Category: Reading

“37 Lessons on How to Gain from Loss”

“37 Lessons on How to Gain from Loss”

37 LESSONS ON HOW TO GAIN FROM LOSS
Huma Zuellah Ahmed (2019)
ISBN 9789990150452
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (8/18)

“37 Lessons on How to Gain from Loss” by Huma Zuellah Ahmed is a book about personal transformation.  It is also the author’s journey from trial and loss, to living triumphant and free from the pain that held her back.  Using her personal experiences, Ahmed takes the reader through her most devasting trial, the illness and subsequent passing of her mother, and explains the steps she took to find her way to freedom.

“37 Lessons on How to Gain from Loss” is unique in that it is part self-help, part spiritual and part memoir.  As the author takes the reader through the journey of her mother’s illness, it reads like memoir passages, and at the end of these passages Ahmed lists her lesson and the steps to take to achieve the goal of the lesson, incorporating many self-help and spiritual concepts.

Savor the Journey

There is a lot of information in this book, so it’s not one to read through quickly.  I found myself taking notes all along the way, noting the pages and topics I wanted to go back to and revisit in greater detail.  37 different lessons may seem daunting at first, but a lot of the steps blend together in a quite natural procession and some are lessons you may have experienced yourself throughout your own journey. I was comforted to read passages that felt familiar, as if the author knew of my particular struggles.

In fact, the author, who describes herself as a human being, Muslim and Spiritual Self-Discovery and Mindset Coach and Trainer, has a wealth of experience to share that many readers will connect with and feel a “part of” on so many levels.

Mindfulness

Much of the writing resonated with me. The entire book is laced with wisdom such as those following.  Mindfulness is one of the strong themes I identified with most. I’ll list but a few for the purposes of this review.

“Becoming self-aware is the first step to conscious living.” (pg. 30)

“Nothing has the power to hold you in the state of pain except your own self.” (pg. 38)

“Your energy is where your thoughts are.” (pg. 67)

“Objects that are sometimes given far more importance than they deserve.” (pg. 133)

Inspiration – The Same and Different

The author’s journey was driven by her deep spiritual beliefs and that is included in the text as well.  She often quotes the Quran as that is what fuels her passions.  I found the messages inspiring and not so different from what I grew up learning. 

Overall

I highly recommend “37 Lessons on How to Gain from Loss” by Huma Zuellah Ahmed. An open mind and a willingness to do some work, as the author suggests, are all that is needed to start your own journey towards freedom from pain.

Review Copy

37 LESSONS ON HOW TO GAIN FROM LOSS
Huma Zuellah Ahmed (2019)
ISBN 9789990150452
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (8/18)
Disclosure in Accordance with FTC Guidelines 16 CFR Part 255

Becoming a Picture Book Scholar

Becoming a Picture Book Scholar

Lately, I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on about the craft of writing picture books in the hopes of becoming a picture book scholar! There is so much information available to new authors.  While I have to thank those that take the time to share their experiences with newbies, like me, it can get overwhelming.  What are your favorite craft books about writing picture books?

Learning from those who’ve gone before us.

I’m currently reading “Writing Picture Books” by Ann Whitford Paul and I’m about 1/3 of the way through. It’s REALLY good – an actual step-by-step process for writing your picture book.  The author recommends following the steps through the book in real time, as you are writing your book. Of course, never one to completely follow directions, I’m reading it cover to cover and will then go back and work my way through the steps.  I like to see the big picture first.

The first chapter is titled, “Becoming a Picture Book Scholar,” hence the subject of this week’s blog post. The very first sentence in the chapter sets the tone of the author’s matter-of-fact, straightforward manner.  She says, “Having had your appendix out doesn’t qualify you to perform an appendectomy, so why should having seen picture books as a child qualify you to write one?” Touché.  I love it!

Photo by Wokandapix from Canva

So how do we become a picture book scholar?

Of course the author recommends, reading, reading, and more reading, and I am more than happy to comply.  This advice also inspired me to start this blog so I could write picture book reviews while learning the craft. As I study each new book, I am amazed at the creativity and in awe of the number of wonderful stories there are available in picture book format. It is so inspiring!

Following are a few of my takeaways on some of the topics covered in the first chapter of “Writing Picture Books.”

Everything is a New Adventure

Children create an adventure out of anything and everything. They are curious, full of wonder, open to trying new things. They see things from a different perspective. Imagine for a day that everything is new. If you have a hard time imagining something as new, seek out something that IS new to you. Research a topic you’ve always wanted to learn about or a place you’ve always wanted to visit. How do you feel when tackling something new? Do you treat it like a new adventure or are you more reserved and cautious? Try to look through a different lens and return to the natural wonder and curiosity of a child.  It will change your whole attitude.

