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Self-Help / Relationships

  • Idea/Concept: Different parenting styles are discussed, as well as the implications of each, and how such approaches to raising children have invariably significant impacts on a child's psychological growth. The author invites readers to reflect on their own childhood experiences and relationships with their parents, in order to consciously shape their parenting styles. 

    Prose: The author utilizes clear, polished prose that speaks plainly to parental concerns, questions, and uncertainties, while communicating valuable insights and referencing abundant secondary sources. Anecdotal examples are relatable and endearing, while digestible paragraphs provide brief, but thought-provoking insights.

    Originality:  This book stands apart from other guides aimed at conscientious parents, through its broad-ranging and comprehensive content. The author strikes an effective balance between informational content and personal reflections, while self-assessments and questionnaires provide an interactive element. 

    Execution: The text is well organized and self-contained in such a way that it does not need to be read as a traditional book. Readers will welcome the ease of reading and the ability to zero in on particular topics of interest. 

  • How to Self-publish and Market a Book

    by Hank Quense

    Rating: 9.25

    Idea: Quense's pitch with this book -- an author who has self-published many books writing a guide to authors looking to self-publish their own -- is sharply honed, and the resulting book offers exactly what its audience would be seeking. Quense anticipates the pitfalls and mistakes first-time self-publishers face, and he offers clear, concrete advice for avoiding them, bolstered by strong examples from his own career.

    Prose: Quense's prose is unfussy and direct, just what is needed for such a volume. He's also to-the-point, never wandering off topic or attempting to pad the manuscript. Quense emphasizes  the urgency of working on a manuscript with editors and sensitivity readers, and it's clear on each polished page that he practices what he preaches.

    Originality: There are certainly other how-to books surveying the same field, but what's most original and helpful in Quense's volume is its dedication to offering writers a clear step-by-step guide to their self-publishing journey. Quense organizes the volume chronologically, describing the tasks an author should attend to five months before publication, then four months before publication, and so forth. This approach is unique and helps prevent the task at hand from being overwhelming. Another factor separating Quense's guide from other how-to books: Quense is frank about costs, and he makes no unrealistic promises about outcomes.

    Execution: Quense is strong in explaining what self-published authors need to do and also demonstrating why these steps matter. Even authors averse to, say, establishing a social-media presence, are likely to find the advice here persuasive and manageable. Making it all "manageable" could be the book's greatest strength -- and it could only be improved in that regard with a more thorough table of contents or topic-driven index. The structure makes the book somewhat less accessible than it might be to authors who just want advice on one topic, like the difference between a publisher and packager or how to find an artist to design a cover.

    Blurb: Concise and bursting with practical advice, How to Self-Publish and Market a Book delivers exactly what its title promises, with clear eyes and little fat.

  • Your Kid's Gonna Be Okay

    by Michael Delman

    Rating: 9.25

    Idea/Concept: Your Kid's Gonna Be Okay is a practical and engaging handbook for parents  that provides guidance for parents on communicating effectively with their children. Delman offers  thoughtful tips for promoting healthy social and organizational skill development.

    Prose: The tone is conversational and accessible. Organizationally, the work flows clearly and is easy to navigate. The narrative balances genuine advice with concrete suggestions for practical application.

    Originality: The book's originality lies in its holistic approach. Delman provides insights from the author’s own experiences as an educator, while drawing from and synthesizing existing research and resources.

    Execution: Delman's book is very well executed, providing insightful knowledge for adults striving to nurture the growth and healthy development of their children. Delman writes with confidence and compassion, ultimately delivering sensible and relevant advice.

    Blurb: A book of immense value to parents and educators alike.

  • Wild Ideas: Creativity from the Inside Out

    by Cathy Wild

    Rating: 9.25

    Idea/Concept: Wild offers a clear, compelling guidebook to understanding, channeling, and embracing creativity, as well as for connecting with internal personal truths. 

    Prose: The author's prose is balanced, straightforward, and layered with intriguing references to authors, artists, scientists, and other influential individuals. Wild writes about her own journey with candor, vulnerability, and clarity.

    Originality: Wild takes a unique approach to the topic of creativity by integrating her personal experiences as both an artist and counselor into her far-ranging discussion. 

