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Book Reviews: 7 Simple Tricks for Remembering People’s Names by Travis Tyler

It’s technically Saturday now, but here’s the second review I promised. This review is of a very helpful book about remembering names. This book is called 7 Simple Tricks to Remembering Names: How to Recall Names of People You Meet by Travis Tyler.

Remembering people’s names can be difficult. We make new connections almost every day, whether they’re business or personal. You have to remember names of co-workers and possible professional connections, names of friends’ friends and friends’ families, the names of your partner’s friends and family, your neighbors’ names, it can all be overwhelming. Fortunately, 7 Simple Tricks to Remembering Names by Travis Tyler gives solid advice for solving this dilemma (or at least make it easier to handle).

Image retrieved from Amazon

Tyler presents, as the title says, seven tips to remember someone’s name: repetition, image linking, spelling it out, information grouping, mnemonics, fictionalization, and what the author calls the “memory palace.” There are seven chapters, one for each tip, as well as an introduction and conclusion. Along with the tips and a brief explanation of each, each chapter includes at least one humorous illustration to help the reader visualize the concept of that particular tip.

This book might not sound exciting from this description, but it is a very useful tool and an engaging read. Tyler writes in a very conversational tone; he even notes when he’s gone on a tangent and returns to the topic at hand. I found that this voice made a relatively dry subject interesting and a quick read (36 pages) even quicker. He also avoids, for the most part, using any highly-technical terms. In fact, the most formal he got in his conversation was while discussing some poetry theory as part of an explanation for a trick. (As writers, we’ll have no problem understanding that!) Otherwise, the book is easy for anyone to read.

I think my favorite tip is the repetition tip. For me, that tip is the easiest way to get something to stick in my mind. Of course, as a more visual learner, I might also find the image linking or spelling it out tip helpful as well. The repetition tip, however, seems like a simpler method and easier to use when you have a hard time concentrating and splitting your attention well enough to visualize something while also talking with the person whose name you want to remember.

Admittedly, some people might think that this book contains nothing new. I knew most of the tricks, although three in particular caught me as creative new methods: spelling it out, the memory palace, and fictionalization. I won’t describe these methods—you’ll learn about them when you read the book—but I will say that these are not methods I’ve come across before. All three are especially helpful for visual learners, and the latter two are best for those with active imaginations. The memory palace definitely won’t be for everyone. However, those of you whose brains run 24/7 and need a bit of help with organization (like me!) might want to give this method a try not only for remembering names but for your overall memory.

In fact, many of these tips could apply to more than just remembering names. That’s one of the beauties of this book. While Tyler specifically discusses remembering names, he also goes on the occasional tangent talking about how these tricks can be used for improving memory overall. The true heart of Tyler’s work isn’t just remembering names; it’s about learning how our brains store information and using that to direct which things we want to remember most.

Overall, I think that 7 Simple Tricks for Remembering Names by Travis Tyler lives up to its name and more. It’s simple, easy to read, and intriguing. Tyler more than tells readers the tricks; he explains why they work and for whom they might work best. Obviously, this book isn’t something you can just read once and then be done with it; you will need to refer to it as you try different tricks and realize which methods do and do not work for you. I would not only recommend reading this book but also keeping it close at hand, in case you find yourself in need of a new way to forge accessible memories.

You can buy 7 Simple Tricks for Remembering Names by Travis Tyler as an eBook on Amazon.

Do you know of a book I should read? Want your work reviewed on this blog? E-mail me at or message me on Fiverr and we can arrange something.


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Book Reviews: The Vampire Christ by Nicholas P. Clark

Warning: The subject of this review, The Vampire Christ by Nicholas P. Clark, depicts a version of Jesus and other Biblical figures which may be considered blasphemous by those of the Christian faith. If you would be offended by such depictions or otherwise do not wish to read them, proceed with caution.

Another day, another set of reviews. The first of the two books I’m going to bring you today is a piece of urban vampire fantasy. If you’re a fan of vampires and alternate (fantasy) reimaginings of religious figures, you’ll certainly love this book. I know that the story hooked me from the first chapter. The book I’m reviewing in this post is titled The Vampire Christ by Nicholas P. Clark.

The lives of Jesus and his disciples are heavily-debated. Some believe Jesus is the Messiah, others believe he was a prophet or a fraud, and still others think that he didn’t exist at all. Yet, for all we know, the truth could have been much wilder than we could ever imagine. That’s the angle that Clark takes in his urban vampire fantasy The Vampire Christ, and according to this book, Jesus’s story is far from over.

Fra’gal is a vampire. He lives out in the open like humans, other Pures (pure vampires), and Dregs (humans turned into vampires by a Pure). Still, he’s not just another pure: he is His right hand man, a vampire of high esteem who knows more about His agenda than the others. At least, he used to be. As soon as Fra’gal boards his flight to Tel Aviv for a meeting with the other Pures and Him, everything seems to turn topsy-turvy. From reuniting with a beloved Dreg to recovering long-lost memories and being hunted by something that he had sensed for years, Fra’gal has a lot on his plate—and the ride is only going to get bumpier.

Why have Fra’gal and Alicia been reunited? Why does Alicia seem more powerful than other Dregs, and how could Fra’gal have forgotten the girl that meant the world to him? What do a vampire named Iris and a young pregnant woman named Katie have to with all this? Most importantly, what is hunting Fra’gal, and what does He have planned?

