Gaming Wish List: What to Get and What Not to Get

Do you have a teen or tween gamer? Are you already starting to panic when you think that Christmas is less than 100 days away and you haven’t figured out what to get him or her? Or are you a mom gamer, like me, who is putting together your own wish list of items to level up your gaming mojo? Here are a few products I and my teenage gamer do and do NOT recommend, and deals that will save you SO MUCH MONEY!

Gaming Wish List For PC Gamers:

The Razer DeathAdder mouse is sleek and super-super-sensitive. On Amazon, it’s on sale for $49.94, which is 20% off it’s normal price and a good deal no matter which way you look at it! My son loves his Razer.

Razer gaming mouse, with the three-headed neon-green snake Razer logo.

 

With mouse pads, you want one that has a wide surface area, and is flat and smooth, for optimal gameplay. We like the Corsair MM200 because it is all of those things, AND it’s only $9.63 on Amazon, which is 43% off it’s normal price. It’s not fancy, but it’s durable.

 

 

For gaming monitors, you want wide-screen, high refresh rate, and excellent color. Usually, in our opinion, that means Acer, and for our wish list purposes, you want the Acer 34″ Predator Gaming X34  Curved UltraWide QHD Monitor. It’s curved, people. It’s $899 on Amazon, which is $100 off the original price of $999. It’s a lot, but hopefully, when you use the computer—either for your gaming purposes or to balance the checkbook—you’ll appreciate the fact that you can see more. I don’t know about you, but since I use two large screens and one small one at work, I find it hard to limit myself to the small screen of my laptop!

Acer Predator 34-inch curved monitor

 

Gaming Wish List for Console Gamers (PS4):

Say you or your teen/tween plays Overwatch on your PS4. What products make for the best experience? Can you game on console without any special equipment? Sure…easily, in fact. But a few minor adjustments can make a big difference in how much you enjoy your game time. A good controller, for instance, is vital when you’re in the thick of any game and don’t want to stop to wipe your sweaty hands. We recommend something like this, with a few modifications:

It’s $46.50, which is almost $20 off its normal price. I wouldn’t normally recommend a gold anything, but once you put these on, the color doesn’t matter:

 

I wouldn’t have thought the silicon controller cover would be necessary, but it’s a huge help when I’m in  furiously gaming and my hands are sweaty! They’re not on sale, but they’re only $9.99, which is a good price. I don’t use the joystick covers, but my son loves them.

Believe it or not, that’s all I’d recommend. You could spend a lot of money on fancy gaming chairs, but they take up a lot of space and are expensive. You could also spend oodles on good headsets, but they’re usefulness is debatable, I think. What I would advise instead is this:

This pillow serves two purposes:

  1. It warns people that you’re in your “gaming mode.”
  2. It provides comfort and support to the neck while gaming.

Maybe I’m one of the few that likes to be comfortable while I’m gaming.  And this pillow’s less than $10 on Amazon. I want that so bad, I’m tempted to get it right now.

Xbox One

If you do racing games at all, a good steering wheel and gas pedal system makes them so much easier and immersive. But we can’t recommend one! Consider this: we recommend NOT getting one. We got the Thrustmaster Ferrari 458 Spider Racing Wheel last Christmas, but it broke within two days of its first use. We’ve bought a handful of them since last Christmas, and none of them have worked with all games and with anywhere the kind of sensitivity needed.

 

Want a Book to Curl Up With on a Stormy Night? Read Twice Dead.

Life continues to be interesting. At times like these, I’m so grateful for the listening ears of family and friends, for my life, my kids, my health, the fact that I’m sleeping much better than I have in years, even the fact that I can’t keep a pair of sunglasses to save my life. It all means I’m alive and blessed! And I’ve got so many books! What more could a woman ask for? Speaking of books, I read Caitlin Seal’s Twice Dead recently, and thought I’d tell you a little bit about this dynamic read.

What’s Twice Dead About?

From Amazon:

Naya, the daughter of a sea merchant captain, nervously undertakes her first solo trading mission in the necromancer-friendly country bordering her homeland of Talmir. Unfortunately, she never even makes it to the meeting. She’s struck down in the streets of Ceramor. Murdered. But death is not the end for Naya. She awakens to realize she’s become an abomination–a wraith, a ghostly creature bound by runes to the bones of her former corpse. She’s been resurrected in order to become a spy for her country. Reluctantly, she assumes the face and persona of a servant girl named Blue.  She never intended to become embroiled in political plots, kidnapping, and murder. Or to fall in love with the young man and former necromancer she is destined to betray.

