An Inkling, A Backpack and All the Time in the World–Traveling on a Whim by Tamara K. Bryant

An Inkling, A Backpack and All the Time in the World–Traveling on a Whim by Tamara K. Bryant was one of the more innocent backpacking stories I’ve read. Although partying was high on the author’s list of accomplishments as she traveled through Southeast Asia and Australia, she wasn’t looking to hook up with randomly met individuals or get high. Cute little drawings could be found throughout the story, but no pictures of the amazing things she saw.

There were ​just a few editing issues that should be addressed. A number of words had apostrophe ‘s when they should be s indicating plural. Then there was the repetition of the author’s introduction “mat backwards” which was cute the first time, but the joke got old fast. Another unnecessary repetition was the author’s sense of superiority when people scrambled to get off the plane. Just because the author had all the time in the world and could miss a connecting flight or ride from the airport on her leisurely travels didn’t mean everyone had that luxury.

As with most backpacking chronicles, the author enjoyed the camaraderie of fellow travelers. However, her immaturity was evident. Dumping a glass of water on a person in her hostel room because he complained about her 6:00 am noise certainly broke the unwritten consideration laws. Not recognizing the fact that one of her travel companions was interested in being more than friends is another example.

Some of her off-the-trail adventures could have been disasters. A female solo traveler can find herself in dangerous situations even when she takes precautions that the author didn’t even consider. The author was fortunate in her choice of travel partners and locations.

Overall, An Inkling, A Backpack and All the Time in the World–Traveling on a Whim by Tamara K. Bryant was a fun read. The author has a personable storytelling ability. The places she visited were unique. It’s hard to resist her zest for adventure. It’s a nice gap year narrative, which in the current limited travel situation we find ourselves in because of COVID-19, makes a pleasant armchair adventurer book.

I received an ARC from the author for this review.

Hidden by Lisa Sell

For decades, Jen Taylor believed she had killed her classmate Kelly in an altercation on the railway tracks. An email from Kelly’s mother reawakens all that Jen thought she had buried. Jen reluctantly agrees to look into the matter for the dying mother. This means revisiting her own childhood trauma, something she has attempted to avoid at all costs.

The story leaps back and forth between the present and the past, not necessarily in a linear manner. Clues to what really happened to Kelly are scattered like breadcrumbs throughout the narrative. Even if you think you have it pieced together, odds are you won’t get it just right. I know I didn’t. 

Having experienced the 1980s myself, I enjoyed the attention to detail that the author employed—references to songs, artists, current events, devices, and even clothing styles. Not being British, I also appreciated the cultural explanations, especially at the beginning of the book when describing Rembrandt Estates. 

I had some difficulty keeping track of the children and their parents in parts of the story. I’d have loved a genealogy or even a map of the housing development and its relation to the train tracks to help me keep everyone straight. But then, I’m a visual person. Other people might not have this problem. 
Hidden by Lisa Sell is a mystery you’ll enjoy solving alongside Jen.

A Reason to Be: A Novel by Norman McCombs

A Reason to Be: A Novel by Norman McCombs begins in the Scottish highlands with the great battle of independence of the MacTomas clan from Chief Mackintosh.  After that rousing introduction, it’s quite a letdown to meet the main character Douglas McCombs who is struggling with depression. It wasn’t clear whether his wife Hope, who had Alzheimer’s, was removed to a long-term care facility or died. Later in the book, there’s an incident where Hope’s friend attacks Douglas for abandoning his wife, which seemed to imply she was still alive. 

Regardless of what has happened to his wife, Douglas finds a new lease on life by investigating his genealogy. The segments that provide a glimpse of his ancestors were fascinating. However, the switch back to the present day, even with the blossoming love between Douglas and the librarian seemed stilted. There’s mention that Douglas is holding something back in the relationship, and it seems implied that it’s that his wife is still alive at some points of the story. (NOTE: The author says that the proof edition I read has been changed and the wife is no longer living in the final version.) Douglas believes the new love interest has something holding her back from the relationship. Never fear, though. The reader is magically transported into the librarian’s mind, so everything is clear to us, if not to poor Douglas. 

