a three-dimensional hand reaching out of a computer screen and shaking another's hand

The Why’s and How’s of Dialogue in the Digital Age

Say you’re scrolling down your Twitter feed, and you come across someone spouting something particularly opinionated, rude, or derogatory. Just a quick scan of their post reveals that it’s about something you heartily disagree with, and/or is expressed in such a prejudicial way that you immediately scroll past it. You think, “Why should I engage with that person?,” especially if you’re on a platform where you don’t actually know the person in real life.

Worse yet, what if you post what you think is an innocuous comment in a Facebook group only to get lambasted by people calling you names?

Image by Concord90 on Pixabay

Or say you’re watching the news and a story about another mass public shooting comes on. You watch with a deadened heart, feeling incredibly sad but knowing without a doubt that, somehow, the same cycle of events will play out after this shooting as has played out around the many others before it: an outpouring of support for the victims and their families, a resurgence of the gun control/rights debate, and then a fading to nothing as that debate settles into a stalemate once again. So you change the channel or site you’re on, since it’s much easier to do that than dwell in the frustration, no matter which side you’re on. What can you do about it anyway?

How about if your a parent of a teenager who comes home from school and tells you that his friend has declared herself “pansexual,” and he asks what that is and what he should do about it. Basically, he wants to know what to think because he has little frame of reference for this, and how to navigate the already-complicated social labyrinth of high school with this additional facet incorporated. You google an easy way to explain the term, tell him to still be friends with her, give him a pat on the back and an “I know you’ll figure it out” statement of confidence, but inside you’re thinking: “I have no idea what to tell him. It’s not like I dealt with this a lot when I was in high school.”

What if I said to stop scrolling and engage, to finish watching that news story about the shooting and even think about it, or to explore ways to really help your teenager understand the dynamics of the society, at least as much as they can be understood? You’d probably say, “why?” Why should you try to understand someone else’s perspective if you’re never going to actually interact with them? Why should you try to learn more about the other side of the gun debate, or any debate for that matter, if you’ve got your mind made up, they’ve made up theirs, and no one’s ever going to change their mind or compromise? And certainly there’s no way to understand teenagers or high school and the new-ish world of LGBTQ, so there’s definitely no reason to try, and even less to help your teenager understand.

Image by geralt on Pixabay

While there’s definitely credence to the fact that teenagers and high school are hard to understand, even when you’re that age and at that level of education, there’s less credence to your resistance to engaging, learning, and helping (or rather, our resistance because everyone does it in some way or another). This isn’t to say we’re wrong or horrible people for doing so; that isn’t what this post is about at all. This IS to say that there may be more of a need to do so than you think, and ways to do so that you maybe haven’t thought about before. And, there might be more benefits to you that you hadn’t realized before.

“More of a need?” you say. “How can that be? More tools? Surely, if the tools existed to solve problems like shootings and the Great Gun Stalemate, someone would’ve figured out what they were and applied them already! And how on earth could there ever be any benefit to me for talking to that insensitive, close-minded brute on Twitter?”

To which I reply: “Most definitely, not even close, and unimaginable boons.”

So you shake your head and say to yourself: “She’s finally done it: she’s gone bonkers,” with your finger poised to close this tab and open Pinterest in another to search for no-bake cookie recipes that don’t dry out (an almost impossible quest, mind you).

Bear with me. I’m only partially crazy, I promise.

Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, says, “America’s problem today is not just anger; it’s contempt. Most people say that civility is the solution. I don’t. That’s too low of a standard. The solution is loving your enemies.” 

In fact, he has a book that just came out entitled exactly that: Love Your Enemies: How Decent People can Save America From the Culture of ContemptThink about that title. What’s your first reaction to it? Could it be somewhere along the lines of:

  • “Our government was shut down for a month. If that’s not a sign of contempt, I don’t know what is. If our president and congress can’t work things out, how is there any hope for the rest of us?”
  • “The contempt in America is so out of control, there’s no way decent people could save America.”
  • “I’m a decent person, but there’s no way I can sway the tide, let alone save the country.”

In an address given at the Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University in October of 2018, Dr. Brooks provided sound reasoning behind the need for decent people to try, and practical ideas for doing so. “The secret to healing our nation,” he said, “has to be related to the way we heal our relationships with each other.” In that respect, loving our enemies is less his admonition than a reminder of the same directive given to us by Jesus Christ in the Bible. In fact, one wonders if Jesus, even in his earthly guise, could see more than 2,000 years into the future, and give us exactly the piece of advice we need to straighten out the mess America currently finds itself in.

The fact that Arthur Brooks, like Jesus, doesn’t say “love your country” or “just be good and everything will work out,” but instead specifically names who we should love–our enemy–seems indicative, I think, of deep wisdom, at least on the part of Brooks, if not divine vision on the part of Jesus. The way we got into this mess is the depersonification of others, at least in part, by seeing other people as somehow less human than ourselves.