    Execution: This manual blends inspiring and thought provoking ideas with more hands-on, experiential exercises designed for readers to harness their own creativity. Solidly organized and highly readable, individuals who are in a creative slump or are on a quest for personal discovery, will find much to use and value here. 

  • Idea/Concept: A pair of physicians draws upon all their institutional and practical knowledge to write a frank, comprehensive, up-to-date guide for patients navigating America's healthcare system, including many lists of vital questions patients should ask their care providers, and covering the ACA, COBRA, Medicaid, and other coverage options without including a trace of politics, proving to be an immensely helpful text. The book lays out with forceful clarity the many points patients should consider before selecting a doctor or hospital, electing to undergo surgery, seeking a second opinion, or being prescribed a medication; this is an urgently necessary book.

    Prose: The authors write admirably direct, clear prose that's always grammatically sound and stripped of jargon, emotion, and ambiguity. They explain key terms at every step and guide readers with strong topic sentences, helpful summaries, and clearly labeled section breaks. The lists of questions to ask healthcare providers in various circumstances are practical and helpful, as are the many bulleted lists of steps or considerations readers should make when facing healthcare decisions or waiting in an emergency room. During some longer explanatory passages, however, such as the examination of the "Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" of the Affordable Care Act, the carefully dispassionate tone does nothing to enliven dull, technical material. Fortunately, most of the book covers practical, immediate concerns.

    Originality: The authors' broad advice (assemble a personal healthcare record; seek second opinions; have a personal advocate) is familiar in outline, but "Insider's Guide to Quality, Affordable Healthcare" offers much that is unique -- and uniquely helpful. The authors prove especially adept at explaining, without finger pointing, why the healthcare system is the way that it is, and how within that often dehumanizing system readers can still find wats advocate for themselves or their loved ones. Finally, the authors cover many complicated real-life situations that other general health books might not, including sections with titles like "How to Stop an Impaired Elderly Parent’s Right to Drive," "What You Can Expect If You have a Prescribed Opioid," and "What Can Be Done to Decrease Your Risk?" with regard to bacterial antibiotic resistance.

    Execution: Insider's Guide to Quality, Affordable Healthcare offers exactly what its title promises. The volume is shrewdly laid out for ease of use, and it bursts with both generalized and highly specific practical advice that will likely prove beneficial to any reader.

  • Idea/Concept: An adolescent may not understand the underlying reasons for self-defeating behavior, a topic this exceptional book explores in clear detail. The text is perfectly slanted toward teenagers, but parents of teens and distressed adults will also find this material worthy of pursuit.

    Prose: Conversational, friendly, and approachable, the tone to this workbook/guide encourages a slow immersion in a self-discovery process that may be uncomfortable. This carefully implemented procedure sparks curiosity and desire to resolve all that is wrong in one’s psyche, though at times it repeats direction and relies heavily on hypothetical questions.

    Originality: Self-help textbooks for adolescents may inundate the literary marketplace, but this outstanding title surpasses the majority in its creative yet uncomplicated presentation of life-altering advice. A winner stands behind this valuable toolbox, a gleaming treasure chest for anyone who needs a psychological boost.

    Execution: In this second book of Words of Wisdom for Teens, the conscious versus subconscious mind is addressed in simple language suitable for goal-oriented youth. Topnotch analogies and real-life examples make complex functions of the brain easy to comprehend, allowing a troubled individual to use this newly learned information to solve problems.

  • Idea/Concept: With Parenting at Your Best, Roni Wing Lambrecht digs deep into her own life and experiences raising a family to share personal, hard-won advice about parenting. Tragically, the author and her husband lost their son Dalton in an accident when he was 15; Lambrecht's love for Dalton is the book's heartbeat, as she draws often on her memories of him and even her regrets. Far from the standard-issue guidebook its title suggests and that readers might expect, Parenting at Your Best is an act of love, healing, and memorialization.

    Prose: Lambrecht's prose is savvy and casual, unfussy as can be, loose and conversational but always clear. In this book (and two others she has published) Lambrecht champions the practice of writing frequent notes to family to be read by them now -- and also of journaling about memories and milestones to be shared in later years. There's no doubt, reading the personal stories and clear-eyed advice in Parenting at Your Best, that she has poured herself into her book just as she would into her missives to family.