I would have liked to have been given a family tree someplace in the book so that I could keep track of the jumps through history. The historical sections were prefaced with some information about the family member, but there’s nothing like a visual to help organize the timeline of events. It also would have helped to keep track of the variations in the spelling of the last name through the years from MacThomas to Macomb.

The novel is advertised as semi-autobiographical. Just as Douglas, the main character, the author Norman McCombs is a White House National Medal of Technology and Innovation winner. However, Douglas never seems to be as three-dimensional as the characters in the past, which is a shame, because the author would be an interesting fellow to meet. 

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.

Harness the Power of the Invincible Mind: Spatial Strategy to Success and Happiness by Alex Neumann

I enjoyed reading Harness the Power of the Invincible Mind: Spatial Strategy to Success and Happiness by Alex Neumann for a variety of reasons. First, there were the CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) references throughout. Then, the parables were apt. Finally, the references to real life individuals who beat the odds were inspiring. 

If you are interested in becoming your best self, then this is a book that should be in your library. The author attacks several “givens” found in society that hinder us from reaching our full potential, such as commercialism, not saying no, self-limitation, and having a negative mindset. Each chapter has several parables illustrating a better course of action and at least one example of someone who succeeded where others failed. 

NOTE: The author had his editor fix these issues in the book that is now available on Amazon. 😉

That being said, I would have liked to have seen a little bit more attention to detail by the author. There were a handful of typos and some inaccurate information. For example, Helen Keller was not born blind and deaf. You don’t have to be naked to procreate. There aren’t nine planets anymore in our solar system. Sarah Breedlove was not born on a plantation in Pennsylvania. And the phrase “fake it til you get it” should be “fake it til you make it” and actually is more in line with what the author suggests (having an optimistic mindset which helps realize goals) than not.

Despite those oversights in the proofreading, I found Harness the Power of the Invincible Mind: Spatial Strategy to Success and Happiness by Alex Neumann to be both positive and practical.

I received an advanced reader copy from the author.

Einstein’s Last Message: Saving Our World by Changing How We Think by Dr. Rod O’Connor

This year has brought several baffling concepts to light for me. These include: Why does a racist con-man have 74,122,580 registered supporters? Why are children kept in cages for years and women and girls given forced hysterectomies? Why are governments around the world unable to agree to a course of action that would reduce the spread of COVID-19? Why have 1,508,906 died already from this virus when this isn’t human’s first experience with a plague? Why black and indigenous lives don’t matter to the vast majority? Why extreme weather, wildfires, and drought are not seen as evidence of climate change caused by humans? Why are we rushing to get things back to “normal” when “normal” is what brought us to this precipice in the first place?

Dr. Rod O’Connor had some answers for me in Einstein’s Last Message: Saving Our World by Changing How We Think. This meticulously researched book discusses the flaws in thinking that are preventing us from making lasting changes in order to avert the total world destruction we are on the verge of enacting. Not only that, it provides some key adjustments we can make in our thinking to literally save the world. Scientists have already told us exactly what actions we need to take to save our planet and ourselves. It’s up to us to prioritize these actions and change our thinking about our place in the world. (See also Our planet is on the brink. Here’s how we save it, Saving Life on Earth: A Plan to Halt the Global Extinction Crisis, and Why we’ll succeed in saving the planet from climate change)

Dr. O’Connor presents an overwhelming topic in manageable parts. He uses the metaphor of Russian nesting dolls that contain our thoughts and actions about the world, people, self, and right and wrong to explain how and why we are where we are in history. With personal anecdotes, scientific research findings, and examples from individuals throughout history, including Einstein), the author lays it all out for us. In addition, the appendix has a checklist for decisions about the material world, involving people, gaining happiness, and our individual sense of right and wrong to help everyone make better choices going forward. The second appendix gives suggestions on ways to improve ourselves through personal reflection. 

