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Reviews by Adult Reading Program participants

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by Troy Denning

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I didn't think we'd see Ruha from "The Parched Sea" again, but she was great as always. Like many of the early Forgotten Realms novels, this one has some uncomfortable portrayals of "Asian"-like people (especially the broken "Common" [English] even when it made no sense for it to be broken). Still, it was an interesting look at the Cult of the Dragon.

by Elaine Cunningham

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This is Arilyn Moonblade's solo novel, which managed to not only make Tethyrian politics vaguely of interest, but gave Arilyn some of the much deserved acceptance that she has been craving. I'll be honest - I hate how the romantic subplot played out, especially in light of later novels. However, it's overall a good adventure and a great, in-depth look at Green Elven culture.

by Michael Cunningham

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This is another "let's take fairy tales and give them a darker twist" sort of anthology. However, this is probably the best I've read of the genre. It really makes you think about the darker side of the human condition. That's all I can say without spoiling anything, but seriously, try this novel.

by Clayton Emery

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"What if the 'Conan the Barbarian' movie (1982) happened in Forgotten Realms?" "Conan the Barbarian" is my favorite movie and you see so much of it in this book. Also, Green Willow reminds me of Arilyn Moonblade. Finally, it was great to learn a bit about the Netherese (who figure so largely in the historical lore of the Forgotten Realms). This is my new favorite book.

by H.P. Lovecraft

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This story seems to be an experiment at how law enforcement might encounter Lovecraftian horrors. It seems strange that a man from Ireland would randomly want to move to New York to be a police officer. (It's also strange that Lovecraft doesn't seem to say anything racist about him considering this is Lovecraft and the time in American history when people were very racist against the Irish.) Next, it doesn't seem to make sense that the police would be so interested in that random old man (maybe a little interest, but not much). Also, there's mention of an Abrahamic monster - again, that's weird for Lovecraft. (He tends to make his own.) I like the ending, however. I also enjoyed that it mentioned the Yazidi Kurds (considering how much they've been in the news suffering under and fighting ISIL). I mean, sure, this is Lovecraft so he's racist towards them... but still, it was interesting that he would even know anything about them and would mention them back in that era. Overall, it's kind of average as a story.

by H.P. Lovecraft

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"The Music of Erich Zann" was one of the first stories by Lovecraft that I've ever read. I enjoyed its simplicity, its mystery street (which recently reminds me of Harry Potter and Doctor Who, to be honest), and it's implications on the power of music. It's a nice, short read.

by H.P. Lovecraft

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Like "At the Mountains of Madness" (which it actually references), this is a somewhat lengthier story with a slow beginning, but then chapters of engrossing description of alien races and their histories. You should read this one all the way through and then sit down and study Australia a bit afterwards. ("At the Mountains of Madness" made me do the same thing with Antarctica, lol.)

by Chet Williamson

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"What if Sherlock Holmes happened in Forgotten Realms?" Need I say more? It has a bit of a slow start, but an satisfying ending.

by HP Lovecraft

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This has all of the elements of the average HP Lovecraft story. It has a couple of references to "Yuggoth" (Pluto), but otherwise, there's nothing exceptional. It's worth at least one read

by Mark W. McGinnis

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This is a collection of fables (or jataka stories) from Buddhist traditions (so they focus on avoiding being overly proud or greedy, hurting living creatures, etc). They are short and simple, but not boring (the way Grimm's Fairy Tales can be). I think I need to re-read them to catch all of the subtleties I missed the first time, but I would recommend this book to readers of all ages. Also, the physical book (I listened to audio) has some amazing illustrations.

by Miyamoto Musashi

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I randomly got this book on a recommendation. The introduction was long (considering that the book only has 5 "chapters"), but it did contain some worthwhile facts. For the most part, its lessons really only apply to swordsmanship. However, the third "chapter" or "Fire" has lessons that can be applied to any conflict. This said, it should be noted that the influence of various Buddhisms and other Japanese religions of the time is clear. However, most people of the Samurai class subscribed to a version of Buddhism (namely Zen, but there are others) that philosophized a justification for violence that many other "denominations" of Buddhism would disagree with. So, a lot of the "Fire chapter" has points that would be helpful in a conflict - but some conflict with other "denominations" of Buddhism. Anyways, it was interesting to read this, and note the subtleties of Japanese Buddhisms of this period. I got a lot out of the "Fire chapter" although it's with the caveat of "but I don't believe in causing unnecessary harm, so I'd change this and that."

