conscious Breathing: The Art of Meditation by Larry Snyder, MD

Having read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, I felt I could more than handle Conscious Breathing: The Art of Meditation by Larry Snyder, MD. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this little gem was not only a more accessible guide to meditation but also that it addressed the number one obstacle to mindful living, addiction.

My favorite chapter was entitled “Anxiety, Addiction, and Acceptance.” It begins by defining addiction and demonstrating how it contributes to anxiety. When we accept that addiction and anxiety are part of human existence, we can find ways to mediate their effects on our well-being. The author gives the example of two individuals injured in an auto accident. One seeks retaliation against the other driver through a lawsuit. The other concentrates on physical therapy and recovers sooner. What we focus on influences our future happiness. 

The author isn’t judgemental, merely suggestive as he discusses meditation practices. All things are temporary, including our thoughts and emotions. Conscious breathing through meditation allows us to let it all go. The book is short enough that it can be read several times. After all, meditation isn’t something that can be mastered but rather practiced day in and day out. 

On the other hand, just as substance addition is a relapsing neurobiological disease, surrendering our belief in control is something we need to do repeatedly, much like Sisyphus rolling his boulder up the mountain for eternity. Along the same lines, Sisyphus had options. It makes you wonder if he railed against his fate or enjoyed the climb. Considering he tried to outwit death several times, which resulted in his punishment, I imagine he spent eternity looking for another opportunity to control the situation, his addiction, as it were.

Anyway, just as meditation isn’t for everyone, this book might not appeal to all readers. The essays are short and separated by nice, if not exceptionally inspiring, photographs. So many things are out of our control, and not everyone is ready to accept that; thus, the act of “letting go” encouraged in the book isn’t obtainable for some yet. 

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

Living Through Alchemy: A transformational journey to freedom by Vi Vi Thai

Vi Vi Thai creatively illustrates her inner transformation in Living Through Alchemy: A transformational journey to freedom by Vi Vi Thai. In this book, the author shared her life from her birth in Vietnam through her Master’s degree in Bio-Medical Engineering at Cornell University as the backdrop to her personal transformation. Her real growth occurred after she started a new life in Canada as a van dweller. In addition to Vi Vi Thai’s personal story, the author includes journal prompts to aid the reader in their own transformation and a bonus chapter about her travel companion, Marco, the dog.  

This book might not be an effective medium for encouraging personal growth for individuals unfamiliar with tarot cards, which introduce each development period. For instance, chapter 4 began with card number 9 in the Rider-Waite tarot deck, the Hermit. There was a brief description of the card highlighting how to interpret it when it appears in a reading. Then the author talked about a period in her life that corresponded to this card, in this case, her return to Vietnam in shame resulting in social isolation. 

There were some misused phrases and terms resulting from the fact that the author’s first language is not English, but they were minor and did not detract from the understanding. The first few chapters are a bit repetitive. However, the author smoothes the storytelling out as the book progresses. 

There was a lot of information in the first chapter. In what is supposed to be an overview of alchemy, Thai discussed the definition of alchemy, the seven chakras, the caduceus, the eye of Horus and the Pineal gland, and the Hero’s Journey. This section might have been better focused on just the tarot cards and how they relate to the Hero’s Journey since there was little mention of the seven chakras, the caduceus, or the eye of Horus and the Pineal gland in the rest of the book. 

The transformational story Vi Vi Thai shares with the reader in Living Through Alchemy: A transformational journey to freedom was compelling. Marco’s story was sweet as well. It’s a great book to start the new year!

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

Powerful You! Little memoirs of inspirational women by Anna Burgess

Powerful You! Little memoirs of inspirational women by Anna Burgess tells the abbreviated stories of five women and the author. It also includes a memorial to an elderly friend of the author, Raymond Farrell. Encouraging commentary is interspersed throughout the book, designed to inspire women confronting life’s obstacles.