    Originality: Lambrecht distinguishes Parenting at Your Best from the self-help pack by focusing on her own unique, self-generated parenting advice, always illustrated with compelling, often affecting examples from her own family. Even somewhat familiar relationship advice -- lead by example; establish expectations in a family; establish and respect traditions; learn to ask “Are they asking me a question, or are they just asking to be heard?” -- here is freshened up by Lambrecht's thoughtful, heartfelt, personal approach. Besides that warmth and practicality, the book is set apart by its frank, moving handling of grief and loss, as Lambrecht shares family photos and memories and even describes how her journal about Dalton might have saved her marriage after her son's death.

    Execution: While Lambrecht's writing is inviting and touching, some chapters face a rawness of grief that can be surprising. Some readers might not be eager for a reckoning with loss and grief in a book about raising their own children. Parenting at Your Best could signal more strongly on its cover and in its title that death is one of its throughlines. That said, passages about topics like establishing nightly "cuddle time" or sharing a family business plan boast rare feeling and urgency, as it's impossible to forget that our time with our loved ones is always limited -- and we never know when it might end. A couple of chapters (on hugging, dancing, and family game nights) are too short to offer much insight or inspiration.

  • Idea/Concept: An unusually flexible and helpful self-help book, Alexander's Lighten Your Day offers dozens of stress-management tools and exercises for readers to experiment with and adapt to their individual needs, from facing imposter syndrome to taking "microbreaks" to learning to "declipse" worries. While centered on Alexander's own trademarked "LIGHTEN" model, the book at heart is an inviting treasury of techniques. This approach -- and Alexander's upbeat coaching -- results in a book that's much more practical than many of the more prescriptive and dogmatic titles in its genre.

    Prose: Alexander's writing is at its clearest and most persuasive when the author is detailing the many stress-management exercises that are this book's heart. He excels at offering unambiguous instructions, at demonstrating the utility of each exercise, and at emphasizing at each step that the readers are the true arbiter of whether or not these techniques apply to their lives. Elsewhere, the prose tends toward toward passability rather than inspiration. His introductions and personal anecdotes are less crisp, engaging, original, and polished than his exercises.

    Originality: While many of Alexander's techniques and exercises are familiar (he suggests affirmations, reflections, reframing negative thoughts, tips for decision making, and unplugging from social media) his curation and promotion of stress-management tools is inspired. The book bursts with positive, calming advice. Sometimes, Alexander even recontextualizes our curious habits as vital self-care: He convincingly positions watching silly animal videos online as a stress management technique rather than an idle time killer. The author's "Lighten" model (rendered in a memorable illustration as "the hairy light bulb") is unique, intuitive, and crucial to the organization of the text's many stress-management techniques.

    Execution: Thorough, friendly, upbeat, and well-organized, Alexander's Lighten Your Day is a cornucopia of stress-management techniques. It offers more tools than any one reader could ever use ... and also is so rich in tips and exercises that even the most cynical reader should find something helpful. (Disarmingly, Alexander gets apologetic, more than once, when his exercises take on the whiff of "woo-woo.") Early on, Alexander attempts to draw lines between failures of stress management and actual medical diagnoses received by him and a dear friend; the author is shrewd enough not to insist that stress causes cancer, but the text allows for readers to infer a clear relationship, without incorporating clinical studies or the views of medical professionals. 

     

  • Idea/Concept: Stoller's Becoming Lucid is an attempt not just at another guidebook for achieving "lucidity" in dreams or in finding divining meaning from them; instead, its author is applying hypnotic practice and lucid dreaming techniques to waking life as well. Stoller also distinguishes Becoming Lucid by including transcripts of detailed "hypnotic sessions" as well as a link to a Dropbox account that includes recordings of them. These work better in mp3 form than on the page, of course, but their inclusion is welcome. It might not be clear to readers, however, that this book's ideal audience is people already somewhat versed in the literature of lucid dreaming.

    Prose: Stoller demonstrates deep, authoritative knowledge over his material, and he writes in the elevated, searching, often rigorous style of a theorist rather than a mass-market self-help author. His metaphors are often striking in their illustrative clarity, and his instructions for readers and dreamers in the book's many exercises are precise and unambiguous. Less clear, though, are Stoller's explanations of his key concepts, which is due both to those ideas' slipperiness -- he acknowledges in the first chapter that there's no one clear definition of lucidity with regard to consciousness -- but also from his tendency to get caught up considering philosophical and scientific puzzles. When the author is offering instructions or recounting a narrative, the prose is clear; when he's contemplating how or why our minds and dreams work as they do, the prose becomes more tangled, and Stoller offers readers fewer guideposts than might be ideal.