The premise of it reminded me vaguely of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, another YA book that deals in the slightly morbid. I understood Naya pretty quickly, which I enjoyed. Too often, amateur writers seek to grab readers from the get-go with dramatic scenes and decisions that range from the hard-to-understand all the way to bizarre. It’s a good writer who can start a book off with a bit of quick characterization, revealed by how Naya interacts with her father, then plunge into the “inciting accident” (her murder), and follow that through with reactions that make sense AND keep the plot advancing smoothly and quickly. Seal does that with this book.

Who Would Like Twice Dead, and Why?

This is the type of book you read on a stormy afternoon, snuggled up with a cup of hot chocolate and a blanket. It’s a little moody, and there’s romance.

What’s the Deal?

On Amazon, it was $17.99 (whew!). It’s now $12.32.

 

At Least It’s Not as Bad As…: 10 Books That Can Inspire Gratitude in Hard Times

Life has been tough for me lately! I can’t go into detail because my struggles involve someone I love whose struggles run deeper than mine and I don’t have his permission to share, but it’s made it a little hard to keep on schedule with posting. When times are tough, it helps—nay, is necessary—to be thankful for the good things in my life, and I encourage you to do the same. Here are 10 books that can help you with that, all of which I’ve read, recommend, and found deals on…and suggestions for what they might make you grateful for.

Ten Perspective-Giving Books, and Their Deals

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortensen

Three Muslim girls, with heads wrapped, read a book under the words: Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time"Can make you grateful for: access to a good education

Summary, from Amazon:

Anyone who despairs of the individual’s power to change lives has to read the story of Greg Mortenson, a homeless mountaineer who, following a 1993 climb of Pakistan’s treacherous K2, was inspired by a chance encounter with impoverished mountain villagers and promised to build them a school. Over the next decade he built fifty-five schools—especially for girls—that offer a balanced education in one of the most isolated and dangerous regions on earth. As it chronicles Mortenson’s quest, which has brought him into conflict with both enraged Islamists and uncomprehending Americans, Three Cups of Teacombines adventure with a celebration of the humanitarian spirit.

Deal: $3.46 on BetterWorld.com.

 

The Fault in our Stars, by John Green

Can make you grateful for: good health

Summary, from Amazon:

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten. Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars brilliantly explores the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.

Deal:

The movie is $2.99 on Amazon. You can get the book for $3.79 from Thriftbooks.com.

Austenland, by Shannon Hale

Can make you grateful for: not having the drama of being single

Summary, from Goodreads:

Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her love life: no real man can compare. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined.

Decked out in empire-waist gowns, Jane struggles to master Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen; or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them. It’s all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to fall away, and the more she wonders: Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?

Deal:

You can get a paperback copy for $3.87 on Thriftworld.com.

 

Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, by John Gottman

Can make you grateful for: not having the difficulties of marriage

Summary, from Amazon:

Psychologist John Gottman has spent twenty years studying what makes a marriage last. Now you can use his tested methods to evaluate, strengthen, and maintain your own long-term relationship. This breakthrough book guides you through a series of self-tests designed to help you determine what kind of marriage you have, where your strengths and weaknesses are, and what specific actions you can take to help your marriage.

You’ll also learn that more sex doesn’t necessarily improve a marriage, frequent arguing will not lead to divorce, financial problems do not always spell trouble in a relationship, wives who make sour facial expressions when their husbands talk are likely to be separated within four years and there is a reason husbands withdraw from arguments—and there’s a way around it.

Dr. Gottman teaches you how to recognize attitudes that doom a marriage—contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling—and provides practical exercises, quizzes, tips, and techniques that will help you understand and make the most of your relationship. You can avoid patterns that lead to divorce, and—Why Marriages Succeed or Fail will show you how.

Deal: It’s $3.79 on ThriftBooks.com.

Sybil, by Flora Rheta Schreiber

Can make you grateful for: sanity

Summary, from Barnes & Noble: More amazing than any work of fiction, yet true in every word, it swept to the top of the bestseller lists and riveted the consciousness of the world. As an Emmy Award-winning film starring Sally Field, it captured the home screens of an entire nation and has endured as the most electrifying TV movie ever made. It’s the story of a survivor of terrifying childhood abuse, victim of sudden and mystifying blackouts, and the first case of multiple personality ever to be psychoanalyzed.

You’re about to meet Sybil-and the sixteen selves to whom she played host, both women and men, each with a different personality, speech pattern, and even personal appearance. You’ll experience the strangeness and fascination of one woman’s rare affliction-and travel with her on her long, ultimately triumphant journey back to wholeness.

