Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Blitz Spotlight: Overcoming Anxiety

Overcoming Anxiety

By David Berndt, PhD

Genre: Mental Health, Self-help

Book Blurb

The good news is that anxiety can be overcome without relying on medication. Psychologist David Berndt, PhD, in Overcoming Anxiety outlines several self-help methods for relief for anxiety and worry. In clear simple language and a conversational style. Dr. Berndt shares with the reader powerful step by step proven techniques for anxiety management.

You will learn:
       A Self-hypnosis grounding technique in the Ericksonian tradition.
       Box Breathing, Seven Eleven and similar breathing techniques for anxiety relief.
       How to stop or interrupt toxic thoughts that keep you locked in anxiety.
       How to harness and utilize your worries, so they work for you.
       Relief from anxiety through desensitization and exposure therapy.

Designed to be used alone as self-help or in conjunction with professional treatment Dr. Berndt draws upon his experience as a clinician and academic researcher to give accessible help to the reader who wants to understand and manage their anxiety.

Author Bio

David J. Berndt, Ph.D. was an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Chicago where he published or presented over 80 papers and articles before establishing a private practice. Dr Berndt currently lives in Charleston, S.C. where he also teaches in an adjunct capacity at the College of Charleston. He is best known for his psychological tests the Multiscore Depression Inventory, and the Multiscore Depression Inventory for Children, both from Western Psychological Services. He also contributes to several psychology websites including Psychology Knowledge.  

Praise for Dr. Berndt’s work:

About Overcoming Anxiety

“Dr. Berndt is a creative and forward-thinking psychologist who has contributed to advancing psychology both with his research and clinical practice. He has helped countless patients with their depression and anxiety, and his conversational and accessible style of writing makes Overcoming Anxiety a book you would want for your top shelf.

- Charles Kaiser, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the College of Charleston

"Overcoming Anxiety: Self-Help Anxiety Relief" by David Berndt PhD, is available as of July 27, 2015 from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), and Alibris

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Data In, Lives Out

The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips

It is 2013 and Josephine and Joseph are newlyweds and new to the city. Broke and almost homeless, just getting jobs is more important than what they have to do at work. For Josephine, being alone in a dingy, windowless room, mindlessly entering data into a computer, is depressing enough, until she figures out the significance of the information she's inputting. That's when everything and everyone become even more puzzling as well as ominous.

Dystopia, Kafkaesque, speculative, fantasy, science fiction - call it what you will, this is one very unusual novel, and I don't mean that in a bad way. From the blankness of the prose and grayness of the surroundings, Phillips has put together a very dismal and cruel world. She even goes as far as starting the story during the brisk and bright autumn and having us follow the action as it moves into the cloudy and colder early winter, making even that into a metaphor for the novel. At its essence, this story poses the questions: what if machines control our lives, and what if some infinite number of bureaucrats fills those machines with data. This fascinating novel (or novella, with less than 150 pages), investigates this, while wondering if these bureaucrats actually have any way to rebel. More importantly, what consequences will there be if they do rebel.

I have to mention the deep psychological aspect of this book, by noting that Josephine is fully sane, although she's also somewhat paranoid, and seems to be seeing strange things. As Joseph Heller once said, "just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't after you." This is precisely what Joseph and Josephine experience here, and this is how Phillips makes the most of her basic premise. This also points up the free will vs. external control counterpoint, which is part of Phillips' conceit.

Despite how heavy this sounds, and the encroaching darkness that we witness, Phillips also injects little splashes of hope and light. For example, there are the word anagrams in the middle of conversations and thoughts, or sudden bouts of little splurges by the couple, as they slowly have the money to buy themselves treats, or just take a walk to escape the dilapidated states of their string of increasingly depressing sublets. Combining these two elements allowed Phillips to carefully build the tension and slowly increase the pace of this novel, and bring it to an explosive climax and conclusion. Furthermore, Phillips does this with a shockingly stark narrative, which matches Josephine's world that is exacerbated by her failing eyesight (due to her many tedious hours on the computer) perfectly.

