Category Archives: Books

A Fearless Heart, by Thupten Jinpa, PhD

My friend Kathy recommended this book. A Fearless Heart was written by Thupten Jinpa, a former monk and the current principal English translator for the Dalai Lama.

When I finished the book, my thoughts were in a jumble and I had to take some time before starting my review. I really appreciated how at the end Jinpa wrote, “It is my sincere hope that some of the reflections and suggestions offered in this book may help you and others like you….” That told me that Jinpa would understand if I’m struggling to come to terms with some of the  things he wrote about. That sentence made it clear that Jinpa is not a know-it-all claiming that his way is the only way. He is sincerely trying to help people like me to have happier lives.

It’s no secret that I don’t feel at peace much of the time. I think I do an all right job of being compassionate toward others, but I fail in that department often enough. I’m terrible at being compassionate toward myself. I’m often angry with myself. I call myself a number of awful things every day.

A Fearless Heart is about compassion, mostly. Compassion for others and compassion for yourself. Be more understanding and patient to others, even when their views are very different from your own, and be more accepting of yourself.

A lot of what Jinpa wrote made sense to me. I highlighted several passages and put in notes telling myself to “remember this”. I might look through the book from time to time and find those highlighted passages that made the most sense to me.

I admit that I’m a little overwhelmed and frustrated by this book. I would love to be a more compassionate person, to others and to myself. I agree that being more compassionate can make me a happier person. But I fear I’m already so far gone that there is no hope for me.

I’ll just have to do my best.

In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson

My cousin Irene and I seem to have a common interest in World War II era history. Shortly after I posted my thoughts on William Russell’s Berlin Embassy, Irene recommended I check out Erik Larson‘s In the Garden of Beasts. I promptly added the title to my to-read list.

“In the Garden of Beasts” is set during William Dodd‘s time as ambassador in Nazi Germany. The Dodds went in a bit naïve, but in time they came to understand what Nazism meant for Germany and the rest of the world.

I can’t help wondering about the Jewish family that owned the house the Dodds were staying in. That Jewish family was eager to have Dodd there, because they felt Dodd’s presence kept them safe from the Nazis. I don’t think there was any note about whether that family survived or not.

“In the Garden of Beasts” has more information and details than “Berlin Embassy”. But “Berlin Embassy” was written by someone who was actually there and published shortly after he returned to the United States. While there’s not as much detail in Russell’s book as there is in Larson’s, I felt that Russell’s book confirms some of the things Larson wrote about.

Nazism needs to be stamped out whenever it shows its ugly head. Nazism is like cancer, it spreads until it’s caught and dealt with.

Storm Front, by Jim Butcher

Well, Jim Butcher knows his stuff. Storm Front is a fun book. It’s also disturbing and hilarious in all the right ways.

Harry Dresden is a private detective and a wizard. His cases are usually petty. He takes on missing person cases and lost item cases, and the such. But sometimes the police consult him when a case they’re working on is so far out they can’t make sense of it. That’s how Harry finds himself involved in a mysterious murder case.

From Pawns to Kings, by Eugene Brown & Marco Price-Bey

I first heard of Eugene Brown when I saw the movie Life of a King, which stars Cuba Gooding Jr. I thought it was a powerful movie. I agree with Gooding, what Brown does is heroic.

Eugene Brown and his son Marco Price-Bey wrote From Pawns to Kings together. Some chapters were written by Eugene and some were written by Marco. We learn about Eugene’s childhood, his upbringing and how he turned to crime and drugs.

Marco’s followed in his father’s footsteps and they both spend a lot of time behind bars. But now they’re both free men and they’ve turned their lives around.

There’s a lot of wisdom in this book.

A Life In Parts, by Bryan Cranston

Bryan Cranston is best known for his role as Walter White on AMC’s Breaking Bad. In his book, A Life In Parts, Cranston recounts his life from childhood to his time after Breaking Bad. We learn about his struggles with anxiety and his pain, and we learn about his work.

Although Cranston didn’t actually say so in these words, I felt that many times he was saying the same thing I’ve been saying: “Do the best you can, hope for the best and see what happens.” It’s been kind of a motto for me.

Cranston didn’t expect he would be a success. He didn’t know Breaking Bad would be the hit that it was. He just gave it his all and look what happened.

Another thing I came away with is that people at the top of the ladder, no matter how much experience they have, they are often wrong. Directors and networks, and so on. The people who sit at the long tables and make the big decisions. There were times they didn’t feel Cranston was right for the role or that his work sucked. But he got the part because someone would believe in him and fight for him.

Once in the role, Cranston would prove the higher-ups wrong. This was the case with Breaking Bad and it was the case with Malcolm in the Middle. Cranston showed those who didn’t believe in him that he was the best man for the role.