It IS a big deal.

As a child, everything matters.  Everything is important.  Children care deeply about everything. Your little guy may have a t-shirt he wants to wear every single day.  It’s his favorite. It matters. As an adult, we know it needs to be washed, but this will come at no small price to him.  He feels strongly about wearing that t-shirt. Think about something that matters deeply to you.  Multiply that times “everything matters” and write with those emotions.

It’s not always rainbows and butterflies.

Ann Whitford Paul recommends printing a sign or writing a sticky note and putting it where you work and will see it while you are writing that says, “CHILDHOOD IS NOT ALL SILLY AND JOYFUL.” As parents, we sometimes like to shield our children from all things unhappy, but that is doing them a disservice. I do love a good happy story, who doesn’t? But, the reality is we learn about life through our challenges. What we can do as responsible adults is to be thoughtful while remaining realistic when introducing tough topics to our kids by teaching through compassion and empathy.

Becoming a Picture Book Scholar

There’s a lot to learn on the road to becoming a picture book scholar.  I think the biggest takeaway I have from reading the first chapter of “Writing Picture Books” is to call on your inner child.  Treat everything like a new adventure, imagine it IS a big deal and everything matters and is important. Tapping into the essence of your child-likeness could very well inspire your next picture book.

For more information

NOTE: I purchased my copy of this book from Amazon. This is not a book review, though I do highly recommend it for whatever stage you are at on your writing journey. You can purchase “Writing Picture Books” on Amazon and through the links on the pictures below. I am an Amazon affiliate and receive a small compensation for purchases made through the links on my website. Full disclosure notice here.


I am reading the first edition, located here.

There is also a revised, expanded version, available here.
Book Review: Gazelle in the Shadows

Book Review: Gazelle in the Shadows

“Gazelle in the Shadows” by Michelle Peach is a whirlwind drama combining some of the most exciting elements of political/international intrigue, historical fiction, and coming of age.

Overview

It is the story of Elizabeth Booth, a young British college student who is studying Arabic at Durham University.  She travels to Damascus to study and is eagerly welcomed by all she meets. Throughout her journey people go out of their way to help her find housing and become acclimated to the city and culture.  Elizabeth enjoys her life in Damascus – she makes good friends, has a boyfriend and falls easily into her studies. But little inconsistencies start throwing red flags in her direction, and she suddenly discovers she is in a world where nothing is as it seems and she fights for her very survival.

 Blurred Lines

The lines between memoir and fiction blur in this story. The author outlines in the beginning this is a work of fact and fiction intertwined.  The result? A thrilling experience with a genuine vibe.  Readers minds easily manifest the distinctive local attributes in the various settings, cultural behaviors and characteristics of all the players in the story. The authenticity of the plotline, with its shocking twists sets an alarming sense of foreboding as the story plays out. Readers will wonder what was real and what is elaborated on for the benefit of a chilling, dynamic read.

Growing Pains

Initially, the character of Elizabeth pulled me in many different directions. On one hand, she is a bit naïve, but she actually grew on me as she grows with the story.  Considering my own personality, there is no doubt I would have reacted any differently, though perhaps with less courage! In the end, Elizabeth becomes an authentic character with the genuine characteristics of a person in a strange land full of different customs.

To Sum Things Up

I love a story that enthralls while also informing the reader. “Gazelle in the Shadows” does it right – it is through the protagonist’s experiences, (as opposed to just being told what happened), we learn so much about the Syrian people, culture, and a significant era in history – all while being entertained within the pages of a remarkable story.

Overall, “Gazelle in the Shadows” by Michelle Peach is an exciting thriller and I recommend it to fans of fiction and memoir, and especially to those who love a good international political thriller.

Review Copy

Gazelle in the Shadows
Michelle Peach
ISBN 9780692112762
Reviewed for Reader Views (3/19)

Picture Book Review: “Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans”

Picture Book Review: “Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans”

Book Cover of Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans

Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans
Author: Jessie Miller
Illustrator: Barbara Bakos
ISBN: 9781848863132
Publisher: Maverick Arts (2018)
Age Range: 4-9
Grade Level: Preschool – 3

Amazon Synopsis

Rooster is so excited when his new skinny jeans arrive: the sparkling stitching, a striking gold hue, and the indigo denim, a dazzling blue! But what will the other animals think of his stunning new style?

My Review

“Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans” is adorable! So chic and fresh and fun, kids of all ages will love Rooster as he struts about in his new skinny jeans!  I love the writing – written in perfect rhyme, the author succeeds in capturing the attention of the audience with her wit and style. 