by Dante Alighieri

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I first heard about "La Vita Nuova" in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. I looked for a copy everywhere and couldn't find one (this was back in the early days of the internet). Then the other day, I randomly stumbled upon a copy on Audible and thought back to my quest... and I just had to get it. Now that I've sat down with it, I first have to note how strange this book is. Dante narrates how he falls in love with a woman named Beatrice, how he hides it, how it is discovered, ...and well, spoilers (even though this was written in the 13th century). I already had some inclinations about the whole thing based on "The Divine Comedy" (where Beatrice has a cameo), but still... without Wikipedia I wouldn't have caught why he couldn't just approach her. Anyways, Dante and Beatrice are often held up (even today) as some kind of romantic ideal (of courtly love), but you know what - it's actually really creepy. He falls in love with her when they are 9. He talks to her maybe twice. He spends excessive energy trying to hide his feelings from her. And out of their sparse interaction, he decides that she's perfect and is the love of his life and makes her the heroine of his major works (even after he marries another woman, apparently). Think about this... what do you call a guy who sees a woman twice then does everything he can to be at places where he knows he will see her? He doesn't plan on ever approaching her and goes into excessive crying fits over her. He thinks he loves her when he doesn't even know her. Bro... Dante's a classic stalker. I'm so glad that he couldn't and didn't pursue her. There is no way that it would have ended well for her. Putting that tidbit aside, the work is written in an unusual style. It's all the poems he wrote about Beatrice in his "LiveJournal" connected by explanatory narrative. Then after each poem, he notes how he divided it into stanzas and how he chose to write in vernacular (Italian instead of Latin)... and other technical notes. It's strange, but it becomes rapidly addictive. I read it all in one sitting. He tells a years-long love story through poems and then provides technical notes (which is weird) that end up having great historical value. This short work will not be everyone's cup of tea. In fact, I can't say that I "love it" per se. However, I got a lot out of reading it. It provides an interesting window into history, crazy men, and some unique poetic constructions. Also, it fulfilled a kind of personal journey for me, and even reminds me of my husband and I in a couple of places (but without all the stalking). I'd say that anyone should give this book a try. You might like it or be confused by it.

by Daniel Goleman

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I have been interested in emotional intelligence and have a bunch of short little books on my wish list. This one was about $1, so I got it on a whim. It's only an hour long, but it was probably one of the most useful hours that I've spent in a long time. Instead of just talking in fluffy language about "social skills," it went into details: self-awareness self-regulation motivation empathy social skills (as the culmination of the others) I know that I have stunted social skills, but it wasn't until I sat down with this book that I figured out just what some of the exact issues are. I'm not always aware of the impact I have on others (self-awareness). I sometimes react too quickly to negative emotions (self-regulation). Because of these weaknesses, I have an overall weakness in social skills. However, this book also emphasizes that you can do something about such weaknesses. The only problem is that the way to fix them involves practicing them as they come up in real life. For me, that is such an anxiety-inducing thing (I'll mess up at the start until I get better. Here, messing up means potentially ruining relationships. The stakes are too high to practice.) I need a safe space to practice in, and that's where the book recommends hiring a special coach. I don't know if I'll do that, but I'll keep it in mind. Anyways, this book is amazing. It's short, but it's powerful. The narration didn't put me to sleep. And you will really get something life-changing out of it. It's a must-read for anyone who struggles with social skills or wants to be a good leader.

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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This wasn't a bad story. I loved how Dr. Watson was already gushing over Mary Morstan, as well as some of Holmes' highly quotable quotes and costumes and the Baker Street Irregulars. Oh, and there was a puppy (Toby). Puppies are always a good thing. However, I was a bit unsatisfied with the "love at first sight" nature of Dr. Watson's attraction to Mary Morstan, the criminal's utterly un-compelling motivation (he thinks he's suffered some great injustice when really he's just greedy and petty), and the final status of the "macguffin." Still, this is the first story to make me literally laugh out loud in very long time. (Holmes' last line about his cocaine.) ...And that has to count for something. PS - "The Sign of Three" episode of the BBC Sherlock was a much sweeter tale (although not really based on "The Sign of Four" at all - just a nod to it).

