Book Review: 30 Days to Joy: A One-Month Creative Journal by Waterbrook (2017)

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Would make a nice gift for Christians.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Blogging for Books.)

I have a bit of an addiction to journals, even though I don’t write nearly as often as I should/mean to. That said, 30 Days to Joy isn’t something I’d normally buy for myself, since it’s explicitly geared towards Christians. So, grain of salt.

As the title implies, 30 Days to Joy is unusual, as far as journals go, in that it’s meant to be completed in a month (although there’s nothing stopping you from taking as long as you want; while each exercise is labeled “Day 1,” “Day 2,” and so on, you could just as easily pencil in the date next to it, if you prefer). Each day features a different prompt that encourages you to reflect on the topic of “joy,” whatever that means to you.

Examples of this include:

* How is joy different from happiness?

* In pencil, write those things that most frequently steal your joy. Next, in a colorful pen or marker, write ways you can choose joy in those situations.

* If joy were a person in your life, who would it be and why?

* Write down and illustrate a quote or Bible verse that brings you joy.

As you can see, the exercises featured are a mix of secular and Christian prompts, with the majority skewed secular. However, most of the quotes peppered throughout the book are explicitly Christian, including a fair number of Bible verses. For this reason, I wouldn’t even assign the more general “New Age” or “spiritual” labels to this book; it’s really just meant for Christians, which is kind of shame, because we could all use more joy in these dark times, don’t you think?

Aesthetically, the book is pleasing to the eye; the interior color theme is red and white, making this a great Christmas gift. The cover has a rich, textured feel, which is undercut a bit by the large white sticker containing copy placed on the back cover.

The dimensions of the book are small, which normally bugs the heck out of me – but the book is thin enough that it’s easy to write in. There’s enough room to respond to each prompt, too.

Great idea, though the execution isn’t for everyone.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: 30 Days to Peace: A One-Month Creative Journal by Waterbrook (2017)

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

Best suited to practicing Christians.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Blogging for Books.)

30 Days to Peace is a bit of a short-term project, as far as journals go; as is evident from the subtitle, users are intended to work through its thirty prompts in a month (although nothing’s stopping you from taking a more leisurely pace with the exercises). Each prompt is focused on one aspect of peace: for example, how you define peace, how you find peace, what signals your body gives to indicate that it is or is not at peace. Though I usually take a much more scattershot approach to jounaling – writing whatever comes to mind – I can appreciate the benefits of a more focused path. Meditation on a single narrow topic is likely to promote enhanced understanding.

What I didn’t particularly care for is the journal’s explicitly Christian focus. Between the Galatians 5:22–23 quote featured on the book’s listing at Blogging for Books and the publisher (Waterbrook is the Christian imprint of Crown Publishing), I really should have known better. Actually, that first did give me pause, but I decided to give the journal a try anyway, since it was free for review and all.

The result is kind of a mixed bag. It wouldn’t even be accurate to shelve this journal under the more general label “spiritual,” since the Bible pops up in many of the quotes and illustrations that pepper the book. That said, only five of the thirty prompts explicitly mentions God or the Bible; and only one is necessarily specific to the Christian faith (i.e., the Bible prompt). So I’d say that 30 Days to Peace is best suited to practicing Christians, and perhaps spiritual New Age types too. Which is a shame, because I think we all could use a little more peace in our lives, whatever our religious identity may be.

As far as the book’s design goes, it’s a little on the small side, at 5 3/4″ by 7 1/4″. Usually this drives me bonkers, but the book is rather thin and thus not terribly difficult to write in. (When you’ve got a small but fat book, your hand ends up falling off the bottom off the page about a third of the way down. Not fun.) The pages aren’t lined, ostensibly for doodling and more free-form/artistic writing. The book itself is lovely, with a soothing and richly textured cover design. The pages are mostly white with green illustrations, adding to the spa-like feel.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Mini-Review: The Daily Question: My Five-Year Spiritual Journal by Waterbrook (2017)

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

A little more secular than expected.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Blogging for Books.)

– 3.5 stars –

A journal subtitled “My Five-Year Spiritual Journal” isn’t something I’d normally pick up, being an atheist and all. And probably this same quality also means I’m not the best person to review The Daily Question. So, grain of salt and all that jazz.