It’s not a long or difficult read. The women’s stories are moving. These women overcame challenges that included homelessness, divorce, illness and death of a parent, thriving as a single mother, surviving cancer, and starting a nonprofit.

Although the author repeatedly reiterates that this book is for every woman, it seems as if the target audience was actually the author’s friends and family, rather than for public consumption. For this to be a coaching book, which I’m not convinced it was meant to be, questions after each story to help the reader reflect on her own life would have been good. As it was, the message was, “See these women! They overcame adversity, and so can you!” but without any clear direction on how someone could do that.

Several times, the author states that if just one woman is inspired, then her book will have been a success. I think she sells herself short. The book has the potential of helping thousands of women find direction, with a bit of work.

Each woman’s excerpt was interesting but no more than a few paragraphs except for the author. The author’s own story, while moving, needed some content editing. It seemed that she wrote in a stream of consciousness and then couldn’t bear to go back and edit out redundancies or irrelevant information. The final chapter dedicated to Raymond, the elderly gentleman, seemed out of place in this book geared toward women.

I noticed no grammar or spelling issues in the text, which made it a nice read. Anyone who enjoys reading about others’ life stories would enjoy this book. Those that are looking for help with their in-depth soul-searching processes will need to look elsewhere.

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

How to Avoid 101 Book Publishing Blunders, Bloopers & Boo-Boos: how to successful publish a book by Judith Briles

When I picked up How to Avoid 101 Book Publishing Blunders, Bloopers & Boo-Boos: how to successful publish a book by Judith Briles, I decided to ignore the blooper in the title (successfully) in the hopes of some useful tidbits. I did indeed get some useful tidbits, however not 101, which was disappointing.

Some sections were geared towards authors who have managed to snag a traditional book publishing deal. Since I have not, although I haven’t given up hope of someday, the information about reading the fine print, making sure you keep your rights to republication, and getting the best deal of the book publishing company, didn’t apply to me. 

I did learn about the Amazon Advantage program. However, when I did more research, I discovered that this publishing platform is closed to new publishers (such as myself). Amazon has given no date for reopening, unfortunately. Since I can’t access the Amazon Advantage program, the chapters on finding a decent printer weren’t useful either. To publish on Amazon, currently I need to use Amazon’s print on demand service. 

Another Amazon program that has expired but is included in the blooper book is the Matchbook program, where you could offer a digital copy of your print book for a reduced price or free. This nifty feature was taken out of circulation in October of 2019. Phooey. 

Not everything presented was obsolete or irreverent though. I really liked the idea of creating a tag line that expresses what my books (or me) do to benefit the reader. I also appreciated the suggestion to add a copyright watermark to images that I have created and share on social media. 

Overall, I was disappointed with the amount of useful information I found in this book that had such high ratings on Amazon. Some chapters seemed redundant, others weren’t useful since the feature wasn’t available anymore, and others were irrelevant to my particular writing situation. If you are a first-time author looking for the tricks of the trade, I can’t say that I recommend How to Avoid 101 Book Publishing Blunders, Bloopers & Boo-Boos: how to successful publish a book by Judith Briles.

Black Thumb Greenhouse: How to Take Your Self-Sufficient Homestead from Dream to Reality: An Introduction to Greenhouse Gardening even Cactus-Killers can Master by J.D. Isaly

J.D. Isaly has done a magnificent job of describing greenhouse options, detailing necessary components to successful greenhouse gardening, and discussing plants that do well in greenhouse conditions. The information about the history of the greenhouse and the benefits of utilizing a greenhouse were well-researched and clearly presented. 

The author shared his extensive knowledge about greenhouse construction and its upkeep. Since I have been dithering back and forth about whether I wanted to invest in a greenhouse to extend my growing season, I read this book eagerly. After I finished, I decided that a greenhouse is not in the near future because of the growing conditions in my area based on the information Isaly provided. Thus, you can see that the thorough treatment of the topic would be extremely beneficial to anyone considering or ready to take the leap into greenhouse gardening.

