Book Review: “The Magdalene Malediction”

“The Magdalene Malediction” is the final book in the Ordeal by Fire trilogy by F. Scott Kimmich. Historical fiction at its finest, Kimmich takes readers on a treacherous journey at the end of the Albigensian (Cathar) Crusade.

“Writing for Bliss: A Companion Journal”

WRITING FOR BLISS: A COMPANION JOURNAL
Diana Raab
Loving Healing Press (2019)
ISBN 9781615994274
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (2/19)

“Writing for Bliss: A Companion Journal” by Diana Raab is the perfect complement to her book, “Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life.” Having read the book, I was eager to dive into the companion journal.

When the author was ten years old, she was given a journal by her mother to help her cope with the death of her grandmother. She has been journaling ever since. Diana Raab views journaling as her spiritual practice, providing a path to identify her priorities, an outlet for self-discovery and examination, and a way to be alone with her thoughts. 

Structured yet free-flowing.

In this companion journal, Raab provides readers with structured space to explore the world of journaling and the benefits it provides with regular practice. As with her book, the companion journal guides the reader through the process of writing for transformation and bliss.  I say structured space but feel I must clarify. The structure is in the way the book is presented, divided into different categories. From self-awareness to recalling memories, examining your life, writing about relationships and difficult subjects, writing using different devices and writing for joy and expression, the topics cover everything you need on your journey.

Remember, it’s a journey.

As this is an actual journal, it is not a book to be read through in a week.  Work at your own pace – unwrap the layers buried within yourself as you are ready.  I had a plan when I first opened the book – which included starting at the beginning and going through the exercises in order to the end. I quickly found there were some areas I was not mentally capable of exploring – yet. To me, that is part of the beauty of self-discovery. It’s not easy – it takes time, a steady practice and a commitment to see it through.

When I let go of my perfectionist tendencies and approached the entries as a tool for growth and not a “writing assignment” it was an entirely different experience. And, though I’m still not writing every day, keeping this journal on my night stand encourages me to pick it up and write whenever I need a moment to collect my thoughts or even just slow down for a bit.

Overall

“Writing for Bliss: A Companion Journal” by Diana Raab will appeal to a wide audience and is a worthy guide for all levels of writers. Whether you are looking of a place to begin your writing journey, are experimenting in different ways of healing, are interested in writing memoir, or an experienced writer wanting to get back to your roots – the thoughtful, inspirational guidance found in these pages will help you achieve your goals.

Review Copy

WRITING FOR BLISS: A COMPANION JOURNAL
Diana Raab
Loving Healing Press (2019)
ISBN 9781615994274
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (2/19) 
Disclosure in Accordance with FTC Guidelines 16 CFR Part 255

“37 Lessons on How to Gain from Loss”

37 LESSONS ON HOW TO GAIN FROM LOSS
Huma Zuellah Ahmed (2019)
ISBN 9789990150452
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (8/18)

“37 Lessons on How to Gain from Loss” by Huma Zuellah Ahmed is a book about personal transformation.  It is also the author’s journey from trial and loss, to living triumphant and free from the pain that held her back.  Using her personal experiences, Ahmed takes the reader through her most devasting trial, the illness and subsequent passing of her mother, and explains the steps she took to find her way to freedom.

“37 Lessons on How to Gain from Loss” is unique in that it is part self-help, part spiritual and part memoir.  As the author takes the reader through the journey of her mother’s illness, it reads like memoir passages, and at the end of these passages Ahmed lists her lesson and the steps to take to achieve the goal of the lesson, incorporating many self-help and spiritual concepts.

Savor the Journey

There is a lot of information in this book, so it’s not one to read through quickly.  I found myself taking notes all along the way, noting the pages and topics I wanted to go back to and revisit in greater detail.  37 different lessons may seem daunting at first, but a lot of the steps blend together in a quite natural procession and some are lessons you may have experienced yourself throughout your own journey. I was comforted to read passages that felt familiar, as if the author knew of my particular struggles.

In fact, the author, who describes herself as a human being, Muslim and Spiritual Self-Discovery and Mindset Coach and Trainer, has a wealth of experience to share that many readers will connect with and feel a “part of” on so many levels.

Mindfulness

Much of the writing resonated with me. The entire book is laced with wisdom such as those following.  Mindfulness is one of the strong themes I identified with most. I’ll list but a few for the purposes of this review.