by Michael N Nagler

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I ended up writing a more formal review of this book for the Secular Buddhist Association. Here's a link and a rough version of what went into that one: http:// secularbuddhism.org/ 2016/02/29/ the-nonviolence-handbook-a-review/ You know those little games people like to post as their Facebook statuses? Well, last week, this one: [image] Led me to The Nonviolence Handbook& with a chainsaw. Apparently, things either got out of control quickly or The Nonviolence Handbook is very into ice sculpture. Jokes aside, for those who have not looked at the details of what nonviolence (ahimsa) can be and how it can be lived / its techniques applied on both the grand and interpersonal scales, this guide is incredibly thorough in relatively few pages. For those who have already read some of Naglers other works (including his Metta Center for Nonviolence website), youll find that the book tends to just repeat what Nagler already says for free (which isnt necessarily a bad thing). After a general overview, Nagler describes the importance of having Right Intention and Right Means when aiming to engage in nonviolent direct action. Being among those who have previously read his website, I was surprised to hear such Buddhism-evoking terminology. When I last looked at Naglers work, aside from having metta in the name of his nonprofit, there was not much direct reference to any kind of Buddhism. Now, however, there seems to not just be terminology and symbols on his website (e.g. theres now an image of Gautama Buddha on the landing page), but a deeper integration of seminal Buddhist ideas in his conceptions of nonviolent action. Right Intention includes recognizing the interconnectedness (i.e. dependent arising) and fundamental sameness (which can be evoked through the concept of sunyata) of all people and using this as a logical springboard into minimizing harm to all involved in a conflict (i.e. the First Precept) by the respecting of everyones humanity and pride in a conflict (including yourself and your enemies). It also includes various suggestions on how to develop mind states and habits that encourage such an outlook. While he mentions avoiding all media, which I dont think is necessary and I honestly kind of roll my eyes at, he also mentions - you guessed it - meditation, which he emphasizes need not be religious. He does not mention metta meditation by name, but its clear that that specific style of meditation would encourage his Right Intention and he knows that enough to even add metta to the name of his nonprofit. Right Means seems to be a longer (and less systematic, in my honest opinion) statement of his Six Principles of Nonviolence: Respect everyone Always include Constructive Program Look at the long term Look for win-win solutions Use power carefully (i.e. dont gloat when you win) Study the history of nonviolence For those who arent familiar with the term/ philosophy of Satyagraha, and especially for those who forget about or neglect the element of constructive program (building a better replacement for whatever structure you are fighting so that theres not a vacuum of services after success), this section will be extremely thought-provoking and transformative. Next (and also throughout) he addresses some common questions or concerns about nonviolence: Nonviolence should not be passive. It should be constructive (i.e. constructive program, or building a better system to replace the existing one) and directly obstructive (i.e. there should be direct action). Its not a last resort or the technique of the weak; it is a lifestyle of the strong. What about when nonviolence doesnt seem to be working? What to do after a victory? How many people do you need to have an effective nonviolent movement? How important are symbols or symbolic acts? Is suffering necessary for anyone who attempts nonviolence? (This leads to a discussion which would fit quite well in any larger talk on dukkha.) Can nonviolence ever be misused? Overall, I think he does an excellent job of addressing these questions (using real life examples), and I feel that I learned a thing or two despite being already familiar with this topic and Naglers thoughts on it. I did think of (and was, unfortunately, left with) one question that I invite anyone reading this to weigh in on in the comments: [paraphrasing] People engaging in nonviolent direct action should prepare themselves for some dukkha and even to die for their cause. However, what should one do when its not ones own life that is threatened, but that of a loved one? Is it even ethical to risk the suffering and life of another without their consent and not your own? The book wraps up by emphasizing that it is best / most effective to control your anger or channel it into nonviolent direct action instead of just screaming as much as you can no matter what (a complaint I often have about online-only activists). Also, nonviolence should be a lifestyle and not just a set of tactics (which is very inline with Buddhist thinking). Finally, there is also a whole chapter of just quotable quotes from the book (and to be fair, there are many) and information on Naglers background (which is pretty impressive). Again, the book is extremely thought-provoking and informative in relatively few pages. It is not just some outline of philosophy - it is a guide on actual practical action (living up to its subtitle). While it does tend to focus on grand movements, its noteworthy that many of the ideas and practices it covers can apply to interpersonal conflicts. I have used these practices for some of my own personal struggles with great success (and recently gotten so reactive that I didnt use them for this one conflict and ended up regretting how hurtfully I responded), so I can personally vouch for their real-world effectiveness. While it does kind of rehash ideas that can be found on Naglers website and while Nagler does sometimes come off as New Age-y or even cult-ish (e.g. the cut yourself off from the media bit), overall, this book is still worth getting and surprisingly not only in line with general Buddhist principles, but supportive of Secular Buddhist principles and practices. (As a matter of fact, I was genuinely surprised at how much this book relates specifically to Secular Buddhism, and it inspired me to write this review for SBA.) Anyone who is interested in potential (Secular) Buddhist ethics, conflict resolution, nonviolent communication, forgiveness, or just in a topic that they havent explored much - will get a lot out of this book. Even if none of those categories apply to you, theres still many new ways of thinking presented, so that anyone can get something out of The Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action. Buy it today (or read 75% of it at the Metta Center for Nonviolence website, lol~!)