crushing down when, one day, a student of high influence blackmails her: raise his grade or he’ll ruin her career. Being the honorable and stubborn woman that she is, Maya refuses, and her student proves good to his word. Her desperate attempt at revenge against him puts her in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that’s when her spirit’s journey truly begins.


Image retrieved from Amazon

In Implicit: Soul Invictus, the first book in The Spirit Invictus series, Mark Tiro takes readers on an adventure through Maya’s lives—past, present, and future—as her soul is taught the importance of love and forgiveness. Tiro guides readers through Ancient Rome, World War II Japan, into a future of political turmoil and a level of connection to the “network” that we can only dream of right now, and that’s just the beginning. But will Maya’s soul adapt the lessons the universe is teaching her? Or will she fail once more as she given a second chance?

I found genuine contentment and entertainment, as well as intellectual stimulation, while reading Tiro’s work. Tiro writes with such a passion that I repeatedly formed a connection with Maya’s soul, no matter what physical form it took, be it a Roman orator, an emotionally-struggling cyber-nerd thrown into a rebellion, or a stubborn ex-law professor hell-bent on justice. I could tell from the patterns in Maya’s lives what sort of things would happen in each life; this coupled with my emotional attachment to her soul and its well-being, no matter how egotistical or naïve she got, made for a very tense read for me. I dreaded any ill-fortune to befall her but I couldn’t put the book down, either. I had to know how each life turns out and, in the end, how her soul utilizes the lessons it has learned.

I was most intrigued by how, despite the very different circumstances each life presents, Tiro maintains Maya’s personality throughout each form she takes. The stubbornness, the arrogance, the slight naivety, and, of course, her kindness and capacity for love always show, and yet each incarnation has its own unique voice. I’m not sure how Tiro pulls it off, but he does.

Unfortunately, with all this passion comes proofreading errors. They aren’t anything extraordinary, only misplaced or missing commas, misspelled names, etc. Such mistakes are common in small-press and indie books but I was still a bit disappointed that I came across them as the writing is, overall, excellent. A little further proofreading/editing should fix these mistakes with no problem.

The book is divided into sections based on the life which Maya is living—or re-living—as well as a few chapters on what can be called the “in-between” stages, when Maya has died but has not yet been reborn or fully moved on to the afterlife. The transitions only jarred me once or twice, usually moving relatively smoothly from one life/death to the next with only a couple exceptions. Still, I can see how other readers might have a harder time with it. Thankfully, the division of the sections is done in a way in which Tiro makes it clear that the story has turned to another life, mainly by providing the name which Maya’s soul has during that time.

Tiro is also kind enough to provide a forward to the novel and a letter from the author at the end to aid the readers’ understanding of his work. For some, these notes won’t be necessary, especially if you read the summary on Amazon (or even the summary I provided above). Nevertheless, I found Tiro’s notes to be helpful in keeping me grounded in the story and also answered some historical questions I had by the time I finished reading the novel.

Overall, I recommend this book to fantasy lovers with a spiritual side and a basic understanding of reincarnation. Tiro packs each section/life, mini-stories into themselves, with emotion, action, and intrigue. The general themes of forgiveness, love, and learning from our mistakes are ones we can all adapt into our own lives, and I’m sure that the idea of the soul transcending lifetimes and a non-linear nature to existence will appeal to many of my readers. Don’t take this book on lightly. It’s long and requires your full attention to understand, but I doubt that will hinder any of you.

The Kindle copy of Implicit: Soul Invictus is currently for sale on Amazon for $2.99. You can also get an exclusive glimpse at All These Things: Maya Invictus, the second book in The Spirit Invictus series, at the end of the Kindle e-book. To learn more about the author, you can visit his website or check him out on Facebook.

Do you know of a book I should read? Want your work reviewed on this blog? E-mail me at thewritersscrapbin@gmail.com or message me on Fiverr for more information.

 


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Book Reviews: The Golden Prayer by Edward Weiss

Warning: The views and opinions expressed in The Golden Prayer by Edward Weiss do not necessarily reflect on the view, opinions, and beliefs of The Writer’s Scrap Bin or its writer. If you have any issues with the discussion of religion, proceed with caution.

Another day, another book review. The book I’m reviewing today is essentially the polar opposite of yesterday’s book, A Killer’s Reflection. Today’s book is The Golden Prayer by Edward Weiss, a book comprised of five non-fiction, religious essays about finding God.