Deal: $5.56 at Barnes & Noble.

 

 

 

Sky Jumpers, by Peggy Eddleman

Can make you grateful that: the nations of the world haven’t fumigated the earth with nuclear bombs and left behind only pockets of civilization surviving in craters forever lidded with dense, radioactive clouds.

Summary, from Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Hope lives in White Rock, a town struggling to recover from the green bombs of World War III. The bombs destroyed almost everything that came before, so the skill that matters most in White Rock—sometimes it feels like the only thing that matters—is the ability to invent so that the world can regain some of what it’s lost.
But Hope is terrible at inventing and would much rather sneak off to cliff dive into the Bomb’s Breath—the deadly band of air that covers the crater the town lives in—than fail at yet another invention.

When bandits discover that White Rock has invented priceless antibiotics, they invade. The town must choose whether to hand over the medicine and die from disease in the coming months or die fighting the bandits now. Hope and her friends, Aaren and Brock, might be the only ones who can escape through the Bomb’s Breath and make the dangerous trek over the snow-covered mountain to get help. For once, inventing isn’t the answer, but the daring and risk-taking that usually gets Hope into trouble might just save them all. 

Deal: It’s $3.46 on Betterworld.com.

 

The Fifth Wave, by Rick Yancey

Can make you grateful that: aliens haven’t besieged Planet Earth with four waves of pandemics on a scale the globe has never seen before, and are now inflicting the fifth wave, which makes you lose everyone in your family except your little brother, who gets kidnapped by the aliens.

Summary, from Goodreads:

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one. Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother-or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

Deal: It’s $1.99 on Amazon.

 

 

Obernewtyn Chronicles, by Isobelle Carmody

Can make you grateful that: you don’t have a powerful mental ability that makes you an outcast

Summary, from Goodreads:

For Elspeth Gordie freedom is-like so much else after the Great White-a memory. It was a time known as the Age of Chaos. In a final explosive flash everything was destroyed. The few who survived banded together and formed a Council for protection. But people like Elspeth-mysteriously born with powerful mental abilities-are feared by the Council and hunted down like animals…to be destroyed. Her only hope for survival to is keep her power hidden. But is secrecy enough against the terrible power of the Council?

Deal: The paperback is $2.67 on Amazon.

 

 

 

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner

Can make you grateful that: you’re not a teenage boy who wakes up amnesic in a maze from which there appears to be no escape.

Summary, from Amazon:

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone. Outside the towering stone walls that surround them is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive. Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying. Remember. Survive. Run.

Deal: This book and book 2 in the trilogy, The Scorch Trials, are $10.44. That’s about $5.20 per book.

 

 

 

 

See…so many things to be thankful for! You’re welcome! Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Young Elites by Marie Lu is a Gripping Read With a Disappointing Ending

I am such a begrudging fan of Marie Lu’s Young Elites. This book was so wonderful in so many ways, but the ending was SUCH a disappointment for me. Nevertheless, I’m in the minority, judging by the 4.1/5 average rating from 554 reviewers on Amazon, and the 3.92/5 average rating from almost 100,000 reviewers on Goodreads. Those are very good numbers. Let me tell you a little bit about Young Elites, so you can buy a cheap copy and decide for yourself!

What is Young Elites About?

From GoodReads:

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites. He is to destroy them before they destroy the nation. But he may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways. Of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

It’s amazing how the power-struggle theme of this book parallels the theme of the two other books I’m reading right now: War Storm by Victoria Aveyard and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.

Quote from Young Elites: "It is pointless to believe what you see, if you only see what you believe."

Who Would Want to Read Young Elites, And Why?

If you like gripping reads that pull you hand-over-fist into another world, you’ll like Young Elites.  The theme of Adelina’s struggle to embrace either her good or bad side was gripping. Lu did such a good job of developing the plot quickly. She built suspense and intensity from almost the very first page. The different dynamics between the Adelina and her sister, her and Enzo, her and the other Young Elites, her and her father, were quite unique. The premise and world-building were thorough yet efficient, enough to satisfy even the most hard-core fan of fantasy or speculative fiction..

However, (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT, I was so saddened by the fact that the finale was so horribly unsuccessful and that, ultimately, Adelina chose to embrace the bad side of her power. That Enzo died, that the Young Elites expelled Adelina, etc. was the opposite of how things should’ve gone. (END MAJOR SPOILER ALERT).

But, like I say, I’m in the minority, so definitely consider checking it out from your local library or buying it because…

What’s the Deal?