Dr. Brent Slife, a professor of Psychology at Brigham Young University, agrees. “People often avoid complications by abstracting other humans,” he writes in his book Frailty, Suffering, and Vice: Flourishing in the Face of Human Limitations, “insulating [them]selves from people who espouse different viewpoints” (113). “The cultural emphasis on individual separateness is part of the problem, [though]. The idea of individual separateness…paints the world as a resource “out there,” potentially available to meet our personal needs” (106). If one views the world and other people as “out there,” “other,” or just a way to meet one’s needs, then it follows that, if the world or the people in it don’t meet our needs in one way or another, it becomes more so.

One might even say, like Slife, that: “Commodification is the next logical step in this model of relationships” (106). But “commodifying people is another kind of self-inflicted wound because it makes it all the more difficult to form the special, committed, caring relationships we so clearly need.” (By the way, Frailty, Suffering, and Vice is available on Amazon for $20 off its normal price of $69.95 here. At $48.85, it’s an expensive book, but one that contains a lot of well-researched and fascinating truths. You’ll end up referring to it all the time, saying to yourself the whole time: “Yes, people do that! So true.)

So, to fix things, the first step is to see everyone as human, which means to realize that they, like us, have strengths, weaknesses, backstories, challenges, fears, opinions, hopes, disappointments, dreams, etc. Authors Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler, in their book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, say, in response to the question of why talk with them in the first place:

Say a friend said some things to you that most people might get upset over. In order for this person to be able to deliver the delicate message, you must have believed he or she cared about you, or about your goals and objectives. That means you trusted his or her purposes so you were willing to listen to some pretty tough feedback.

Crucial conversations often go awry not because of the content of the conversation, but because others [or you] believe that the painful and pointed content means that you [or others] have a malicious intent. How can they [or you] feel safe when they believe you’re out to do them harm [or vice versa]?

Consequently, the first condition of safety is mutual purpose. [This] means that others perceive that we are working toward a common outcome in the conversation, that we care about their goals, interests, and values. And vice versa. We believe they care about ours. Consequently, Mutual Purpose is the entry condition of dialogue. Find a shared goal and you have both a good reason and a healthy climate for talking.


Find a shared goal and you have both a good reason and a healthy climate for talking.

cRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS: TOOLS FOR TALKING WHEN STAKES ARE HIGH

The second step, according to Cooke, is to get rid of the bad habit of contempt. The best way, he says, is not to just stop it “cold turkey,” say, by “turning the other cheek” and either scrolling past someone stridently proclaiming their opinion on Twitter or even agreeing with someone who celebrates the passing of laws that decidedly weaken abortion restrictions. The best way is to replace the habit with something else that can be just as habitual, but not as harmful.

What should that habit be? The Dalai Lama says to replace it with warm-heartedness. Answer contempt with warm-heartedness. But what does that mean? “Go in search of contempt in your life,” says Cooke. “If you avoid the conflict, you can’t solve the problem. Run toward [it], as people of goodwill.”

It makes sense, even sounds easy, when said like that, in the abstract, but what does that actually mean, and how does one do that in today’s online world?

By developing a strong heart, which is the third step. “Developing warm-heartedness is not for the weak in heart–contempt is for the weak–but for the strong-hearted. Those who are in touch with their own souls and in control of their own lives are stronger,” says Cooke.

It might be argued that, if President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi were to apply just these three principles to themselves, the Great Government Shutdown of 2019, which really only victimized the American people, not themselves, could’ve at least ended in a compromise. In that situation, they were each acting like a mother or father threatening to, or in fact not, feed their children as a way of manipulating their spouse into agreement.

The need for conflict resolution is great right now.

How do I know that, beyond what I feel when I scroll through my social media feeds, watch or read the news, and talk with friends and acquaintances? I could cite statistics about the tens of thousands of people who die by guns each year, but that commodifies the victims and doesn’t take into account those on the other side of the debate, who can’t be so easily quantified. I could give the number of abortions done every day in the United States, but that too neither adequately conveys the number of people affected by those abortions nor the number of people who hold strong opinions on either side of that debate.

I could also talk about demonstrations, protests, op-ed pieces, certain YouTube videos or podcasts, etc., but not even they capture the extent, depth, or complicated nature of the contention sizzling through our interactions both abstract and concrete, and our subsequent actions.

