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Heather Mitchell/Tessa Tangent "HM" (Essex, UK)

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Sane New World: Taming the Mind
Sane New World: Taming the Mind
Price: 3.49

138 of 156 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Want A Happier Life? You'd Be Crazy Not To Read Sane New World. Yes, I Do Mean That., 10 Jun 2013
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What's the one thing we all say when asked what we'd wish ourselves or our children and loved ones? A happy life. This excellent book isn't just for those people with a mental health diagnosis. It's a book for any human being who wants a happier life. A manual for improved life quality - improved thinking, feeling and behaviour. I want to send one each to all our children.

Here's a modified something I wrote on Ruby Wax's website (www.rubywax.net) today.

"I'm glad the Irish Sane New World Tour went so well. My work hours were reduced from 36 to 12 per week when I had to have time off for an episode and the doctor's certificate showed 'bipolar depression'. That's a 2/3 cut in my salary. We moved area and I now work from home doing something I love. But mental illness can still hit us in the pocket and lower self-esteem further in this way, as you mention in SNW. The law definitely needs changing. We can never have too many people being open and honest about their experiences.

I'm now told by my e-reader I'm at '94 of 150' and thus at Part 4 of Sane New World. Although I took two NHS Mindfulness courses, the brain part was only explained in that we can change our thinking and thus feeling and behaviours. There simply wasn't the budget or time on the NHS to go into that detail and we concentrated on the actual practice.

So, at very long last, someone has explained for me in layman's/Joe Public human terms what scientists and scholars actually know, from all the research we have up to now (and clearly more needs doing), about our brains and minds. I knew Mindfulness was doing me good, making life richer and me more content, but the info in SNW's been a revelation to me. How complex is the brain! No wonder it's taking time to work it all out. And each brain is unique. So Ruby's down-to-earth and often funny and recognisable explanations helped me see why I've been stuck with certain thoughts, beliefs and attitudes for too many years.

I've had to read some parts twice - which gave me priceless ah-ha moments galore - and look up a few words but you've made this topic so accessible for those who want to do something about their mental health/thinking/life problems but may not understand why Mindfulness (and mindfulness-based CBT) is worth learning and practising and sticking at. For ANYone!

One practical course of Mindfulness would be great, if daily practise follows. Doing a course, then forgetting about it probably wouldn't help. A course or other complementary works such as Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Williams & Penman - based on Kabat-Zinn's work - and then practising daily, begins to pay dividends. I wouldn't be writing this if I doubted it. I don't do many reviews. I have to feel very strongly. And this is fundamental stuff to help with our lives.

Of course there are crappy and traumatic times; Ruby Wax doesn't deny that (especially by being open in the book about her own struggles) - but we can observe those times, thoughts and feelings with mindful practice, and recover in a healthier way than the negative things we often do, beating ourselves up, being unkind to ourselves, overloading ourselves to breaking point, etc. This book has explained to me what's going on; how with Mindfulness I'm rewiring my brain to positive effect. I was honestly at the point where I couldn't afford NOT to.

We are human and fallible. Perfection we can never have but, using your book and the Mindfulness-based options (books/courses/cds and more) out there, we can improve our quality of life. And I think that's the best gift those of use with mental health issues can give ourselves. Thanks for making it all a lot clearer for me. :-)"

I don't always meditate daily (I can manage short ones quite well, even 5 minutes!) but I do try and consciously do a few daily things (washing up, anyone? Walking the dog?) in a mindful way, paying attention. Everyone will have their own preferences.

If you struggle with life, that the habitual negative thoughts you have affect your self-worth/your emotions and feelings/your behaviour and how you live life (anxious/suffering depressive/anxiety symptoms/obsessive thoughts and behaviours) and you sincerely wish to change this, well then, say no more, you are very human and Ruby's written a funny, accessible manual to help.

Life can only improve with this stuff. It *can* be happier if you want. But if your painful comfort-zone is the one you want to keep, you go ahead. You're welcome to it. But don't say I never tipped you the wink! ;-)


The Villages
The Villages
by Dave Hutchinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 12.66

5.0 out of 5 stars WHAT A GIFT - AND AN EXCELLENT, COMPELLING READ..., 19 Feb 2013
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This review is from: The Villages (Paperback)
I loved this book - it gave me far more than simply an excellent read. I haven't felt moved to write a review for a long time.

