Sunday, March 15, 2015

Book Review: meQuilibrium: Tools to shift thinking patterns, a roadmap to resilience

meQuilibrium: 14 Days to Cooler, Calmer, and Happier, Jan Bruce, Andrew Shatte, and Adam Perlman, Harmony Books (2015)

These days, who isn’t stressed out or over-extended? Who couldn’t use a way to be cooler, calmer and happier? Resilience is a strength much needed in modern society. And the authors of this new book offer a two week plan to manage stress and build resilience.
I approached this book with a keen desire to be calmer and more resilient. I wanted to banish the burnout I felt slowly pulling me down, like quicksand. And the authors provided some excellent tools to help manage stress.
The book is divided into three parts: a short opening section describing the stress and missing peace. My guess is that if you read this book, you already know this. The closing section is just that: one chapter to help keep the new calmer you going. The meat of the book is in section two: the 14 day reboot. Each chapter is intended to be read for one day, focusing on the new tool and the exercise at the end of each chapter. These chapters are serial, building on each other, since some skills are fundamental to the rest.
The most powerful tool comes in day one: TMZ. To address the 7 powerhouse emotions (anger, anxiety, frustration, sadness, guilt, embarrassment and shame), the authors off the Trap It, Map It, Zap It approach, whereby you sensitize your emotional radar to recognize when you are falling into your pitfall emotion. Once trapped through early detection, you can map it, to connect it to the thought causing the emotion (and hence understand why this incident is causing this), then zap it by challenging the thought. My preponderant emotion is anger and I have used the TMZ approach to be calmer in a number of situations.
Day three offers a tool to unlock problem-solving power. The point is to understand various thinking traps and which ones you are susceptible to. Day four gives tools to be calmer, and the deep breathing techniques are very helpful. Day six suggest ways to navigate around iceberg beliefs.
Some of these tools and techniques are not new, such as the breathing and happy place ideas for calming oneself. But they are packaged holistically together in a presentable fashion. And they are proven to be helpful.
The book started out very strongly, but the chapters on sleep and eating waned a little. But after the iceberg chapter, I felt that book slowed down. Many of the chapters in days 7-14 focus on dealing with icebergs, although in specific situations.
On its own as a read, the book is quick and easy, but not very useful. Only when completing the exercises at the end of each chapter does this book come alive. And these are hard. Not in the sense of technically difficult, but in the requirement to dig deep within, to understand your inner self. Without such self-exploration, the book remains just that. With a commitment to work at each chapter, the book becomes a roadmap to inner growth.
I completed most of the chapter exercises and plan to come back to the ones that were too challenging for me at the time. Even with this, I feel I have become a little less stressed and a little more relaxed. If that’s what you want or need, I’d recommend this book. You’ll find something in it that will work for your life’s situation.

For more info: http://www.randomhouse.com/book/232259/mequilibrium-by-jan-bruce-andrew-shatte-phd-and-adam-perlman-md-mph

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Book Review: The 5 Love Languages for Men -- how to speak clearly to your wife and strengthen your marriage


The 5 Love Languages for Men, Gary Chapman
with Randy Southern, Northfield Publishing (2015)

I remember reading Gary Chapman's original book, The 5 Love Languages, almost two decades ago. That groundbreaking book introduced me to the languages of words of affirmation, quality time, gift giving, acts of service, and physical touch. Now, 20 years later and almost that many books in this series, Chapman has a new book aimed at men in marriage relationships. And it's powerful and well worth the read. The love languages have not changed, but this book focuses on strengthening your marriage by learning your wife's primary love language.

After an introductory chapter, the first half of the book elaborates each of these five languages.  Chapters 7 and 8 are a little weaker, but the book ends on a strong point with two important chapters: one on anger and the last one on apologizing.  I found these especially helpful, as they highlight two of my weaknesses.

The book itself is very short, weighing in at less than 190 pages. When combined with numerous cartoons, it becomes a very quick read. The cartoons themselves are more miss than hit, and could have been omitted (it almost felt like they were added as padding).

Two particularly useful features of the book focus on practical application. The end of the book contains a love language profile for each partner, containing 30 questions to each discover your primary and secondary love languages. And chapters 2 through 6 contain a two-page phrase book for each specific love language giving tips to us hard-headed men on how to speak that love language.  This becomes the phrase book to turn to.

My wife and I took the profile survey at the end. I was reaffirmed in my primary language of acts of service, but discovered that gift giving and words of affirmation are so low that they are almost foreign to me. My wife, on the other hand, speaks acts of service and words of affirmation bilingually. This means I understand and speak one of her languages, but struggle with words of affirmation. Thankfully, the phrase book in that chapter has given me some tips to try.

Chapman points out that we can all learn to speak other languages, just like we can learn a foreign language. But it will be hard work. Yet, if we want to make our marriages the best they can be, we should be willing to put in the effort. After all, we ourselves will reap the benefit with heightened communication and deeper intimacy. Who in a marriage wouldn't want that?

Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing a free copy of the book in exchange for this honest review and post. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Book Review: Just Mercy -- a compelling indictment of the America's death penalty law






Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, Spiegel and Grau (2014)


Just Mercy was featured by many of the Powell’s staff in their best of 2014 book lists. So I added it to my pile of books and moved it to the top. I’m glad I did. It’s a compelling, yet searing indictment of the American justice system.