You can get Young Elites from ThriftBooks.com for $3.79!

 

 

 

Woman talking on a cell phone in a cafe

Overcoming Writer’s Block with Automatic Transcription

If you’re a writer — of books, essays, scripts, blog posts, whatever — you’re familiar with the phenomenon: the blank screen, a looming deadline, and a sinking feeling in your stomach. If you know that rumble all too well, this post is for you. Maybe it’ll help you get out of a rut; at the very least, it’s good for a few minutes of procrastination.

Have you ever thought of transcribing your writing thoughts, which means talking into an app on your phone while you’re out and about (i.e., NOT in front of a demanding larger screen), then running it through voice-recognition software that transcribes it into an actual document that you can edit, add to, take away from, etc., as you wish. The core idea behind it is that thinking out loud is often less arduous than writing. And it’s now easier than ever to combine the two, thanks to recent advances in speech recognition technology.

Woman talking on a cell phone in a cafe

What is Transcription, and How Could it Help You?

Of course, dictation is nothing new — and plenty of writers have taken advantage of it. Carl Sagan’s voluminous output was facilitated by his process of speaking into an audio recorder, to be transcribed later by an assistant (you can listen to some of his dictations in the Library of Congress!) And software like Dragon’s Naturally Speaking has offered automated transcription for people with the patience and budget to pursue it.

But it’s only in the last couple of years that automated transcription has reached a sweet spot  of convenience, affordability and accuracy that makes it practical to use  more casually. I discovered a software program called Descript recently, and am so excited about how this might make my book writing easier.

Here’s how my process worked as I started “writing” my sixth book, and how yours would go if you wanted to try it. Borrow what works for you and forget the rest — and let me know how it goes in the comments below!

Part I: Idea Extraction or Brain Burping

  • Pick a voice recorder. I’ve got an android phone, and I downloaded AudioRecorder, which was very easy to navigate.
  • Start talking. Try it with a topic you’ve been chewing on for weeks — or when an idea flits your head. Don’t overthink it. Just start blabbing.
  • Tug. The goal is to tug on as many threads as you come across, and to follow them as far as they go. These threads may lead to meandering tangents— and you may discover new ideas along the way. A lot of those new ideas will probably be embarrassingly bad. That’s fine. You’re already talking about the next thing! And unlike with text, your bad ideas aren’t staring you in the face.
  • Consider leaving comments to yourself as you go  ( e.g. “Maybe that’d work for the intro”). These will come in handy later.
  • Just talk. Press the big red record button.

 

When you’re done, hit the stop button. Swipe right to find the file of your audio recording under “Recordings.” Click on the three dots next to it, then “Share.” I emailed my file to myself, then downloaded the file to a folder where I’d be able to find it easily.

Part II: Transcription

Once you’ve finished recording, it’s time to harness ⚡️The Power of Technology⚡️

via GIPHY

  • Go to Descript.com. Click on the “Transcribe 30 minutes for free” button or, if you’re feeling adventurous, go ahead and sign up. Their prices start at 7 cents a minute or $10 a month. Sign in.
  • Click on “Add New” in the upper right-hand corner.
  • Click on “Upload,” find your file, and “Transcribe.”

 

The white words "Descript" on a navy blue backgroundDescript uses state-of-the-art machine learning to spit back a text transcript a few minutes later. That transcript won’t be perfect; the robots are currently in the ‘Write drunk’ phase of their careers. But for our purposes that’s fine: you just need it to be accurate enough that you can recognize your ideas.

Once you have your text transcript, your next step is up to you: maybe you’re exporting your transcript as a Word doc and revising from there. Maybe you’re firing up your voice recorder again to dictate a more polished take. Maybe only a few words in your audio journey are worth keeping — but that’s fine too. It probably didn’t cost you much (and good news: the price for this tech will continue to fall in the years ahead).

A Few More Tips

  • Use a recorder/app that you trust. Losing a recording is painful — and the anxiety of losing another can derail your most exciting creative moments (“I hope this recorder is working. Good, it is. Where was I?”)
  • Audio quality matters when it comes to automatic transcription. If your recording has a lot of background noise or you’re speaking far away from the mic, the accuracy is going to drop. Consider using earbuds so you can worry less about where you’re holding the recorder.
  • meadowy forest
    This is one of my happy places.

    Find a comfortable space. Eventually you may get used to having people overhear your musings, but it’s a lot easier to let your mind “go for a walk” when you’re comfortable in your environment.

  • Speaking of walking: why not go for a stroll? The pains of writing can have just as much to do with being stationary and hunched over. Walking gets your blood flowing — and your ideas too.