I especially liked how the author talked about how gardening can provide physical and mental benefits to the gardener. Anyone who putters around in the soil can attest to the contentment felt out digging in the dirt. Of course, the physical activity involved in gardening is beneficial to staying in shape as is the option of eating non-GMO, organic produce. Interspersed between the chapters were short, fascinating trivia tidbits about plants under the heading “Did you know?”

The only thing I felt would have added to this informative text were drawings. For instance, when the author was explaining the relative merit of different types of greenhouses, I would have liked to have had a picture to help me understand the descriptions better. Or when describing the drainage system, I didn’t really have a clear idea of what the v-shaped flood floor consisted of. An illustration would have been helpful here too.

So if you are considering setting a greenhouse to augment your food production, then Black Thumb Greenhouse: How to Take Your Self-Sufficient Homestead from Dream to Reality: An Introduction to Greenhouse Gardening even Cactus-Killers can Master by J.D. Isaly is the perfect book to help you begin.

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

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

I’ve read both negative and positive reviews of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. The controversy piqued my curiosity and I read the book. After finishing, I have to say that some of the outrage by the Latino community was warranted, but that didn’t make it a horrible read. 

The action begins right from the first page. A shoot-out at a quinceanera barbeque—ok, stop right there. Anyone who knows anything about Mexican culture will tell you that relegating the formal pageantry and coming-of-age ceremony of a quinceanera to a backyard barbeque, with potato salad no less, is sacrilege. 

The cartel, naturally, is the aggressor, the target, a journalist’s family. Since Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, the scenario seems plausible. However, describing the shooters as “the modern bogeymen of urban Mexico”, well, the boogeyman isn’t a Mexican creature, but maybe the author meant El Cucuy. 

Mexican currency at the time American Dirt was written.

Lydia and her 8-year old son Luca are the only survivors of the massacre. Knowing she can’t rely on the police, Lydia flees with just a few things she takes from her mother’s house. She pays the hotel’s 4,000 pesos deposit with four pink bills—hold up. The pink bills are each worth 50 pesos each, so she actually pays 200 pesos. The color of money is mentioned again when Lydia needs to pay 10,000 pesos. She lays down 7 pink, 2 orange, and one blue bill, so that would be well, I don’t know. Are we playing Monopoly here because there aren’t any orange bills in Mexican currency?  Maybe the orange ones are the 100 peso bill? 

The head of the cartel that Lydia and her son must hide from is known as La Lechuza, who according to Lydia’s husband could have been the next Bill Gates–really, what’s wrong with a reference to Carlos Slim here? Yes, the criminal leader of the big bad cartel organization is called La Lechuza, just like the popular children’s song, although there is no reference to this song in the story at all. Since the song is about putting people to sleep, it would have certainly added a creep factor if nothing else. 

Lydia comments that La Lechuza is a terrible name since owls aren’t scary. However, it’s common knowledge in Mexico that la lechuza is often a precursor of death, a bad omen, certainly no laughing matter. But again, none of this was mentioned in the book. 

There were more references that just took away from the authenticity, an Italian meal in San Miguel de Allende (not carnitas), ginger ale (not Coca) stored in the Abuela’s basement (who has a basement?), police officers dreaming about pot roast (not tacos), a girl from Honduras looking like an Aztec (not Maya) warrior, the journey measured in miles (not kilometers), using the word vertedero (not basurero), drinking water from the tap (just not done) and so on. 

However, despite it all, I have to admit it was an engaging read. From the get-go I was invested in the outcome, as implausible as some of it seemed. But then again, it was a work of fiction, a fantasy of sorts, so it was ok. Anyway, if you are looking for something that not only provides an exciting adventure but also tests your knowledge of Mexican culture in an alternate universe since it depicts neither an authentic Mexico nor a typical migrant experience, well then American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is just the ticket. 