I knew of Dave Hutchinson only through Twitter, but what I'd seen of his often droll, topical, world-weary - and yet world-astonished - tweets had intrigued me plenty enough to read some of his work. I'm not disappointed. At all.

I understood Dave was a science-fiction writer and *whispers* I'd never read much sci-fi. Even though I usually enjoy a good SF film or tv series, I'd always rejected SF books as inaccessible to me. I already read everything else, I reasoned, and here was Stuff I couldn't possibly hope to understand, let alone actively enjoy. My SF-loving OH suggested I shouldn't be so uncharacteristically close-minded (for someone who loves, and worked with, books of all kinds) and to give science-fiction a whirl.

I read the book about six months ago but its amazing main premise (The Villages are quite a concept and one I'd love to believe existed), its natural, tenderly humorous touch, its lasting memorability, the way I would mentally refer to the book in daily life, and the gift it gave me - see below - meant that it was more than worthy of a 5* review. I don't read many like that.

Mrs. Groan has already summed up the plot of The Villages very well and I couldn't hope to explain any further/better without adding spoilers. Tim's search for Sophie, The Villages themselves, and the sharply observant, light, yet precise, elegant writing drove me into the kind of obsessive reading frenzy that involves torches under duvets and tea at 3 a.m.

Telling what The Villages actually ARE would be a massive plot-spoiler but it makes the back-blurb of the cover understandable. What's possible about the footprints of history, what we will do when desperate for money, and the ends to which we'll go freely for love came over as strong themes, while many of the locations in the book rang authentic bells with me. Some chapters are set in central London and the City, places I'm familiar with through work; I was there in the 90s of this book. Dave Hutchinson's clear descriptions of, say, northern cities and Polish landmarks I've never seen, therefore came across as equally authentic. I enjoyed both 'seeing' characters and places and astonishing things, and hearing that colourful cast of characters speak.

The young, selfish-yet-likeable (as many of us were in our twenties) but not foolish Tim is our narrator. Bless him, his luck is fleetingly felt and always appears to be just out of his reach. At one point he's beaten and tied naked ... whilst ... ah but then that would be telling. After a time, I was willing Tim to have just one pleasant experience. Through The Villages themselves, the power of love, some wild ingenuity and sheer, dogged persistence, it's entirely plausible to believe that Tim went on to a great future. But nothing is certain.

In January, I attended a delightful evening at the BSFA (British Science Fiction Association) where Dave Hutchinson was interviewed. During this, he mentioned that he finds the process of writing a struggle much of the time. And many writers say this. But, in spite of this, he's the kind of writer who makes it look easy. And that is his gift.

I would love to read a sequel to The Villages. And a film would be great news. I had a young Martin Freeman in mind all the way through reading it. So. This is a very high recommendation.

Lately, my OH has started The Villages while I've been reading Dave Hutchinson's equally compelling short stories, e.g. in As The Crow Flies. Now, having seen more, I can't recommend Dave's style and originality highly enough. Er. Hang on. More SF? Me? And that's the gift that The Villages has given me - a whole new reading genre. I've been, like: 'THAT's sci-fi? Well, if so, I'm hooked.'

More like this, please!

[Oh dear. I think that's a little more than the required 'at least 20 words about the product'. :-) TT]


The Land of Decoration
The Land of Decoration
by Grace McCleen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 10.39

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When God Talks Back, 29 Mar 2012
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This review is from: The Land of Decoration (Hardcover)
Religious people talk to God and some say it's a sign of madness when God talks back (see When God Talks Back: Madness or Mysticism by Tasha E. Mansfield When God Talks Back: Madness or Mysticism?). Judith and her father have no doubt spent these ten years since her mother's death talking to a God who doesn't respond, until, that is, when Judith needs a miracle to prevent bullying from Neil Lewis et al at school.

Grace McCleen's debut novel, The Land of Decoration, is arranged as a Pentateuch - in five books. Judith (which book of the same name in the Bible has a manipulative heroine who convinces others of the power of God to save them) has been taught that the end of the world is coming and has spent her young life knocking on doors with her fundamentalist father, reading from scripture and warning those who stop to listen about Armageddon and what they believe lies beyond.