As you can see, there is an unbelievable amount of useful information between the covers. The book isn’t long but it does delve into deficiencies we all have. Once I began, I could not put it down. Unfortunately, some readers may not be ready to hear what Dr. O’Connor has to say and that’s a shame, because until we are of one mind, there will be no future for us or our children or grandchildren or great-children. But if you are up for it, I invite you to pick up a copy of Einstein’s Last Message: Saving Our World by Changing How We Think by Dr. Rod O’Connor. It’s a book everyone should read.

I received an ARC from Reedsy Discovery. You can read my review here.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The day that Daniel’s father took him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books changed the course of history for more than one person. That was the day that Daniel Sempere lay to claim the last unburnt copy of The Shadow of the Wind written by an obscure author with the name of Julian Carax. 

Set in Barcelona immediately after the Francoist dictatorship, this novel of intrigue and suspense will carry you away with its precise descriptions and well-developed characters as Daniel sets out to unravel the mystery of Julian Carax, formerly from Spain who published poorly sold books in Spanish from Paris.

Along with eccentric book lover Gustavo Barcelo and beggar turned secret agent Fermin Romero de Torres, Daniel searches for clues and stumbles upon intersecting histories that include Don Federico the watchmaker, who every now and then dons a diva costume and performs at an underground variety show in drag, Clara, the lovely, blind daughter of Gustavo who steals Daniel’s heart and the notorious giggling Inspector Fumero. 

The Shadow of the Wind doesn’t hold back on romance either. From the tragic story of Daniel’s widowed father to the heedless entanglements of Daniel’s own love life, there are overlapping stories of unrequited love, forbidden love, and eternal love with catastrophic results. 

I must warn you that the complexity of the story and the formal Spanish tone and vocabulary choices mean this isn’t a light beach read even in translation. You may need to take a break every now and then to wrap your head around the mystery or ponder the clues. However, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (not the one by Julian Carax) was one of the best romantic mystery novels that I’ve read in quite some time. 

Sustainability for the Rest of Us: Your No-Bullshit Five-point Plan for Saving the Planet by John Pabon

I had a self-serving reason to pick Sustainability for the Rest of Us: Your No-Bullshit Five-point Plan for Saving the Planet by John Pabon up to read. I want to be sustainable. I want to save the planet. I’ve made efforts over time to reduce my carbon footprint, but it never seemed like enough. I hoped that the author would finally provide me with some additional clues on where my efforts could be better expended. 

In the beginning, I believed that I had made an error in judgment. This wasn’t the book for me, after all. Not only does Mr. Pabon declare that “this idea that you can be the change you want to see in this world is nonsense,” but he goes on to poke fun at the environmentally conscious, calling them “greenies.” Then he talks about how no one in their right mind would give up their smartphone and car and live off-grid. Hmm, well, since I don’t have a smartphone or car and do, in fact, live off-grid, perhaps I am not in my right mind. Or maybe I’m an anomaly. Or probably Mr. Pabon is making generalizations here.

Regardless, I thought I’d keep going despite being insulted to my face since the book promised so much. Fortunately, the next few chapters were well-researched and refrained from name-calling. Well, I guess that isn’t true since point number three was, “Don’t be a Dick.” Of course, I didn’t feel like I was doing the dicky things highlighted in that chapter, so it wasn’t offensive to me anyway.

Although you probably have figured it out already from the title, there isn’t a lot of pussy-footing around the topic of sustainability in this book. From declaring that China is now in the forefront of the green revolution to berating Prince Henry as being far from environmentally conscious when he takes his private jet to summits even if he isn’t wearing any shoes at the podium, it was interesting to see our that “heroes” have feet of clay after all.

Complicated environmental issues were broken down into easily digestible segments, and the down-to-earth commentary wasn’t as abrasive at it first seemed. I would suggest that the author learn when to use an apostrophe and when just to add an -s to nouns, but I’m an English teacher, so I notice that sort of repeated grammar error.