The worse that contention gets, though, the more I want to do what I can to lessen it, for these reasons:

  1. When it comes down to it, it’s just us. There is no impartial, non-human being that can mediate solutions between dueling couples, family members, or countries so that both parties are happy and divorce, family dissolution, or war is prevented. Not even God, Allah, or whatever higher being you believe in (if you do) will interfere unless absolutely necessary; they, like good parents, want to see if we can resolve conflicts on our own.
  2. It is what we make it. Everyone, to some extent, thinks that our governments, our leaders, anyone who’s tasked with guiding us or setting rules, is somehow not “us.” We tend to blame others for our conflicts, but everyone from the highest leader to the lowliest homeless person is human, subject to the whims of nature, the caprices of sickness, and the lure of power. At any one time, the world is what we make of it: how we respond, collectively and individually, to what’s going on around us. Ideally, we have a world in which all of us can be happy, but we all have different ways that we envision true happiness, most of which don’t involve the rest of the world. What we don’t realize is that…
  3. What we should be making is connections, not destroying them. One of the cornerstones of true happiness is connection, according to Brene Brown in Daring Greatly, Slife et al. in Frailty, Suffering, and Vice; Hilary Jacobs Hendel in It’s Not Always Depression, Jesus in the Bible, and many other experts. This doesn’t mean you have to throw a huge party even if you’re an introvert, or hug everyone even if you’re fiercely independent. It does mean acknowledging that we, as humans, are “profoundly social creatures.” Says Slife: “Because our social nature is so pervasive, it is easy to take it for granted. Like the air we breathe, the centrality of our nature is usually apparent only when something goes wrong. For this reason, it has been easy to think that virtue and the good life are all about the individual.” In reality, though, you can’t have a good life totally and completely alone.
  4. Admitting that, though, and admitting that we’re all as vulnerable to death and problems as the next guy, is REALLY, REALLY hard. Living in that vulnerability while still striving for “the good life:” even harder, if not impossible. Deep down, we’re all scared, sad, or mad at someone and/or something.
  5. So everyone puts up a variety of defenses to keep themselves from feeling those “core emotionsof fear, sadness, or anger. Hendel provides a list of more then 40 in her book–everything from eye-rolling, stonewalling, and racism, to addictions–but I would venture to add a few more and the caveat that there are probably as many variations on those defenses as there are people on this Earth. The point is that most of us will do almost anything to avoid truly feeling and working through those core emotions, even though we have no idea we’re doing it.
  6. On the other side of helping each other through those emotions is a whole-hearted life, and that life can be wonderful, no matter what your circumstances. Cooke/the Dali Lama call it “warm-heartedness.” Brene Brown calls it “whole-hearted,” and Hendel calls it the “open-hearted state of the authentic self.” It’s a state of being in which one feels calm, curious, connected, compassionate, confident, courageous, clear, vulnerable but sufficient, and grateful. Can you imagine living like that, no matter your difficulties? Talk about “unimaginable boons.”

So, yes, there is more of a need, and in the coming months, I’ll talk about ways to ameliorate that contention and contempt, ways that are simple in theory but all too difficult to put into practice. They include communication techniques derived from books on negotiation, relationships, and the internet. They include strategies for finding common ground, also derived from books (because that’s what I do). They may even include a few philosophies and tips on developing warm-heartedness, or whatever state of “-heartedness” you want, even in the face of hostility, from thought-leaders like Brene Brown. They will all illuminate concrete ways you can and should “run toward it as people of goodwill.”

In future posts, I’m going to talk about how to apply those techniques, strategies, philosophies, and ways to specific issues like gun control, our society’s complicated response to LGBTQ+ people, race relations, women’s rights, abortion, immigration, and others. These posts will include lists of all the books written on each subject, and short assays of the top three to five, as determined by search results or social media polls I’ll conduct in the weeks leading up to each post’s release.

There have been more than 250 books, for instance, on the subject of guns and gun violence in America but only a handful of them actually talk about solutions. And of those, even fewer talk about solutions that seem to take into account all points of view. I’ve been reading those. This is so that, if you want to educate yourself on any particular issue, or maybe even the side of it you don’t understand or agree with, you can. And if you don’t want to, or don’t have the time to read through any of those books, you can ask me to, and I will, and summarize it for you in the context of the pursuit of collective “heartedness.”

It is my very sincere hope that you will find something useful in these posts, something that gives you hope that a resolution can be found no matter where your opinions lie on those issues, and a desire to commune with your fellow human beings for your benefit and the good of others. I aspire to the possibility that a beginning of that resolution can be found in conversations sparked by my posts, in the comments here or in social media.

In fact, I dream, of peace. Join me, won’t you?

“Distractions”

While writing the above, I’ve also been busy

  • working,
  • writing,
  • playing,
  • moving out,
  • moving back in,
  • learning how to live with and still love my husband, who has Crohn’s and anxiety, with me having depression (which is no small feat),
  • seeing my therapist,
  • cross-stitching,
  • connecting with friends and family,
  • gaming,
  • signing up for writers conferences, and, of course,
  • reading.

Here are the books I’ve been reading, with short summaries and deals for you.