Calling Myself Home: Living Simply, Following Your Heart and What Happens When You Jump by Robin Rainbow Gate

There were several things that resonated with me personally in the memoir Calling Myself Home: Living Simply, Following your Heart and What Happens When You Jump by Robin Rainbow Gate. Although I didn’t have her more privileged childhood, I too, heard the call to Mexico and found myself home in this rural, brilliantly colored land. 

The author studied herbal lore extensively, learning at the feet of some amazing herboleras (herbalists) on both sides of the border. The book thus is divided into sections that coincide with the concept of the Medicine Wheel, as understood by the Native Americans and Mexicas. 

There is considerable time devoted to the author’s childhood and early memories. At first I was frustrated, ready to get to the journey in Mexico. However, as I read, I realized that in order to understand how the author came to be where she was, it was important to see where she had been. 

The author’s life as she settled and embraced Mexico was as fulfilling as you’d expect. She described her wanderings in mountain villages, frustrations with a new way of learning, experiences with unknown sights, sounds, and tastes and her gradual growth as a person as a result of these things. 

Delightfully, at the end of the book, there are self-reflection questions so that the reader too can devise a plan to live life more fully. Honestly, there aren’t many women who would or could follow in the author’s footsteps. However, we each have our own path to follow, some of which cross the mountains and deserts of Mexico. The questions provide an excellent starting point for anyone looking for a more authentic life. Perhaps you’ll too find Mexico calling.

Click here to read more about Robin Rainbow Gate.

Yucatán with Kids: A Travel Guide

Mexico Cassie has done it again. The author of Moving To Mérida: How To Successfully Move To Mexico As A Family has created an excellent guidebook to exploring the Mexican state of Yucatán with kids, naturally called Yucatán with Kids: A Travel Guide. 

This book includes pronunciation assistance for the Mayan place names you will be visiting. It highlights the best beaches, cenotes, and archaeological sites to take your kids. It does a great job of giving pertinent information, like how difficult the cenote is to access, so that you can plan accordingly. It also includes information on haciendas, natural spaces, caves, and inland cities and towns you can take your children, including Mérida and Valladolid. 

Towards the end of the book, Cassie includes two road-trip suggestions for traveling in Yucatán state and surrounding areas. There are notes on food, national festivals, safety and tips for traveling with children. As a guidebook for families with children exploring the area, it can’t be beat.

There were some editing issues that kept me from giving this book the highest rating, however. These are probably things that won’t bother the average reader, but I’m picky. First, the author says she wasn’t going to include pictures because most people would be reading an e-book version. What’s a guidebook without pictures? Since the majority of locations were places the author herself has visited with her family, I’m positive she has oodles of lovely images. And you can absolutely use pictures in e-books. It takes more time formatting, but it would have taken this book over the top.

Note from the author: Photos to accompany the book are on my website, a formatting decision that may not work for everyone but makes the book more affordable and given that most travel books are now sold as ebooks, works well.

Then there were some terms that were mistranslated, although they were understandable errors. The first was Río Lagartos which she informs her readers means Alligator river. No, it doesn’t. The word lagarto translates as lizard in English. Since the crocodiles that live there do indeed resemble very large lizards, Lizard River was an apt name. 

Note from the author: The story about crocodiles and alligators does not come from me but is something told by guides and locals in Río Lagartos.

Another term that caught my attention was the word sarteneja which the author said translated as cistern. The Spanish online dictionary defined sarteneja as another term for bache (pothole). Further research informed me that sartenejas were crevices of naturally found water deposits. So I expect this is a Mayan term that originally referred to areas where water collected and now is used to talk about the structures that hold water. In my area, these are called aljibes and in areas more central in Mexico, I’ve heard the term pila. 