At 366 pages, this book is a time commitment. However, it doesn’t feel like it. I was so tangled in Fra’gal and his mysterious world that I had to force myself to the book down in order to get work done. The first chapter, how Clark frames it as being a true work that no one will ever believe, especially caught my attention. I don’t know why, that’s just one of my favorite ways for an urban fantasy novel to start. The complexities of Clark’s world and plot only served to pull me in further, and his research into Biblical stories and historical discoveries seemingly-related to the Bible both captured the nerd in me and made me admire him as a researcher and an imaginative writer.

I think the best way to describe this novel would be to call it Anne Rice—especially Interview with the Vampire and Memnoch the Devil—mixed with the movie The Librarian and the Curse of the Judas Chalice. The latter is one of my favorite movies, perhaps my favorite movie in The Librarian series, so I was destined to love this novel. I’m also pretty certain that Anne Rice fans will really connect with Clark’s work as well.

Fra’gal and Alicia are, not surprisingly, my favorite characters. Their bond is so pure and beautiful, simultaneously a father/child relationship and an adult peer relationship. They clearly care for each other, and their interactions made me burning to know how they could have forgotten each other. They also complement each other quite well. Fra’gal is a bit proud and vain, whereas Alicia is compassionate and tries to find the best in situations; Fra’gal is beginning to feel old and worn-down, resigned now to how things are, but Alicia is vibrant, strong, and defiant. They bring out the best and the worst in each other. Don’t all people in close relationships/friendships?

Of course, Fra’gal grew a bit…difficult as a narrator. I wouldn’t have wanted the narration any other way, mind you. His vanity and occasional pessimism just got to me at points. Still, as the story continued, I felt myself growing close to him. When it seems as though He had forsaken him, I got mad for Fra’gal; I didn’t think I would but I’ll be damned if I didn’t feel bad for the guy. The revelation of his past—the past from over 2,000 years ago—only strengthened my connection with him, and I actually wanted him to make it out of all this unscathed.

The intertwining narratives fascinated me but were also jarring at first. The first chapter which was not narrated by Fra’gal confused me at first. It didn’t take long for me to catch on, but I’ve never really been a fan of switching between first and third person narration. That being said, Clark handles it seamlessly after the initial transition, and I have to give him props for that.

The ending might be considered a bit cliché. I can’t say too much here because I don’t want to give anything away, but I did find myself rolling my eyes some at the last page of the novel. Regardless, I didn’t so much mind the cliché elements. Instead, it left me wanting to see more from this world, more from Fra’gal and Alicia. Clark leaves the ending open just enough to indicate a cycle and, therefore, the possibility of more stories. They would have much different plots from this book, mind you, but I think that Clark could pursue this world more if he wanted to. That doesn’t mean the book doesn’t feel complete; it does, but there are also other possible plot thread that I would love to see him take further.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Vampire Christ by Nicholas P. Clark. It’s a very engaging novel with a concept that is original but still fits the vampire and urban fantasy genres. The cast consists of a wide range of personalities and backgrounds, which is refreshing in a novel of any genre. I only noticed a couple minor proofreading errors, although it’s possible that some of the perceived “errors” are just a difference between two regional forms of English. I highly recommend this book for vampire lovers and those who love reimaginings of old stories. If you’re the double whammy Anne Rice/The Librarian fan, all the better!

For more information about Clark, his other works, and how to buy The Vampire Christ, make sure to visit his website.

Do you know of any books I should read? Want your work reviewed on this blog? E-mail me at or message me on Fiverr and we can arrange something.

Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Friday Fun-day Writing Prompt: Behind Closed Eyes

TGIF, readers and writers! I want to start the weekend off with a writing prompt. I haven’t given you one in a while, so I figured it’s about time I brought that series back. Today’s writing prompt involves learning to see clearly with your eyes closed.

Last May I wrote a post titled “Images in Literature and Plato’s The Cave”. Admittedly, it’s one of my favorite posts thus far. It combines my love of reading and writing with my philosophical inclinations, and it was rather fun for me to write. I want to focus on one particular part of this post for today’s writing prompt, the quote from Charles Simic. In case you haven’t read that post or have forgotten it, here’s the quote again:

There are images made with eyes open and images made with eyes closed. One is about clear sight and the other about similitude.

–Charles Simic

Now, I could reiterate the debate my Master’s classmates and I had about which images are about clear sight and which about similitude. If you want to learn more about the argument, you can visit my “Images in Literature and Plato’s The Cave” post. For this writing prompt, I want you to assume that you make “clear sight” images with your eyes closed and “similitude” images with your eyes closed.

I want you to focus on clear sight images. Writers have a knack for these sorts of images.  Whether we’re poets or prose writers, our images rarely serve as strict similitude. That’s why it is important for us to master clear sight, the ability to create images which are beyond what the objects or people appear to be. That’s what this exercise is about.

What we see with our eyes closed is often more bizarre–and more interesting–than what we see with our eyes open.

Image retrieved from Science Line.

As usual, today’s exercise is fairly easy. Go somewhere where you can concentrate. Block out as much external distractions as you can. Once you do that, I want you to close your eyes. Don’t think about anything in particular; just close your eyes. Focus on the first image which appears when you close your eyes. Commit it to your memory, get a feel for it.