  • Believing Christ: the Parable of the Bicycle and Other Good News, by Stephen E. Robinson: “The great secret is this: Jesus Christ will share his perfection, his sinlessness, his righteousness, his merits with us. In his mercy he offers us the use of his perfection, in the absence of our own, to satisfy the demands of justice.” This explanation of Christ’s Atonement is what this whole book is about. It is an exploration of each element of that explanation in 124 pages.
  • And the crux of it, the reason for providing this explanation, says Robinson, is because a lot of us don’t believe Christ. We may believe in Him, but we don’t realize that it’s okay for us to have shortcomings, as long as we understand the true nature of the partnership we are in with him, and to work with Christ so that he can make us into celestial material. This explanation, and the comfort it provided, was very timely for me. I’m in a spot in life where I’m definitely feeling like I’m doing all I can and more, and it’s still not enough to hold my marriage together. After reading this, I think I understand what it really means to rely on Christ, while still striving to be the best person I can possibly be. This speaks peace (and a little bit of hope) to my soul. Believing Christ is $3.99 through Thriftbooks.bom.

An Unlikely Match, by Sarah M. Eden: What can I say about this book? Regency? Love it. Romance? Love it. Ghosts? Even better, especially in the hands of Sarah Eden. Loved Nicholas Pritchard and his easy-going nature. Loved the setting. Everything about it was great.

Pride, by Ibi Zoboi: A Pride and Prejudice retelling, set in modern-day Brooklyn with a black cast. The writing was excellent: immersive, fresh, and flavored. Characters were satisfyingly real and true to form, with the addition of Madrina, the main character’s neighbor/mentor/surrogate grandmother/spiritual and cultural icon. She added a facet to the story that wasn’t really in the original one, and definitely made this version unique. Readers familiar with the story might begrudge the predictability of this version, but it’s told with enough variation to make it quite interesting. But because the vivid style, the setting can be fascinating and/or abrasive. The reader is in the main character’s “hard-knock” life with her. She didn’t seem to be anywhere in the ballpark of her version of Mr. Darcy, which was also different from the original. It’s $12.59, down from $17.99, on Amazon.

Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: and How You Can Make Yours Last, by John M. Gottman. John Gottman so knows what he’s talking about when it comes to marriages. If you’re in one and want to stay in one, get this book. It’s $3.79 through Thriftbooks.

Immortal Creators, by Jill Bowers. The premise of this book is that the contents of certain books cross over into reality, and their authors become Immortal Writers. The book that Scott Beck wrote about a megalomaniacal alien race coming to invade Earth has come to life, but Scott has no desire to fight them, or write whatever needs to be written to prevent them from attacking Earth, but he doesn’t appear to have a choice. Until a strange sickness befalls him…. While I enjoyed this book, I felt like I was “dumped on the front porch of the strangeness” of the plot, instead of being led into it, as Orson Scott Card instructs in his book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. It would have been stronger if Scott’s introduction into the world of Immortal Writers had been slower or if more he would’ve had more flashbacks that enabled me to relate to him more.

Magicians Impossible, by Brad Abraham. I may have mentioned this one before. It’s Mission Impossible meets Harry Potter, fast-paced, intricately-plotted, and magical. Holy cow! It’s $4.48 on Betterworldbooks.com.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. He is a master storyteller, and this fantasy–told with a literary bent–is charming with bits of sinisterness around the edges. It’s $3.79 through Thriftbooks.com.

Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson. The premise is that humankind has been almost driven to extinction and what few groups are left are hiding out in the caves of a faraway planet that is surrounded by an atmosphere of debris. They’re frequently attacked by an alien race. Spensa, the main character, is a young girl whose father was a pilot fighter in the decades-long battle with that race. He turned “coward” and died, and now she’s fighting to become the best fighter pilot of the human race now, to redeem him and get some kind of revenge, with the help of a talking, sarcastic, smart, and totally secret spaceship. It was hard to relate to Spensa for quite a bit, as brash and immature as she started out being, but her progress from that to a more mature, smarter, more aware and friendly person was a beautiful thing to behold. I’ll definitely be getting the sequel to this book. You can get a signed, hardcover, new edition for $13.85 from Barnes & Noble. Dude! I’m tempted to go get me another copy there just for the autograph!

young woman in red sleeveless dress, under the title "Supernaturally"

Supernaturally Book Review & Deal: Fun Ghost Read & Super Cheap

Last week, I said that The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand reminded me of Supernaturally by Kiersten White, a book that I read quite a while ago and really liked, and realized I’d never reviewed it here. So, I decided to review it this week and when I started searching for deals on it, I immediately found a great one! If you’re looking for a light-hearted, fun paranormal read, you need to read not only Supernaturally, but its prequel Paranormalcy and sequel Endlessly as well. In the vein of the Men in Black movies, they’ll have you LOLing constantly while also, occasionally, pondering the meaning of “normal.”

