Tag Archives: reader

Review: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After Anthony Marra finished his first draft of A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA, he printed it out and started re-typing the entire thing. He did this after typing the second and third drafts, too. He typed this entire novel, cover-to-cover, four times in total. To say he is worthy of all the awards he has received would be an understatement. This is a beautiful, potentially life-changing novel, well-worded and exquisite throughout.

Marra said his goal was to produce laughter and tears within the same page. To an extent, yes, but don’t go expecting rainbows, kittens, and butterflies. This is Chechnya circa 2004. People here are identified by which body parts are still intact. If you have all ten of your fingers, you are a rare and beautiful specimen. The scene is grim, but Marra is right, there’s still plenty to smile about.

Despite feeling third world (the high value of an autograph of a formerly fat person; Soviet constructed toilet bowels covering unexploded bomb shells) this novel paints a contrast with the mysterious modern world outside of their grasp (is the President of America Ronald McDonald?; what is this Amazon that underworld members can produce books from?). It may feel old, but the real tragedy is the life-altering wars that take place in our world today…so many ignored.

The stories tie together to paint the beauty of life and the importance of family. The title is taken from one character’s medical journal, under the entry for “life”. Life is defined as, “a constellation of vital phenomena—organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation.” This is shown throughout Marra’s book. The characters evolve with growth. Though their livelihoods are torn asunder, their spirit holds fast to that which is most precious: their hopes, their futures, and their family. Even the most apparently vial of characters has something to share.

Though the flashbacks may at times seem irksome, they are excellent tools that reveal some of the most surprising secrets. And though not the most happy of endings (again, Chechnya circa 2004), the way the author ties it all together is one of the most unique methods I’ve seen employed. This is an emotionally moving masterpiece in the hands of a skilled author.

Thanks to the folks at Hogarth, Crown, and Random House for sending this book. I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. Here are a couple of interesting things from the publisher:

Book excerpt:

Press release:

You can also see this book on Amazon with its other reviews, along with a preview both audible and written: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: A Novel



Review: The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism
The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are two reasons I choose this book. One, because I’ve heard so much about it (including from my sister—hi, Kathy!). Two, because of David Mitchell. I’m super excited about the upcoming THE BONE CLOCKS and wanted to read and review this and CLOUD ATLAS leading up to that. THE REASON I JUMP not only shows the life of thirteen-year-old autistic Naoki Higashida, but also serves as a conduit for a parent of an autistic child to share the beauty found within autism with the world. Thanks to Mitchell and his wife, we are able to read in English what otherwise would have been missed. That’s what this book means to me: capturing the beauty that is otherwise missed.

Someone helped and taught Higashida to use an alphabet board to communicate. The messages he delivers are mostly in answer to questions, such as “why do you jump so much?”, or “why do you make so much noise?” (nothing is too personal), and the rest in short stories.

At first, the message of struggle is clear. To communicate, when communication is impossible. To want to be watched, when no one knows what to do. To be a part of the group.

The message then moves into the more detailed world of Higashida. If you pay attention, there is much we can learn. His world, as many with autism, is not measured in time. It is measured in beauty and fascination. After answering several questions, he shares the story of the tortoise and the hare. Their second race, the tortoise tips over, but everyone is at the starting line, helping him and not at the finish, cheering the hare. Later, he shares his story of the airplane, where he feels comfort strapped down above the earth in his own gravity.

Yes, there are complexities, but there isn’t critiquing. There are fears, but there is serenity in movement. It may seem like two different worlds, but each has a message for the other. We just have to listen. Thankfully, the message was given and translated to make that process easier.

You can find this book, its other reviews, and a preview on Amazon: The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism


Review: Cop Town

Cop Town
Cop Town by Karin Slaughter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Karin Slaughter got herself a new fan in me. Oh sure, she starts with the pretty writing, describing the city in metaphors, but then—Pow! Guts dripping down the back; pieces of skull bone stuck in teeth; pimps waiting outside the hospital. And that’s just the prologue.

COP TOWN is my first Slaughter novel; maybe you fans can help me out and let me know if all her writing is like this. She pulls and tugs, and slaps and bakes until the scene is vivid in front of you. The characters are commanding, especially the women, but all with their own culpabilities. That’s what really impresses me here with COP TOWN, where the chicks are hardcore, tough, kickass, but also carry a burden of faults. Ain’t nobody perfect; that’s what makes a true diamond shine. I think it’ll be impossible for you to read COP TOWN and not love especially Kate and Maggie as characters.

