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The Bookwatch

Volume 17, Number 11 November 2022 Home | BW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Health/Medicine Shelf Christian Studies Shelf
Fantasy/SciFi Shelf    

Reviewer's Choice

Playing Mantis
D'Ann Katsu Davis
Atmosphere Press
9781639884179, $17.77

Playing Mantis: A Workbook For Inner Peace And A Playbook For The Revolution is an allegorical autobiography of a mantis that comes with an added bonus: embedded original music by D'Ann Katsu Davis, specifically designed to augment the story.

Asked to write a music bio, Davis quickly realized an even greater interest in writing a bio of the music, as well. Nobody can synthesize the feel and special perspective of this book than the author, who easily defines its mercurial form: "Playing Mantis is a story within a story within a story within a story. It is the spiritual autobiography of a praying mantis, and an allegorical memoir, while at the same time answering the question of "what the hell" am I doing with my music and sounds? Which was a central goal. But it also came to embody larger social and even cosmological themes."

Its main characters are an amalgamation of various spiritual teachers and influences that also incorporate an unusual countenance as events are related from the points of view of a male Buddhist and female indigenous praying mantis. The first strength to note in this story is a powerful sense of people and places. These are vividly captured in first-person observations. These power a transformation work that adopts a different perspective about the world, the healers and spiritual forces that move through it, and those that educate and carry the narrator through life.

Readers may not expect the full-bodied flavor of this experience, which contrasts diverse concerns such as Eastern and Western philosophy, presents succinct round-up words of wisdom by various 'mantis' incarnations (Medicine Mantis Says 'When people and nature are in perfect harmony magic and beauty are everywhere'), and blends musical notes of enlightenment and creative spirit into its experiences and observations: "She inhales air, and exhales music. She is a Native American flute - mystic and enchanting - haunting and hollow. She is full of heart, peace, and gratitude as she plays her offerings of praise to all who reside in the Seven Sacred Directions of her Sound Medicine Wheel." The result is a lyrical work that begins and ends with music, infusing this into high notes of spiritual revelation and life inspection that will prove particularly attractive to readers interested in more than just memoirs of personal enlightenment.

Playful, thought-provoking, and spiritually revealing, Playing Mantis lives up to the weighty promise of its subtitle (A Workbook For Inner Peace And A Playbook For The Revolution) with a format that is at once easy to access and hard to define within the usual genre boundaries. Libraries and readers interested in spiritual, philosophical, and artistic explorations will find the language and focus of Playing Mantis exceptional, representing a free fall into healing and growth that is unusually lively in both perspective and presentation.

The Health/Medicine Shelf

Beating Insomnia
Stephen Altschuler
Sacajawea Press
9780578299082, $9.99 Paper/$4.99 Kindle

Insomnia is a widespread problem, and shelves of books about the subject have already been written. What sets Stephen Altschuler's Beating Insomnia: A No-Nonsense Way to Natural Sleep apart from most is its review of why most sleep advice doesn't work, and the methods which have been proven successful.

Altschuler experienced powerful chemotherapy, which saved his life but exacted many tolls -- among them, the inability to sleep. The cookie-cutter approach of many doctors towards fostering elusive sleep didn't help. In fact, they made matters worse. Timing is everything; but nowhere is that adage more effective than in sleep patterns. Body clocks vary, body chemistry differs, and this is why 'one size fits all' approaches to insomnia are more likely to expand the problem than solve it. And that's the ticket to success in Beating Insomnia, which presents a self-help program of identifying and working with one's natural rhythms instead of a singular approach. There are many avenues towards reaching the goal of better sleep that are involved in this process.

Some may be surprising to readers that anticipate nighttime mantras or wind-down routines alone. One example involves the move to improve overall life quality: "To shift attention away from sleep difficulties, you must find something in your life to look forward to waking up to - a purpose that is enjoyable, that fires your creative juices, that literally consumes you with interest and thought -- something you find so interesting that it can distract you from obsessing upon insomnia."

It seems counterproductive to get all fired up about an effort to sleep, but Altschuler maintains that this and other life-changing approaches all contribute to better sleep by improving the quality of not just nighttime, but daytime routines. He defines "natural sleep" as "sleep without prescription medications or over the counter sleep aids," and he attends to routines and measures which also are not too addictive or rigid in their deployment.

As self-help readers and insomniacs pursue the many tips to creating a more restful, sleep inducing environment, from outfitting a room with blackout curtains and making sure it's cool to adopting a regular schedule that encourages sleep, they will find it easy to adjust these tips to suit their own lifestyles and approaches. And yet, the basics of these admonitions allow for understanding the fundamental influences on reaching the goal of natural sleep patterns.