What is Supernaturally About?

young woman in red sleeveless dress, under the title "Supernaturally"To tell you that, I’ve got to first tell you what the first book is about. Here goes (from Goodreads):

Evie’s always thought of herself as a normal teenager, even though she works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, her ex-boyfriend is a faerie, she’s falling for a shape-shifter, and she’s the only person who can see through supernatural glamours. She’s also about to find out that she may be at the center of a dark faerie prophecy promising destruction to all paranormal creatures. So much for normal.

Fun, right? Here’s Goodread’s description of Supernaturally:

Evie finally has the normal life she’s always longed for. But she’s shocked to discover that being ordinary can be…kind of boring. Just when Evie starts to long for her days at the International Paranormal Containment Agency, she’s given a chance to work for them again. Desperate for a break from all the normalcy, she agrees. But as one disastrous mission leads to another, Evie starts to wonder if she made the right choice. And when Evie’s faerie ex-boyfriend Reth appears with devastating revelations about her past, she discovers that there’s a battle brewing between the faerie courts that could throw the whole supernatural world into chaos. The prize in question? Evie herself.


Who Would Like Supernaturally, And Why?

Obviously, anyone who liked the aforementioned titles will like Supernaturally. Readers who enjoy YA reads like Echoes of Silence by Elana Johnson will like this book. Basically, anyone who likes to have fun.

What’s The Deal?

I’m so excited to tell you about this super good deal! I found Supernaturally on sale on Amazon for $2.97 for a new paperback copy! That is such a good deal! It’s 63% off what I bought it for originally. I love it when I find good deals like that! While searching for that deal, I came across another book by Kiersten White that I hadn’t read yet—Mind Games—for $2.74 for a Kindle copy. Done!

Nutrition Facts?

Profanity (D*, S*, F*, H*): 12 (all H* in reference to Hell itself)

Sex scenes: 0

Nudity: 0

Visual?

via GIPHY

Tune back in on Wednesday for a giveaway of a new book: Truth Seer by Kay L. Moody!

black, with the title "Afterlife of Holly Chase" in white letters, and the subtext: "Every Scrooge deserves a second chance."

Book Review: Afterlife of Holly Chase, So Fun & 10% Off!

You guys! I just finished such a fun read! And I found a good deal on it, so you should totally consider getting this book. It’s The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand. Putting a modern, romantic spin on Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol, it’s full of sweetness and humor and snarkiness. It doesn’t seem like something fun could come out of The Christmas Carol, so you’ll have to trust me on this one.

black, with the title in white letters, and the subtext: "Every Scrooge deserves a second chance."What Is The Afterlife of Holly Chase About?

From Goodreads:

On Christmas Eve five years ago, Holly was visited by three ghosts who showed her how selfish and spoiled she’d become. They tried to convince her to mend her ways. She didn’t. And then she died. Now she’s stuck working for the top-secret company Project Scrooge–as the latest Ghost of Christmas Past. Every year, they save another miserly grouch. Every year, Holly stays frozen at seventeen while her family and friends go on living without her. So far, Holly’s afterlife has been miserable.

But this year, everything is about to change. This year, the grouch is the youngest ever besides her…and a handsome, rich boy her same age.

Who Would Like The Afterlife of Holly Chase?

Since this book is really a mash-up of The Christmas Carol and the Men In Black movies, anyone who likes either of those will like this book. It’s true enough to the Carol that I want to read that book again. Hand’s book is YA paranormal, like Supernaturally by Kiersten White and Beyond by Catina Haverlock and Angela Larkin, so if you liked either of those books, you’ll like this one. The romance is done well, but be warned that it might not turn out how you think it will, which is part of the charm of the story.

What’s The Deal?

If you order it from Barnes & Noble between 6/29 and 7/4, take 10% off your order with code FIREWORKS.

Book Review: If I Stay, An Emotional Read

What would you do if you were a teenage girl and the only survivor of a car wreck that killed the rest of your family? What if you survived the wreck, but just barely, and you’re somehow conscious, in an out-of-body way, and you have to choose between letting go, not being able to discern anything about what happens after that, or staying and living, exploring the potential of your gift for music and your relationship with your boyfriend, who you’re madly in love with? This is the choice faced by seventeen-year-old Mia, the main character of If I Stay by Gayle Forman. The book is a poignant, beautifully-rendered narrative about what is really a universal question: what would you do if you had that choice? It’s an emotional read.

What Is If I Stay About?

From Goodreads:

Just listen, Adam says with a voice that sounds like shrapnel. I open my eyes wide now. I sit up as much as I can. And I listen. Stay, he says. Choices. Seventeen-year-old Mia is faced with some tough ones: Stay true to her first love—music—even if it means losing her boyfriend and leaving her family and friends behind? Then one February morning Mia goes for a drive with her family, and in an instant, everything changes. Suddenly, all the choices are gone, except one. And it’s the only one that matters.

Who Would Like If I Stay, And Why?