In The Golden Prayer, Weiss argues that we are not separate from our creator—from his perspective, God—and that everything we experience in the physical world is predetermined. Therefore, he claims, in order to be truly free we must realize that we are one with God; we, as individuals, have no real importance and, as a result, do not need to carry the burdens which we pile on ourselves day after day. He says that God already provides that which is most important to us and that anything else is extra; we may not necessarily lose that “extra” stuff—money, family, love, etc.—when we admit and embrace the idea that we are part of God but they are unimportant in the face of the bigger picture.


Image retrieved from Amazon

How can we make the transition from focusing on material desires and our self-importance to loving God, you may ask? Weiss tells the reader to use prayer, but not just any prayer. He claims “There is only one prayer you will need to know and love G—d”, i.e. The Golden Prayer. The Golden Prayer reads, “Let Go, For I Am Here.” This letting go, to Weiss, is key to the freedom of finding God. The “ignorant” or “unlearned”, as he calls people who have not accepted this belief yet, fight against letting go because they desire to continue their happiness, a temporary satisfaction brought on by striving for our desires but, ultimately, does not satisfy or free us. Weiss’s book teaches why it is important to let go, to accept this belief as truth, in order to live a spiritual and blissful existence and begin your “real” life, the one in which you live in God for eternity.

I have established before that I am not religious. I have read and reviewed several religious books because I am open-minded, but none have aligned with my belief systems. Weiss’s has not, either. Still, it raises many questions which anyone with even a shred of a spiritual side should ask: are we, as individuals, really that important in the grand scheme of things? Do we truly have free will or is everything predetermined? Are we actually satisfied in living our short lives on Earth chasing one goal after another, most of them material and/or financial? You may come to different conclusions than Weiss—in fact, I’m betting that at least one of your conclusions will differ from his—but his book has articulated arguments which have been making the rounds to all circles of life for decades, maybe centuries.

The religious nature of the book aside, Weiss’s work is very well-written. I noticed minimal grammatical and spelling errors, so minimal that I can’t think of any off the top of my head. His sentences are also eloquent, structured nicely, and easy enough that more novice readers can understand without talking down to anyone. Nevertheless, I feel the argument is often repetitive. He states, again and again and typically in the same ways, how humans must learn to let go of the ignorant mindset, that we’re all part of the eternal sea, how we really aren’t that important and so shouldn’t force these responsibilities on ourselves, etc. The repetition, at times, lost my attention and could make it hard for me to push on enough to get to the next epiphany.

In particular, one image is recycled for two concepts which, in the end, confused me more than helped. In one breath, Weiss acts as though we should be more childlike because, as very young children, we only know that we exist, we feel that we are a part of this eternal perfection, and have not yet been polluted by the societal ideals regarding responsibility. In the next, he says that the bound (i.e. those focused on the desires of the physical world) are the children and the free (those who know the “truth”) are adults. I found it hard to reconcile those two meanings for the child/adult imagery and, while Weiss admits that much of this process is a paradox, I struggled with thinking that both kinds of people are both child and adult. That imagery coupled with the repetition made it hard for me to trudge through the book at points, but I had to so that I could digest Weiss’s argument about our purpose—or non-existent purpose, as he claims—and determinism.

This book is not for everyone. First of all, it’s entirely based in religion. If I did not have such a curious mind and a desire to see all angles of an argument, I probably would not have read it for that reason. Second, it’s comprised of five essays. I know that many readers are reluctant to dive into essays as they are often dry, impersonal, and remind people too much of school. Nevertheless, I think The Golden Prayer worth reading for those with intellectual/spiritual curiosity. There are parts that can be hard to get past but, once you do, you will find many thought-provoking gems that will get you thinking about the world in new ways. It may not change your worldview, but this book will get you thinking.

You can check out Weiss’s book on Amazon, both to buy as an e-book and through Kindle Unlimited, as well as in paperback.

Do you know of a book that you think I should read? Want your work reviewed on this blog? E-mail me at thewritersscrapbin@gmail.com or message me on Fiverr and we can get a conversation going.


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Book Reviews: A Killer’s Reflection by Cheryl Denise Bannerman

Trigger Warning: The book reviewed in this post, A Killer’s Reflection by Cheryl Denise Bannerman, contains depictions of rape, drug and alcohol abuse, child abuse, sexual abuse, homophobia, violence, and foul language. If any of these subjects trigger you or you otherwise wish to avoid them, proceed with caution.

