Book Review: Intense Transformation

This little book is rather like a HIIT workout itself. Short, intense, sometimes a challenge, but in the end, it is worth the work.

For those that are not familiar with the term, H.I.I.T. stands for High-Intensity Interval Training. Many programs over the years have followed the HIIT principles. Among them, Crossfit, P90X, Tabata, and interval training all have connections to the core idea of HIIT.

Intense Transformation
by Paul W. Matthews

I was happy to see the author spend time on the benefits outside of sheer physicality. There is a component of HIIT that includes body awareness, mindfulness, intention, and breathing. He also hits on the commensurate nature of HIIT and Yogic practice.

He emphasizes the use of mindfulness in HIIT workouts and the value of precision in movement over just throwing out a load of badly formed reps. This gave me a great deal of hope as I was reading. His emphasis on bettering your own performance is exactly where it needs to be.

Instead of the manifesto, I was kind of thinking I would see, Mr. Matthews seems well-read in the current state of sport research. He uses science to back up his writing, another feature I enjoyed.

Initially, I was afraid I was picking up a dude-bro-type training manual. While he is positive, and ever encouraging the author is also well-grounded in science, mindfulness, and practicality.

I am motivated to go dust off my kettlebell.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Book Review: Ta Le – Book 1: Knowledge

I picked up the novel of Yessoh G.D. entitled “Ta Le” because I wanted to experience a culture that was not my own. I find myself torn about leaving this review because my background is not African and I’m wondering if I am missing something, or if I’m taking something for granted that is not applicable.

Either way, I’m going to plunge ahead and leave my honest review. I will leave it up to the reader to decide if I have encapsulated the novel with accuracy and fairness. So, let’s begin.

We follow two main storylines in the novel. The first is a government operation involving a young analyst drawn into affairs far above his pay grade. After the assassination of an important global figure, Kobenan is tapped to help solve the mystery of this death beside the mysterious leader of the government-based S-cell. The second storyline is of Joel a young man in the city who finds his familiar world unraveling at an alarming speed. In one evening he is orphaned and his sister is spirited away by creatures he has always seen, but never understood. With this act of violence, he is swept into a world of African lore, which appears to be preparing for war.

These two stories weave together through a convoluted series of events that introduces Kobenan and Joel to the unknown world of spirits and djinn that surrounds them. Powerful beings have come into the world and they are being manipulated and sought by a powerful magician who seems bent on the destruction of the current world. A nice twist arrives at the end when we discover — sorry, just can’t do that to you.

But, suffice it to say – I didn’t see them coming. That string of sudden revelations was a pleasant surprise. Overall, I found the pacing was good and the characters have so much more to give.

Now to the part of the story where I had problems. There were moments when through the voice of the narrator the modern world could fall away. I found myself immersed in a dark night on a vast savannah with only the comforting light of a campfire, the figure of a storyteller, and the story.

These moments were wonderful and engrossing and rare. The problem I had was that they were also invariably interrupted. As a reader I found myself confronted with a harsh flip back to modern times. Don’t mistake me. This wasn’t because of the mention of suits, or ties, or watches, or SUVs. The presence of modern items was not the problem. The jolts came from a sudden trip in style or the intrusion of modern language.

When the author draws the reader into the world of lore and djinn, and the ancestors it is truly a magical transformation. I wanted to stay there. My disappointment was that in the end, my time in those wild and untamed realms was all too brief.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Book Review: Dark Apprentice

Wow, I really dislike Nikolai Fedorov.

I know this guy. He is the guy who smirks when they think you can’t see. He is the guy convinced of their own superiority.

From the first page to the last Nikolai, the main character, is both protagonist and antagonist in his own story. He undoes himself at every turn. And, by the end, he has learned absolutely nothing, grown not one hair, and is still the conniving creature he was at the beginning.

Some readers might argue that Nikolai did “change” by the final scene. Nope. Look again. The only change was that he moved his teacher from his mental list of adversaries to his list of allies.

That is not growth. That is merely rearranging his opinion on someone’s usefulness to him.

So, why did I stick with the novel to the end? Good question. I’ll admit – I put it down twice and walked away. I think the thing that drew me back was a simple need to finish the thing so I could get it out of my head. And, because I think I know what Nikolai is hiding under all that calculating cunning. So, back I went.

Allow me to insert a note here: My degrees are in Soviet and E. European studies. My mother is a survivor of WWII. I have spent many hours speaking with people about the sieges of Leningrad and of Stalingrad. I have a well developed idea of just how grim a childhood was in one of those, or other Nazi occupied areas of the Soviet Union.

It makes sense that Nikolai would see the world as one brutal conflict to win – at all cost. So, on one hand I despise what he is and, on the other, I can pity him.