If I could give this book more than ten stars, I would. It’s intense, in a life-and-death way, not an action-packed way, because of the emotions she goes through while trying to make her decision. Those emotions are very authentic and non-trite. It’s masterfully structured. I read it in one sitting. And the style…oh, the style: so beautiful. Mia was such a well-drawn character that I felt like she could jump off the page and I would recognize her instantly. The supporting characters were unique. Such a delight to read.

Anyone who likes emotional reads like Beyond by Catina Haverlock and Angela Larkin, or Between Shades of Gray by Rutya Sepetys, will like this book. If you want a book that will sweep you away, this one definitely will.

What’s The Deal?

When I bought this from Amazon three years ago, I paid $5.30 for it. You can get a like-new copy from Thriftbooks now for $4.59, which is a 13% decrease. You can get an even cheaper “acceptable-condition” copy for $3.79, which is a 28% decrease.

Book Review: Glimmer, an Intense Read

To deal with the challenges of looking for a job, and while enjoying summer with my kids, I’ve been reading a lot, because that’s what I do! I recently finished Glimmer by Phoebe Kitanidis. It’s a YA amnesia book with a beginning similar to one of the books I’ve written. It’s a somewhat disjointed but very well-written, compelling read that kept me on the edge of my seat, scratching my head, sometimes gasping for air. I’d say it’s an intense read:

What Glimmer Is About

When Marshall King and Elyse Alton suddenly wake up tangled in each other’s arms with zero memory of how they got there or even who they are, it’s the start of a long journey through their separate pasts and shared future.

Terrified by their amnesia, Marshall and Elyse make a pact to work together to find the answers that could restore their missing memories. As they piece together clues about their lives, they discover that they’re in the idyllic mountain resort town of Summer Falls. Everyone seems happy there, but as Marshall and Elyse quickly learn, darkness lurks beneath the town’s perfect facade. Not only is the town haunted by sinister ghosts, but none of its living inhabitants retain bad memories of anything—not the death of Marshall’s mom, not the hidden violence in Elyse’s family, not even the day-to-day anguish of being a high schooler.

Lonely in this world of happy zombies, Marshall and Elyse fall into an intense relationship founded on their mutual quest for truth. But the secrets they’re trying to uncover could be the death of this budding love affair—and of everyone, and everything, they love in Summer Falls.

Who Might Like Glimmer, And Why

If you like intense reads, especially if they’re told in first-person dual POV present tense, like Claudia Gray’s Defy the Stars, which I reviewed here, you’ll like Glimmer. Because it follows Elyse’s and Marshall’s different but intertwining journeys to getting their memories back, and then, (spoiler alert) once they regain them, their efforts to hide them from themselves and a certain antagonist (end spoiler alert), it’s somewhat disjointed. It jumps from scene to scene for quite a while, with the only common thread being that everyone seems to collapse into what are called “heatnaps” any time anything unpleasant happens, and Elyse sees ghosts.

If you like teen romances, you’ll like this book for that aspect too. Kitanidis adeptly maneuvers her two main characters through the plot compelled by realistic and heartfelt thoughts and feelings that recognize the frailty and fear of adolescence, but also the yearning for independence and power that also comes with that stage of life.

One of the coolest, most unique features of this book is the fact that it combines paranormal elements with magic. In that respect, if you liked Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal, you’ll probably like Glimmer, although the magic systems are different. And if you liked Beyond, you’ll like this book.

I bought it on Amazon, but I found it for a much better price on ThriftBooks.com for $3.79 (used).

Visually, it’s this:

via GIPHY

plus this:

via GIPHY

Nutrition Facts:

Swear words (D**, S**, F**, H**): 66

Sex scenes: 0

Positive messages (e.g., love, charity or helping others, family, value of hard work): 2-3

Positive role models: 2

Violence: not really

Mentions of drinking alcohol, drugs, or smoking: 20

Book Review: Fallen is a Mesmerizing Read

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching my husband flick through Amazon Video options when he came across a movie called Fallen.  Its premise—that a teenage girl has to go to reform school because she was blamed for (and is sure she accidentally caused) the death of a young boy,  and she finds herself drawn to a fellow student at that school, unaware that he is an angel who has loved her for thousands of years—sounded intriguing to me. Since my hubby deemed it too “chick flick” to watch, I looked it up and found that it was based on a book of the same name. So, of course, I bought the book. It was indeed a “chick” book, centered as it was upon the relationship between Luce, the girl, and Daniel, the boy, and for that reason, as well as reasons of its own, it was a very enjoyable read.

What Fallen Is About

As mentioned, it’s about Luce (pronounced like “loose”) meeting Daniel and trying to figure out why he steadfastly avoids her and is even occasionally mean to her, though she keeps finding herself in weirdly dangerous circumstances from which he has to save her. It’s about the friends she makes while there, the terror she lives with every day because of her fear that whatever she saw kill that other young boy will come back, and the fact that memories of Daniel–many memories–keep surfacing in Luce’s head.