Once you have a good feel for the image, open your eyes. Now I want you to write a scene or poem in which you incorporate and describe the image you saw behind your eyes. I don’t want to just know what it looked like; I want you to convey how it made you feel, what it reminded you of, if it felt menacing or benign, etc. Capture the true image of what was behind your eyes, not just what you saw.

You might be able to create a story or full poem out of this exercise, or you might only get some good practice at writing imagery. The important thing is that you discover what it means to create a true image of something and not a similitude. Admittedly, this practice can be rather difficult. You also won’t need to use it for every image in a story. (Poetry, on the other hand, all but requires each image to be a true, clear sight image rather than a similitude.) Once you master the practice, the hard part will be deciding which image is needed when.

How did this exercise go for you? Did you find anything particularly hard about it? What sort of image popped into your head when you closed your eyes? Did you realize anything about how you typically describe images? If so, what? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. You can even leave what you wrote as a result of this exercise!

Do you know of any good writing prompts? Want to share them with your fellow writers? Leave the prompt in the comments or e-mail it to me at and I might incorporate it into a future Friday Fun-day Writing Prompt post.


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve: Showing Emotions vs. Telling Them

Happy Valentine’s Day! Whether you’re in a relationship or single, you can still spread the love today. I choose to spread the love I have for my pets, my family, and writing. That’s why I’ve chosen to address a rather tricky part of writing: expressing emotions.

The current love of my life

The issue of expressing emotions is along the same lines as the show vs. tell debate. In fact, it’s more of a specific branch of show vs. tell. The problem with expressing emotions, however, mostly has to deal with showing the emotion through actions, body language, and facial expressions versus using adverbs.

Here’s an example:

Tell: He looked at his newborn daughter lovingly.

Show: As he looked down at his newborn daughter cradled in his wife’s arms, a small smile touched his lips and tears threatened to break his tough-man facade. A warmth grew in his stomach, one which he had not felt since his wedding day.

Cheesy, I know, but you get the point. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather read the “show” of the man’s love than the “tell.”

What’s the difference?

Readers love sensory details. These details pull them into that world and, in this case, that emotion. An adverb such as “lovingly” just does not build the same connection between the reader and the character as sensory details do.

Image retrieved from The Strangest Situation

Mind you, sometimes you just need an adverb. That’s fine. Yet you must be careful with how you use one. Stop and think, “How would I react to this sentence as a reader? Would it make me feel the character’s emotions, or am I just going through the motions? Can I replace this adverb with something more accurate and descriptive?” (I’ll get into the general adverb use controversy at another time; right now I want to focus more on showing vs. telling emotions.)

Of course, you don’t always want to use elaborate descriptions for emotions. Spending a paragraph to describe a character’s reaction to their breakfast will grow tedious. (Unless, that is, they haven’t had eaten breakfast in ten years because they’ve been in jail. Then you will want to take the time to describe it.) You have to pick and choose which emotions you provide in detail.

As with most aspects of writing, this concept is easier said than done. You have to decide when you should expand on an emotion. Sometimes you do, sometimes an adverb will suffice, and sometimes you just need a brief visual cue in your character or flat out say what the emotion is. You need a good feel for your writing in order to choose the best method.

Your narrative will be too slow with too much description. You also shouldn’t allow your descriptions to be too cheesy or played-out. Still, brushing over important emotions and/or only using adverbs to describe them disconnect the readers from the story and can even create a choppy narrative. It’s a balancing act, and sometimes you will fall too much to one side or the other. In that case, all you can do is take it as a learning experience and start again.

How much emphasis should be put on emotions in fiction? Should you show emotions, tell them, or make a mix of both? How do you approach this dilemma? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Book Reviews: Getting COMFY by Jordan Gross

There’s no rest for the weary. I have multiple deadlines coming up, including one for grad school. It all makes me stressed and, frankly, I don’t really want to get up each morning. For that reason, it seems only appropriate to share another review today, this time for a self-help book which is all about making that morning routine less miserable and get yourself looking forward to the day. This book is called Getting COMFY: Your Morning Guide to Daily Happiness by Jordan Gross.

I am NOT a morning person. My loved ones know to give me at least an hour before trying to interact with me (if you’re a stranger, I’m more likely to force politeness, but you should still proceed with caution). Even when I go to bed before midnight and get a good night’s sleep, I hate mornings. Sometimes I even stay up late because I dread going to bed, knowing I have to wake up in the morning. (I know, I have problems, I’m working on them.) The problem is that most people aren’t morning people, and all those grumpy people have to interact during the day. It doesn’t make for a very productive or happy society. That’s where Getting COMFY comes in.

Image retrieved from Amazon

In Getting COMFY, restaurateur Jordan Gross breaks down a rough morning routine—Getting COMFY—which he believes will help his readers to have a more pleasant morning and, as a result, a better day. COMFY stands for ‘Calmness, Openness, Movement, Funny, You,’ the five components of the Getting COMFY morning routine. Gross guides readers through each of these components, makes suggestions for how to implement them, and even provides examples from his life, his friends’ lives, and even the lives of well-known, highly-successful innovators.

CAUTION: ROAD WORK AHEAD. Gross warns that he is still tweaking and adapting the Getting COMFY morning routine through his own trial-and-error process, but he reaps the benefits of the current form and you can, too.