Speaking of characters…this takes place down south in the 70’s, Atlanta to be specific. Slaughter catches this whole brutal flavor. This book shows the Good Ol’ White Boys Club. They didn’t like their new black Chief. They didn’t like women playing the part of fellow cop. They didn’t like gays. And they though CT (color town) is the place to investigate first. Slaughter shows how bad it was and the environment women police officers had to overcome to perform their duties and survive. This book is so much more than finding a cop killer, it’s the whole package.

You know what this book reminded me of? The HBO show THE WIRE. It’s like a flashback to yesteryear, when things seemed simpler, but had their own time-specific challenges. THE WIRE and COP TOWN show both sides of the coin, cops and robbers per se, but that didn’t necessary always mean good or bad. Like that show, this book shows the real human nature of it all.

I’d imagine Slaughter already has a following, but if you’re like me and haven’t started, now is the time to dig in.

Thanks to Delacorte and Random House for providing an electronic version of this book for me to review.

One of my favorite reviews of this book is Shelby’s on Goodreads. She uses pictures, GIFs, and colorful words to describe this book. Check it out: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/887295584?comment=100685687#comment_100685687

You can also see this book, its other reviews, and a preview on Amazon: Cop Town: A Novel


Review: What Are You Hungry For?: The Chopra Solution to Permanent Weight Loss, Well-Being, and Lightness of Soul

What Are You Hungry For?: The Chopra Solution to Permanent Weight Loss, Well-Being, and Lightness of Soul
What Are You Hungry For?: The Chopra Solution to Permanent Weight Loss, Well-Being, and Lightness of Soul by Deepak Chopra
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sorry, Deepak, I love cold pepperoni pizza. I’m also not fond of spending big bucks for crappy cafeteria food, so I pack my lunch, refrigerate it, and—gasp—reheat it in the microwave. I know, I know. According to your book WHAT ARE YOU HUNGRY FOR?, I’m not supposed to do these things. You say these are FLUNC foods: frozen, leftover, unnatural, nuked, and canned. But, it’s who I am.

You know, Deepak, why don’t we just take out that whole Part I of your book? Can we do that? I mean, you never really give your research or sources for your claims. I mean, look at Dr. Oz. He’s testifying to congress for doing the things you’re doing in your book: making statements without substantiation. I’ve read THE BIG FAT SURPRISE and she’s made some pretty well-documented points against what you’re claiming. Besides, do you really think Steve Jobs would still be alive if he ate more jalapeños? (Though Jobs wasn’t mentioned, you do claim that jalapeños “kill cancer” in the pancreas and lungs.) Oh, and my doctor says cinnamon isn’t the best way to lower my LDL cholesterol. I think I’ll stick with the advice the doctor offered in THE DIET FIX for this type of stuff.

But, let’s talk about the positive. Deepak, I love Part II. This is you. This is what I came expecting, craving. I read THE TAPPING SOLUTION’s guide to weight loss, and they echo a lot of what you say. This is the holistic approach I was looking for. Stuff like your acronym STOP: stop what you’re doing, take a 1-minute break, observe the body’s sensations, and proceed with awareness. I like that your definition of awareness includes bodily, emotional, and choice awareness. I love that you say mindfulness includes SIFY: sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts. This is who you are; I would be more than happy if your book was only one-hundred pages of this. Great!

As for the meditations, I know not everyone will follow your advice to say “om varunam namah”. Heck, I don’t even know if I can remember it without peeking. But it is nice to think “my life is in harmony with cosmic law.” Nice.

Oh, and Deepak, those recipes in back are good, but I don’t have those twenty-one (21!) ingredients to make your Mulligataway Soup. Can I leave out the Bragg Liquid Aminos? And I’ll take your word about “The Chopra Center’s Unbelievable Double Chocolate Cake”. I just can’t picture it being very tasty with 12 ounces of low-fat silken tofu.

So, Deepak, I came expecting what I found in Part II. For that, thank you. I’m going to tear out Part I and leave it in front of Whole Foods. I figure someone should use it if I’m not. (Sorry, but again: pizza.)

