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?


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

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:


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


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.


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


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:


Barnes & Noble




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.


Personal Examples
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: A Case of Conscience by James Blish, a Heavy Read

Although some authors would probably hate me for saying this, I really wish that every book would come with a big “nutrition facts” label on its spine or back cover. It would list the book’s genre, the number of times (if any) swear words were used, the number of sexual imagery and/or dialogue occurrences, the frequency of violence, positive/neutral/negative themes, alcohol use, positive/neutral/negative role models, etc. I think such facts would help all consumers make more well-informed decisions about their book consumption. Such a label would be far more helpful than an “explicit content,” “parental advisory,” “R,” “PG-13,” “PG,” or “G” rating. Such a label would have been very helpful for me as I decided whether I should review A Case of Conscience by James Blish. It would have looked something like this:

Numbers for occurrences of profanity, sex, and violence are wildly estimated and may have no relation to reality.

Had I read such a label on NetGalley, where I originally heard about the book (a new edition was recently published), I would not have chosen to review it, purely because of the genre. As it was, I read it anyway, and found some things that I really enjoyed. The things that I didn’t like were, for the most part, attributable more to the genre than the specific author or book.

For one, the world building was awesome. The first part of the book takes place on a planet called Lithia, in an age when interstellar travel is no big deal and Earth’s government sends scouts to planets when they’re discovered to determine if arrangements can be made with the indigenous species for travel, trade, etc. The planet is inhabited by a sentient reptilian species that is wholly peaceful, and wholly without organized religion or even any concept of good or bad. One of the Earthian scouts is both a biologist and a Jesuit priest, and he is both fascinated and repulsed by the Lithians.

Almost the whole first half of the book is a discussion, between him and the three other scouts of various backgrounds, of the morality of the different recommendations each of them plans to make for those arrangements …with the ultimate decision (or lack thereof) having no real bearing on most of the rest of the book. The second half is what happens when they come back to Earth, divided, carrying a Lithian egg from which hatches Egtverchi, a being that throws humans into a frenzy, living as they are in underground shelters all throughout Earth and scared as they are of the creature.

The advantage of literary sci-fi is that any book written in that genre can take pages and pages to describe the world in which it takes place. Conversely, the disadvantage of the genre is that it can take pages and pages to describe that world. It’s fun to use one’s imagination to envision these worlds, but I need the plot in the books I read to move faster than this one did, and indeed than most literary sci-fis, or books written in the 1950’s, do. Those of you enjoy such long-windedness will enjoy this book, both for the world-building and the religious discussion.

But mentioning plot brings me to the main reason I didn’t like this book, and that was that its plot, slow as it was, was ambiguous and inconclusive. It didn’t lead toward an ending that resolved the moral dilemma of the main character, the Jesuit priest. It stopped right before such an ending could have taken place. I hated that.

So, were I to rate Case of Conscience on my 1-to-10-stars scale, I would give it a solid 5…or 4. For its genre and when it was written, it’s a pioneering example of good, hard sci-fi. It did, in fact, win a Hugo award for that reason. But it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Note: In the absence of nutrition facts labels for books, I recommend going to Compass Book Ratings, CommonSenseMedia, and Book Smugglers. All three, along with the product reviews you might find on Amazon, can sometimes give you an idea of the moral content of a book, if the book you’re looking for has been reviewed by them. The last one, Book Smugglers, reviews primarily sci-fi and fantasy, thoroughly and eloquently, and their moral perspective, since it tends to be opposite of mine, helps me to gauge whether such books would be appropriate for me.

Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of A Case of Conscience from NetGalley in exchange for my review. All opinions stated herein are purely my own.

Book Review and Deal: Brain on Fire is a Fascinating Read

Oh boy, have I been reading like crazy lately…and busy!  I just finished Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan. When I read non-fiction, which isn’t often, I love books like this. It was fascinating.


What Is Brain on Fire About?

Brain on Fire is the memoir of a young woman who suddenly wakes up in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, with no memory of how she got there. “Days before,” says the back cover, “she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper.” It’s the story of her abrupt and unexplained descent into madness, her month in it, of which she has no memory but which she pulled together from the journals of family members, doctors’ notes, and surveillance footage, and recovery from it.

It is both fascinating and well-written.  Susannah details many of her weird behaviors, like how she became violent, psychotic, and bent on escape after she woke up, and how she repeatedly held her arms out in front of her body like a zombie, not sure why but unable to control the movement. She also became, by turns, paranoid and catatonic. She also  explores the various hypotheses put forward by doctors to explain it, and the incredibly convoluted journey towards diagnosis and treatment.

What’s the Deal?

You can get a used copy in good condition on Thriftbooks for $3.99.

Who Would Like Brain on Fire, And Why?,

As mentioned, anyone who likes well-written books, especially those like I’m Eve and Sybil will like this book. It’s a book that reveals the fragility of the human mind,. It makes you at once so very thankful for the sanity that you enjoy while also heartsick for Susannah and her family.

Can you recommend other memoirs of people with mental or neurological illnesses?

Three Book Reviews in One: The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski

This week, I give you three book reviews in one: The Winner’s Curse, The Winner’s Crime, and The Winner’s Kiss, all part of the Winner’s trilogy by Marie Rutkoski. Altogether a rousing and emotional, if somewhat ponderous, speculative fantasy series about a young woman, Kestrel, who is the daughter of a general, the owner of a slave, and an unwilling lynchpin in an emperor’s plan for domination.


16069030The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can’t agree with this review more, left by Goodreads reviewer Kim: “I can’t speak to the hype, but I can speak to the quality of the book. This is a very, very good YA fantasy. Superb world-building without info-dumping. Well-rounded characters and a romance that allows for the hero and heroine to actually get to know one another. Clean, spare writing that at times, especially toward the end, rises to lyrical beauty. Intelligent—I can’t emphasize that enough—intelligent plotting and strategy (an essential but often sadly underdeveloped element of any book involving politics). Interesting, thought-provoking nuances of slavery, empires, war, and freedom. And an end that allows for the complexity of the book’s cultures and characters and, while setting up for a sequel, also works well as the finish to a standalone volume.”







20443207The Winner’s Crime
by Marie Rutkoski

This one got a bit more ponderous, but still packs quite an emotional punch.













20443235The Winner’s Kiss
by Marie Rutkoski
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I was absolutely enthralled with book one of this series, The Winner’s Curse, I was less so with book two, The Winner’s Crime, and even less so with the final book. This book delved too deeply into military strategy and the complexities of Kestrel’s relationships with her dad and with Arin for my taste. It bogged down the plot immensely, I thought, until it was so heavy it could only plod along. Still, it was worth reading the entire series.