The Land of Decoration is the Utopia promised in the bible and the motherless and friendless Judith plays God in her own house by creating this land in miniature in her own bedroom. Everything she sees outside, therefore, say a matchbox, a pipe cleaner, a sweet wrapper, has the potential to be a person, an ocean or a house. The devil's in the detail.

Judith has been brought up with the firm belief that the end of the world is coming and, just like any bullied child threatened with a pasting (or a head down a toilet) the next time they set foot in school, the end of Judith's world really is nigh. When Judith makes it snow in her own Land of Decoration the night before the toilet-dunking is to take place, she wakes the next day to find that it has snowed in the real world, school is cancelled and she is therefore saved from bullying - at least for that week. Judith is now sure that she has the power to cause miracles to happen.

Judith then finds an ally in Mrs. Pierce, the new form teacher drafted in when the former class teacher has a breakdown, as well as the God with whom she begins to hold entire conversations. Apart from God, her only 'friends' are adults, either the teacher, neighbour, Mrs. Pew, or others at the church hall. But the more support Judith has from the teacher, the more the bullying affects her and then her father. To the point where he virtually barricades them into their home. All this while Judith's father (John) is himself persecuted at work for continuing to work at the factory while a strike takes place. Judith and her father are soon experiencing a purgatory in their own town.

I won't go any further into the story as I don't want to spoil it. I found it a very quick, compelling read and loved all the description and detail, and even ten year old Judith's venture into philosophical realms was believable given the very adult nature of the small social life she had. I got the impression she would have been quite the stranger to the sleepover or the Happy Meal.

I loved that she tells herself "that small things are big and big things are small, that veins run like rivers and hairs grow like grass and a hummock of moss to a beetle looks like a forest, and the shapes of the countries and clouds of the earth look like the colours in marbles from space." And "if I am dust then I am also the dust of stars." There is some beautiful writing about the little details that are all around us and which we can often overlook. A look at Grace McCleen's website gave me the tingle-factor, when I realised that she has quite clearly been observing all the little details for quite some time.

When children are bullied, they often take comfort in their imagination and creating a version of her real world with its features of mountain, factory, streets and sea, was both Judith's idea of escape and comfort. Something she could escape to and which she could control, within a reality where she had very little control at all. When God talks back to her, it's at the point where she's feeling utterly friendless and so for much of the book, God and Mrs. Pierce are her only friends. In fact, there is a message here that even a strong religious faith can't save us from the inhumanity of man.

I have only one minor quibble with The Land Of Decoration - there was something towards the end of the book that I found hard to believe possible in this particular tale. But there are stories on the news almost every year that tell us it both can and does. One thing's for sure: this book didn't exactly make me want to rush out and join the Jehovah's Witnesses, or any other fundamentalist group. I closed the book with hope that Judith and her father would survive in the future, no matter what, as they were both resourceful, imaginative and strong-willed characters.

With delightful description and perceptive rumination; slickly good-humoured and unsettling in turns, The Land of Decoration receives a full four stars from me. Did God talk back? You decide. More please, Grace McCleen. Divinely inspired or not, I wonder what you'll write next?
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 10, 2013 8:56 PM BST


The Fairy Ring
The Fairy Ring
Price: 11.45

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When I Hear This, All's Right With The World, 21 Mar 2012
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This review is from: The Fairy Ring (Audio CD)
Last week, I was writing a blog post about the things I do to manage bipolar (or BPD). One of the little things I do is to keep handy some relaxing, reassuring music and I mentioned Mike's album "Fairy Ring" on my post. Because it is some of the most moving yet relaxing music I've ever heard.

It was first played to me during the only Reiki session I've ever had in my life. As soon as it's soothing tones appeared, I was off and away and relaxed. Sometimes emotions appeared within me that I couldn't and still can't give expression to. Sometimes, I simply felt deeply relaxed and comforted. I hope it has that same effect on you. If ever I need to wipe away a busy day, a busy week, and heave a great sigh, relax, breathe deeply, this is still the main album I play.