I had never heard of Bryan Stevenson before. It turns out that he is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, and a professor of law at New York University Law School. During law school at Harvard, he spent time in the south working on death row cases and found his life vocation. I’ll let him explain:

“Well, I have a law project called the Equal Justice Initiative, and we’re trying to help people on death row. We’re trying to stop the death penalty, actually. We’re trying to do something about prison conditions and excessive punishment. We want to free people who’ve been wrongly convicted. We want to end unfair sentences in criminal cases and stop racial bias in criminal justice. We’re trying to help the poor and do something about indigent defense and the fact that people don’t get the legal help they need. We’re trying to help people who are mentally ill. We’re trying to stop them from putting children in adult jails and prisons. We’re trying to do something about poverty and the hopelessness that dominates poor communities.”

His book is a memoir of his journey over three decades, from his beginnings as a naive student through his successes and failures to his position as seasoned but wise executive director. Although many characters are introduced throughout, most remain the focus of a single chapter. Some weave a story throughout. But one remains central to the theme: Walter McMillian, a convicted murderer on death row. However, Walter was nowhere near the scene of the crime, as attested to by dozens of people including some policemen. Yet, the confession of a criminal coerced by the DA resulted in a bizarre, almost unbelievable story that convinced an illegal jury. McMilliam’s interactions with Stevenson may have made him the person he is.

Yet, the book is bigger than this. Weaving tales of 13 year-olds convicted and imprisoned for life without parole alongside poor white mothers who were convicted of killing their babies, despite them being stillborn, Stevenson’s narrative forces us to address the inequalities still in place today. Being born poor and black in some states predisposes them to suspicion. If arrested, such people have little hope of a fair trial.

Although I came to this book a supporter of the death penalty, backing up this belief with biblical justification (Gen. 9:6), Stevenson’s accounting of numerous convicted men and women languishing on death row who were later exonerated and declared innocent after the illegalities and improprieties in their trials were brought to light has made me reconsider. I must confess I am still working through this. As Stevenson says toward the end, “Walter made me understand why we have to reform a system of criminal justice that continues to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent.”

Although judicial improvements have occurred and personal redemption realized, many indeed due to Stevenson’s efforts, he leaves us realizing that there is still a long way to go.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Book Review: The Labyrinth Wall -- More Maze Runner than Hunger Games



The Labyrinth Wall (Obsidian Series Book 1), Emilyann Girdner, Luminous Words Press (2013)

Until I received an email from the author’s publicist, I had not heard of Emilyann Girdner or The Labyrinth Wall. But the offer of a free book piqued my interest. Reading the book description and several reader reviews heightened my curiosity and I felt compelled to enter this labyrinth.

The first chapter places the reader inside the labyrinth and introduces us to the protagonist, Araina, a teenage girl who’s only been alive two years. She’s a Mahk. This strange land has two types of people: the Creators, who live in the castle in apparent luxury, and led by the villainous Simul, and the Mahks, who live in the labyrinth. Their life is hard. Survival is the goal. Trust is absent. Hope is unknown.

One day Araina is defending her life in a fight with Darith, another Mahk, when they see a strange man emerge from the labyrinth wall. Determined to find out who this man is, especially since he seems to have the power to heal, these two form an unlikely alliance and embark on their quest.

Gardner fills the book with adventure after adventure, with a fast-pace that keeps the reader engaged. From Simul’s castle to the blood caves and onto the pit of snakes, the journey carries Araina into numerous dangers from magical attacks by the labyrinth itself to various creatures, such as saber toothed mutts and cannibals.

Despite the thrills of the quest, there are some problems with the book. Perhaps it is the pace of the plot, but the characters seem superficial. They could have been developed more. Without much history, the Mahks have little back story and we find out scant information about them. Even the villains remain distant, mysterious.

Then there is the suddenness of each episode. Darith disappears from the plot and is all but forgotten. Others emerge unexpectedly. And there seems too little credible connection at times.

Another problem centers on the loose ends and questions remaining at the end. There are so many questions that were popping into my head throughout. Who is Simul? Where did the Mahks come from? Why were they created? What is the labyrinth? Who is the mysterious stranger? Why were the Mahks created with different ages? With each new chapter it seemed new questions emerged. But very few got answered. I understand that this is book 1 of a series but I was hoping for more resolution.

There is little hope in the labyrinth, at least at the beginning. But the theme focuses on this concept, and as the story moves toward climax, we find hope emerge in a small band of characters. And their exposure rubs off on Araina, so that by the end of he book she has become more likable, someone I cared about.

In the book description, it says the book is “perfect for fans of adventure filled and imaginative favorites like The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games and the Hobbit”. Having read all the books in these three series (including Lord of the Rings), I entered the book with high expectations. I found it less like the Hunger Games or the Hobbit and much more like The Maze Runner. Simul is no President Snow, at least from what we see in this book. And Araina is no Katniss. The Hunger Games has better character development and a stronger plot. But being comparable with the Maze Runner is no mean feat. This one is worth a read if you’ve finished those other books. And I am hoping for more character development in book 2, and certainly want some answers to my questions.

*I was given an eCopy of this book, from the author, to read in exchange for an honest review.