Two out of three of the sample questions on Blogging for Books seemed secular enough, so I decided to give it a try. And while there are some overtly religious (read: Christian) prompts – “How does Jesus love people through you?”; “How has God tangibly shown love to you this week?”; “What in Scripture are you grappling with these days?” – most are much more general and applicable to people of all faiths (or none). In fact, it feels a lot like another five-year, guided journal I reviewed called Q&A a Day: 5-Year Journal … just with a few Christian-themed questions sprinkled in here and there.

In fact, many of the same issues I had with Q&A a Day are applicable here, too: the dimensions of the journal are small, just a tick over 4″x6″. But it’s very thick (1 1/4″), which makes writing anything below the top third of the page very difficult (your hand just kind of falls off the cliff edge to flop around awkwardly). Each page provides space for five answers – one a year over five years – which is cool. But the lines are very cramped and don’t leave a whole lot of room for elaboration. A more generously sized journal would be so much nicer, don’t you think?

I do like the design of the cover – it’s hardcover, with a rich and soothing texture to it – and the bookmark ribbon is a nice touch. The prompts are engaging and varied, though devoutly religious users may desire more Biblically-inspired items. I counted this as a positive but, as I said, grain of salt.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Writing to Awaken: A Journey of Truth, Transformation, and Self-Discovery by Mark Matousek (2017)

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Writing Exercises for Self-Discovery

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for client case studies that sometimes include disturbing incidents, including rape.)

When I was a child and magic was afoot, the word abracadabra was synonymous with the power of manifestation. I could wave my magic wand over Doris the princess doll, or Boris the stuffed panda, and practically feel them come to life under the gravitas of the spell. Later in life, as a Harvard-trained scientist and researcher in the field of mind-body medicine, I discovered that abracadabra is more than magic-speak or a song by the Steve Miller Band. These Aramaic words mean, “I will create as I speak.”

Tell a story. Believe the story. And voila! It manifests in your cells, your brain, your heart, your behavior, and the choices you make…or don’t. We embody our stories quite literally, as these days we have the brain scans and hormonal assays to prove it. Mark Matousek, who is a writer rather than a scientist, knows this as well. He sometimes refers to us humans as Homo Narrans—the storytelling species. Stories slay and stories heal. Their transformative magic resides in our ability to identify them, learn from them, and—when necessary—change them.

– Joan Borysenko, PhD (“Foreword”)

— 3.5 stars —

I picked up a copy of Writing to Awaken about the same time as Getting Grief Right; I thought that the two books, when taken together, might provide some guidance in using journaling and storytelling to cope with the recent loss of my husband – and perhaps figure out what comes next for me.

Divided into twelve chapters and forty-eight “lessons,” Matousek challenges the reader to dive deeper; to find the truth behind your life story, which is often unreliable, watered down for mass consumption, and altered to omit certain uncomfortable truths. Though I suppose the exercises could help to overcome writer’s block, you don’t necessarily need to be a professional writer to find value here. Rather, Writing to Awaken is for anyone interested in journaling with a heavy emphasis on self-reflection and radical truth telling.

(More below the fold…)

Mini-Review: Do One Thing Every Day That Makes You Happy: A Journal by Robie Rogge & Dian G. Smith (2017)

Friday, September 15th, 2017

Well, I like the *idea* of it…

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Blogging for Books. Click on the images to embiggen.)

— 3.5 stars —

As a naturally gloomy and anxious person – one of my nicknames, and one I wear proudly, is Kelly Killjoy – a “happiness journal” seems like something I could really use in my life. I tend to only journal when things are going sideways, carrying merrily on my way when everything’s coming up roses (or Dave Kim, as it were), resulting in a record of my life that’s skewed heavily toward the negative. And that’s no fun, right?

Do One Thing Every Day That Makes You Happy: A Journal is a pretty swell idea. From its bright yellow cover, decked out in shiny silver and vibrant rainbow text, to its white and orange insides, Do One Thing Every Day That Makes You Happy more or less oozes unicorns and birthday cake and that one REM song. Each page features a happy quote or graphic, along with a writing prompt inspired by said quote. There’s a space to pencil in the date for each exercise and, with the exception of the New Year’s themed ones, you can pretty much pace yourself how you want: work through each page in chronological order; skip around to your heart’s content; or only write when you feel inspired (though skipping days kind of negates the “do one thing every day” part, don’t you think?).

The prompts run the gamut; here are just a few to give you a taste:
* Where scratching felt sweetest day.
* A pleasure of mine that no one can understand.
* My life would seem longer without.
* Why I laughed at myself today.
* A luxury I don’t need in order to be happy.