Otherwise, I like reggae, soul, some rock, classical... I can also recommend Music For Stress Relief - also to be found on Amazon.Music for Stress Relief 2CD


Sister
Sister
by Rosamund Lupton
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Driven by Grief, Guilt And Love..., 23 Feb 2012
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This review is from: Sister (Paperback)
Jeffrey Deaver's words were splashed over the front cover, declaring "Sister" to exist "in that rare place where crime fiction and literature coincide", which made it a tempting enough choice for me. The book begins "Dearest Tess" and tells us of how Beatrice ("Bee") first came to learn her sister (Tess) was missing, then dead. Then psychotic and suicidal.

Full of the "unrequited love" that is grief, and of guilt at living in America and not being there for her sister, Bee sets out to prove that Tess was utterly incapable of killing herself; she didn't have it in her to do such a thing. They'd lost a brother in the past. Dad had left them and their mother. Tess had been full of joie de vivre. She just wouldn't do it.

The story and the answer to the mysteries surrounding Tess become revealed over time, changing from 1st person narrative to 2nd person when Beatrice is talking or writing to "you", Tess. A statement by Bee to the CPS is patiently taken over days and days. Meanwhile Bee tells the story of what happens to her (and what is going into the statement) in her search to find out the truth.

Whilst it is a form of crime fiction, a whodunit, I wouldn't have said it had me on the edge of my seat, or indeed had many twists and turns. But it was a true page-turner, in that once I'd started, I couldn't put it down. Because what it did have was a reasonably intriguing guessing-game. However, I had guessed some answers way before they were revealed. Still, I don't want to give any of this away and spoil it.

Themes that cropped up: how we fiercely want to protect those we love; families and how well we actually know our own parents, sisters, brothers; the different ways in which we deal with loss and grief; the implications of genetic research; and how our dead live on through us, continuing to help us understand the world even when they have left it.

I half-expected this to be a medical thriller of the Peter James type, which I have enjoyed. It wasn't like that at all but I read on because I accepted "Sister" as it was. A story about an older sister driven by love, grief and guilt and the need to do something; to find her younger sister's killer and protect her name, if it was the last thing she did.

I liked this debut novel and I would read Rosamund Lupton's next book, "Afterwards", but not just yet. After a winter of worsening depression (I've even bought a SAD lamp) I'm just about coming through it. But it didn't stop me enjoying "Sister". The next thing I'm going to read is something funny or hopeful or thrilling. Preferably it will be all three!


My Memories of a Future Life
My Memories of a Future Life
by Roz Morris
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.62

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Unusual Literary Mystery, 23 Jan 2012
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From the moment the book opens in a yoga studio, where candles 'knew the truth' and which were `shivering to an influence none of us could hear or feel'; I was drawn into Roz Morris's narrative. As surely as Carol, her heroine hypnotee, was drawn into her future life regressions (or were they progressions?), I found it difficult to put the book down.

Carol Lear, a concert-level pianist with RSI in her hands is therefore at a painful crossroads in her life. She becomes reliant upon recorded hypnosis sessions - the tapes of which have chapters to themselves - with the cold yet mesmerising Gene Winter in which she becomes the spirit of the flawed healer, Andreq. Gene, who stubs out cigarettes with his bare feet among other party-pieces, entices her to the village of Vellanoweth to house-and-cat-sit for a female colleague and to work in her place as the music shop's singing teacher.

Working and living in Vellanoweth enables her to continue her `progression' sessions with the nocturnal Gene Winter, get to know some of the locals, visit the country's first nuclear power station, check out the local radio. There appears to be a religious -v- spiritualist divide in the village and nearby town of Ixendon. Quite who is friend and who is foe is a mystery and Carol is eventually accused of being `unfit to have custody of spirit' at a time when she is questioning what is going to become of her own spirit, in the here and now.

Characters drawn particularly well were Jerry, Eleanor (hilarious keyboard-thumper), and Richard Longborrow. Carol grew on me eventually when I saw her doing the same kinds of things, and making the same kinds of mistakes, that any of us might. Gene and Willa, I'll leave you to decide for yourself.