If nothing else, I’m relieved that this book isn’t exactly like all the other self-help books I’ve read. The only time Gross uses numbers and statistics is in the introduction, during which he explains general attitudes towards waking up and how many Americans now suffer from mental illness. (That should be good news for those who find statistics to be dry.) Honestly, I don’t mind when self-help books incorporate statistics. What’s more important to me is that Gross’s writing isn’t dry. In fact, it is very conversational and easy to read. I even found myself cracking a smile at points, such as when he says “sorry, I will not write YOLO in a serious sentence, I will not do it”. (And THANK YOU for that, Mr. Gross; I am not a fan of that term.)

Of course, conversational tones run the risk of rambling. (Some of my own posts turn out that way.) Unfortunately, I felt that this book falls into that trap at points, namely before Gross starts to discuss the individual components of COMFY. I thought he was a little repetitive, sometimes overemphasizing why he’s written this book and the fact that he’s just basing this off of his own experiences and not with any proven scientific backing. Still, I appreciate his candor and humor, which make up for the rambling most of the time.

Gross thoroughly and clearly explains each component, and, as he explains, much of this routine is actually an “IDUH” (read about it in the book) and something that you probably already do at least irregularly. A couple of the components are pretty well-worn in the self-help circle, namely “Calmness” and “Movement”. He explains that his advice is an amalgamation of that which he has figured out himself and read elsewhere, so this lack of originality with those two components doesn’t bother me. After all, if ain’t broke, why fix it?

My favorite parts of the book are the “Openness” and “Funny” components of the routine. Every component is important for implementing Gross’s morning routine. Nevertheless, I felt that the “Openness” and “Funny” sections were both the best-explained and, from my perspective, the most rewarding/fun components. While Openness is something that I really need to work on, I practice the Funny component almost every morning already, and I’m glad to have an excuse to keep doing it.

Gross certainly comes up with things I wouldn’t have ever thought of doing, such as sending out e-mails to thank people for the influence they’ve had on your life. Others, such as stretching and moving around in the morning or avoiding the snooze button, are ones that you’ve probably heard about a thousand times before. As I indicated before, they wouldn’t still be circulating if someone didn’t benefit from them. I’m not sure if I will try out all of Gross’s advice, but I will at least implement one idea from each section.

That’s probably what I like most about this book; it’s not an end-all guide. Gross states that he knows everyone is different and that what works for one person might not work for someone else. He encourages readers to personalize the routine, to approach the trial-and-error process as a positive which will help you learn what does not work for you. So many self-help books act as though their way is the only right way (unless they worry that people will sue if they get different results) and so, like with some other indie self-help books I’ve read lately, I’m relieved that Gross emphasizes people’s individuality.

Overall, I think that Getting COMFY by Jordan Gross is wonderful for a self-help book. At only 130 pages and written in a conversational tone, you could probably read it within a day or two and starting using its advice right away. I didn’t notice any major proofreading errors, and whatever minor errors I did notice, I don’t remember now. Gross’s positive, up-beat attitude is contagious, especially his belief that everything is a matter of perspective. I now have a lot of ideas for how I can improve my wake-up call, so we’ll see what it takes to make me a morning person!

You can buy Getting COMFY by Jordan Gross as an eBook on Amazon. Also make sure to check out Getting COMFY’s Instagram account, Twitter account, and blog for more information.

Do you know of a book I should read? Want your work reviewed on this blog? E-mail me at or message me on Fiverr and we can arrange something.


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Book Reviews: The Legacy of Gaea, Volume I by S.L. Gassick

Warning: The book reviewed in this post, The Legacy of Gaea, Volume I: The Underworld by S.L. Gassick, contains depictions of gore and fantasy violence, including child endangerment. If you wish to avoid such depictions, proceed with caution.

As promised, here’s the review for the second book I’m bringing you today. I’m switching gears quite drastically with this one, swinging all the way back to the fantasy genre. In fact, I’m going to swing the pendulum way back and talk about some good old epic fantasy. For this post, I’m reviewing The Legacy of Gaea, Volume I: The Underworld by S.L. Gassick.

Rose is the new kid in school, but this isn’t just any school—and Rose isn’t just any girl. The Valhallas are the best schools in the world, and the Valhalla at Norheath is the best of the best; only the Chosen get to study and work there. Rose is one of those select few, and she’s about to start the adventure of learning to master her Gaea-given kyu, which gives her healing powers. Everything appears to be going well on her first day of school, even as some students judge her for her ancestry. Then the unthinkable happens: an artefact is stolen from the Valhalla in broad daylight. While the Head Teacher may try to conceal how dire the situation is, it’s worse than Rose or any of the other students could have imagined.

Image retrieved from Amazon

The stolen artefact, called the Kalad, can bring back the recently-dead as the enslaved army of those who control the artefact.

As the Valhalla leaders try and organize a band of their Knights to retrieve the Kalad, Rose’s new friends—Hemero, Phin, and Nayakax—plans to save it themselves, should the Knights fail. Unfortunately for the innocent, beautiful, and naïve fourteen-year-old, they’re going to bring Rose as their Healer. Is this band of misfits ready for what lies ahead of them? Who can they trust? Most importantly—although they don’t know it—exactly who and what is the orphaned Half-Titan Hemero?