    Originality: Stoller relies on no received wisdom and freshly thinks through even the book's most familiar ideas. His exercises, examples, and insights are unique and helpful.

    Execution: For all its originality, Becoming Lucid demands some familiarity with the existing literature and techniques of lucid dreaming to be best appreciated. In chapters that appear in outline to lay out the basics, Stoller often riffs about, muses upon, or contests prevailing beliefs -- and he doesn't always invite readers not steeped in the material along for the ride. The book's energy often goes into disabusing readers of ideas they might not actually have rather than walking them persuasively through Stoller's own opinions. This creates an occasionally argumentative tone.

  • RESCRIPT the Story You're Telling Yourself

    by Colleen Georges

    Rating: 7.50

    Idea/Concept: Colleen Georges's RESCRIPT the Story You're Telling Yourself centers on the author's eight-part "RESCRIPT Framework," which she has designed as a guide to helping readers flip the script on the narratives they tell themselves about their own lives and selves. Georges's formulation is unique and thoroughly thought through, and she packages it with clear-eyed examples, practical strategies, helpful testimonials, and smart and accessible organization.

    Prose: Georges's prose is strongest when she is in a prescriptive coaching mode, guiding readers with warmth and clarity through her RESCRIPT Framework with thorough strategies and examples. Less assured, however, are the passages at the start of most chapters where Georges discusses the debilitating tendencies in thinking that her framework addresses. Passages concerning people's general drift of mind sometimes can be vague or confusing or center on ambiguous subjects. Occasionally, the tone becomes so conversational that the prose might be transcribed from speech. Fortunately, Georges continually offers examples, metaphors, and exercises that elaborate upon her assertions, so the occasional hard-to-parse sentence usually gets clarified elsewhere in the text.

    Originality: While tenets of Georges's advice are familiar at times, RESCRIPT is unique in its central framework, its many examples, its clarifying metaphors, and its exhaustive trove of strategies for changing habits of mind.

    Execution: Georges is a sincere, impassioned coach who generously overstuffs her book with strong, practical, inspiring advice. "RESCRIPT" outshines many books in its genre, thanks to this dedication and thoroughness. The author also has organized the book effectively, and she makes up for the occasional weakness of the most generalized passages by getting highly, helpfully specific. That said, kicking off the introduction with a disquisition on a familiar quote from "Forrest Gump" might suggest to readers that this book is less accomplished and unique than it is.

  • Heal Your Body, Cure Your Mind

    by Ameet Aggarwal

    Rating: 7.00

    Idea: This book’s “heal thyself” stratagem is commendable, especially since illness can be lifestyle-inflicted, but danger lurks beneath a misdiagnosed condition while utilizing any method. An outstanding and thorough compilation of information, including simplified, natural treatments, fills these pages with power to eradicate sickness.

    Prose: Intriguing, yet repetitious, this carefully written medical guide seeks solutions to common problems using terminology that is comprehensible and fascinating. Composed of organized lists and reassuring advice, the book will appeal to people who have failed to get long-term relief through traditional medicine alone.

    Originality: Books on holistic medicine are a popular and valuable contribution to publishing, available in staggering numbers, each with a distinctive angle on the topic. This title is not an exception within category standards, and although it fulfills the demands anticipated, expert competition may draw readers to alternatives.

    Execution: This engaging text explores the connection between body and mind while addressing the importance of diet and health, as well as providing details about natural healing supplements. Like other medical books intended for the public, its comprehensible statements and optimistic encouragement could alternately persuade or dissuade adherence to the recommended plan.

  • Plot: This uplifting and wholehearted guide to spiritual living offers a consistent, clear, and highly readable structure.

    Prose: The author writes with warmth, ease, and intimacy--the veritable equivalent of sitting with the parish priest over coffee.

    Originality: This work is very much in keeping with familiar formulas found in self-help titles purporting to possess a key to acting with compassion and purpose. The book's mysticism may strike readers as overly general in nature.

    Character/Execution: Readers who take the book's instruction to heart, may indeed discover incremental improvements in their interpersonal relationships. The “masters of the Egyptian desert” stories do little to enhance the book's overall credibility or resonance.

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