Review: Frank Ostaseski – The Five Invitations

The Five Invitations
Frank Ostaseski

“Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully” – a non-fiction offering from a renowned teacher of compassionate care-giving and the cofounder of the Zen Hospice Project. This novel gives the Five Invitations to guide you in the right direction in your life so that you can die with your life better fulfilled.

Although I might flippantly reply to a question of “What is the meaning of life?” with “There isn’t one.” this novel provides a better answer, or at least contemplation of the answer. People often have regrets about what they could have / should have done differently. There are the typical lists of ‘The Top 5 Things People Regret’, but this novel actually offers readers a gentle guide to how to go about improving things now.

I read this novel such a very long time ago that I barely remember it. I dipped into it to review it now which was very relevant as my fiance’s (I got engaged!!!) grandfather died. This is a novel I would dip into more than once, as an inspiration for when things aren’t going so well in life (like right now!!!). Reevaluating your life is something powerful and painful and sometimes necessary.

A very respectable piece of non-fiction that offers lots of insights and comfort into Death, and how thinking about the inevitability of Death can help us live the life we actually want.

Pan Macmillan | 28th March 2017 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Anita Selzer – I Am Sasha

I Am Sasha
Anita Selzer

This is a fiction novel based on the true story of the author’s grandfather. He was safe during the Nazi occupation of Poland because his mother hid him in plain sight by turning him into a girl.

I was really looking forward to this novel, but then I couldn’t get into it. I expected that most of the novel would be during the time that Sala was pretending to be a girl, but instead it was split into about half-half. I honestly never felt like he was in danger. He was never with a group of people who were ordered to drop their pants and half the time they were in hiding where he wasn’t even in contact with people. As far as I could tell, the worst risk was the people who had known his mother and that his mother was Jewish.

I wanted more of a narrative and less reliance on Sala’s internal (boring) monologue. I much would have preferred it if I could see the outside world more. Although the concept certainly holds up, and this novel was based on the author’s family history, I felt like I wasn’t firmly enough into Nazi Poland to understand what was going on. I felt myself having to draw on my reading from Nazi Germany and I feel that that was a let down from this novel. It could have been used to really educate people about the differences between Poland and Germany during the war. Also, the fact that I understood the concept of the ‘gentiles’ was taken for granted by the author (I didn’t really know). Were they just wealthy people who weren’t Jewish? Were they people who had planted the right bribes?

Anyway, I didn’t end up finishing this novel. At this point in time I have so many novels demanding my attention that unless I am caught up in it, it is unlikely that I will come back. I don’t think it’s necessarily the novel’s personal fault, I think that it and I just didn’t get along. Others may enjoy it, so I’ll give it a generous 3 stars.

Penguin Random House | 2nd April 2018 | AU $17.99 | paperback

Review: Roxane Gay – Hunger (A Memoir of (My) Body)

Hunger (A Memoir of (My) Body)
Roxane Gay

After a horrific gang rape, the only way Roxanne knows how to cope is to make herself fat and undesirable to men. This novel is a story of how she tried to come to terms with the rape by herself, and also how she mostly recovered from her eating disorder(s) that occurred as a result of her traumatic experience.

Please keep in mind that I am not discounting or demeaning the author’s experiences at all. This is a review of the writing style, and I just couldn’t get into it. For example it is kind of present tense, and also past tense.

I know I am going to be ripped into for saying this, but this wasn’t a good memoir and I didn’t enjoy it at all. In fact, I didn’t finish it. I at least finished Patient 71, the last novel that generated contentious comments now. It’s non-fiction, but I’d give it 1 star.

Review: Brooke McAlary – SLOW

SLOW
Brooke McAlary

When Brooke realised there wasn’t enough time in the day she didn’t start staying up later! Instead she chose to cut down on the number of things she did in her life. That start with saying ‘no’ and progressed to having the time to appreciate the important things in her life.

I’ve spent the last 4.5 years (let’s be honest, probably my whole life) being completely stressed out by completing my PhD (you may now call me Dr. Rose). Now I have a summer ahead of me that seems pretty empty at this point. I think I’ll be practicing Slow living without trying. It’s sort of regressing to an old style of living, which I have always supported. If you enjoy making your own bread, take the moment to do so, and enjoy the process. Be mindful the whole time.

I’m a bit more of a minimalist and an environmentalist (Zero Waster) than your average person (also a FI:RE dabbler). That honestly means that I couldn’t finish reading this book. But! I have written down some major takeways from this. The one that resonated the most with me is knowing how to say ‘no’. I admit I’m not very good at it, because my high-school principal’s motto was ‘Make the most of your opportunities’, as so far that’s stood me in good stead. But it leads to my plate being overfull, and stressing myself out.