Happy Monday, everyone—or Tuesday, depending on where you are. I want to start the week with another book review, this time of an erotic thriller. (Yes, I have wandered back into the “erotic” genre!) This book, a brief but compelling psychological thrill ride, is A Killer’s Reflection by Cheryl Denise Bannerman.

A Killer’s Reflection follows Douglass Randall Coleman, Jr., as he grows from a straight-A student in the projects to a soldier in the U.S. military and, finally, a full-grown man with a job and kids. On the outside, he is charming, hardworking, and, well, perfect. At least, that’s what his mother would tell you. Yet everything is not what it seems. Douglass is a party boy with an addiction to alcohol, women, and drugs of all kinds. He also harbors a dangerous secret: the voices, the voices in his mind which won’t shut up, and an unyielding temper and need for control that push him into committing the most heinous acts imaginable.


Image retrieved from Amazon

Bannerman gives readers Douglass’s perspective for most of the novel but, especially during the second half, she also shows us glimpses into other key characters: Tara, a woman in Douglass’s sphere of influence (and danger); Dr. Reed, a female therapist Douglass has been talking with on the phone since his Honorable Discharge from the military; and Rhodes and Kreegan, homicide detectives hell-bent on making certain that Douglass gets what he deserves. But can they prove that this modern-day Casanova has done anything wrong? Or will Douglass Coleman, Jr., get away with murder again?

In 125 pages, Bannerman creates an intricate world of mystery, mayhem, and murder with only Douglass at its center. Unlike many thrillers, the mystery does not lie in who did it as much as why he does it and if he will be caught. Bannerman’s writing made me constantly wonder not if Douglass was going to snap but when. She drops subtle hints as to Douglass’s triggers and the trauma which made him that way, allowing readers to guess at what will happen without spoiling the plot.

Bannerman’s captivating storytelling is due in part to the fact that she thoroughly utilizes the resources available to her and lets the reader know about those resources. In the first chapter from Dr. Reed’s perspective, Bannerman begins by citing her sources for Dr. Reed’s diagnosis of Douglass. These citations give a level of credibility to her work that is often missing in other tales involving mental illness. Still, I feel that the citations would have been best placed at the end of the book rather than accompanying the chapter. The read would have been smoother for this chapter without the resources there, and they would have made more sense along with the childhood abuse statistics and resources.

I loved being shown the killer’s side of the story, the why’s and how’s and childhood issues which made him the man he is by the end of the novel. However, I felt that the structure left something to be desired. For the most part, we follow Douglass from start to end in chronological order. While Douglass’s childhood is key to understanding him, starting the book with his childhood makes the ending somewhat anticlimactic. Had his childhood and years in the military been interwoven into the narrative present—i.e. Douglass’s adulthood—I think the tension would have been that much stronger and the plot that much more compelling.

In addition to feeling anticlimactic, the final chapter feels rushed. The reveal of the big twist—which I will not discuss in detail here due to spoilers—happens rather quickly, as does the explanation behind the twist. More interactions among Douglass and the surprise characters would have made for a slower reveal and, therefore, a more satisfying ending. Douglass’s reaction to it all is also rather mild compared to the development of his temper to that point. In the face of betrayal, I expected him to have a complete mental breakdown, but his anger appears muted compared to his earlier reactions. When he knows he’s doomed, why would he hold back?

I also found many grammatical errors. For those most part, these did not detract from the reading experience. However, one repeating error became tiresome: the narration sometimes slipped from third person to first person. There are moments when this shift made sense, namely when entering Douglass’s thoughts. Yet not all of the shifts are during Douglass’s thoughts; sometimes it occurs for no reason, along with some instances of going from past tense to present tense and back again. These issues are only a matter of more thorough proofreading. If Bannerman releases a newer Kindle version that has been edited/proofread again, I would not hesitate to recommend this book.

Despite these critiques, I think A Killer’s Reflection is an exciting page-turner right for most thriller fans. There are depictions of violence and even more of sex, including rape, but so long as you are not sensitive to or triggered by graphic images, you will really enjoy this novel.

If you want to read Bannerman’s A Killer’s Reflection, you can find it as an e-book on Amazon. To learn more about Cheryl Denise Bannerman and her other works, check out her website at www.bannermanbooks.com.