What more can I say besides this is the type of book I love reading; one that grabs you so subtly, before you know it, you've almost come to the end without noticing how involved you are. However, I should mention that there were parts of this book that were very creepy, and I almost stopped reading quite early in the book. Thankfully, I kept at it, and as you can see, I reaped the reward for my perseverance. Because of this, I'm going to strongly recommend this novel, and give it a healthy four and a half stars out of five. 

"The Beautiful Bureaucrat" by Helen Phillips, published by Henry Holt & Co., for release August 11, 2015 will be available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (for other eReader formats), iTunes, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, Better World Books or from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an advance reading copy of this novel via NetGalley.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Their Pens' Might...

The Last Word by Hanif Kureishi

Hired to write the biography of the distinguished but aging writer, Mamoon Azam, Harry Johnson is in not only awe, but also excited and a little overwhelmed. Mamoon's reputation precedes him with rumors of his caustic personality, monumental intelligence, and a charisma that entrapped women throughout his life. Despite this daunting task, Harry needs the money if he's going to make a home with his fiancée Alice. Furthermore, Harry's agent, the constantly drunken Rob Deveraux, is promising untold wealth and fame if he succeeds, while dooming him to exile and teaching creative writing in America if he fails. Mamoon is also less than agreeable to the idea. However, his present wife Liana has been spending his money at alarming rates, and a biography could put some new funds into his account by renewing interest in his works. There's nothing left but for Harry to leave London and Alice behind, so he can stay at Prospects House and learn everything he can about one of the writers he's always admired.

With this novel, we get somewhat of a story within a story, that's all also somehow within a story. Between Harry and Mamoon, their lives and their work, we also have practically everyone around them also wanting to write or tell their stories. All the while, there's the story of Harry trying to discover how to write this biography, while Mamoon and Liana try to keep him from telling the whole truth. That's already interesting, especially with all the intrigue laid out quite early in the novel. This includes Mamoon's tragic first wife who essentially killed herself out of the desperate and no longer requited love for her husband. We also get his abandoned ex-mistress in the United States, who directs her bitterness (which borders on insanity) towards everyone, but she too is still in love with him. Furthermore, it looks like Liana is going down that same path. No one knows how many other women Mamoon caught in his spell, and essentially abused, and now he has his sights on Harry's Alice.

With all this angst, desperation, excessive drinking and cruelty, we automatically look for one major character we can like. Unfortunately, while Harry starts out sounding like a good person, we soon find out that he's equally as much of a misogynist as Mamoon. The women here are no better. Liana is greedy and self-absorbed, and like all the rest of the female characters, her adoration of Mamoon is unfathomable because he's such a disgusting person, despite his apparent literary genius. That all the women in this story end up in the same position - worshiping this man who is incapable of loving them back - only makes it worse. In fact, while there are some I disliked less than others, there are actually no fully sympathetic characters in this book.

The question then is why didn't I totally hate this book? To begin with, there was something captivating about the writing here, particularly because it is so intelligent. There isn't one moment when we don't believe that Mamoon is as talented a writer as everyone thinks. At the same time, we are fully aware that Harry's ability is also quite significant. The exchanges between them and all the other characters have a level of wit that shines through even some of the most unpleasant situations. Since these objectionable characters are involved in such nasty goings on, it could very well be that our dislike for them is thereby justified. We therefore actually enjoy witnessing all their hardships. In other words, what makes this book so fascinating is our human penchant for morbid curiosity. You know, like when you see a car crash - you how unpleasant it is, but you can't turn away. Furthermore, somewhere in the back of your mind you're thinking that one of those drivers might be to blame, and maybe this will knock some sense into them - although you know they'll probably never learn their lesson.

With that said, the only real drawback I found in this book was that it felt somewhat inconsistent in places. Having never read anything by Kureishi before, I investigated his work and found that he's best known for his plays and screenplays (including "My Beautiful Launderette," which gained him an Oscar nomination). This explained why the dialog in this novel was so vibrant and alive. Unfortunately, this made the third person narrative feel somewhat stilted, and I kept wondering why Kureishi didn't use first person points of view, which might have matched the dialog better.