“Becoming self-aware is the first step to conscious living.” (pg. 30)

“Nothing has the power to hold you in the state of pain except your own self.” (pg. 38)

“Your energy is where your thoughts are.” (pg. 67)

“Objects that are sometimes given far more importance than they deserve.” (pg. 133)

Inspiration – The Same and Different

The author’s journey was driven by her deep spiritual beliefs and that is included in the text as well.  She often quotes the Quran as that is what fuels her passions.  I found the messages inspiring and not so different from what I grew up learning. 

Overall

I highly recommend “37 Lessons on How to Gain from Loss” by Huma Zuellah Ahmed. An open mind and a willingness to do some work, as the author suggests, are all that is needed to start your own journey towards freedom from pain.

Review Copy

37 LESSONS ON HOW TO GAIN FROM LOSS
Huma Zuellah Ahmed (2019)
ISBN 9789990150452
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (8/18)
Disclosure in Accordance with FTC Guidelines 16 CFR Part 255

Book Review: Gazelle in the Shadows

“Gazelle in the Shadows” by Michelle Peach is a whirlwind drama combining some of the most exciting elements of political/international intrigue, historical fiction, and coming of age.

Overview

It is the story of Elizabeth Booth, a young British college student who is studying Arabic at Durham University.  She travels to Damascus to study and is eagerly welcomed by all she meets. Throughout her journey people go out of their way to help her find housing and become acclimated to the city and culture.  Elizabeth enjoys her life in Damascus – she makes good friends, has a boyfriend and falls easily into her studies. But little inconsistencies start throwing red flags in her direction, and she suddenly discovers she is in a world where nothing is as it seems and she fights for her very survival.

 Blurred Lines

The lines between memoir and fiction blur in this story. The author outlines in the beginning this is a work of fact and fiction intertwined.  The result? A thrilling experience with a genuine vibe.  Readers minds easily manifest the distinctive local attributes in the various settings, cultural behaviors and characteristics of all the players in the story. The authenticity of the plotline, with its shocking twists sets an alarming sense of foreboding as the story plays out. Readers will wonder what was real and what is elaborated on for the benefit of a chilling, dynamic read.

Growing Pains

Initially, the character of Elizabeth pulled me in many different directions. On one hand, she is a bit naïve, but she actually grew on me as she grows with the story.  Considering my own personality, there is no doubt I would have reacted any differently, though perhaps with less courage! In the end, Elizabeth becomes an authentic character with the genuine characteristics of a person in a strange land full of different customs.

To Sum Things Up

I love a story that enthralls while also informing the reader. “Gazelle in the Shadows” does it right – it is through the protagonist’s experiences, (as opposed to just being told what happened), we learn so much about the Syrian people, culture, and a significant era in history – all while being entertained within the pages of a remarkable story.

Overall, “Gazelle in the Shadows” by Michelle Peach is an exciting thriller and I recommend it to fans of fiction and memoir, and especially to those who love a good international political thriller.

Review Copy

Gazelle in the Shadows
Michelle Peach
ISBN 9780692112762
Reviewed for Reader Views (3/19)

Book Review: Romantic Illusions

Romantic Illusions
Book Two – An Affair with Beauty: The Mystique of Howard Chandler Christy
James Philip Head
North Loop Books (2019)
ISBN 9781545635278
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (2/19)

Summary of Romantic Illusions

“Romantic Illusions” is the second book in the An Affair with Beauty trilogy by James Philip Head. An exquisite celebration honoring the life of Howard Chandler Christy, one of the most famous American artists and illustrators in the Jazz Era, this book is a piece of art in itself.

Howard Chandler Christy is perhaps best known for the “Christy Girl,” a representation of the ideal modern woman at the turn of the twentieth century.  His work encompassed a much wider scope than beautiful women however, because Howard Chandler Christy saw beauty in everything.  His creations include illustrations of events witnessed first-hand during the Spanish-American War, illustrations for magazines, posters aiding WWI recruitment efforts for the military, and portraits of some of the most well-known, powerful and influential people during the time period, including presidents and congressmen, movie stars, socialites, generals, etc.

“Romantic Illusions” covers Howard Chandler Christy’s life in the early years as he was making a name for himself as an illustrator, up to the time when he chooses his new profession in the art world as a portraitist.

I have to say I loved everything about this book from beginning to end!  Howard Chandler Christy was a figure larger than life. By documenting this life in such a beautiful manner, the author does justice not only to Christy’s legacy but to the art world and American history as well.

Narrator Perspective

The story is told from the perspective of Howard’s wife, Nancy Palmer Christy, and the delivery is spell-binding. Set in 1969, Nancy Palmer Christy is now an elderly woman, and as she reflects on her early days with Howard and their time together, she transports the reader back in time. I felt as though she was speaking to me directly. The inclusion of Howard’s voice interacting with Nancy throughout the narrative allows readers the opportunity to actually get inside his head, and by the end of the story readers will experience a familiar camaraderie with Howard, and actually with Nancy as well.