 

For getting those first crucial paragraphs down (and maybe a few keystone ideas to build towards), consider talking to yourself. 

Journal Writing Too?

I’ve kept journals since I was eight years old, and they’re really coming in handy now that I’m writing a semi-autobiographical fiction novel. I typically write in my journals at night after the kids have gone to bed, but find that I tend to keep my entries short because I’m so tired. Thus, I’m not creating very rich journal entries. Using Descript would make it easier for me to record my experiences and thoughts about my life. Have any of you ever done that?

Disclaimer: This post was based on an article article was originally published by Descript, and is a partnered but unpaid post.  All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

 

 

A man underwater, with hands in a prayer-like gesture, above the words "Stranger in a Strange Land"

Want Some Philosophical Sci-Fi? Read Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land

Starting a new senior editor job while still very actively reading, writing my books, critiquing and editing others’, networking with other readers, writers, and book bloggers on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, AND feeding my family, taking care of our house, and helping others is a lot of work, but I’m enjoying it! I like being busy, and recognize that every opportunity to associate with other awesome people, every day with decent health and good sleep, every moment with my kids (who I wasn’t sure I’d be able to have, as I recounted here), every opportunity to work and earn money is a BLESSING. And you people who read my reviews, chat with me on social media, or follow me: you’re all wonderful.

Some true reviewers of science fiction books would say I’m not a real science fiction fan until I’ve read and reviewed at least one Robert Heinlein book. Heinlein was known as the “dean of science fiction writers.” He was named the first Science Fiction Grand Master ever. Four of his books won Hugo awards, which are the pinnacle of recognition for the sci-fi genre. Because I admire him as a writer, have a goal to read the rest of his works, and want you to be well-informed, let me tell you about Stranger In a Strange Land.

What is Stranger in a Strange Land About?

The premise is interesting: a man raised by Martians comes to Earth and learns its customs, but because he has learned other powers, eventually starts his own church.

Who Would Like Stranger in a Strange Land, And Why?

If you’re a fan of literary fiction—the kind that revels in long narrative and beautiful speech, you’ll like this book. If you like esoteric characters or philosophical examinations of religion, you’ll like this book.  I liked the first half of the book, although it was a bit slow and cumbersome for me. The second half started getting too strange, so I didn’t finish. But that’s just me.

What’s the Deal?

You can get Stranger in a Strange Land from Thriftbooks.com for $3.79.

Visual, Anyone?

via GIPHY

Do you have a favorite science fiction author? If so, tell me in the comments!

Five Movies That Teach Empathy…And Deals on Each of Them

There are a lot of things people say we need these days: fewer guns, better schools, less rain on the eastern U.S. coast, more rain in the West, a certain person out of political office, etc., etc. I would argue that, above and beyond any and all of those things, what we need is more empathy. It’s a personality trait that’s hard to define, especially to younger minds, and harder, perhaps, to develop and express. In a recent council my husband and I had with our kids on the subject of empathy, the best we could do was: “walking in other people’s shoes.” That is, indeed, a part of it: using one’s imagination to picture what it must be like for someone to experience something. But the actual act of using one’s imagination to do that can be difficult, especially if one thinks quite literally, like children do, or if one has limited experience. And let’s be honest: none of us has experienced everything so we’re all limited in some respects. And the expression of empathy is another important “ball of wax” too. So, I’ve put together a list of a few movies that demonstrate, in practice, what the exercise of empathy can look like.

 

 

Some of them are “family” movies, but not all, because it’s as important for adults to expand their ability to empathize as it is for kids to develop it. Oh, and I found deals on all of them for you! You’re welcome!

Ender’s Game

One might ask how a movie (and book) about a boy who ends up at an exclusive space school for kids training to defeat a once-ubiquitous alien race that almost wiped out the human species has anything to do with empathy. Bear with me, because I think this movie demonstrates empathy beautifully.

Ender’s too young to remember the almost-extinction of his race, but not too young to’ve learned about Mazer Rackham, a former fighter in that battle who saved humanity. At the school, he meets Rackham and, through him and letters from his sister back on Earth, becomes more acquainted with Earth’s past. Even as his understanding awakens, his battle skills sharpen, until he leads squadrons of soldiers in what they think are simulation attacks on the “bugger” race that originally attacked them. When he and his squadrons finally, through a “preemptiveness” mentality and great skill, annihilate that entire race, he’s told that the simulations were in fact real. Because of he’s learned about what Earth went through, he realizes the horror of what he’s done. At the very end of the movie, he’s given an opportunity to atone for what he did. In the sequels to the book upon which this movie is based, he spends the rest of his life doing so.

