Tag Archives: self-help

Memoir offers lost souls a viable path to self-respect and renewal

The Burn Zone: A Memoir, by Renee Linnell. She Writes Press. 305 pages. Trade Paperback $16.95.

Heartbreaking as it is, this is a most important book. It is the harrowing journey of an accomplished, multi-talented woman whose need for spiritual enhancement leads her into a trap. Though it took too many years for her to admit it to herself, and even more years for her to extricate herself, the author had become the prey of a cult. In the name of bringing her gift of enlightenment and true peace of mind, her teachers turned her into a psychological slave.

Ms. Linnell, who grew up in Florida, was a vibrant, adventurous seeker who became an abused woman. Sometimes she knew it, sometimes she didn’t. In a way, being the target of abuse gave her some degree of definition, but of course such an identity is not much to build upon.

Renee (will keep it in the first person from now on) was physically slight, but nonetheless she had trained her body as a surfer and a processional dancer. She had the kind of looks that made her a successful surf model.

Renee Linnell

And beside body, she had brains and she put them to good use. She earned an MBA for NYU and she was a successful entrepreneur. Some of these accomplishments took place under the influence of the teachers whose brand of Buddhism denied her worth and attacked what they called her oversized ego; Renee accomplished more once she had freed herself from their destructive, perhaps psychotic, influence.

Though the narrative is mostly chronological, there are times when segments of Renee’s life are set against one another without temporal continuity. Vignettes become linked by thematic overlap or in the simple way that one memory triggers another. Changes of mood can be abrupt. Success and failure, however judged and by whom, knock against one another, sometimes rapid-fire.

It takes a long time for Renee to define herself in a healthy way, to offer herself the respect FROM herself that she deserves.

Readers will find themselves sympathetic to Renee, but they will also find themselves silently foretelling disasters she has set herself up for by trusting her mentors and rewarding their exploitation. “Renee,” one might think, “why didn’t you see this coming?”

To read the entire review, as it appears in the June 26, 2019 issue of Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 27 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Venice editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – The Burn Zone 

Renee Linnell is a serial entrepreneur who has founded or co-founded five companies. Currently she serves on the board of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and is also working on starting a publishing company to give people from diverse walks of life an opportunity to tell their stories. Ms. Linnell has an Executive Masters in Business Administration from New York University. She grew up in Florida and visits there frequently while otherwise dividing her time between Colorado and Southern California.

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Big girls don’t cry, nor do small girls who think and act big

“Play Big,” by Jen Welter with Stephanie Krikorian. Seal Press. 288 pages. Hardcover $26.00.

At once sports memoir and empowerment handbook, this feisty and engaging “how-to” is bound to attract a lot of attention. The author, a Vero Beach native, broke the glass ceiling in professional football in a variety of ways. She moved from being a championship performer in women’s professional football to playing for a men’s professional team to becoming linebacker coach for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.  

They said such a thing couldn’t be done and that the “boys’ club” would not accept her, but Jen Welter made it happen through a die-hard attitude and relentless self-improvement. Along the way, she became Dr. Jen, with a Ph.D. in psychology.

This book builds upon her work as a coach. It is a master plan for “being limitless.” Though directed at women from all walks of life, it has plenty of powerful advice for men as well.

The bite-sized chapters oscillate between vividly drawn scenes of major challenges in Ms. Welter’s life and the attitudinal and behavioral adjustments necessary for her readers to reach their highest aspirations. At five feet and two inches, Jen Welter would never be big, but she would find the way to play big. In sports and in life. That means taking risks. It means learning how be touch and to enjoy the pains of perseverance. It means never giving up.

There is a recurrent graphic motif from chapter to chapter that puts key concepts into sharp focus. Each chapter begins with something that looks like a gummed label. Here Couch Jen provides a terse thematic overview of the chapter. Another graphic part of the graphic motif is a series of boxed and shaded mini-essays that boil down the chapter’s concerns. Sometimes these shaded areas contain a series of bullet points. 