I think the Amazon description for the book puts things best when it says that The Legacy of Gaea is “classic epic fantasy meets exciting anime style action”. Oddly, I don’t watch anime. (I know, I know, time to kick me out of the Nerd’s Club!) However, I did connect much of the imagery in this book to the commercials I have seen on Adult Swim for Attack on Titan, so I think the Amazon blurb fits. Whether this style improves or detracts from the quality of the novel is up to your personal tastes. Personally, I find Gassick’s style to be quite stimulating and exciting, the sort of thrill I expect to experience with epic fantasy. So, even if you aren’t an anime fan, you should be able to appreciate Gassick’s writing.

The plot, for the most part, meets the expectations of the genre and more. Betrayal, deception, fighting, heroes-in-disguise and villains-in-disguise, you won’t know who you can trust as a reader, let alone know who Rose, Hemero, and the other main characters should trust with their lives. While the plot points are mostly common tropes for epic fantasy, the amalgamation which Gassick makes from them is anything but ordinary.

Of course, many of Gassick’s characters are common tropes as well, perhaps even falling under stereotypical. We have Hemero, the outcast loved by few and avoided by many but who has a great destiny ahead of him; Phin, the more cowardly friend who seems to just be dragged along with his friends; Nayakax, the anti-hero who everyone thinks is amazing, except for Hemero, who judges him without getting to know him; Rose, the beautiful nice girl with the healing touch and kind heart who doesn’t realize how fierce she could be based on her ancestry. Mind you, I think that Gassick writes each character in a way that they aren’t overly-stereotypical. In fact, I loved Hemero and I have a love/hate attachment to Nayakax. However, some aspects about each character can get to be too much to bear at points. (I’m specifically thinking of Rose’s infatuation with Nayakax and him pretending he doesn’t care.)

Gassick stuck with one character-based trope which I’m glad to see in fantasy: outcasts-turned-heroes. Each of the adolescents going out to retrieve the Kalad is an outcast in some way. Rose is the new girl, and people are already judging her based on the women from her homeland; Phin’s family is poorer than poor, untouchable even though his brother is a Knight of Valhalla; Nayakax’s family are former members of the Dark Clans, and he’s a puzzle and a loner himself; and Hemero is both orphaned and a Half-Titan whose eyes show that he is definitely not your average human or Titan. I’ve grown to love this trope over the years—I often use it in my own fantasy stories—and the moment that Gassick introduced it to his work, I was hooked.

It’s no surprise that my favorite character is the biggest outcast of them all (at least in the fields): Mad Moros. Clearly not crazy at all, just unique and scarred, I can see why Hemero takes such a liking to him. To me, he is the biggest mystery in this entire book. The more that Gassick reveals about this character, the more questions I have. I really can’t wait to see where Moros takes Hemero and his friends in future installments.

Don’t expect a hero’s welcome for the outcasts, though. The way they are received, especially Hemero, is not totally unexpected given the world that Gassick has built, but it’s also not what you typically encounter in the outcast trope. It certainly promises an interesting future for this series. Unfortunately, that is all I can without giving away any spoilers!

Here’s the biggest thing that bugged me about this book: GAEA IS A MAN. Since when is Gaea a man? She’s Mother Earth in Greek mythology! I am all about creative license but I was actually looking forward to a series that involved a goddess like Gaea as a major player. Needless to say, I was disappointed when Gassick first referred to Gaea as “he”. I suppose I can’t fault him too badly for this considering the rest of the book, but I still wish he had kept Gaea a woman.

I spotted a few proofreading errors but nothing major. I mostly saw missing punctuation. The mistakes aren’t enough to detract from the reading experience, and I probably only notice them because I’m so hyper-focused on editing.

Overall, The Legacy of Gaea, Volume I: The Underworld by S.L. Gassick is a great read for epic fantasy fans. It’s long—over 400 pages—but worth the read and incredibly compelling. For the most part, Gassick’s writing is crisp, engaging, and descriptive; most of the descriptions are well-chosen and well-timed, and the world is thoroughly developed. I love the imaginative energy Gassick has put into the world, the plot, and his characters. I’m looking forward to what Gassick has in store for the next book.

You can buy The Legacy of Gaea by S.L. Gassick as an eBook or in print on Amazon. To stay updated on the series and its author, be sure to check out the Twitter handle @legacyofgaea.

Do you know of a book I should read? Want your work reviewed on this blog? E-mail me at or message me on Fiverr and we can arrange something.


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Book Reviews: Little Maryam by Hamid Baig

Warning: The novel reviewed in this post, Little Maryam by Hamid Baig, contains depictions of violence and sub-par prison conditions. If you wish to avoid such depictions, proceed with caution.

Like yesterday, I have two new books to bring you. Unlike yesterday, today’s books are not short, but both are compelling enough that you won’t want to put them down until you’ve finished the entire book. The first book I’m reviewing today is a romance novel called Little Maryam by Hamid Baig.

We all have parts of our pasts that we regret, a fight that shouldn’t have been picked or an opportunity missed. Some of us have more of these near-misses than others; even the rich and famous have them. In fact, the rich and famous might experience even more of these than the average family man/woman, which is why they keep themselves constantly busy, whether they like the attention it gets them or not. Such is the case with the protagonist of Little Maryam, Dr. Saadiq Haider.