Research and writing Romantic Illusions

“Romantic Illusions” is a remarkable story and the author, James Philip Head, does an amazing job. Well-written, engaging, no – mesmerizing, the passion he has for his subject is undeniable. Going far beyond the bounds of typical research, one gets the impression James Philip Head somehow transported himself directly into the artist’s shoes, reliving Christy’s experiences first-hand. As a reader, I was moved, and appreciated the attention to detail and the love that was put into keeping the legacy that is Howard Chandler Christy alive.

Works by Howard Chandler Christy

Further demonstrating the author’s passion for his work, he also includes a complete listing of the portraits painted by Christy during his lifetime in the back of the book. As per the author’s impeccable style, this is not a mere listing of names and dates – no, no.  Rather, he has taken the time to research the people in these portraits, regaling readers with interesting tidbits of their lives. I found this section to be fascinating!

The book itself

As with everything else I’ve mentioned, the production quality of this book is superior – from the satiny pages to the gorgeous cover art and amazing photographs displayed throughout. I think it’s fair to say this book is a beautiful complement to any personal library.  I have my copy displayed on my coffee table, which has piqued the curiosity of many family members and friends, beginning with my young history graduate!

To sum things up

In conclusion, everything about “Romantic Illusions,” book two in the An Affair with Beauty trilogy by James Philip Head is top-notch – a notable piece celebrating American culture, art, history, and beauty – and an extraordinary read.  Well done!

Book Review: “What Some Would Call Lies”

What Some Would Call Lies
by Rob Davidson
Five Oaks Press (2018)
ISBN 9781944355470
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (2/19)
This article was first published on ReaderViews.Com.

“What Some Would Call Lies” by Rob Davidson is a fascinating collection of two novellas that delve into memory versus lies and how our lenses change to accommodate and mold our unconscious desires into creative, new “realities.”

Shoplifting, or How Dilectical Materialism Can Change Your Life

I knew this would be fun as soon as I read the opening paragraph of the first story. In ‘Shoplifting, or How Dialectical Materialism Can Change Your Life,’ Monica Evans, a young author and mother is shopping in the boys’ toddler section of a discount department store. Discouraged by the stereotypical choices she heads over to the girls’ section, finally settling on a floral print dress for her young son because after all, “…if you must live your life as a cliché you could at least choose lavender.” (p. 11).

Monica has issues that’s for sure – and that is the appeal of this novella. Readers experience the inner machinations of Monica’s mind as she eludes, deceives, denies, and challenges everything, from the mundane existence of a “happy homemaker” to indulging in shoplifting adventures in the name of research (for the autobiography of her dead sister, which she is writing in first person). I’m not kidding, as soon as I finished this story, I wanted to read it again to go a little deeper and make sure I hadn’t missed any delightful nuggets of wit or hidden context. 

Infidels

The second novella, “Infidels,” sets a completely different mood as a classic coming-of-age story.  As Jackie Rose reflects on growing up in Duluth, Minnesota during the 70s, readers are transported directly into his world. Jackie takes us through a strained relationship with his father, his unrealized feelings of a teacher who inspired thinking outside the norm, and the magical wonders of getting to second-base with a take-charge-kinda-girl in the sixth grade – just to name a few. 

His encounters will make you laugh, cry and everything in between as you sit there, incapable of doing anything other than reading straight through to the end. I loved this story.  Many of the characters sparked nostalgia for days seemingly lifetimes ago. Many times I wondered about some of my own childhood memories. Are they real? Imagined? A bit of both? And, how many of our perceived truths do we pass on to our children? This story really gets you thinking!

Conclusion

Both stories in this collection are extraordinary works that are a pure treat to read.  I highly recommend “What Some Would Call Lies” by Rob Davidson for a contemplative, eloquent reading experience certain to conjure up some of your own buried memories, real or imagined.

Review Copy

What Some Would Call Lies
Five Oaks Press (2018)
ISBN 9781944355470
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (2/19) 
Disclosure in Accordance with FTC Guidelines 16 CFR Part 255

Book Review – The Eclipse Dancer

The Eclipse Dancer
Laura Koerber
Who Chains You Books (2018)
ISBN 9781946044402
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (1/19)

Soul-stirring and bewitching. “The Eclipse Dancer” by Laura Koerber is an enchanting story that carried me away to another world for just a few days but will linger in my thoughts for some time to come.