Oh, and can you tell those folks at Harmony, Crown, and Random House thanks for sending this book to me for review? They all are great people, and I would love the chance to review your other upcoming books.

Best wishes, Namaste,


P.S. If anyone would like to read the other reviews of your book, or see a preview, I’m including the link to Amazon: What Are You Hungry For?: The Chopra Solution to Permanent Weight Loss, Well-Being, and Lightness of Soul


Review: Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn’t, and Why, Second Edition: 12 Things You’d Better Do If You Want to Get Ahead

Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn't, and Why, Second Edition: 12 Things You'd Better Do If You Want to Get Ahead
Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn’t, and Why, Second Edition: 12 Things You’d Better Do If You Want to Get Ahead by Donald Asher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If the title of this book appeals to you, then the introduction alone is worth the price of admission. Donald Asher highlights the first book of the same title, and explains what’s new. Most importantly, he reveals some of the best advice of the whole book: “the biggest mistake employees make is to think that promotions are given based on past performances.” I started this book almost two months ago, took a break, and am now just finishing it. In that time, I have seen two people passed over for promotion because of this assumption.

What’s new in this version? Well, I didn’t read the first book, but according to Asher, he’s updated this book for considerations of females in the workplace (especially giving nods to what he says changed his perspective: Sheryl Sandberg’s LEAN IN) and how to repair your career. Both good; both especially needed.

Don Asher (can I call you Don?) hits it hard. He figures we “didn’t need the kind of rudimentary advice in other guides.” We don’t need to be told to polish our shoes and fill the status quo. Whatever all that means. We’re professionals, looking to improve ourselves. We don’t need (I’m picturing him saying this) any namby-pamby coddling. In my opinion, it comes off as arrogant. But, I’d imagine tough love is what some folks need. Cut to the chase; don’t mince words.

Before the good, here’s the problem: where’s he coming from? So you call someone an idiot for telling someone else over the phone that the boss is in the restroom. Sure, that’s not the most couth approach, but is lying better? And why is lying acceptable these days? It is not okay in mine or Steven Covey’s opinion, but there’s a whole chapter about lies in BUSINESS WITHOUT THE BULLSH T. But I digress. References; footnotes; resources: a good, modern business book has plenty of them. Besides interspersed interviews, I have no idea where Asher is coming from.

Now for the good. Asher knows his stuff. Yeah, yeah, I give him beef for not leaving me a footnote trail, but I see the stuff happen in front of me. Folks want to gossip about the boss.Wrong answer. Folks kill themselves doing a good job in their current position. Sounds reasonable, but not promotion worthy. And then there are the cavemen. Or, was that Neanderthals? Either way, Asher’s got your number.

It is frank, to the point, and chock-full of advice. Does he promote job bouncing? Yes. Does he promote re-location? Yes. Does he offer advice, even if you don’t want to do either? Still, yes.

I think Ten Speed liked my review of THE BEST PUNCTUATION BOOK, PERIOD, (comma after the period? Sure, why not?) because they sent me this to review, too. So, thanks Ten Speed, Crown, and Random House. This book is hard-hitting, almost entirely spot-on.

You can see this book, its reviews, and a preview on Amazon: Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn’t, and Why, Second Edition: 12 Things You’d Better Do If You Want to Get Ahead


Review: The Poor Man’s Guide to Suicide

The Poor Man's Guide to Suicide
The Poor Man’s Guide to Suicide by Andrew Armacost
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is not for everybody. Remember that opening scene in AMERICAN BEAUTY, where Kevin Spacey was yanking himself in the shower? Yeah. Funny and realistic, but a bit uncomfortable. Right? Well…THE POOR MAN’S GUIDE TO SUICIDE kind of goes in that same direction, and then some.

I personally get it. I also have a twisted sense of humor. I often get raised eyebrows when I laugh at certain jokes. We all have different tolerances and mine borderlines on sick-o level. (Read more about this humor differential in THE HUMOR CODE.) Right off the bat, Andrew Armacost, the author, describes his character’s house as a “urinal with windows.” His life’s motto is “Survive. Eat. S[-]. F[-]. Buy a house and die.” This dude is depressed, mentally twisted, and unfortunately funny. Sick, but funny in a sardonic kind of way.