As much as I love the idea of this journal, as per usual with Clarkson Potter journals, the execution leaves something to be desired. The journal is very small – about 6″ x 4.5″ – making it somewhat difficult to write in. Additionally, many (but not all) of the quotes/graphics take up an inordinate amount of space on the page – usually somewhere around 2/3 to 4/5 of a page, leaving precious little room for your response! The lines are pretty small too, maybe college ruled at best.

I wish they’d go all out and make some oversized journals, preferably with nice, roomy lines – and lay-flat binding, too, while we’re dreaming! Until then, this one will do.

Killjoy, who me?

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Mini-Review: My Rad Life: A Journal by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl (2017)

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

This is the journal you’ve been waiting for!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Blogging for Books.)

— 4.5 stars —

I was lucky enough to snag a review copy of Rad Women Worldwide, part of Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl’s “rad women” series, which began with 2015’s Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future! From concept to execution, I adored Rad Women Worldwide, and was over the moon with excitement when I saw that they’d be releasing a journal based on the books.

My Rad Life is (almost!) everything I’d hoped for: fun, stylish, interactive, and diverse af. Miriam Klein Stahl’s artwork is bold and arresting; her simple yet elegant black and white portraits of badass women – from Gloria Steinem to Beyoncé, bell hooks to Shirley Chisholm – provide a lovely and inspirational backdrop for journaling. The art is accompanied by thought-provoking quotes, many of which are used as a jumping-off point for prompts to get the creative juices flowing.

The format is a nice mix of guided and free-form pages: some pages are completely blank; others feature funky, hand-drawn lines (way more interesting than college-ruled spacing!);

and many include a blend of portraits, quotes, and prompts, leaving enough space for scribbling, writing, or drawing.

Unlike the rad women books, My Rad Life: A Journal is softcover. Though it’s lovely, with an embossed logo and everything, I do find myself missing the hardcover from Rad Women Worldwide, which was all kinds of gorgeous (and also more durable). I’d also love it if the journal had that special “lay flat” binding, to make it easier to write in the book. My handwriting is messy enough without having to struggle against the journal. :)

This would make an excellent give for tweens and young adults, particularly those with a budding interest in feminism and women’s history (package it with Rad American Women A-Z and Rad Women Worldwide to make an awesome little gift set). That said, it’s suitable for humans of all ages and gender expressions; I’m barrelling towards forty and loved it just the same.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Getting Grief Right: Finding Your Story of Love in the Sorrow of Loss by Patrick O’Malley and Tim Madigan (2017)

Friday, July 28th, 2017

Finding Your Own Path in Grief

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

The writer Anne Lamott says it beautifully: “You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

It’s not an exaggeration to say that, over time, the nature of “successful” grieving was redefined in my office by both my clients and me. It wasn’t getting over loss; it was learning to live with it, and to use the grief narrative as a way to preserve a bond with the one who died.

This book will not help you “get over” your grief, but will help you experience your sorrow in its most pure form.

Patrick O’Malley knows a thing or two about loss: not only is he a therapist who specializes in bereavement counseling, but he lost his first-born son, Ryan, before they’d even celebrated his first birthday. As a young husband, new father, and practicing psychotherapist, O’Malley followed the advice of his colleagues – indeed, the same advice he’d given to countless grieving patients – and tried to “get over” Ryan’s death. However, as the prescribed time frame for grieving came and went, O’Malley gradually began to question the wisdom and efficacy of stage-based models of bereavement, perhaps best exemplified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s infamous five stages of grief. (Say it with me: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.)

After much soul searching and years of experience, O’Malley embraced a much kinder and more compassionate framework: one that celebrates the patient’s unique relationship to the deceased; recognizes that we all grieve in our own way, that there is no “one size fits all” model of grief; and uses storytelling to craft a cohesive grief narrative. In this way, grief is not something you “work through” and leave behind you; rather, to love is to grieve, and grieving is one way to keep your loved one alive in your memories. Storytelling – whether through journaling, videotaped recollections, or something else – is a powerful way to do this.

Getting Grief Right consists of three key elements. First, O’Malley briefly explores the history of stage-based models of grief. He then shares the story of his own loss, and in so doing, he illustrates how profoundly his professional wisdom failed him in his greatest time of need. Using his own experiences, as well as those of his patients, as a jumping-off point, O’Malley explores this new approach to dealing with grief.

(More below the fold…)