Reading Beating Insomnia is like pressing the "reset" button. It allows readers to better understand the roots of their individual problem and pattern disruptions, and to adopt the routines and processes which mitigate sleep-reducing influences and patterns. It also helps identify and address anticipatory fears and many other underlying psychological factors that interfere with sleep patterns. It is best used by the self-help insomniac who would consider and revise perceptions not just of sleep, but their lives.

Libraries looking for new approaches to self-health and beating insomnia will find Beating Insomnia filled with examples gleaned from Altschuler's own experiences as well as a host of practical solutions any insomniac can readily employ to address their own sleep-elusive issues. The book will help its readers fall and stay asleep. Its author's experiences offer invaluable keys to identifying common pitfalls and overcoming them, making Beating Insomnia a highly recommended choice above many competing sleep aids.

The Christian Studies Shelf

New Testament Readings & Devotionals, Volume 3
C.M.H. Koenig (compiler)
C.M.H. Koenig Books (through IngramSpark)
9781956475302, $14.99, PB

Like its predecessors, the third volume of New Testament Readings & Devotionals represents an opportunity to better absorb, understand, and study the New Testament with an eye to contemplating and discussing God and Christianity.

It profiles the works of thinkers Robert Hawker, Charles H. Spurgeon, and Octavius Winslow, juxtaposing their reflective writings with Biblical passages and insights designed to both enlighten readers and lead them to think deeper about Biblical passages and their contemporary meaning. Readings from Acts, Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1& 2 Timothy, and other books from the New Testament offer reflections from AD 50/60 up to Revelation's end times warnings, creating insights which range from historical settings and background information to analytical and critical explorations that lend particularly well to group discussion and Bible study.

Footnotes (some extensive) provide further cross-references to relevant Biblical sections which expand and augment the three writers' insights, allowing Biblical study groups the food for thought and cross-referenced passages necessary to better understand the Bible's wording, concepts, and presentation.

As in the other books in compiler C.M.H. Koenig's growing reference library, this offers Biblical students a unique opportunity to pair the reflections of three Christian thinkers to the basic tenants of the Bible. The focus on these works in this manner translates to an effective method of applying traditional Biblical events and concepts to contemporary life and thinking, making New Testament Readings & Devotionals another rich tool in the Christian thinker's arsenal of spiritual understanding and reflection.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Deploying Dragons
Dan Koboldt
Baen Books
P.O. Box 1403, Riverdale, NY 10471
9781982192105, $17.00

Deploying Dragons is highly recommended for readers of speculative fiction who enjoy doses of hard science and dragon conundrums in their stories of biotech futures. The race to develop military-grade dragons to be used in combat produces real dragons that fuel the Build-A-Dragon company's profits. Unfortunately, the military promise to use them as weapons challenges designer Noah in new ways, as well. The story of a race between special interests will appeal to readers of fantasy, military sci-fi, and those who look for strong characters and complex scenarios.

Baen Books
P.O. Box 1403, Riverdale, NY 10471

Two new publications are recommended reading for sci-fi readers looking for the added value of moral and ethical challenges in their adventure stories.

David Carrico's The Blood is the Life (9781982192099, $25.00) follows young man Chaim Caan, who is ready to let off steam at a nightclub after a year in COVID lockdown. Unfortunately, the alluring young woman he meets there turns him into a vampire, introducing him to the life of the undead that runs head on into his beliefs as an observant Jew. The moral and spiritual dilemmas play out well against an action-packed backdrop as Chaim finds all his concepts about life and values turned on end. Readers will especially appreciate the conundrums that emerge from these physical, spiritual, and psychological changes that introduce a dark new world that vies with all prior beliefs.

Larry Correia and Kacey Ezell's No Game for Knights: The Dark Side of SF & Fantasy Heroes (9781982192082, $25.00) gathers stories by Laurell K. Hamilton, Sharon Shinn, and other notable Baen authors and genre writers as it presents short stories that meld sci-fi and noir investigations alike. The stories consider the intersection between good and evil, nice guys and fall guys, and good deeds gone awry, spinning a series of yarns that pair fantasy with detective noir elements for engrossing reads.

Both of these new titles from Baen Books are attractive and unusual presentations designed to appeal to a diverse audience of sci-fi and psychological fiction buffs.

James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Diane C. Donovan, Editor
Midwest Book Review
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