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Review: The Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin

[ 4 ] December 30, 2014

the organized mind book coverReviewed by Poppy Johnson

In his book, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, Daniel J. Levitin discusses how people can keep organized in the current age of digital information overload. Levitin states that our human brains can only really process small amounts of information at one time. It can be very helpful to learn to separate various brain regions–for example, economic and ethical decisions are managed by different brain regions. We can learn to stretch our brains and their capacity by continuously playing stimulating brain games. Our own world provides clues as to how we can analyze and categorize information better.

Among other things, Levitin covers the processing capacity of the human mind, which is measured at 120 bits per second. This is the bandwidth at which the human brain can safely focus within itself to complete all of the tasks at hand. Anything done over the possible bandwidth results in feelings of being overwhelmed. It is also the reason why listening and talking to three separate people at the same time is nearly impossible for us. Our brains need time to wonder, meditate and “check out” every now and again, to allow us to focus more intently when we return and when it’s necessary for our very survival (or when the boss is looking).

Levitin spends time to describe our brains and what can happen when we are unable to manage the wealth of information available in this digital age. The book is separated into three parts. Part one includes information on too much information, too many decisions, and tips for focusing our attention span and organizing information in general. The second part continues the quest toward understanding our brains and includes information on organizing our homes, our social connections, our time, and our personal and professional lives. The third section includes information on teaching children how to communicate with their peers in a digital age, as well as odds and ends that the author calls everything else. There is also an appendix and notes at the end of the book to help those who want to do further research on the topic.

Levitin’s book succeeds in its intention to explain what the human brain is wired for and what we are unable to handle in the long run. Our brains have evolved but were never intended to stare at pixels on a computer screen for hours at a time. It is no wonder that we now suffer more chronic problems as a result of our multitasking and trying to do more than one thing at a time.

I recommend The Organized Mind to anyone is interested in human psychology, as well as learning more about the brain and its capacity to remember and to manage information in a digital age.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

After a decade of working in several NYC law departments and teaching, Poppy decided she enjoyed writing full-time. She currently works as a freelance writing consultant, and lives with her husband and sons on the East Coast.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Penguin Group. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel

[ 4 ] December 29, 2014

the life intended book coverReviewed by Jennifer Jensen

Kate Waithman and her husband Patrick couldn’t be happier, until their time together is cut tragically short when Patrick is killed in a car accident. Twelve years later Kate has seemingly moved on; she’s engaged to her boyfriend of two years, Dan. But Kate realizes perhaps she isn’t as grounded in the present after she starts having vivid dreams of Patrick and the life they could have had together.

In Kate’s dreams, she and Patrick have both aged, and she is the mother of a beautiful young girl named Hannah, who is hard of hearing. Kate is desperate to hold onto this version of her life, but the lovely dreams always fade away, leaving Kate’s heart longing for what she cannot have. Kate had never considered the possibility of parenthood, but back in her life without Patrick, she learns that she is infertile. Dan is perfectly content with never having children, but Kate realizes being a mother is something she desperately wants.

To grow closer to the daughter she only knows in her dreams, Kate begins to take American Sign Language courses. She grows close to the instructor, Andrew Henson, and soon uses her music therapy skills to reach out to young children with hearing loss. Meanwhile, Kate’s relationship with Dan becomes strained the more time she spends getting to know the daughter she never knew she wanted.

The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel appealed to me based on its comparisons to the films Sliding Doors and the book-turned-movie P.S. I Love You. Now having read it, I also think fans of the movies What If… and The Family Man will also be interested. I have to confess I’ve been in a book funk lately. Nothing I have read in the last few months has truly resonated with me, but that all changed once I got lost in Kate’s story. This was a very hard book for me to put down; I took every free moment I had to continue on Kate’s journey.

The Life Intended also kept me guessing; just when I thought I had things figured out, the book took a few surprising and heartwarming turns. I haven’t wanted a happy ending for a character as badly as I wanted one for Kate. I’m a huge fan of happily ever afters, and as much as I wanted Kate and Patrick together, I knew it couldn’t happen—and so did Kate. Kristin Harmel tied up everything so beautifully by the end that I couldn’t stop myself from tearing up. I’ve read one other book of Harmel’s, but reading The Life Intended has convinced me I need to read absolutely everything she’s written.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She occasionally dabbles with her own fiction writing, particularly with the Young Adult and Paranormal genres. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and daughter.

Review copy was provided by Simon & Schuster. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass

[ 3 ] December 29, 2014

and the dark sacred night book coverReviewed by Rachel Mann

Before I picked up And the Dark Sacred Night, I’d read several other books by Julia Glass, including Three Junes and The Whole World Over. Both of those are on my books-to-keep-forever shelf. This was enough to make me grab her latest novel without even needing to know its scope, and I’m so glad I did. The connections between And the Dark Sacred Night’s characters are numerous and fine, and to talk too much about the plot threatens to give the book’s darkness and sweetness away. It was a luxury to start reading this book without knowing spoilers: to discover its connections and be surprised by them as I read in real time.

So, I’d rather not focus on the plot. Instead, I’d prefer to leave others the possibility of finding these links between the book’s characters while they read, not before. The pleasure in this discernment is more than sufficient without the context of Glass’s other books; with that context, such links become even more poignant.

The book begins with a boy and a girl. Malachy and Daphne, teenagers at a music camp, are on the precipice of what seems like young love. I would have happily read a whole book with them as the protagonists, but that’s not the intention of the plot, although the two end up being crucial to the entire story.