Saadiq Haider was a normal boy growing up in India. Incredibly smart—a downright genius, even—but a normal boy you probably wouldn’t know from Adam. The son of a well-loved gardener, Saadiq spent most of his days helping his father with chores—and then he met Maryam, the young, enchanting daughter of the Colonel for whom Saadiq and his father worked. Even though they were still but children, it was almost love at first sight. As a young adult, Saadiq was accused of killing his best friend, and his life took an entirely different path, one which led him away from his Little Maryam.

Fast-forward more than twenty years, when fate has finally decided to send Saadiq back to India. What he doesn’t expect is the nosy little American journalist, Anne Miller, who does not stop pestering him until he tells her why he’s going back to India. And, like all roads lead to Rome, everything in Saadiq’s life truly does lead back to Little Maryam.

Image retrieved from Amazon

Why is Saaqid returning to India, and what does his return have to do with Maryam? What really happened when Saaqid’s best friend died? Most importantly, what will happen between Saaqid and Maryam now that Anne Miller has become attached to their star-crossed romance?

I have to warn you right now, this story is not one of those “goody-goody, happily-ever-after” sorts of romances. It’s a little more like a Nicholas Sparks novel, although it’s not even quite that. It feels more real in its depiction of Saadiq and Maryam’s romance, even though it does include typical romance tropes such as a socially-taboo relationship, unwavering love spanning decades, and even a tragedy (I can’t say anything more due to spoilers).

Perhaps my favorite element of this novel is the fact that I never knew quite what to expect until Hamid wanted the reader to know. I’ve said time and time again that I notice patterns so readily that very few twists in books and film take me by surprise, even as I enjoy the ride. With Hamid’s work, however, I found myself not figuring twists out until a few pages—never more than ten, I think—before Hamid revealed them himself. I love that this book is thrilling from a world-wind romance and a realistic amount of mystery and surprises.

A close second has to be the back-and-forth between Saadiq and Anne. I appreciate the romance and connection between Saadiq and Maryam, and it’s certainly the central plot point of the story. Regardless, the relationship that develops between Saadiq and Anne in the frame narrative—which later becomes entwined with the main narrative—reveals a lot about what Saadiq became while also introducing a rather minor, although necessary, character (Anne). They are two very different people but their humor and human compassion bring them closer. The investment Anne gets in Saadiq’s relationship with Maryam may seem random to the average reader, but for any writer, journalists included, it will make perfect sense; Anne is a writer, after all.

For the first part of the book, I wasn’t quite sure if Anne’s part in the story was necessary. I loved reading their interactions and I thought that Anne was an effective first-person narrator, but at times I wondered why Hamid didn’t just use Saadiq as his narrator. Then the second part of the novel began and it all tied together. The ending I found to be especially clever, given Anne’s occupation as a writer (journalist in particular). If nothing else can be said for Hamid’s writing, he knows how to weave an intricate, multi-layered plot without a single loose end.

As a romance novel, you have to expect the read to be emotional. It was. However, unlike the stereotypical romance novel, these emotions are not restricted to the main romantic relationship. I could feel the love between Saadiq and his father, as well as Maryam and her father; I cringed at the rivalry between Saadiq and Ritesh, initially hating him as much as Saadiq did. Of course, it wouldn’t the novel wouldn’t have felt realistic if I hadn’t hated Saadiq at times, too. His violent tendencies inspired fear, anger, and annoyance in me; sometimes I wanted to just hold Saadiq back and say, “You moron, that’s not how you impress a girl!” or “This is going to bite you in the butt later, you twit!” I have to credit Hamid’s beautiful writing for these emotions.

The book isn’t perfect. As with many indie books and books from small presses, I noticed some minor grammatical issues: missing words, misplaced or missing punctuation, etc. Some of the confusion may be due to a regional difference between the English Hamid uses and the English I use. Still, not all of them can be brushed off as that. Fortunately, these proofreading errors weren’t so glaring that they detracted from my reading experience.

At times I found it hard to believe Anne’s reactions to Saadiq’s story as well. For the most part, I agreed with her reaction. After all, how often is it that a Nobel Prize winner spills his guts to you when he normally doesn’t talk about his past? Other times, Anne’s own disbelief of her own reactions made up for the slight lack of believability. Nevertheless, there were parts when I thought, “Geez, you get invested quickly” or “Man, back off, give the guy some space!” These moments did not make Anne entirely unbelievable, but I rolled my eyes at them at the same time.

Overall, I think that Little Maryam by Hamid Baig is a wonderful book. I am especially surprised by the quality due to the fact that it’s a romance novel. (Yes, yes, I know, I can be elitist and hypocritical at times.) My only true qualm is that a little more proofreading needs to be done. Other than that, I recommend this book for romance lovers. Even those who don’t like romances will find value in the other aspects of the plot and the relationships among Saadiq and the minor characters, not to mention Anne’s role in the entire charade. It may be called “Little Maryam,” but she is far from the only draw for this book!

You can buy Little Maryam by Hamid Baig as an eBook or in print on Amazon. To learn more about the author and his work, check out his website, Facebook page, and Twitter account.

Do you know of any books I should read? Want your work reviewed on this blog? E-mail me at or message me on Fiverr and we can arrange something.