This book calls for introflection, but in a more palatable manner than How to be Bored and How to Think. It could be a suitable Christmas present unless a person has already expressed an interest in cutting down. You have to be ready for the book’s message, because it’s a little more hardcore, and yet easier to manage, than Mindfulness.

Allen & Unwin | 5th September 2017 | AU $32.99 | hardback

Review: How to Think & How to be Bored

How to books:ย How to Think by Rick Norwoodย andย How to Be Bored by Eva Hoffman

How to Think

I started reading this book many times, but despite it being a tiny little volume I couldn’t get into it. I wanted to read it in little chunks to properly apply what the author had to offer, but I could never return to it.

Now that I am Bullet Journalling (or attempting to), perhaps I could use some of the exercises or write them down somewhere for future use. I actually have time to promote thinking now! And some down time for my brain to want to feel like thinking about things other than science.

 

How to be Bored

The author of The Secret has written this tiny little novel for ‘The School of Life’. I’m sorry, but thinking about The Secret made me not want to even approach this book. I’m all about positive thinking, but without making the appropriate concrete steps towards you goals, you can’t just expect them to fall in your lap. For example, if you envisage yourself getting a pay rise, but don’t actually ask for it at your annual review, it’s highly unlikely you are going to get one! Or hoping to win the lottery when you didn’t buy a ticket.

 

I think I also struggled with these books because I’d like to think that I can think and that I know how to be bored. I’d like to spend more time away from my phone and laptop, and I think that’s possible now that I don’t have to be writing all the time! After I finish catching up on the 13 or so reviews that need to be written, maybe I’ll be able to go back to guilt-free reading.

Maybe I will give these as Christmas presents this year and hope that someone else likes them! Or maybe they too will pass them on. These would make good Kris Kringle gifts, rather than the all too common candles/hand cream/useless gadget that are usually on offer. Non-fiction reading doesn’t force me to give stars to things, so I’m just not going to try.

Review: Nicole Lara – Bullet It!: A Notebook for Planning Your Days, Chronicling Your Life, and Creating Beauty

Bullet It!: A Notebook for Planning Your Days, Chronicling Your Life, and Creating Beauty
Nicole Lara

“Dotted grids, handwritten fonts, and fun doodle tutorials make this more than just an organizing notebook. It’s an artistic keepsake for your life. And perforated pages make it easy to remove your favorite pages and display them in your home.”

I can’t tell you anything about the quality of this journal. I have a feeling that most hard-core Bulletters would look down their noses at this book, because it has guidelines to help you think of creative ways to present things. Additionally, those perforated pages are a temptation to remove things you shouldn’t remove! If a journal is about being honest, then having an easy way to rip out pages is not the way to go.

I found this to be a good gift to give to someone I didn’t know anything about. If they were already a Bullet Journaller, then they might appreciate having a new one to test out. Or if they weren’t, they could be tempted! I think I’d firmly recommend this as a suitable Christmas gift for those people who are hard to buy for. At the very least, they can use it to make grocery lists and rip out the pages!

I’m not sure how I feel about ‘Bulletting’ in general. Honestly, before I received How to Bullet Plan, I didn’t understand why anyone would want to pay good money to buy a journal full of dots. Now I can see the allure. Ok, mine wouldn’t look pretty, but ever since I started tracking a couple of goals, I would like to try out the practicality of it. I’m a serial list maker, and it could be cool. Stay tuned to see whether I take it up.

Pan Macmillan | 12 September 2017 | AU$19.99 | Paperback

Review: Rachel Wilkerson Miller – How to Bullet Plan

How to Bullet Plan
Rachel Wilkerson Miller

Hit by the urge to Bullet Plan, but don’t know where to start? Can’t work out why you would bother setting up a Bullet Journal? This book is right for you. It gives you simple layouts and guides for almost any content you can think about writing.

I smashed my way through this book in about 1 hour, but it’s one that I would go back and visit when actually setting up a Bullet Planner. I think even semi-experienced Bulletters (is that even a word?!) would find it useful for ideas on different page layouts and the sheer number of things you can use it for.

I’m a serial list maker, and used to do this in a large journal. I’d also use it for writing down financial things etc. But then I fell out of the habit because I needed to start sharing my notes with my partner. I’m thinking this method would be more effective in a smaller journal (which would also be less daunting).

The complete irony is that this is a book about writing! And lately (cough, cough) I have not been doing any writing. Being worn out from the PhD submission is my excuse. I have around 20 books sitting on my shelf that I have read, but failed to review. Maybe soon? This review is the first after the drought as my teaching commitments wane for the year.