Do you know of a book I should read? Want me to review your work on this blog? E-mail me at thewritersscrapbin@gmail.com or message me on Fiverr.


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Book Reviews: The Art of Winning by Matshona Dhliwayo

Happy Saturday! I’m sure my American readers are still decompressing from Thanksgiving and, considering I’m sick and not up to doing much, I decided I will start this weekend with a book review for The Art of Winning by Matshona Dhliwayo.

The Art of Winning is a quick compilation (approximately 113 pages) of 100 inspirational quotes and mantras by Dhliwayo. These quotes are framed by Dhliwayo’s “Winner’s Manifesto” 1 and 2. The work has been highly praised by a wide range of successful individuals, from Olympic gold medalist Adam Kreek and multi-Grammy nominated producer/engineer/songwriter Mitch Goldfarb to former Hearst Newspapers CEO Bob Danzig and New York Times bestselling author Shawn Achor. After reading the book, I can see why.


Image retrieved from Amazon

From a form perspective, this book is simple but effective. Each quote/mantra reads like one or two short, free verse poetry stanzas. Many utilize repetition so that each line builds on the one proceeding it, both in rhythm and in message. This poetic presentation coupled with the short page count make for a quick read, although you’ll want to slow down to fully consume the messages of these quotes.

I found that the wisdom in this book is nothing new but it’s also something that people usually don’t keep in mind, especially during hard times. I know that many of these positive thoughts escape me when I encounter stress and obstacles (often replaced by very bad words). He doesn’t necessarily say “do this and this and you’ll succeed” and he doesn’t guarantee that anything will change overnight. Instead, his wisdom is like that provided by philosophers and gurus, building blocks for making your own life more positive and successful. It may take a while of consistently following his advice but it will yield results so long as you keep at it.

One of my favorite “rules,” as Dhliwayo calls them, reads:

Let go of negative thoughts.

Let go of negative memories.

Let go of negative desires.

Let go of negative people.

 

Regret poisons your thoughts.

Doubt poisons your dreams.

Fear poisons your hopes.

Insincerity poisons your deeds.

–Matshona Dhliwayo, The Art of Winning, “Rule 40”

As you can see, this isn’t anything new or groundbreaking; in fact, many people would argue that it’s common sense. That, however, is the genius of Dhliwayo’s rules. They’re simple and easy to understand but are also things that we tend to forget about, such as how negativity poisons our lives and how our souls are more important than our material possessions.

For all this praise, I have a couple issues with this book. The first is more a matter of conflicting world views than the quality of the book itself. I have said repeatedly that I’m spiritual but don’t belong to any particular religion and that I’m specifically not Christian. This book makes many references to God, Jesus, and the Bible. If you’re offended by such content, you might want to avoid Dhliwayo’s work. However, the advice transcends religion. Everyone can get something from this advice and, frankly, you can choose to ignore the few Christian references or reinterpret them within your own belief system and still gain some spiritual and life direction from it.

My second issue does affect the quality of the book, at least in my opinion. While there is a “Winner’s Manifesto” at the beginning and end and Dhliwayo provides a list of praise for the work on the first few pages, I felt that the book lacked a well-defined purpose. The rules are tied together by the kind of advice they give as well as the “Winner’s Manifesto” framing device. Still, I’m not sure what Dhliwayo wants readers to get from this book. Is this just advice that you should refer to when you’re feeling stressed and hopeless? Is it a 100-day plan for improving your attitude and your life in which you read a new rule each day? Is it for getting your life back on track, keeping it on track, or both? A quick introduction explaining who Dhliwayo is, why this advice is important, and how to use it would be very helpful in guiding the reader’s experience and ensuring that he/she gets the most out of this advice.

All in all, The Art of Winning is a great book to keep at your bedside. You can use it to start your day on a positive note, recharge you when you’re too drained to continue, or fuel your brain when you’re in need of philosophical contemplation. As of right now, I can only find it on Amazon in paperback format for $9.99. However, it’s worth a read, especially for those of us who find it hard to stay positive (guilty!).

You can also learn more about Matshona Dhliwayo and his other works through his Amazon author page.

Know of any works I should read? Want me to review your book on this blog? E-mail me at thewritersscrapbin@gmail.com or message me on Fiverr and we can arrange something. You can also reach me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Tumblr.


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011