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Book Reviews: Swinger Hunt by Natalie Lou

Warning: The booklet reviewed in this post, Swinger Hunt by Natalie Lou, contains sexual situations and depictions of swinging. If you wish to avoid such depictions, proceed with caution.

Due to the sexual nature of Natalie Lou’s book, do not proceed if you are under 18 years of age. Also remember to keep any discussion which results from this review polite and mature. We are all adults and so should treat this subject like adults. Any bullying, trolling, or inappropriate remarks will result in the participating parties being reprimanded. Please refer to the Comments and Privacy Policy for further information.

As I promised in the previous post, I am bringing you the review of another booklet in this post. Unlike the first one I reviewed today, this book/booklet falls under the category of erotica, along the same lines as 69 Shades of Nashville, although much briefer with less tension. This booklet is called Swingers: Swinger Hunt by Natalie Lou.

We all have secret fantasies. We might even have fantasies which we don’t tell our partners. When we also like to read and write, where else will our fantasies manifest than in our writing? Such is the case with Jen, who writes and publishes erotica under the pen name Lili Von Shtupp. But what will happen when her husband discovers her dirty little secret? Will it lead to an awkward conversation that changes their relationship? Or will it lead many nights of ecstasy as fantasies come to life? (Hint: the answers are “yes” and “yes.”)

Image retrieved from Amazon

Told from the perspective of Jen’s husband, Swinger Hunt begins with him discovering that his wife is not working from home as an accountant as he had been told. Rather, she has been moonlighting as a fairly popular erotica novelist, paying her share of the bills and letting out her hidden fantasy of extramarital one-night stands for both her and her husband. Counter to what you would expect in fiction and in reality—and perhaps a little refreshing for that reason—her husband does not grow angry or jealous but aroused. What follows is a whirlwind of sex and passion.

While the sex scenes are detailed, they are also tasteful. Anatomies are explicitly discussed, male and female fantasies explored, and yet Lou keeps the language mature and sensual. The f-bomb is dropped often, but that’s as much of a sailor’s mouth as you’ll see in this book. The rest are just necessary details to give the reader a tantalizing experience without being disrespectful.

Lou develops an appropriately diverse cast of characters, from the eclectic group of women at Courtney’s bachelorette party to the twins that Jen uses for her own pleasure while on vacation. Given the very few pages that Lou worked with (approximately 38 in total), these characters could not be developed in very much detail. She utilizes appearance to her advantage in developing these minor players, but I still wish that she had spent more time exploring the relationships of at least Jen and her friends at the bachelorette party.

I appreciate that Jen and her husband thought to create a list of rules before engaging in any extramarital activities. It’s something that does not often come up in erotica but that made this story feel much more real. I expected the list to play a bigger part in the story than it actually did, though. It dances at the back of Jen’s husband’s mind but, other than occasionally checking that they’re following the rules, that’s about it. I’m glad that Lou didn’t go down the predictable plot of someone breaking the rules and ruining their relationship, but a little bit of tension in regards to the list would have enhanced the reading experience.

I suppose that the heart of most issues I have with this book comes down to its length. Lou pulled me into this couple’s story and then it came to an abrupt end. She set up so much emotional development and tension, from the list to the sex therapist at the bachelorette party, and yet she focuses only on the sex. Even Jen’s writing career could have blossomed into a larger plot, more complex plot. While I understand if Lou was aiming to just show a couple having happy sex adventures, I felt empty at the end of the story because so much else in their lives could have also been explored but weren’t.

Lou’s main characters have the potential to be very interesting characters. I’m especially intrigued by Jen’s husband. He’s so open and secure in his sexuality. What is he like in other aspects of his life? How do the sexual adventures affect other areas of his life, like work and friendships? Do he and Jen keep it all a secret from anyone who does not participate, or do they brag about to see who else they can snag? Jen and her husband are so confident and happy in their marriage, something rarely seen in erotica, that I want to see the possibilities pursued.

Unfortunately, another downside to the story is that it hasn’t been edited very well. The typical missing, misused, and/or misspelled words occurred through the book. However, I could have tolerated that better if it weren’t for the sections during which Lou inexplicably switches between first person and third person narration. This issue did not start until about halfway through the book, but once it did, it annoyed me a bit. All of these issues could be fixed with more editing.

All in all, I think that Swinger Hunt is a promising start for Natalie Lou. The main characters are compelling, the scenario is unique, and the sex scenes are well-written. I just want to see the work expanded, perhaps including more of the swinging which the narrator mentions at the end of the book. I would also like to see more of their lives outside of the swinging, especially given that their first escapade involved some of Jen’s friends. This book has the potential to be more complex and satisfying than many erotic stories, the same sort of potential that Blackmail and 69 Shades of Nashville have, but it hasn’t met that potential just yet.

You can buy an eBook or print copy of Swinger Hunt by Natalie Lou on Amazon. You can also learn more about the author by visiting her Twitter account or Amazon author profile.

Do you know of any books I should read? Want your work reviewed on this blog? E-mail me at or message me on Fiverr and we can arrange something.


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Book Reviews: Manipulation by James Edwards

Today I’m sharing two reviews, both for works which are more booklets than full-length books. The first booklet that I’m going to review is Manipulation: How to Recognize & Deal with Emotional Manipulation by James Edwards.