The other major player in the story is the immortal mage Medea. She takes Nikolai as an apprentice against all her better instincts. She has his measure and yet still takes on a power seeking, lying, cheating psychopath.

Her decision is explained late in the story. My response to the revelation was — And your best solution was to teach him? Uhm. Yeah. Medea may be immortal, but I have serious problems with her judgement. This is not to say she is a paragon. She obviously still has a few problems of her own to work out.

As far as the technical side of things went, the writing was clear and the story moved along. But, the emotional depth of the characters left me wanting something more. I didn’t so much make an emotional connection with the characters as I had an emotional reaction to them.

So, would I call this my usual “brain popcorn”? No. It’s more like candy-corn, you either like it or loathe it. This is the first in a series – Will I read book #2? At this instant, I don’t know if I’m willing to allow Nikolai to take up any more of my time.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Book Review: Steady

Steady: A Guide to Better Mental Health Through and Beyond the Coronavirus Pandemic by Dr. Sarb Johal is one of those books I wish everyone would read.

80% of the people around the globe would find some idea or thought within these pages that would help explain the currently fluid world we find ourselves within. They would find an understanding professional who clearly lays out the current causes of anxiety at every level from personal to global.

Dr. Johal is imminently well qualified to write this touchstone for the world. He has worked with governments and international organizations, to develop psychosocial responses for over a decade. Among the crises he has helped guide populations through is the H1N1 pandemic.

He knows his stuff.

The prose is clear and approachable. The concepts are clearly presented and there is ample reference to resources for those, like myself, who are inclined to look at the nuts and bolts of research.

It is, overall, a calming and reassuring look at the changing social landscape caused by the COVID pandemic. Dr. Johal offers understanding and practical approaches to the mental stresses that it seems everyone is facing. He doesn’t offer rainbows, but he is offering umbrellas to help us make it through the current series of crises.

One thing I found of particular note is his refusal to advocate for the ‘normal’. Quite rightly Dr. Johal reminds the reader that every situation is fluid, even if it is familiar. He doesn’t give any promises, but he does make emerging from the pandemic seem possible.

— Oh, and that other 20% or so, those are the folks who live with long term trauma. And while we may know a good bit about anxiety and uncertainty, we would do well to read the book, too. Because, sometimes we need to remember that not everyone is as programmed to flourish in the shifting unknown.

(And no, I don’t know if it really is a 80/20 split – it’s a metaphor.)

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Unpacking: COVID and ‘brain disease’

light blue one use medical protective masks

The headlines are terrifying.

The study behind the headlines was published in the Lancet on April 6, 2021 (yesterday, as of writing this)

I recommend you go read the study, but for a short recap I’m going to break it down here. The main take away point from the study is this:

The largest group of outcomes involving the brain from having COVID-19 are mental health issues.

And really, who could be surprised by that?

I’m in no way attempting to minimize the role of mental health. (Seriously, have you looked at the rest of this blog?) But, I did want to show the data behind those horrid headlines in the media.

Mental health is a serious matter, and the recent study demonstrates that the next wave to follow COVID-19 might be a series of mental health crises. I’m not the first person who has espoused this possibility. Nor, do I think I will be the last.

IF anything, this study has demonstrated that mental health is interwoven with physical health. The first order is to preserve life, but we must not abandon the fundamental human need to live.

The data below is taken from Table 2, of the study.
The table below shows the rates of each outcome for COVID-19 patients at the four levels of severity –
non-hospitalization, hospitalization, ICU admission, and delirium.
Additionally, the data is organized from most common to least common Based on the “No hospital” column.

Outcomeno
Hospital
hospitalICUDelerium
Mood, anxiety, or psychotic disorder (any) 23·59% 24·50% 27·78% 36·25%
Anxiety disorder (any) 17·51% 16·40%19·15%22·43%
Mood disorder (any)13·10% 14·69% 15·43% 22·52%
Mood, anxiety, or psychotic disorder (first)8·15%8·85% 12·68% 12·96%
Anxiety disorder (first)6·81% 6·91% 9·79%9·24%
Substance use disorder (any)5·87%8·56% 10·14% 11·85%
Insomnia (any) 5·16% 5·95% 7·50% 9·82%
Mood disorder (first)3·86% 4·49% 5·82% 8·07%
Nerve, nerve root, or plexus disorders2·69% 3·35% 4·24%4·69%
Insomnia (first)2·23%3·14% 4·24% 5·05%
Substance use disorder (first)1·74% 2·09% 3·15% 2·58%
Ischaemic stroke (any)1·33% 4·38% 6·92% 9·35%
Psychotic disorder (any)0·93%2·89% 2·77%7·00%
Dementia0·35%1·46%1·74%4·72%
Psychotic disorder (first)0·25%0·89%0·70%2·12%
Data are percentage at 6 months (95% CI)

All the other outcomes, which were all physiological, were under 0.50% Those include: Intracranial hemorrhage, Ischaemic stroke, Parkinsonism, Guillain-Barré syndrome, Myoneural junction or muscle disease, and Encephalitis.