Deal?

You can get an Ender’s Game DVD on Amazon for $2.99.

 

Passengers

Similarly, one might wonder how a movie about a man woken prematurely from a cryostatic sleep on a space ship bound for a colony planet millions of light years away could demonstrate empathy. One might, in fact, really wonder that when one discovers that the man, after years of complete solitude on this ship, wakes up a woman and tells her that she was accidentally woken up early too but that he’s there to help her. He’d found that his premature awakening meant that he would age and die before the ship ever reached the planet. Waking the woman meant condemning her to the same fate. He was the opposite of empathetic, right? Yes.

Through a series of twists, though, Aurora, the women he woke up, is faced with the possibility that Jim, the man, might be killed and she would be completely alone for the rest of her life, aboard that ship. She realizes the desperate straits into which he was plunged. She doesn’t forgive him for lying to her, as well she shouldn’t, but he strives to atone for what he comes to realize as the worst of mistakes by discovering a way to put her back into cryostatic sleep. She refuses.

It’s not for kids because there is nudity and some scary moments. But it’s great for some adult empathy developing, and…

Deal?

The blu-ray version is $9.38 on Amazon.

Inside Out

Straight from CommonSenseMedia.org:

Parents need to know that Inside Out is an outstandingly original, heartfelt story from Pixar about growing up and learning to handle your biggest emotions. Told primarily from the perspective of the feelings inside 11-year-old Riley’s mind (brought to life by the voices of Amy PoehlerMindy KalingBill Hader, and more), the plot has many moments of peril/tension — including bridges/islands crumbling, a train tumbling over a precipice, and characters falling into a deep, dark pit. (Spoiler alert: One key character also permanently fades from existence; that and scenes in which it seems Riley is “borrowing” her mom’s credit card and running away are definitely upsetting.) Some of Riley’s fears are also on display, including a giant, scary clown. Parents are likely to get hit hardest by the film’s heart-tugging moments (bring tissues!), but anyone with empathy will feel for Riley as she experiences life’s ups and downs. Ultimately, Inside Out has important messages about needing to feel — and express — all of your emotions, whether happy or sad. Although most of the content is appropriate for elementary schoolers and up, younger kids may need a bit more explanation about what’s going on, since there are references to abstract thought and the subconscious, and it can be a little confusing when other characters’ emotions are shown.

Deal?

A new copy is available on eBay for $6.

Inception

Remember how I said empathy is all about getting into other peoples’ heads? That’s literally what 90% of this movie is about.  The main character, Dom, has the technology to get into their dreams to learn their deepest secrets and even plant ideas in their subconsciousnesses, but to do so he and his team of dream operatives have to dive deeper into his own secrets than he’s comfortable with. Indeed, such a dive puts more than just their minds on the line.

Deal?

You can watch Inception on your Kindle for $8.99.

Beauty and the Beast

One might say that true love is a form of the purest empathy possible, one in which the person who truly loves is most easily able to understand the person he or she loves. It’s also the form in which that empathy is most easily expressed, and ideally, the most often returned. The tale of how empathetic love develops between Beauty and the Beast, especially the original version, is a sweet depiction.

Deal?

The theatrical 2017 version of the tale is available on Amazon for $3.99.

What movies have you seen that demonstrate empathy or its expression? Comment below!

 

 

Happy Books: A Comparison

I’ve been reading several self-help books lately to help me through some tough times, and I’ve reached a decision. Actually, multiple decisions. One: job hunts are not fun. (Fortunately, mine just ended. Yay!) Two: talking things out with close family, friends, and good therapists helps me a lot. Three: all self-help books are different from each other. No one should go to any one self-help book and expect a definitive answer or answers to all of their challenges. That being said, every self-help book that I’ve read has offered a piece of what I’ve needed. To help you find whatever help you might need, I provide a short description of seven self-help books and a comparison of how they rank on a few important features, which I’ll explain.

The Value(s) of a Self-Help Book

In this context, a self-help book is any nonfiction book that deals primarily with the improvement of self-perception in the reader. This could be for the purpose of helping that reader have a better marriage, career, or family life. The list I’ve compiled here is no more a representation of all the self-help books on the market than I am a representation of all humanity, or even of all book reviewers. But this list is comprised of books that focus on self-improvement for the sake of improving happiness.