Summary

While people flock to Allenburg to catch the total eclipse of the sun, Andy is content to watch from her old family home, a single-wide trailer just outside of town. As the sky blackens to complete darkness Andy abandons her cares and loses herself in dance. Just one night of respite taken to escape her current circumstances. Home tending to her dying mother, memories of her prior life in Allenburg ignite, bringing Andy face-to-face with the moments that shaped her forever.

My thoughts.

To begin, this is one of the most captivating stories I have read recently. The author has an extraordinary talent transporting readers directly into her story. Her voice is distinct and rich with tones both inviting and unsettling at the same time. The reader floats along with Andy as she dances under the eclipse and falls quickly back to earth with her reflections of days gone by. Are the recollections are real or the wild imagination of a young girl?

It is through the recall of these memories and events, readers learn about Andy and her turbulent upbringing with an alcoholic mother, who informs Andy early on that her father was a nobody, a one-night stand. Andy finds out the truth about her father and her own heritage through her new friend Kenshi and the old lady that lives down the road, who turns out to be a relative.

The story.

The storyline is simple in that it is easy to follow. Yet, intricate as layers unwind with a seamless, melodic flow.  And, while the author excels at getting inside the heart and soul of her readers, the connection garnered by what remains unsaid is remarkable. The writing is descriptive and artistic, without being flowery or overdone. She leaves just enough room to incorporate snippets of one’s own imagination. Some things are just not taught and Koerber’s writing is one of those things–she has a gift.

The characters.

The characters are well-developed and authentic to both the fairy and human worlds. The most affecting relationship is between Andy and her mother Cindy, because it shows a strained relationship at best. Koerber clearly exhibits that volatile mother-daughter connection. Body language, facial expressions and declarations that can never be taken back. As a result, I actually had a flashback of a confrontation with my own mother many years ago–talk about haunting!

Conclusion

Overall, combining elements of fantasy with hard-core human issues relevant in today’s world, Koerber takes the reader on a magical journey as down-to-earth as it is out-of-this-world.  I highly recommend “The Eclipse Dancer” by Laura Koerber to fantasy fans and anyone wanting to lose themselves in an amazing, unforgettable story.

Book Review – How to be the REAL You

HOW TO BE THE REAL YOU
Darity Wesley
Lotus Wisdom Publishing (2018)
ISBN 9780999542521
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (1/19)
This article first posted on ReaderViews.Com.

“How To Be the REAL You” is the second book in the ‘Modern Day Oracle Wisdom Teaching Series’ by Darity Wesley. A meaningful, significant guide – the book provides genuine and heartfelt wisdom to use on your journey, be it the path to self-discovery, personal empowerment, a deeper spiritual connection, emotional growth, or all of the above.

Wait! What??? Aren’t I Already ME?

I knew this would be the perfect book for me after reading the title of the first chapter: “Wait! What??? Aren’t I Already ME?” because that is the EXACT question I asked when I picked up the book! Darity answers yes, of course you are you.  But then she goes on to ask what if the person you think you are isn’t the REAL you – the genuine you – the authentic you?  This book expertly leads you through the process of discovering that authentic self, using the steps called ‘The Five Keys to Unlocking the REAL You’.

The Five Keys

‘The Five Keys’ involve accepting yourself, losing the past, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, stop caring what others think and being open and honest.  Familiar with personal discovery work, this text feels relatable and fresh. But, more importantly, it is inviting and encouraging.  What I love most about the narrative is that Darity writes like she is talking to you directly.  Her warm and engaging tone floats off the pages. I often felt like she was in the room with me, having a cup of tea and chatting – my own personal life coach!

There are so many ‘aha’ moments in this book, and each one of ‘The Five Keys’ hits home in ways inspiring me and giving me courage to look beyond my surface.  One area I find a most meaningful connection with personally is in the final key – Be Open and Honest.

This key IS key in creating an authentic connection with oneself, and I spent a lot of time on this chapter.  I consider myself an honest person. In fact, my facial expressions, the way I carry myself, my whole being transforms if I even consider telling a story.  Let’s just say I’m not very good at poker. That’s a good thing on some levels, right? What do I excel at, however, is deceiving myself and there is a story included in this chapter that hits home a little too closely! 

Self-Discovery Prompts

The final section of the book is a self-discovery journal with prompts on each page to help you along.  This is a great place to get started on your own journey, as you read through each chapter or after you finish reading the book.

In Summary

Overall, I highly recommend “How To Be the REAL You” by Darity Wesley. There is also a companion guide for those wanting to dig deeper called, “How To Be the REAL You Go Deeper Workbook.” Clearly written, easy to understand and full of valuable information, it’s a book I will refer to often. Good stuff!

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