Having read and been very well guided by Roz Morris's useful book for writers,Nail Your Novel - Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, I admit I was curious to see how Roz puts her own method into practice. With `Memories' she demonstrates her own methods very well, keeping the narrative tight with almost every scene a chapter (suits my low attention-span) and the movement towards a satisfying conclusion for the reader well-paced. Her use of original metaphor (`the muted piano, like bells tolling underwater') helped me in revising my own writing.

Once I'd put the book down, I had to let it clarify in my head for a few days. My husband enjoyed a cooked dinner, the dog was walked, and order restored. The book had many themes for me: of truth and of what truth is; of the `talented soul' and the truth that lies behind that talent; of deceit and how we can deceive ourselves; of how the young and troubled sometimes are unable to make the wisest life decisions; about freedom to choose, restriction and about power - particularly, the power we allow others to have over us. And, of course, the possibility that, at some time in the future, we'll all be xeching away under the sea.

I can recommend 'My Memories of a Future Life', then. It's unusual, intriguing and ultimately satisfying, even as I gawped going "Yes, but what..." as I snapped the cover closed. There are many questions in life that will go unanswered. I, ever-curious, shall probably die puzzled...


Nail Your Novel - Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence
Nail Your Novel - Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence
Price: 3.12

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Roz Morris, Nail Your Novel: The Creative Midwife, 9 Dec 2011
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This book is neither good nor bad; it's invaluable! Roz Morris IS the Creative Midwife.

For me, this baby was in there, becoming more and more overdue. Fourteen years overdue. The thoughts were creating a dense cloud in my head that I knew had to be released before I went mad.

What made me put away a half finished novel of 40,000 words for 14 years, I can't reveal. But it was traumatic and life-threatening. I allowed it to make me a creatively-challenged former writer for all those years. A has-been.

This year, it was nothing less than write or creative death to me when I decided to write a new and very different novel for NaNoWriMo, a couple of weeks before the event started. Like a first-time mother, I began with no prior knowledge of the event or the aftermath. I had no draft, no outline, just that baby-dense cloud of unwritten work in my head on Day One. I studied my forty-strong books on writing for a clue. With Nail Your Novel, a new Kindle order, I found what I was looking for.

Nail Your Novel gave me the power to get releasing, to stop holding on; to give birth to "that novel" burning a hole in my head/stomach/nerves. My inner critic a distant memory as I let 71,529 words of draft one flow.

Roz has a clever, unpatronising, enouraging attitude borne of experience, ghost-writing ten novels and writing her own. She knows the process involved. She holds your hand as an equal. I'm prepared to trust her in this. And so, I've allowed NYN to hold my hand right through the process. I'm now at the second draft stage but, before I do that, I'm on to NYN's Beat Sheets (as practically helpful as NYN's Card Game) and it works for me. It's also a fun way of working. We don't have to be miserable in order to write.

There are myriad books on writing out there - hey, borrow mine. Some, not all (I love Stephen King's On Writing, Dorothea Brande's If You Want To Write, Bird on Bird) will persuade you you can't spell, can't form a beginning, middle and end, can't write dialogue, can't do this, can't do that. And that there is a mystique, a secret, to successfully producing an end result. If midwives said that to every first-time mother, there'd be an awful lot of decades-long pregnancies out there. Like mine.

What Nail Your Novel does is EXACTLY what it says on the cover! It assumes you know the basics of writing, like you know how to get pregnant, and, let's face it, most of us ordering writing books do have a clue how to write. It's the HOW, the actual working, of the first draft to the working of the final product that needs to be nailed.

Hurrah. This book shows you that you CAN nail it. You can conceive the idea, you can write, and you can bear the result. It's a bit like labour: let it flow, let it happen, it's going to happen anyway, it doesn't have to be perfect. Get it written, give birth to something. You can fashion it in a balanced way afterwards. And here's how.

Sorry to labour the point... but thank you, Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris, my Creative Midwife. I finished 50,000 words after 17 days with NaNoWriMo. I went on to write 71,529 words of my 1st draft by day 23 of my finger-flurry. What was born was definitely a baby, not even yet a toddler. It needs forming and shaping, in the way that we have to teach our children to become whole beings. So the rest is up to me, in the same way that motherhood was up to me.

With the [...] website there is plenty of great aftercare, so let's not screw it up after such an amazing delivery.


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