I rank them on these metrics:

Credibility

Some of the best general how-to books I’ve read were by people who weren’t PhDs but had lots of personal experience and had done a lot of research. Conversely, some of the worst how-to books I’ve read have been by people with PhDs. So the credibility of a self-help book’s author(s) isn’t necessarily their education level in the subject matter, although that is a factor. It’s also determined, in my mind, by their personal experience with the topic, the amount of research they’ve done on it, and the types of source material they draw from for that research. If an author quotes several Huffington Post articles as their main documentation, if you will, for humanity’s depravity, they aren’t as credible as one who pulls from multiple academic studies, original pieces discussing patterns of depravity over time, and from current events as related by people who were present at those events.

Personal Examples

Personal examples from the author’s own life or from those with those he or she has interacted go a long way in convincing me that what they are saying is true or that they truly understand me and why I’m reading their book. Those examples also have value if they show how someone successfully applied a principle from the book

Application/”Workbookiness”

some self-help books offer nugget after nugget of golden wisdom, and while they have value just for that, they’re much better and more valuable if they provide workbook pages, quizzes, call-outs with questions that make you think (and better yet write down) of ways you can implement what they’re saying in your life the very next day. Others are more workbook than they are wisdom.

Humor

Especially on the subject of improving one’s outlook on life, a little bit of humor can go a long way.

Motivation

Some self-help books can leave you more overwhelmed than when you began. The most effective ones are the ones that break things down into manageable chunks, and encourage you from wherever you are.

The Books and Their Rankings

Without further ado, then, I provide rankings between 1 and 5 (with 1 being the highest or best and 5 the lowest or worst) on the above metrics for the following self-help books:

The Self-Esteem Workbook by Glenn R. Schiraldi, Phd

 

 

 

 

 

You Are a BadA* by Jen Sincero

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, MD

 

 

 

 

 

 

What to Say When You Talk to Yourself by Shad Helmstetter, PhD

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

 

 

 

 

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW

 

 

 

Strengths Finder by Tom Rath

 

 

 

 

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW

 

 

 

I don’t rank them in comparison to one other, but rather on a scale of how much value they’ve been to me and how much I think they’ll offer to you. They’re not in any particular order, and I leave it up to you to determine which one is the best for you.

I’ve also looked at the website of five different book retailers to find the best deal on each of these books for you. Those retailers were:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

ThriftBooks

BetterWorldBooks

BooksAMillion

You’ll find the links to those deals if you click on the titles of the books in the table below. They are affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click through and buy a book, but it doesn’t change the price of the book for you.

 

 
Credibility
Personal Examples
Application
Humor
Motivation
Self-Esteem Workbook ($5.92) 1 (recommended by my therapist) 4 1 5 1
You Are a BadA* ($8) 2 1 5 1 (warning: guffaws are possible) 2
Feeling Good ($3.79) 1 1 3 5 3
What to Say When You Talk to Yourself ($3.79) 4 5 4 5 2
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People ($1.99 Kindle) 1 1 1 (especially if you get a Franklin Day Planner) 4 2
The Gifts of Imperfection ($10.99) 1 1 (so good) 4 2 3
Strengths Finder ($25.63) 1 2 2 4 1
Braving the Wilderness ($14.95) 1 1 5 2 3

 

What books would you add to this list, and why?

Book Review: When We Wake is a Refreshing YA Sci-Fi Read for $3.47

Sometimes, you need a fresh perspective on old subject matter, whether it be in life or in books. When We Wake provides a new perspective on what many would consider a very tired genre: dystopian. But this is a refreshing, unique perspective on life after governmental collapse. Why should you read it? Well…

What Is When We Wake About?

From Goodreads:

Sixteen-year-old Tegan is just like every other girl living in 2027. She’s happiest when playing the guitar. She’s falling in love for the first time. And she’s joining her friends to protest the wrongs of the world: environmental collapse, social discrimination, and political injustice. But on what should be the best day of Tegan’s life, she dies—and wakes up a hundred years later, locked in a government facility with no idea what happened. The future isn’t all she had hoped it would be, and when appalling secrets come to light, Tegan must make a choice: Does she keep her head down and survive, or fight for a better world?

Who Should Read When We Wake, And Why?

It’s only loosely “dystopian” because it straddles two time periods and focuses more on the personal side of things than the political. Maybe because I write in this genre (sci-fi, pre-apocalyptic), I was fascinated by Karen Healey’s take on our future. I thought it particularly interesting that she set the book in Australia. She ties the setting in really well with the plot, using both the country’s actual history and its imagined future to provide impetus for the conflict the main character strives unknowingly against. Tegan is a well-drawn character, and I love the diversity and scope of characters Karen includes. I loved the sequel too. Both were refreshing, compelling reads!