Why Fallen Is Enjoyable…Maybe Even Addictive

After reading the book, I had to get the movie, which was only available for purchase through Amazon Video (it’s not on Netflix or Redbox). I was struck, while watching it, with how much it resembled the first Twilight movie. They shared similar themes: a teenage girl inexplicably but powerfully drawn to a very handsome teenage boy, but he does everything he can to avoid her, even though he’s drawn even more powerfully to her. The Fallen movie and the first Twilight movie also shared a similar “indie” feel, drawn from rainy surroundings, non-mainstream music, and creative-and-definitely-not-high-budget special effects. There’s also a definite love triangle going on.

The books are thus easily comparable, and in that vein, there’s much less internal dialogue in Fallen than there was in Twilight. Luce is an intriguing main character who has a refreshingly good relationship with her parents, though they don’t feature prominently in this book. She’s kind, cute, and smart.

And while Fallen doesn’t end with a cliffhanger per se, it does end with at least as many open questions as answered ones. I immediately ordered the sequel to it, and the sequel to that, and expect that I’ll get the last two books in the pentalogy after that.

Who Might Like Fallen

Obviously, anyone who liked Twilight will like this book. If you like star-crossed love stories, you will love this story. If you like books with a bit of a gothic feel, you’ll like this.

Book Reviews: Odd Thomas is Awesome, but Forever Odd Isn’t Quite

As I understand it, Dean Koontz is a prolific author who writes suspense thrillers that contain elements of the paranormal, horror, science fiction, and other genres. The Odd Thomas series, containing seven books and five novelettes, is only one of many he has written. It has a definite paranormal/horror bent, as well as a strong “literary” feel to it, being grounded more in the “odd” gift of the titular character, and the consequences of that gift, than in the pace of those consequences. It is, in my mind, an odd combination. Forever Odd is the second book in the Odd Thomas series, the first book being named Odd Thomas.

I read the first one a couple of years ago. I listened to, rather than read, Forever Odd during my commutes (yay for audiobooks!) about a year ago.   Both books follow a young man named Odd Thomas (yes, that’s actually his name) who is able to see dead people and feel a kind of “psychic magnetism” toward them or toward people that are in trouble.

The First Book: Odd Thomas is Awesome at Being Odd

Goodreads describes the first book’s plot as follows:

“A mysterious man comes to town with a voracious appetite, a filing cabinet stuffed with information on the world’s worst killers, and a pack of hyena-like shades following him wherever he goes. Who the man is and what he wants, not even Odd’s deceased informants can tell him. His most ominous clue is a page ripped from a day-by-day calendar for August 15. Today is August 14.”

Sounds pretty ominous, right? It was. I highly enjoyed Koontz’s somewhat lyrical style and unique characters–his gun-toting girlfriend Stormy Llewelyn, and his morbidly obese, famous writer friend Little Ozzie–among others. I also really enjoyed the plot, which was tightly-woven, suspenseful, and intense.

The Second Book: Forever Odd Falls Flat

This second book, though, I didn’t enjoy nearly as much. This is its synopsis:

“A childhood friend of Odd’s has disappeared. The worst is feared. But as Odd applies his unique talents to the task of finding the missing person, he discovers something worse than a dead body, encounters an enemy of exceptional cunning, and spirals into a vortex of terror.”

The first half of the book is Odd’s discovery of the disappearance of his childhood friend and the brutal murder of the friend’s stepfather. He searches for his friend Danny, thinking the murderer and kidnapper is Danny’s biological father, a convict. He discovers (warning: start of a semi-spoiler) halfway through the book that the blame, in fact, lies with a different culprit, and spends the rest of the book trying to figure out how to defeat her.

It is out of this structure that my main complaint arises. The villain, Detura, is evil, sadistic, and bloodthirsty to the core. She seeks out ghosts and  the ability to see them. She revels in causing pain. In short, she is a flat character. She has no intriguing backstory, redeeming motives, or even moments of uncertainty; she’s just horrible (end semi-spoiler). This flatness, or simpleness, is a great exception to the many other utterly unique and delightful, oxymoronic and relatable, complex characters that inhabit Koontz’s books.

And, without a complex, truly interesting villain, the conflict and plot of the book fall flat. It becomes simply a struggle for Odd to keep his friend, who has brittle-bone disease (a handy plot device) and himself alive. While propped up occasionally by bursts of action as Odd fights off Detura’s henchmen, the plot mainly consists of him trying to outthink his way out of the maze of problems she creates for him.

In my ten-star system, I would only give this one a four.

Book Review: Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance, a Pleasant Read

Some books are wild rides. Others are mountain treks, difficult but well worth it for the beauty and exercise. Others are walks in the park on cool summer evenings, where the sound of children laughing on swing sets and the breeze caressing the back of your neck makes you forget all your cares. Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance: A Novel by Ruth Emmie Lang is one of those walks. It’s such a relaxing read that it borders on boring, but it’s pleasant nonetheless.