Be Yourself

Rooster is so proud of his new jeans, but his feelings are hurt when teased by his friends. My favorite part in the story occurs after Rooster is teased by the other farm animals and has a chance to stew for a bit.  He comes to this realization: 

“What’s not to love? Are they being sarcastic?
These jeans are amazing; my butt looks fantastic!”

I love this these two lines for a couple of reasons.  First, you know kids love potty talk!  Can’t you see them laughing hysterically over the word “butt?”  It made me laugh, but I guess some people never grow up. More importantly, Rooster learns that it’s okay to like what he likes – everyone has the right to their opinion, and he didn’t buy the jeans to please anyone but him!  When he emerges from the barn where he’s been hiding his friends admire his confidence to be himself and all is well.

The illustrations are bright and exciting and complementary to the story.  Rooster is colorful and confident in his style and in being himself and this expresses clearly in the illustrations.

Overall

I love everything about this book: the clever title and storyline, the spot-on rhymes, the beautiful illustrations – it’s a top-notch package all around.

About the Author

Unlike Rooster, Jessie Miller does not live on a farm, but she does wear skinny jeans regularly. She lives in Buffalo, New York, with her husband and pets.

Review Copy

I obtained a copy of this book to review from my local library.

Book Review: Romantic Illusions

Book Review: Romantic Illusions

Romantic Illusions
Book Two – An Affair with Beauty: The Mystique of Howard Chandler Christy
James Philip Head
North Loop Books (2019)
ISBN 9781545635278
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (2/19)

Summary of Romantic Illusions

“Romantic Illusions” is the second book in the An Affair with Beauty trilogy by James Philip Head. An exquisite celebration honoring the life of Howard Chandler Christy, one of the most famous American artists and illustrators in the Jazz Era, this book is a piece of art in itself.

Howard Chandler Christy is perhaps best known for the “Christy Girl,” a representation of the ideal modern woman at the turn of the twentieth century.  His work encompassed a much wider scope than beautiful women however, because Howard Chandler Christy saw beauty in everything.  His creations include illustrations of events witnessed first-hand during the Spanish-American War, illustrations for magazines, posters aiding WWI recruitment efforts for the military, and portraits of some of the most well-known, powerful and influential people during the time period, including presidents and congressmen, movie stars, socialites, generals, etc.

“Romantic Illusions” covers Howard Chandler Christy’s life in the early years as he was making a name for himself as an illustrator, up to the time when he chooses his new profession in the art world as a portraitist.

I have to say I loved everything about this book from beginning to end!  Howard Chandler Christy was a figure larger than life. By documenting this life in such a beautiful manner, the author does justice not only to Christy’s legacy but to the art world and American history as well.

Narrator Perspective

The story is told from the perspective of Howard’s wife, Nancy Palmer Christy, and the delivery is spell-binding. Set in 1969, Nancy Palmer Christy is now an elderly woman, and as she reflects on her early days with Howard and their time together, she transports the reader back in time. I felt as though she was speaking to me directly. The inclusion of Howard’s voice interacting with Nancy throughout the narrative allows readers the opportunity to actually get inside his head, and by the end of the story readers will experience a familiar camaraderie with Howard, and actually with Nancy as well.

Research and writing Romantic Illusions

“Romantic Illusions” is a remarkable story and the author, James Philip Head, does an amazing job. Well-written, engaging, no – mesmerizing, the passion he has for his subject is undeniable. Going far beyond the bounds of typical research, one gets the impression James Philip Head somehow transported himself directly into the artist’s shoes, reliving Christy’s experiences first-hand. As a reader, I was moved, and appreciated the attention to detail and the love that was put into keeping the legacy that is Howard Chandler Christy alive.

Works by Howard Chandler Christy

Further demonstrating the author’s passion for his work, he also includes a complete listing of the portraits painted by Christy during his lifetime in the back of the book. As per the author’s impeccable style, this is not a mere listing of names and dates – no, no.  Rather, he has taken the time to research the people in these portraits, regaling readers with interesting tidbits of their lives. I found this section to be fascinating!

The book itself

As with everything else I’ve mentioned, the production quality of this book is superior – from the satiny pages to the gorgeous cover art and amazing photographs displayed throughout. I think it’s fair to say this book is a beautiful complement to any personal library.  I have my copy displayed on my coffee table, which has piqued the curiosity of many family members and friends, beginning with my young history graduate!

To sum things up

In conclusion, everything about “Romantic Illusions,” book two in the An Affair with Beauty trilogy by James Philip Head is top-notch – a notable piece celebrating American culture, art, history, and beauty – and an extraordinary read.  Well done!