So, if you like dystopian books like Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Glimmer by Phoebe Katanadis, or Whisper by Lynette Noni, you’ll like When We Wake.

What’s The Deal?

You can get When We Wake for $3.46 on BetterWorldBooks, with free shipping!

 

 

What Writers Say Is Hard About Writing, And Some Suggestions For Them

Recently, in a couple of writers’ groups in Facebook, I asked what some of the hardest parts of writing are. Mind you, I’m familiar with many of them, having been on my writer’s journey in earnest for five years now. But I wanted to capture common writing trials. This is so that I could present a few helpful suggestions to you, things I’ve found helpful or that other writers farther along in their journey have recommended to me. Writing, of all pursuits, is best done “organically,” I believe. We’re all better–and our books are better–when we help each other out.

So, in no particular order, I present to you:

Three Writing Trials and What To Do About Them

Writing Trial #1: Perfectionism

Rachel Virginia White, a member of the Storymakers Conference Facebook Tribe, says she struggles with “not focusing on making every single word perfect.” I struggle with this too; I want every word I write to be perfect even in the first draft. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that that’s unrealistic. Even Shannon Hale, one of my favorite authors, says that when she’s “writing a first draft [she’s] reminding [her]self that [she’s] simply shoveling sand into a box so that later [she] can build castles.”

Suggestion #1: Big Magic

To combat that trial, Whitney Owens Hemsath, a fellow Tribe member and an author featured in a flash fiction anthology, recommended Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. “It speaks to perfectionism,” she says, “rekindling passion, finding joy and wonder in the creative pursuit of inspiration, when to publish in spite of mistakes, how to handle criticism, how to deal with burnout, the proper mental attitude to have towards your creative projects, etc. It was inspiring, yet realistically refreshing.” Kindle or hardback copies on Amazon sell for more than $14; I found a deal for $12. Also, you can get a used copy from Thriftbooks.com for $5.27.

Whitney also says: “Don’t compare your books to ones you’ve read that you think are great. Comparison is the thief of joy. Those books [that make you wish you could write like that]? They probably still have one-star reviews you could go read. You gotta write what feels authentic to you, what you would enjoy, and know that some will love it and some will hate it. Guaranteed. You have to write your best, not someone else’s best, or [the reader] can feel the lack of authenticity. And you have to write your current best, not the best version of your writing you hope to obtain in 20 years, or else you’ll never move on from a project and get to the 20-years-better version of you.” Good words, Whitney.

 

Writing Trial #2: Editing/Rewriting

For some, writing the first draft is the easy part. Jamie D. Greening, a member of the Great Thoughts Great Readers Facebook Group, says: “For me, the hardest part is editing.” Cleaning and improving the first draft, or even revisions after that, can be daunting, tedious, and confusing.

Luckily, there are a lot of resources to help writers in that process. Here, I name only a few that have helped me:

Solution #2: Read These Books

If you’re having trouble with plotting or structure, read Save the Cat, which I reviewed here. It will help you spot ways to simplify or restructure that you may not have thought of before. Also, Jack M. Bickman’s Scene and Structure provides a great explanation of why and how scenes and chapters (scenes and sequels) need to be  written so that the story flows effectively. It also provides a list of common errors in scenes and how to fix them. Thriftbooks has it for $5.11.

If you’re having trouble with your characters not feeling real enough, I recommend Orson Scott Card’s Characters & Viewpoint. I can’t tell you how many times it’s been recommended to me. You can get it on Thriftbooks for $7.27.

If you’re having trouble uniting a character’s growth with the things you want to have happen in your story, read Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland. Almost every paragraph of my copy of that book is highlighted. You can get a Kindle copy on Amazon for $3.99, and the accompanying workbook for $1.99. That’s a steal!

Writing Trial #3: Sitting Down and Writing

Maybe you don’t struggle with writing or revising, but with just finding the time or motivation to sit down and write! This was the struggle cited by Marilynn Simon Rothstein, author of Lift and Separate and Husbands and Other Sharp Objects. Life can be a bit anti-writing at times.

Solution #3: Persistence

In those moments, I recommend A Writer’s Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld. She says: “If your burning reason to write is because it makes you happy or releases the wild voices from your head or helps you analyze the world around you, you are exactly where you are supposed to be. You must learn to please yourself in the process of your practice or you will become vulnerable to discouragement, despair, and giving up” (p. 13). Amen. Thriftbooks has it for $4.35.

No matter where you’re at in your writer’s journey, or what questions you have, there is a book, tribe, or group to help you. Good luck!