The third mistranslation was concerning the local sun god, Kinich Ahau. The author goes through the etymology of the word, stating kin means sun, ich means face and ahau means lord or priest. However, ich translates as both face and eye in Mayan. As most representations of the sun god have a sun literally in the eye of the carving, k’inich is thought to be more accurately translated as sun-eyed, rather than sun-faced. 

There were also some proofreading errors that should have been corrected before this book was released. In some places río (river) and ría (estuary) were used interchangeably and lacked accents. Then, when listing culinary delights, she mentioned chicharra and castacán as pork dishes. Well, castacán is indeed a local pork dish. However, chicharra is the word for cicada. While cicadas are, in fact, a delicacy in Mexico, they taste more like shrimp than pork, according to sources who have tried them. I believe the word she meant to use was chicharrón, pork rind. 

Note from the author: It is necessary to point out that chicharra is, indeed, a correct term for chicharron in Yucatán.

Towards the end of the book, it felt like I was reading the author’s travel notes rather than a guidebook. Sentences were incomplete, months and days were abbreviated, capitalization and accents became randomized and well, it felt rushed. There were some items that could have been explained a little better. For instance, she mentions Pueblos Mágicos. Anyone living in Mexico would know that she referred to select towns that received revinalization money in recent years to encourage tourism. However, travelers to Mexico might not have that information. 

All of these petty little negatives should not take away from the fact that as a guidebook for families with children who wish to travel in Yucatán state, Yucatán with Kids: A Travel Guide is top-notch. Available on Gumroad and Amazon.

I received an ARC from the author.

Blog to Book Project–Advanced Reader’s/Reviewer’s Copies (ARC)

ARC stands for Advanced Reader’s (or Reviewer’s) Copy. It’s a copy of your book that you give to someone before your official book launch. The idea is for these reviewers or Beta readers to have access to your writing so that you can gather testimonials, feedback, and even reviews before your book is published.

So how do you get an ARC copy if your book isn’t published yet? Well, it depends on the publishing platform you are using and the formatting template you chose.

proof

Amazon allows you to order a publisher’s proof before your print book goes live so that you can check for formatting errors. The publisher’s proof is exactly how your book will look once it’s released, provided you don’t make any changes, except there is a message on the cover that states it is a proof and not for resale. As an author, you can purchase up to five copies at a time. You’ll be able to send these as gifts to Beta readers, reviewers, or book bloggers.

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If you are using Pressbooks as your book formatting template, you have a few digital options. You can download your book in PDF, EPUB, or MOBI format to your computer and then just send the file via email. You can also provide the link to your webbook. The address of your webbook is what you see when you click on “Visit Book.”

If you are using Microsoft Word, you can also download a .docx or PDF version you can send to reviewers. Honestly, these are my least favorite format to receive when reading books. When I can, I take the time to use a converter to change the file to MOBI for easier reading on my Kindle. I use Zamzar, which is free online.

You could also publish your book but not publicize the fact. This technique is known as a soft launch. You can gift books to reviewers, or set up a free promotion so that readers can get a copy without buying it just yet. Remember, though, for the review to carry weight with Amazon, it needs to be a verified purchase.

So, another way to provide the book at a discounted is to set the price at $0.99 during the time you are looking for reviews. Then when you are ready for your official book launch, change the price to what you usually would be asking for your book. That way, those reviewers you purchased your book at $0.99 will be able to publish a verified review.

When sending out your advanced reviewer’s copies, be sure to ask what format the reader would like to receive their copy of the book. Also, be sure to include launch day information, so readers have an idea of how long they have to read the book, and any testimonials and reviews will be ready before then. A reviewer should always disclose the fact that he or she received an ARC in their review.

Remember, you can’t force someone to leave a review even if you have given your book away for free. A few reminder emails are ok but don’t start badgering people. Nor can you control what a person might write in a review. You may get some bad reviews. Decide if what the person says is valid or not, then either do some editing or let it go.

Assignment: Decide how you will distribute your ARC.

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ebook cover
Click on the image for a preview!