Review: Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth, #3)The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, first, I want to apologize to Ms. Jemisn, because I’m only writing one review for this trilogy instead of the three I’d normally write. However, in my defense I read all three books in a span of about a week and at this point I only can think of this trilogy as a single long book.

This book was fantastically written. I loved the diversity of the characters. I really thought it was great that the bulk of the main characters were women. That’s really refreshing in a male dominated genre like fantasy. The magic system was really unique and I loved how it evolved and changed over the course of the book.

The world building in this series is fantastic. The world feels like it could be a moderately different version of earth, if there was magic. For the longest time I thought it was our Earth, I’m still not entirely convinced it’s not, because of the elements that call back to our time now. Which I think really added to the story over all.

So what is the story? Well, basically the earth has been broken and is actively waging a war with humanity and every other animal on earth. Why? because we pissed it off and caused the war. This is all explained in the book and in some interesting ways.

There two overall themes in the book, mother/daughter and bigotry. Both are handled with grace. The bigotry is interesting, because it’s reinforced by a major political faction, which could be seen as analogous to police officers. These are, in most respects, the most important branch within the government and allow other portions of the government to rule.

I definitely recommend this book if you’re looking for something outside your normal buff fighter and clever wizards. The characters feel real. Each book raises the stakes which drives you to keep reading.

Buy these books.

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Book Review: Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig

Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful NarrativeDamn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the third or fourth writing book that I’ve read. Two have been on technical writing and one has been on the Snowflake method. Each book is useful in a specific context. The first two were for helping me professionally to create great help site material. While the Snowflake method has helped me with the managing the structure of the store. This book is something else. It’s about how to tell the story that goes within that structure. Which, given that I’m working on a book right now, is really helpful.

This is not a dry technical book. It’s not a “theory of writing” book that you might find at a university that sucks the life out of writing. It frames writing as means to tell a story. It does this through a lot of stories. Funny stories. Stories Chuck has lived. It also does this through stories most people have read or, at least, watched. So if you haven’t seen the original Star Wars trilogy or Die Hard you’re in for some serious spoilers.

The book provides a number of story telling rules, which I plan to reference frequently. Some of these, I think, are pretty intuitive, some are not. Or maybe, I’ve just gotten lucky with the writing I’ve done so far and happened to stumble upon them.

If you’re thinking of doing any story telling, either as part of a white collar job or as a professional story teller or just want to tell more interesting stories at parties, this book is for you. He uses stories that he’s told at parties a ton of times as a way to frame many of the rules he offers. So this book can certainly help with your boring stories that make my eyes glaze over.

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Book Review: God’s Last Breath by Sam Sykes

God's Last Breath (Bring Down Heaven, #3)God’s Last Breath by Sam Sykes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the great conclusion of the Bring Down Heaven trilogy. I loved it. At the end of book two, the characters were scattered to the wind and it looked like there was no way for them to ever have closure in a meaningful way with each other. Sam skillfully managed to do this. His characters grew in unexpected way, where one was full of hubris at the beginning of the trilogy and thoughtless to other people’s emotions, they became much more empathetic. Another character may have felt helpless, but was able to rally people to their cause in a manner that would have felt absurd if it was told that after starting the first book. Sam made these transitions feel authentic and earned.

This book did a fantastic job closing the series which I loved from beginning to end.

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Book Review: The Armored Saint by Myke Cole

The Armored Saint (The Sacred Throne, #1)The Armored Saint by Myke Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this is a fantasy book that every woman and girl should read. The main character is such a believable character and I think we can think of a number of women in our lives that are as brave and bold as her.

This book is a fast read. Only took me a couple of hours to read. However, those few hours went by way too fast. The style is easy to read and could certainty be read by anyone in middle school or older (based on the style). As the blurb about the book states, this world is a pretty dark place. if this was set in the future, it’d certainly be a dystopian future. The world is controlled by a puritanical religious order with strict rules about how people should live. Which includes roles for everyone and a religiously entrenched Patriarchy.

Heliose chafes under the Order, as its called, because she doesn’t want to be controlled by a husband nor does she think the Order is truly just. This is exacerbated by the fact that many of the villagers, don’t truly believe in the religion as deeply as they should to avoid the Order’s wrath.

Heliose causes change by being herself. By standing up for what she believes in, even if it causes her and her loved one’s pain. However, she’s truly altruistic in this (even if they get hurt) because she’s doing this for them or her love for them. This is complicated by who she loves, which is something society rejects.

I cannot wait for the sequel to this book. It was a fun book dealing with weighty societal issues, done in a sensitive way, in an engaging world, with an exciting climax. Highly recommend for generally light quick reading.

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Review: The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of TraumaThe Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. van der Kolk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this book after reading Lost Connections. I discussed Lost Connections with my therapist and he recommended this book to me. I have to say this book is emotionally difficult to read. The author does everything he can to make the book easy to consume. I think just about anyone would be able to read this book, but there are some difficult medical terms and you need to remember some acronyms, but beyond that, it’s fairly easy.

This book focuses more exclusively on trauma and recovering from trauma, while Lost Connections is about depression. So if you’ve read that book, then think of this as a book on the trauma section in that book.

If you’ve experienced trauma in your life this book will likely cause you to feel anxiety as you read it. However, I think it’s more important for you to read this book than anyone else, because it provides you with tools to discuss with a therapist. I would suggest pairing this book with some meditation and to read it over the span of several weeks rather than sitting down and plowing through the book. I also suggest that you plan some time after you read to decompress and think about what’s happened. Meditation will certainly help with that.