Chapter titles tend to be essential truisms that have the energy and memorability of mantras for the coach’s students. “What Makes Us Different Makes Us Stronger,” “Once It’s Been Done, It Can’t Be Undone,” and “When It’s Us Against Them, We All Lose” are examples of the kind of readily applicable aphorism with which the coach beats the drum of self-awareness and self-improvement.

The heart of the book, for most readers, will be Ms. Welter’s story-telling. One key narrative is about her small size and her concern about being too small to earn a place on the Mass Mutiny women’s professional football team. She relates how she handled the insecurity and played her way onto the team. She discovered, as well, that one could manifest a presence much larger than one’s physical dimensions. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 18, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 19 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Charlotte County editions, click here: https://naples.floridaweekly.com/pageview/viewer/2017-10-19#page=61

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Applauding the discovered truths of successful people from many walks of life

Show Me, by Randall Kenneth Jones. Smart Business Books. 376 pages. Hardcover $24.95.

This thoroughly entertaining and highly unusual self-help book is not embarrassed to carry the subtitle “Celebrities, Business Tycoons, Rock Stars, Journalists, Humanitarians, Attack Bunnies & More!” That’s truth in packaging from a marketing and public relations guru turned business practices columnist. SW Florida readers will know him from his “Business Class” column in the Naples Daily News and from his local stage appearances. The profiles and life lessons (business and otherwise) in this book grow out of that column – or, more accurately – the relationships built with the people Mr. Jones interviewed.  

Be prepared. A manic joy is in the air.

With so much material from which to choose, Randy Jones has organized his chapters by putting together delightful commentary on people whose natures or accomplishments just seem to make them good company. Some groupings are obvious – sports figures, professional communicators, and entertainers. Others are more intuitive: people with shared or overlapping visions of how to conduct one’s self effectively, honestly, and ethically in a complex world.  The many resting places the plan provides are welcome, as there is abundant wisdom in each vignette that needs to be absorbed.

The author simplifies the task in two ways. He begins each major section with material from his own life, especially the lessons of his early years in the Show-Me State. These memories thrum like a tuning fork, its vibrations setting in motion the mini-profiles of his admired interviewees.



The second way Mr. Jones focuses a theme is by offering quotations from his subjects that underscore that theme. Some are indeed pithy. From columnist Heloise we learn that “Housework is genderless,” a bit of wisdom with powerful social implications. From Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen we learn to “Make sure everyone on your team is given the chance to play to their strengths.” The sports metaphor rings true in life’s many arenas. Carly Fiorina asserts that “one woman can change the world because one woman changes the lives of everyone around her.”

Throughout the book, Randy Jones treats serious issues like a man on a tightrope hovering between extreme delicacy and laugh-out-loud astonishment. He positions himself as a fellow who can’t quite believe he has managed to find himself in the company – and with the friendship – of the many leaders whose contributions to the “can do” part of our culture he celebrates. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 12, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 13 Naples, Palm Beach, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Show Me

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Forgiveness: It’s something we should do for ourselves

Review by Phil Jason

Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World, by Megan Feldman Bettencourt. Hudson Street Press. 288 pages. Hardback $25.95. Forthcoming Avery trade paperback $16.00.

So many of us are weighed down by negative emotions without truly realizing how much damage they are doing to our quality of life and to those around us. We carry the hurts of real and imagined slights. We continue to agonize over our parents’ having been distant when we needed them or having been harshly judgmental when we longed for acceptance – if not praise. We can’t get past a betrayal of confidence, a two-timing spouse, a boss or teacher who plays favorites and didn’t value our worth. 0triumph-of-the-heart

If we are subject to physical abuse, or injured by a texting driver, or crippled on the battlefield or in competitive sports, we carry the anger until it becomes more devastating than the original incident. How can be overcome the rage and grief if a child or wife or parent gets shot to death during a robbery? Our resentment keeps eating us alive.

We simply cannot forgive.  Why should we?



Ms. Bettencourt tells as why and how.