The section that appealed to me most was on how to be a pragmatic altruist. It’s true that the methods in the past are not effective in enacting real change. A pragmatic altruist will thus find a different way to participate in the climate revolution. I also found the afterward “Sustainability in the Time of Coronavirus” to be an interesting addition to the climate change discussion. 

All-in-all, Sustainability for the Rest of Us: Your No-Bullshit Five-point Plan for Saving the Planet by John Pabon provided quite a bit of food for thought about my future actions. If you’ve any interest in saving our planet, then I would recommend you pick up a copy of this book too.

I received an ARC from Reedsy Discovery. You can read my review here.

Intentionally Becoming Different: Coach yourself by Alexander Trost

If you are like me, you are always looking for ways to make your life better. I don’t mean career-wise, although that is important. I don’t mean improving relationships, even though that too is essential. I mean improving myself. If I can improve myself, all other aspects of my life will naturally follow. I believe that so much I even chose the word “improve” as my single focus for this year. 

Intentionally Becoming Different by Alexander Trost provided “provocative statements, transformational quotes, and guided exercises” to help me improve, well, me. As a lover of word origins, I enjoyed how the author illustrated his points with word syntax. For instance, did you know the world develop is the opposite of envelope. So developing refers to an unfolding. What an amazing visual for the process of self-development–an unfolding of self! 

Another imagery that appealed to me was the idea of our lives being a book. The chapters are our life goals. Our life mission is the title. I don’t know about you, but I want a well-written book as evidence of my life, not some dull or ridiculous storyline. In order to do that, I certainly would want to live an intentional life, wouldn’t you agree?

There were a few things that I thought could have been better explained by the author. He discusses the GROW model accredited to Sir John Whitmore in one chapter. I spent some time contemplating this model only to find out that it wasn’t the coaching method that the rest of the book focused on. Instead, the premise of the self-examination exercises is based on the Wheel of Life. The author says that the concept originates from the Buddist wheel of life. However, I’m not all that familiar with that and had a hard time understanding the connections.

Despite the poor understanding I had of the framework, the chapters were clear, the self-reflection questions were useful, and the application/mind shift activities were enlightening. There were explicit examples to help me formulate my own thoughts throughout. Furthermore, I learned quite a bit about the functioning of my own brain and the mechanical, emotional, and rational parts that make it up both through the informative text and the self-exploration questions. 

This isn’t a book you can read through and voila become the person you always dreamed you’d be. Once you have the tools the author provides, it is up to you to chisel away at your own life to discover the deeper meaning of it. Answers to the self-reflective questions will undoubtedly change as you develop (unfold) and you’ll need to reevaluate where you stand regularly. If you are ready for some hard self-examination and soul-searching, then Intentionally Becoming Different by Alexander Trost is the book for you.

I received an ARC of this book from Reedsy Discovery. You can read my review here.

Finding Happiness After COVID-19 by Pam and Peter Keevil

Self-quarantining has taken a lot out of me, as I’ve sure it’s done to you. The ups and downs of new cases, anti-maskers, death rates, and vaccine prognosis keep me from finding any sort of equilibrium on a daily basis. When I saw Finding Happiness After COVID-19 by Pam and Peter Keevil, I decided that it might be just what I needed. And, in the end, it certainly was. 

Many of the concepts in the book were familiar ones. I have been working through some CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) courses, after all, this year. However, it really helped to see how these actions and thoughts can be applied to the current pandemic situation, and more particularly, my own life right now. 

Happiness builds on itself. It is reflected in all aspects of our lives. And yet, sometimes, like right now, it’s hard to find even a glimmer of a silver lining in the situation. This book was exactly what I needed to refocus on reframing what I have now as being enough instead of focusing on what I can’t have just now. 

Since happiness is subjective, I can’t say which sections will resonate with you personally. However, I can say that you’ll have plenty of useful information with which to rethink your life as you work towards finding happiness after COVID-19. The concepts are clear. The examples are helpful. The self-assessment questions are enlightening.

I recommend Finding Happiness After COVID-19 by Pam and Peter Keevil to everyone struggling with the current global pandemic situation. Really, what have you got to lose?