Full confession time here – I did receive a Bullet Journal for review… But I passed it on as a gift to a expectant mother. I googled about Bullet Journaling, and as the author of this guide suggests, was overwhelmed by the beauty and creativity of other people’s Planners. I now think I want to try this method again, but no way am I buying a fancy one in case I fall off the wagon again…

Reviews: Tim Watson-Munro – Dancing with Demons

Dancing with Demons
Tim Watson-Munro

Tim became a psychologist in a high security prison early in his career. This set him up well in order to become a renowned psychological criminal profiler. But a job with high visibility leads to a lot of stress, and the associated mental health and addiction problems that eventually caused Tim to fall off the rails – and write this memoir.

It’s scary that a huge number of the people who are criminals stored in prison actually have mental health problems. If those problems could have been caught earlier they probably wouldn’t have the drug habit or the addiction that led to them being put in jail in the first place!

I find it very interesting that the author refers to the jail and spells it in the American form which is JAIL not GAOL. Personally, I always thought this was a stupid way of spelling it! Spell it how it sounds, there ain’t no ‘g’ in there.ย It’s not a memoir for everyone. It does tackle the author’s drug problem / past drug problem quite in depth which some people could find uncomfortable to read.

This offers a quite an insight into different well-known criminal minds that although Tim has said he hasn’t revealed anything that is not publically available, is very interesting. I think that people who are more familiar with the criminal underworld would probably get even more out of it than I did. I really try to avoid following the news…

I enjoyed it because I’m interested in mental illness. I’m actually feeling quite inspired to go and look at some other statistics in the area for how many mental health problems present in this population. Of course this book documents a time when our jails were very rough and you would hope that they’ve changed by now. The novel allows the reader to look along through the years to an extent, providing some interesting information about theย early years of the rehabilitation program.

It is really, really well documented that crims can’t adapt back to society. The minute that you bring them back into society, they can’t deal with freedom and usually find themselves reoffending because they don’t know what to do with themselves. It’s difficult to find jobs, it’s possible they no longer have any family left, and then only the option to survive is to go back to crime. Jail ultimately is more of a cost to the community than the criminals.

The problem is that the majority of people think that locking crims up actually solves the problem. But there are always more people to offend and it’s also well-documented that people have received training in jail from more senior criminals to commit worse crimes. There are exceptions to that of course, including chart molesters & serious people that are actually psychopaths. You can read about a fictional psychopath in Breaking Butterflies.

Pan Macmillan | 27th June 2017 | AU $34.99 | paperback

Review: Lily Bailey – Because We Are Bad

Because We Are Bad
Lily Bailey

Lily’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was out of hand from nearly in her childhood. Without a point of reference, she thought that everyone thought this way. Eventually, OCD was ruling her life to the extent that she couldn’t function. A series of doctors, medications and therapy later, Lily can live an almost normal life.

Anything that could go wrong? She was going to be responsible for it. Anything that did go wrong? She had cursed the person and made it happen. Only by using rituals could Lily overcome some of her limitations, and it was a hard struggle the whole way along.

Dr Finch makes a huge impact on Lily’s life, and this relationship that Lily explores in depth in this novel shows the complexities of patient-doctor interactions. A good doctor can bring patients a long step forward, and bad ones can set patients’ progress back by many years and even prevent them from seeking help.

This memoir is less ‘meaty’ than The Man Who Couldn’t Stop, but still a good addition to someone’s library who has an interest in OCDย and how it can manifest in a variety of ways. It might be a ‘read once and pass it on book’, but it’s well worth that read. If it was a fiction novel, I’d give it 4 stars.

Allen & Unwin | 10th May 2017 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Scott Pape – the barefoot investor

the barefoot investor
Scott Pape

Scott Pape is a fiercely independant general financial advisor who is the reason that I tear apart my neighbour’s Sunday newspaper just to read Scott’s column. With the advent of it being online, I can just wait for the email to arrive instead.

This book is for people who know how to manage their money at a basic level and also those who don’t know how to manage at all. Scott takes people through money in 9 easy steps – with date nights and beers so that you and your partner are on the same page about your goals.

I regularly follow Scott’s column, and honestly this book didn’t offer much new for me. I had already implemented most of the strategies that he suggests – I’ve even started stepping into the scary world of shares! But for people who are in debt or don’t own their home, this novel is a match made in heaven! It has simple, actionable steps that anyone can carry out and should be on a list of books to buy young adults as they get their first credit card (and then chop it up on Scott’s orders) and move into independent living.

I pre-ordered this book before Christmas to take advantage of both a discount on the purchase price and an online webinar with Scott. The discount was nice, but the webinar was worthless. I’ve now purchased a membership in Scott’s online Barefoot Blueprint. I’d recommend this for people who are ready to move into their next stage of investing.

If you’re terrified of opening your mail, or just want to help out a person struggling with money in your life, this is the book for you.