On to the book itself. It provides a great history of psychology and psychiatry from the start (with fewer details) and in great detail from the late ’70’s to 2014 (when the book was published). The author goes into great detail about the history of PTSD for soldiers and how he was able to successfully apply the same treatments that were effective (or more effective) with soldiers to children that have had traumatic experiences.

He goes into great detail explaining that the body is essentially trapped in the moment that the traumatic event happens. That people who are having flashbacks or are triggered are physiologically going back to the moment of the event. This means their brains are literally shut down in some ways. That their heart rate, blood pressure, and adrenaline are all acting as if they are currently in the traumatic experience. The brain that shuts down always includes the part that is capable of telling the difference between past and present. This is a key part of treating PTSD, you need to get the person grounded back in reality for them to process the trauma at all.

In terms of Triggers and micro-triggers, he doesn’t directly deal with them in a way that would support a conversation with a tumblr that is aggressively anti-triggering. However, he does talk about how to deal with being triggered. First, if events do trigger something, you need to get treatment for it. You need to find someone that you can trust. Then together you can come up with a treatment plan.

Many of those techniques do not include medicine. They include meditation, Yoga (in many cases it works best if you do therapeutic Yoga – since some positions in Yoga can trigger people that have been raped), a therapy that uses rapid eye movement while talking about the event in a safe environment, and many others. The author went from being a strong advocate of better living through chemistry, but has moved into spaces that help people manage it.

The reason the book is called The Body Keeps the Score, is that you need to heal the body and mind to heal the person. It requires a holistic approach.

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Review: Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected SolutionsLost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First of all you need to go into this book with an open mind. Skepticism on what he has to say is perfectly acceptable, but if you do not go into this with an open mind, you’re not willing to listen to what he’s saying. I read some of the 1 star reviews on Amazon and I believe that a lot of them really missed what he was trying to say with this book.

One thing you must be open to, is that our current pill happy society may actually be incorrect in using pills to address depression. That we may need to change how we live to address our depression and work with other people to get rid of it. It seems pretty ground breaking but this is supported with a lot of research. A full 30% of this book is foot notes (according to my Kindle). There are some foot notes that reference a full dozen different papers to support a given statement. This, for a layman’s pop-sci book, is pretty unheard of. I’ve read books by both scientists and science communicators and I’ve never been overwhelmed with evidence like I have in this book.

This book forces us to look at some very different causes for depression. One of the is trauma that we may or may not have dealt with in our childhoods. Just because it is A cause of depression, doesn’t mean it applies to everyone. There are certainly people that have dealt with childhood pain as well as some of the other causes like a soul crushing job with continual instability in keeping that job. Each of those are different causes of depression. In all, he lists 9 factors. I believe that there’s some of them that have actually impacted me in some way. From continual stress at home growing up to instability in jobs and a different set of values at work through my Lean Continuous Improvement training which just completely beat me down. I felt rather helpless in a lot of ways and I had no idea how to get out of it.

While reading this book, I’ve felt better than I’ve felt in a long time because he offers solutions to cases he describes. He explains people that were in bad situations and some of the solutions that helped them. Then he goes into great details to explain a large number of medically researched solutions that do not involve anti-depressants. This includes things like meditation, getting out in nature more, reconnecting with people through either support groups or something like a community garden. They are a lot more detailed than that. However, the important thing is that he describes cases with interviews, of where this has worked. In many cases with psychoanalysis but in some cases without.

The one thing that really helped was that you aren’t intended to do this alone. That you should seek out help and that one thing that is driving our depression is loneliness so the solution cannot be more of the same alone-ness. I’ve asked my wife to help me deal with my depression. Some of the things that we’ve committed to doing because of this book is to get to the coast at least monthly. To join an art class together, where we can meet new friends. She’s going to support me with playing hockey, as well as other things that we come up with from there.

I strongly recommend this book to people with any form of depression and I hope that you use this as a point to get help. Reach out and get a therapist, then, after you start to feel better, ask for help from friends to go with you when you start a new class or new organization. People generally know that you are depressed and being open about it and asking them for help will excite them. They want to help you (you know that I’m sure), but don’t know how to help you. This book can provide a language for you and your friends to discuss ways that you can get better.

You may always be depressed in some way, but you’ll be better overall.

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Review of Sam Sykes’ the City Stained Red

The City Stained Red (Bring Down Heaven, #1)The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. This definitely isn’t the high fantasy of Martin with big words, the biggest. This is the way that your DM talks to you while you’re playing a DnD campaign. Short, brutal, and with enough description to know how deep you are in the shit and let’s your imagination to fill in the rest. I mention a DM, because this books feels like someone took an incredibly chaotic DnD campaign and decided to turn it into a book. Where characters went off and did everything that you wouldn’t want them to do if you were running the campaign. It’s great. It’s funny, you love the characters, you care about what they are going through. Furthermore, this is generally a very tightly focused book on a single place without the massive world ending implications driving everyone to save everything. The characters are scared, in a horrible place, with crazy things going on that you don’t generally understand.

Sykes creates some really cool twists on existing fantasy character races, while makings new ones that blend seemlessly in his world. I would highly recommend this book to anyone that has had a hilariously absurd DnD session or that just wants a fun book that isn’t as weighty as a Rothfuss or Martin (weighty in terms of plot not size of book).

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