I apply that to writing, and pretty much anything else too. Some editors might think your work is terrible, but other editors might disagree with them. In the past, I would feel that if one editor didn’t like my work, the work was shit and no one was going to want it. I threw away a lot of stories that were probably fine. These days I keep my work on the market until it sells, because editors ain’t always right, just like directors, networks and producers ain’t always right. Not even doctors are always right.

The message I get from Cranston’s book is, if you want it, work for it and you just might get  it.

Don’t give up.

Berlin Embassy, by William Russell

The first edition of Berlin Embassy was published on November 30, 1940. At the time, World War II had been going on for over a year and would continue for another five years. The Holocaust had not yet begun, but it was getting underway. Adolf Hitler had been in power for six years and Nazi Germany was well-established.

William Russell was an American diplomat who lived in Berlin from 1937 until 1940. He shares his experiences and observations. Germany was a nation divided by those who followed Hitler and those who did not.  As a diplomat, Russell interacted with people who knew Hitler personally and their accounts make Hitler out to be a self-worshipping, egoistic monster.

Russell also interacted with many common people, members of the Nazi Party and the Jewish.

Remember, the book was first published in 1940. William Russell died in 2000. Berlin Embassy was not intended to reflect what’s happening in the United States today and yet it might as well have been. There’s the same attitudes, just substitute the Muslims for the Jews. Propaganda is everywhere. Donald Trump has the same personality traits that Adolf Hitler had.

Does this mean the United States will take the same path Nazi Germany did? Let’s hope not.

Siege, by Gustavo Bondoni

In the far future, what’s left of the human race is hiding beneath the surface of Crystallia. They have remained undetected by their enemies for seventy-five years. When an Uploader craft lands on the moon not far from Crystallia, old fears resurface and the colony prepares for war against the more advanced enemy.

Gustavo Bondoni‘s Siege is a fun book. The characters are believable and the story is well-developed. I can see a possible spinoff from the epilogue and I wonder if Bondoni will make it happen.

On Writing, by Stephen King

I read Stephen King‘s On Writing twice before. The first time was probably in 2003 and the second time would have been in 2006. Now that I have more experience in the business of writing and have a better understanding of the things King talks about in On Writing , I decided to give it another read.

I approach my writing projects pretty much the same way Stephen King approaches his. Like King, I usually don’t draw up an outline before I begin work on a project. I like to start the story and let it go wherever it wants.

King repeats a few times in On Writing, “the story is the boss.” I agree with that. It works for me. Other writers might use outlines and steer their characters like cars, and it probably works fantastic for them. That’s fine. Whatever works for you is great.

There are other things that King and I agree on, like story morals (Sometimes there’s a moral, sometimes there’s not, and so what?) and symbols (If there happens to be symbols, they might be lifted, but if not, that’s fine.). Stories do not require morals and symbols to be good stories. Stephen King and I would agree, anyway.

I don’t agree with everything King says in this book, but a lot of it is pretty similar to my own practices and believes about writing. Unlike some other writers you might meet, King admits that he screws up sometimes and I appreciate that honesty.

On Writing is a good read and I recommend it to anyone who is struggling as a writer. There are many useful tips.

Okay, so that’s another book knocked off my to-read list. I had three more nonfiction titles lined up before I got to read some fiction again. But I’m tired of nonfiction and I want a break from it, so I moved Gustavo Bondoni’s Siege to the top of the list. I’ll start on that tomorrow.

Finding Fish, by Antwone Fisher

I haven’t blogged in over a week. Been failing to get to the end of my check list. I just finished reading Finding Fish, by Antwone Fisher, so here’s my review..

Finding Fish is nonfiction. Antwone Fisher tells the story of his life as a foster child in Cleveland. From a very young age and until his late teens, Antwone was fostered by a family that abused him and two other foster children in their care.

It’s a very emotional story. It brought tears to my eyes. Thank God for the United States Navy. The Navy not only gave Antwone a home when he’d finally left his foster parents, the Navy also helped him recover.

Echoes of a Dream, by Melissa J. Lytton

51jpxlklm3lWhile reading Melissa J. Lytton‘s Echoes of a Dream, I kept thinking that the prose rolls like it does in Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress. They’re completely different stories; Mosley’s is a noir set in 1948 Los Angeles and Lytton’s is a science fiction set in the future. But I feel the writing is similiar in that it just takes you in. I don’t think “grabbed me and held me” is the right way to describe it. It’s more like you’re comfortably settled into the story and it’s a smooth ride.

Eric Hudd is a drug addict, though he has been clean for some time now. He has a job and his own place, and it seems his life is on a better path. But something is wrong. When Hudd accidentally kills a man, he’s not sure it really happened or not. Soon he finds out that the factory near the building he lives in has something going on that tampers with people’s dreams and realities. Hudd decides it needs to stop.

Lytton did an outstanding job creating this novel. Her character development and world building skills are excellent, and she has a keen sense of story.