What Beasts is About

Weylyn Grey is an orphan boy raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin. He’s not like other people. But one day he single-handedly stops a tornado that threatens the family that takes him in, and he and they realize just how different he actually is. Weylyn’s story as he grows from boy to man is told from from the perspectives of nine different people, seven of whom knew him, one that only heard about him, and from Weylyn himself…for one chapter. It’s less about his powers, which he’s very uncomfortable with, and more about how other people perceive him before and after they surmise that he has unusual abilities but doesn’t want to use them, for good or bad.

What I Thought of Beasts

If I had to give this book a genre, I’d say it’s adult literary paranormal or fantasy. It’s A Man Called Ove meets Twilight. If you like that genre or either of those books, you’ll probably like this one. It’s prose is like soft grass under your feet, the kind that’s slightly cool to the touch and doesn’t contain a sprig of crab grass anywhere.

I’ve admitted before that I can be somewhat impatient when it comes to plot development. In fact, I think my exact words were “I’m an adrenaline junkie.” So, when I say that a book might be boring, you have to keep that in mind. As Beast’s plot moseys back and forth from present day to Weylyn’s growing-up years, and from one character’s point of view to another, one can almost hear the laughs of the children on the swing sets at the park fading and growing louder, then fading and growing louder again, as they swing back and forth.

And the fact that it’s told from so many points of view—which can be quite disorienting, I must say—means you get to know Weylyn only by the reflections made by other characters about him, as if they were all holding up mirrors pointed at him, encircling him metaphorically, and we as readers are standing in the circle right next to Weylyn unable to perceive him directly. This is what’s called a literary foil, and it’s an interesting, artistic technique. If you enjoy books that are more about getting to know the characters than about finding out what they do or what happens to them, you’ll like Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance.

It will release on November 7, 2017.

Stars? Six out of ten.

Visual? Strolling through a park (couldn’t find).

Nutrition facts? A few “grams” of swearing, no violence, no sex.

 

Beyond, by Haverlock and Larkin: a Spirited Read

As part of the festivities of the Storymakers writers’ conference that I went to this past May, I attended a mass book selling and signing event. It was awesome! One of the many books I picked up there was Beyond by Catina Haverlock and Angela Larkin. It had a great premise (“Presley Hale has no idea the guy she just told off in the school parking lot died…four months ago. Stunned by Presley’s sixth sense, Landon Blackwood rethinks his planned departure.”) It sounded like a mixture of Ghost (that ’90s movie with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore) and Sixth Sense (of course), only from a young adult perspective. Then, I was contacted separately by the authors, who follow HeadOverBooks, offered a free copy of the book, and asked to review it, none of us realizing that we’d met each other at Storymakers and I already had a copy of the book. Long story short…today, I offer that promised review of Beyond, along with a free copy (ebook or paperback) to one of my lucky followers!

So read on…

What Beyond is About

If it were just the mystery of why Presley can see Landon, even though he’s dead, there would have been sufficient intrigue. Add to that, though, the fact that a romance develops—more than one, in fact—and the urgency of evading other ghosts insistent on taking Landon’s “passage,” and you have a dynamic, spirited plot. Yes, she can see him, but she’s also best friends with Landon’s twin sister, who is still very much grieving his death but can’t see him, and a love interest of Landon’s cousin, who can’t see him either nor understand why Presley won’t give her whole heart to him. Add to that the backstories and actions of the various side characters and you have a potent recipe for action and emotion.

What I Thought of Beyond

All in all, I thought this was an excellent read. If not for a very few editorial glitches, awkward or nonexistent transitions, and sparse setting descriptions, I would give it a perfect 10. There were enough that a non-editor regular reader of the book might notice them too, but probably not.  In the face of otherwise very strong writing, as in this passage:

Like the last tremulous leaf clinging to a tree upon winter’s approach, my will to fight detached and floated down and away to a place I couldn’t seem to call it back from.

and fantastic pacing, multi-dimensional characters, and a relatively fast-moving plot, I dare say I loved it. If you enjoy books with intrigue, emotion, and romance, and without sex, profanity, or violence, you’ll enjoy Beyond.

Gif?    

via GIPHY

Nutrition facts? As mentioned, no sex, profanity, or violence. The description of Landon’s death involves the drinking of alcohol. There were some good examples of familial loyalty (Presley’s brother has autism and she is his primary caregiver) and selflessness.

To get a free copy of Beyond (either as an ebook (.mobi) or paperback, signed by Catina and Angela [although addressed to me]), subscribe to receive post notifications on my main page or follow me on Twitter. I’ll pick a random winner on July 30th and announce it on Twitter that same day! You can also enter to win a copy on Goodreads here.