Despite this one problem, I did enjoy this novel, even though I hated the characters and was incredulous about their actions. Nothing and no one here is predictable, which in itself is a feat that few authors can achieve, and makes the story one you can't stop reading, despite the bad taste in your mouth. For all that, I think I can easily recommend this book and give it a solid four stars out of five. 

"The Last Word" by Hanif Kureishi, published by Scribner, released March 10, 2015 is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (for other eReader formats), iTunes, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, Better World Books or from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Overtures with a Nightingale

Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick

Bea's overbearing brother Marvin wants her to go to Paris and get his son Julian to come home, or he'll stop sending him money. He can't do it himself, he's far too busy with his important work and California is so far away from Europe. Bea is in New York and is "only" an English literature teacher, so Marvin figures it makes sense for her to go. The problem is that Bea has never met her nephew Julian or her niece Iris, who wants to get involved in her father's scheme (unbeknownst to Marvin). Bea also hardly knows Marvin's wife Margaret, who has been very unstable lately, and Marvin thinks getting her son back might cure her. Although Bea only reluctantly agrees, she can't deny the mission will let her escape from her solitary life for a while. What Bea doesn't bargain on is the storm her journeys spark, even touching Leo Coopersmith, the composer to whom Bea was briefly married.

There is much more to this Orange Prize winning novel than just this summary can describe. However, what is more important than the story and its various elements is how Ozick presents it all. As I read this book, it initially seemed that the metaphor of a storm was very appropriate for how this book developed. First, there are the darkening clouds, with Marvin at the head of it all, which quickly turns threatening and blustering, bearing down on everything and everyone in his path. As each wave makes Bea and the others strive to find shelter, Marvin continues to gather strength, and douses everyone with his fury.

As I got further into this story, I realized that the best metaphor for this novel wasn't a storm at all. It was, in fact, more like a piece of music. At the center of the work, we have Bea as our theme. The variations on that theme are everyone around her, who both interact with her, and act alongside her, either in harmony or with dissonance. All the while, these separate 'tunes' (if you will) assist Bea to developing into a more elaborate composition. This made even more sense because of Ozick's addition of Bea's composer ex-husband. Here was a man who had so much control over Bea's life that she lost herself in him, and allowed herself to let his career usurp her own. Only now, many years later, does Bea start to realize that she had a song of her own. The irony here is that her brother Marvin's forcing her to do his bidding is the impetus to Bea discovering just how forceful she is herself. All of this is either parallel or in sharp contrast to all of the other characters.

Another interesting aspect of this novel is that Ozick places it during the early 1950s. By doing this, she includes ravaged post-war Europe to be yet another metaphor to these people's lives. This also allows Ozick to take advantage of the somewhat slower pace of life at the time, and enriches the text with several handwritten letter communications between the characters. These letters help with the story telling, and further contribute to the character development, such as when we see a character choosing to send something harshly worded or instead opting to post missives that are more diplomatic.

Moreover, what really impressed me with this book was how Ozick is able to be so subtly ironic. On the back cover of the book, The Guardian calls this a "mordant examination of displacement and inheritance." I can only partially agree with this, since the more caustic Bea and most of the characters become, the softer several of them feel. In the same way, the more entangled Bea becomes in the lives of relatives she feels so disconnected with, the more connected she feels to the person she really is, but never knew was there.

In short, this novel is masterful in how ultimately simple and evocative it is, while involving such complex emotions and relationships. Each character has a role to play, no matter how minor, and each event leads to some type of discovery. Furthermore, everything here comes together beautifully, even when we realize that some things have no real conclusion. This is Ozick's true talent, and why I'll be reading many more of her works from now on. Therefore, I highly recommend this novel, and can give it a full five out of five stars. (PS: If any of this review is confusing, including the title, you'll just have to read the book to understand what I mean.) 

"Foreign Bodies" by Cynthia Ozick is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (for other eReader formats), iTunes (iBook or audiobook), the Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, Better World Books or from an IndieBound store near you.

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