The next section moves to a young family made up of a struggling couple, the unemployed Kit and his long-suffering wife Sandra, and their twins (Will and Fanny). Glass then swoops back to Malachy and Daphne. Following a brief scene with the two of them, Glass presents us with the wonderful character of Jasper, an older man who wears many hats, and—in just one of the novel’s many overlaps—is Kit’s stepfather. (I could read an entire book about Jasper, too!)

And the book continues with this interwoven structure. Daphne and Malachy appear at regular interludes, which soon reveal themselves to be taking place at a different time than the action in the book’s other, longer sections. After each interlude, the narrative shifts back to the relative present with Kit, Jasper, and other characters. Some of these people, like Fenno, will be familiar to those who have read Three Junes. (I was thrilled to see these Three Junes characters emerge again in And the Dark Sacred Night’s past and present, in others’ memories and as themselves.)

And the Dark Sacred Night is complicated and beautiful. The construction of the plot, and the layering of events and characters’ relationships to one another, is superb. My only question is to whom I should lend my copy. I can think of several people who would enjoy this book as much as I did.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Rachel, who has a Ph.D. in English, is a freelance writer/editor and a voracious reader. You can talk to her about books at http://twitter.com/writehandmann.

Review copy was provided by Random House. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Mailbox Monday

[ 8 ] December 28, 2014

Welcome to Mailbox MondayMailbox Monday are hosted by Marcia at Mailbox Monday blog

Here are the books that made their way into my mailbox last week:

Paper Review Copies

41S37VWSccL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_fifty mice book coverthings half in shadow book cover17986399war of the wives book coveremaho tibet book coverthe like switch book covermigratory animals book covermistress firebrand book cover

Additions to Personal Kindle Library

woman of fortune book coverbig little lies book cover

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Review: The Adventures of Spunky and Dunky and Buddy Bear by Gary C. Newton

[ 1 ] December 28, 2014

51QyxEW-bzL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Reviewed by Poppy Johnson

Spunky and Dunky are African wayward monkeys. Both were orphaned in the forest when their parents were tricked, captured and put into a cage by marauding bandits. The bandits take away the monkey brothers’ parents in a truck, never to be seen again. The reader need not fear–a savior is on the way. Enter Buddy Bear, the do-gooder who reads of the monkeys’ story from his home in Canada and goes to Africa himself to help the frightened monkey brothers.

Buddy Bear takes the long way but eventually finds the tired and hungry abandoned monkeys still alive. He scoops them up, makes them feel safe and takes them with him to Canada. On their long journey, Spunky and Dunky ride a plane, make mischief with their “great ideas” and get into plenty of trouble with the airline. Once in Canada, Buddy explains the rules and promises them banana splits if they are good little monkeys. The monkeys even pass Buddy’s obedience test of not sneaking into the neighbor’s yard. The monkeys are rewarded with the promised banana splits for their good behavior, and the book ends on a happy note.

Buddy bear is a wonderful and kind fatherly figure to the monkey pair. He is not married but does have a family of bears around him. He tells the monkeys they will be part of his family and they are rightly added to his clan. He could easily be seen as a father figure that the children will like to read about in the story and can apply to their own lives. He is careful, considerate and patient, and he knows how to help the monkey twins grow up safe and sound. The Adventures of Spunky and Dunky and Buddy Bear is an oversized hard book that any young children are likely to enjoy.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

After a decade of working in several NYC law departments and teaching, Poppy decided she enjoyed writing full-time. She currently works as a freelance writing consultant, and lives with her husband and sons on the East Coast.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Gary C. Newton. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Mistakes I Made at Work, edited by Jessica Bacal

[ 2 ] December 28, 2014

mistakes i made at work book coverReviewed by Poppy Johnson

Women work outside the home in record numbers. Meanwhile, it has become increasingly more difficult to define our meaning of success; how women measure their own success today differs significantly when compared to a decade or two ago. Mistakes I Made at Work – edited by Jessica Bacal who worked at Smith College on the Women’s Narrative Project (WNP) – expounds on what it means to be successful for a modern working woman. Bacal began the project as an “experiment” to ask females about their goals, dreams, and values; she wanted give women the opportunity to later reflect on their narratives and help lead them to successes in their jobs down the road.

Bacal interviewed 25 (by all accounts) successful women. The women surveyed shared information about their lives and their personalities; they went into detail about the pivotal moments in their careers that opened their eyes to the window of success (or closed them off with a door of defeat).

In this book, every woman interviewed has an interesting story to tell. Some were fired for voicing their close-held beliefs, listening to their own voice, or following their dream. Others had to come to terms with quitting their jobs in order to take risks, embrace innovation, and learn to look for and find satisfaction in their jobs. Their advice? Don’t ignore office politics, find allies and like-minded people at work and don’t hide your flaws.

There are four parts to the book with sections on taking charge of your career, asking for what you want, saying no and being resilient. Each part highlights stories from real life women in similar situations who found unique ways to survive and thrive at work. Each narrative describes a work situation in the contributor’s own words, to show that workplace politics are never polite, often mean-spirited and always something to watch out for if you want to succeed. The book covers a variety of situations from women who were punished for taking calculated risks to women learning how to ask for what they want from their careers.

There are separated tips, lessons learned, and summaries of how to succeed in business in virtually every industry. The stories are enlightening because they relate the information in the women’s own words and allow the contributors to share how vulnerable they were at their jobs during past work related events. I’d recommend this book to women of any age who want to learn about and be better prepared for competitive work environments.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

After a decade of working in several NYC law departments and teaching, Poppy decided she enjoyed writing full-time. She currently works as a freelance writing consultant, and lives with her husband and sons on the East Coast.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Penguin Group. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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