If you go read the study, which I recommend you will see that it was well constructed and thorough. I have a small niggle with the combination of outcomes they chose to examine – but in the end the brain is all about chemistry, so I can’t really complain.

Poem: Glitter dust

Talk to me of whilom days.
Remember them as you speak.
Comfort me with simple lies
of color, joy, and laughter.
Allow me to breathe again,
in a time before the dark.
Fill my mind with glitter dust.

Very Short Story : Dangerous

I will never be alone. I forever
carry my mother’s voice with me.
In my head the word ‘danger’
echoes, inescapable.
Stairs, danger. Eating, danger.
Ice, danger. People, danger.
That word, her fear is
her legacy to me.

Feb. 2, 2021

Note: The VSS series is an outgrowth of writing prompts for Twitter. The goal is to produce a Tweet that fits within the 280 character format, and uses the given idea or word.

Book Review: Ground Control

From reading the blurbs about the story I thought I was in for a straight-forward girl meets guy, gets on a shuttle to Mars, all heck breaks loose, struggle until a happy ending.

I could not have been more wrong. While the plot does follow the basic tenets of Sci-fi and space colonization it is far more a story about inner space than outer space. 

Sarah, the story’s protagonist, resonated with me. At times that quality was appealing, at others not so much. Sarah is in many ways a woman plucked from today. Hopeful, loving, conflicted, selfish, needing and not being able to quantify or explain that need to anyone – including herself. 

While we all like to think we would rise to a challenge there is a portion of the population that operates day-to-day within confines they did not define, but which they accepted. They are spectators in their own lives. It is only when all the comforts of life are stripped away, all her securities gone that Sarah is forced to dig for her strengths to combat the danger posed to the mission and her family.

“There’s no going back.”
The phrase, included on the book’s blurb, seems to sum up a great many things about the story as well as life, in general. That simple truth is a pinpoint upon which so many people either change or stumble. The yearning for something which is gone can turn nostalgia into a trap. We are creatures made to unfold over time and Hough produces characters of fascinating origami.



I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily..

Very Short Story : Organ

What a fascinating organ, the
human heart. It can be warm and
tender, a wellspring of passion,
a font of grace. That same lump
of tissue, mistreated and abused,
can still survive by becoming
hard, cold and impenetrable.

Oct. 27, 2020

Note: The VSS series is an outgrowth of writing prompts for Twitter. The goal is to produce a Tweet that fits within the 280 character format, and uses the given idea or word.

Book Review: Wild Things Will Roam

Wild Things Will Roam, the debut novel by K.M. West, is a post-apocalyptic gore fest with a soul. The surprises don’t stop there.

The concept that the things that go bump in the night are still with us is reframed. The beasties are wearing new fangs in the wilds left behind by the destruction of our familiar order. The idea is handled so skillfully that the reader is left wondering what might already be staring back from the dark.

The story is written with a crystal clear prose that doesn’t hamper the reader’s experience. The style allows the characters to shine and the story to move forward unimpeded. In short, it was a pleasure to read. A genuine surprise is waiting in West’s fluid and graceful prose even while walking the reader through the horrors of Hell.

The horrors of Hell, it is. The landscape drawn by West is far from benign. Readers who have a history of trauma might want to bear this in mind. The story is a frightening look into what lies under the thin veneer of civilization. It explores not only the world post disaster but also the consequences when that protection from the wild within our own nature is broken.

Cover of the novel Wild Things Will Roam
To Purchase a copy from Amazon

Within this brutal landscape the story follows the struggles of a small group of people thrown together by happenstance – or is it fate?

That is the question that challenges one of the characters, Liv, throughout the story. How much of our action is self-determined versus what our circumstances lead us toward?

While Liv struggles with the concepts of something beyond the seen, others in the group offer varying levels of acceptance with the unknown. Liv’s guardian, Carian starts the novel as aware of the unseen. Lash, a protector and guardian, takes the presence of an infinite plan for granted – perhaps he even sees it as his due. Ander, the younger brother to Lash, is so steeped in the ideas of some overarching other that he is often lost beyond the borders of reality. This causes him to act as something of a lightning rod between what is and what will.

But the question remains at the end, as we see everyone’s sense of the world has changed, is Ander led or deluded? What of his vision is true and what of it fantasy? It looks like we will have to wait for the next book in the series to find the answer.

I would consider buying the hardcover to have it on my library shelves. In a day of electronic consumption this says more of how I feel about this work than all the analysis I can offer.