Okay, so now you kind of get the flavor of it. The protagonist seems “torn between the insincere misogyny and the howling loneliness that predicate the nature of [his] unattainable fantasies.” He has a buddy that seems to take bad stuff and fit it “through a prism that spits out rainbows.” His wives are gone, with his kids. Mainly, he’s in a rut that, as we find out, is “caused by habit and routine.” He fights against the “optimistic brainwashing” that “starts with Disney and the bible and Aesop’s fables.”

The good: humor and prison guard life. The ending was good, too, but we’ll get to that later. I’ve mentioned the humor above. As for prison guard life, it was interesting to see through the eyes of a former prison guard (as the author was…I think). I’ve read “ask me anything” threads on reddit and much of this life matches up with what is written here. There are obvious mental issues at play here, predominantly due to being grossly outnumbered by potential life-threateners. And, yeah, some of it may come off as borderline racist, but I feel the author was trying to convey the character and environment.

The not-so-good: this book flutters around in the middle. We go back to high school, and college, and daddy/mommy issues, and previous girlfriends. He talks about killing a guy, flips back in time, and doesn’t get to the story until about fifty pages later. Dude! If you bring up killing a guy—tell me now.

The non-spoilerish ending: ties it all together; keeps it real. Happiness is more than rainbows being spit out of prisms. There are “oodles and oddles of these smaller joys” to celebrate. Personal story time (I’ll keep it brief): I, too, was on the edge-of-your-life cliff. A bunch of things changed that, but one thing that echoes with Mr. Guard’s sentiments is what I found in HARDWIRING HAPPINESS. Stop. Pause. Be thankful for those small things.

With that, I’m thankful to Ascot Media and the author for reaching out and sending me a copy of this book to review. It was an interesting journey, at times funny, but in the end worthy.

You can see the other reviews on Amazon, but better yet, see the preview to get a sense of it all. The Poor Man’s Guide to Suicide


Review: What Are You Waiting For?: Learn How to Rise to the Occasion of Your Life

What Are You Waiting For?: Learn How to Rise to the Occasion of Your Life
What Are You Waiting For?: Learn How to Rise to the Occasion of Your Life by Kristen Moeller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My favorite: the “gentle knock” segments throughout this book. Throughout WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? Kristen Moeller offers these life-searching, self-reflective questions. If you read nothing else of this book and just take these questions to your daily meditation, you’ll become a better person—perhaps, the person you’ve been longing to become.

But, I encourage you to read the rest of this book. Moeller shares her deeply personal story: surviving melanoma; beating addiction; and then, losing everything. She carefully tells us about life’s perceived dependencies and boundaries; she opens up the gates through kind guidance of thought. Nothing is rushed or forced: all of it is within us, waiting to be recognized, accepted, and acted upon.

Moeller’s description says she is a “self-help junkie”. Yeah, that shines through. No, she doesn’t offer her sources or make other references (though I would have liked her to). Her writing and philosophy remind me of the lessons I’ve learned from some of these other great books I’ve read: HARDWIRING HAPPINESS, DARING GREATLY, NEVER EAT ALONE, ESSENTIALISM, and the fictional (but outstanding) THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN.

I hope the author doesn’t mind me sharing the following list. This is something she said she created along with her friends. It is a list of “objectives to live by”. It is on page 81, and I love it. It is:
1) Go out into the world.
2) Create relationships.
3) Love unabashedly.
4) Make mistakes.
5) Look for what needs healed.
6) Forgives your (and others!) humanity.
7) Thank God for the process and opportunity.
8) Love yourself unabashedly.
9) Repeat steps 1-8 until the day you die.

Also interesting is the author’s opposite take on THE SECRET (though she doesn’t call it out directly…I know!) and America’s fascination with the Law of Attraction. Even a SIMPSONS episode called it out. Let’s drop our obsession with stuff and live an authentic experience. Let’s rise to the occasion of our lives.

Thanks to Cleis Press and Viva Editions for reaching out and offering a copy of this book for my review. The personal story and introspections served as a great reminder and gentle prodding. Thank you, again.

You can see (or listen to) a preview of this book, or to view the other great reviews, on Amazon: What Are You Waiting For?: Learn How to Rise to the Occasion of Your Life