The issue this booklet addresses is very personal for me. I have experienced notable emotional manipulation from more than one person in my life (I will not say who for obvious reasons). Perhaps I’ve even emotionally manipulated others without realizing it. The point is that it’s a problem which hard to admit happens in the first place, let alone take steps to fix it. However, I’m sure that many of you also struggle with being emotionally manipulated and need help as much as I do. That’s where Manipulation comes in.

Image retrieved from Amazon

Edwards presents a lot of helpful information in a very short amount of space (about 40 pages). The organization is solid, first showing readers signs of emotional manipulation then illustrating the different kinds of manipulators and, finally, giving advice on how to deal with manipulators, whether it’s at work or at home. As with most books and booklets of this kind, Manipulation does not serve as an end-all strict guide to dealing with manipulators. After all, manipulators are people, too, and so each one needs a personalized approach in order to minimize the amount of hurt feelings and dehumanization. Instead, Edwards gives readers tools and guidelines to help them take control of their lives again.

I think that the best part of this booklet is that the information validates a victim’s feelings and experiences. Most of what Edwards says really clicked with my situation. Contradicting you to get what they want, making you feel insane or like you’re losing your memory, belittling your problems, and even flat out getting mad, I’ve experienced all of these forms of emotional manipulation. Seeing that I’m not the only one, that it truly is common and I’m not just being paranoid, has brought me some relief. I’m too afraid to compare notes about this situation with anyone but those closest to me, and so being able to get a perspective with some distance from me really helped.

For me, the advice on how to deal with a manipulator is obvious but not so easy to act upon. Edwards is on-point with how to approach the situation. The problem just lies with what individual readers feel they can and cannot handle.

The only real qualm had with this book was the amount of proofreading errors. At first, they were minor and did not detract from the work. However, the errors became hard to bear in the last fifth or quarter of the book. I could still understand most of what Edwards said. Regardless, several sentences and phrases were difficult to decipher because words were missing, misused, or were repetitive. This issue is just a matter of more thorough proofreading. Therefore, I don’t hesitate to recommend the booklet on that basis. I just wish that the author/editor put more work into proofreading the last ten or so pages.

Overall, I think Manipulation by James Edwards is a necessity for those undergoing emotional manipulation. Whether you are suffering from it, know someone suffering from it, or even suspect that you might be a manipulator, this booklet will give you a more unbiased perspective on the situation. Moreover, it will help you and the manipulator or victim to reach a solution which, given some time and patience, will benefit everyone. The proofreading is a big issue, but it’s worth overcoming to get the information this booklet provides.

You can buy an eBook or print copy of Manipulation by James Edwards on Amazon.

Do you know of a book I should read? Want your work reviewed on this blog? E-mail me at or message me on Fiverr and we can arrange something.


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

Marketing: The Forgotten Step in Writing

Writers like to let their work speak for itself. Unfortunately, even in the modern world that alone will not get people to read your writing–perhaps especially in the modern world. Readers are bombarded every day with new material, from novels and poetry to news articles and magazines. How can we make our writing stand out from the rest? Well, how does any product or service stand out? Through marketing.

Marketing spreads the word about a poetry collection or book series as well as it does for a car or smartphone. To the writer, a book is art. To the public, it’s a product. Like any other product, it must be marketed or its audience won’t grow.

If you’re published traditionally, your publisher will help you with some of the marketing. (Just remember that you still have a lot of heavy lifting to do as well.) If you’re self-published or published through a smaller press, you’ll have to take on more of the marketing yourself. In fact, you have to do it all yourself if you’re self-publishing. Some self-published writers can afford to hire someone to handle the marketing campaign, but most cannot.

Image retrieved from Snap Editing

Right about now you might be thinking, “I’m a writer, not a marketer!” Well, yes and no. You are a writer, but that doesn’t exclude you being a marketer.

Many writers are unintentional marketers. Do you tell people about your latest work as soon as it’s published? Give out free copies to friends and family? Then you’re already marketing.

Of course, there are more “professional” ways that writers can market their work. Let your audience read the first couple chapters of your new book for free on your website. Host a giveaway. Hold a book reading at your local library. You can even make a book trailer, if you’re so inclined.

Even the most experienced and famous writers market their own writing, whether or not they realize it. While the Boy Who Lived is still the face of the franchise, J.K. Rowling handles the bulk of marketing for her books just by staying in the public eye. The same rings true for Stephen King. Even Anne Rice and her son Christopher market their own books; after all, they regularly discuss their writing and occasionally hold giveaways. (Giveaways which my mom jumps on every chance she gets.)

Now, when your entire public life is essentially a marketing tool for your writing, you have to be careful. Everything you Tweet, post, comment on, whatever could bite you in the butt and shrink your readership. This issue has been debated in regards to J.K. Rowling recently. Conversely, you can also gain readers through advertising or posting something which alienates others. Regardless, that’s all best left for another time and another post.

You can’t assume that someone else will market your writing for you. You can’t even rely on word-of-mouth or reviews from loyal readers. Don’t shy away from marketing your work just because you aren’t a “professional” marketer or business person. As writers, we have to take control of getting our writing noticed. Otherwise, we might never be anything more than someone who put pen to paper.

Do you market your writing? How? With all the “marketing for writers” resources out there, have you found any that are helpful? Leave your thoughts and advice in the comments below.


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011