The first of many illustrative stories in this inspiring book is about Azim Khamisa, who in January of 1995 received a phone call telling him that his twenty year old son, Tariq, had been shot dead. The murderer, a fourteen year old gang member named Tony, had fired on Tariq while attempting to rob him. The healing relationship between Azim, Tony, and Tony’s grandfather, one that dramatically introduces the psychological benefits of forgiveness and the means to exercise it, sets the tone for the rest of the book. Azim founded and administers the Tarik Khamisa Foundation, a model educational institution for putting endangered youths on the right path. Azim turned his loss into something magical, and his forgiveness of Tony and friendship with Tony’s grandfather were part of the process, as was a form of meditation.

Ms. Bettencourt learned a lot by witnessing Azim in action. In fact, her own problems, she discovered, needed to be addressed through the process of forgiveness so that she could reclaim her life. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 17, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 18 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Bettencourt

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books

Bringing your best self to the quest for your perfect mate

SoulMating: The Secret to Finding Everlasting Love and Passion, by Basha Kaplan, Psy.D. and Jeffrey S. Kaplan, Ph.D. Collage Books. 352 pages. Trade paperback $19.95.

This highly readable, accessible, and comprehensive guide to life-long romantic friendships is going to bring many people surprising insights and powerful inspiration. Rooted in experience, research, common sense, and compassion, “SoulMating” fights to counter the pitfalls of romantic illusion. For those with a spiritual orientation or longing, it offers steps to something even more profound than successful companionship – it mentors partnerships of the soul. COLB56-51095-CVR N.indd

The Kaplans, once again residents of Naples, are great boosters. Their enthusiasm for assuring their readers and clients that happier, more creative, and more fulfilled lives are possible is contagious. However, they are not dreamers and do not encourage idle daydreaming. Finding a life partner is difficult work. Distrusting the longevity of pairings based in erotic attraction, they over and over again preach that emotional intimacy must precede – and dominate over – physical intimacy. In fact, they insist that emotional intimacy, in a situation of emotional safety, is the factor that gives physical intimacy its meaning.

Much of the book’s early going introduces concepts and a carefully wrought vocabulary in which everyday words take on somewhat specialized meanings. Readers would be wise to review these terms and definitions frequently as they journey through the book. Most of terms are presented as polar opposites – like the what and the who, or doing and being – most often distinguishing between surface attributes (career status, appearance, assets, acquired mannerisms) and essential inner components of selfhood.

The authors insist that one must prepare for a successful mating by performing a rigorous self-assessment and truly getting in touch with one’s actual and potential self. That is, the seeker must bring a whole, completed self to the challenge of seeking and building a relationship. Without true self-knowledge and a willingness to befriend oneself, the likelihood of creating a viable, prolonged romantic friendship is practically nonexistent.

Kaplans Photo

The strength of the couple’s teaching lies, however, not so much in the generalizations and wisdom statements (though these are important), but rather in the specifics that are revealed in a logical, progressive order.

The techniques that the Kaplans offer are concrete, and readers can grasp the issues and the action steps because of the narrative illustrations (informal case studies) that are provided throughout the book. Some of these stories are drawn from the Kaplans’ own lives as individuals, prospective mates, and eventually soulmates. Their openness invites and justifies an openness that they demand from those who would seek blossoming relationships. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the December 25, 2014  Naples Florida Weekly, the December 31 Fort Myers edition, and the January 1, 2015 Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte edition, click here  Florida Weekly – Kaplans 1 and here Florida Weekly – Kaplans 2.


Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

A lively program for spiritual detox and renewal

Dancing in Rhythm with the Universe, by Barbara Miller. Barbara & Company. 186 pages. $14.95 trade paperback.

Most self-help books offer ideas that aren’t really new. The value of a motivational guide has to do with presentation. Organization, accessibility, and authority can lead to a successful presentation of familiar concepts. The author’s voice and the ways in which the author engages the reader are also determining factors. On all these issues, Barbara Miller’s “10 Steps to Choreographing Your Best Life” is strikingly effective. She’ll make her primary readers, women who seek encouragement and the tools to empowerment, actually pay attention. cvr

The advice, familiar enough, can now sink in.

Ms. Miller, who has lived and worked in Naples for many years, is concerned with women who have lost the keys to self-esteem. They have repeated unsuccessful patterns in their relationships and reached, inevitably, stasis and despair. Tempted to interpret their predicament as caused by outer circumstances and other people, they have to learn how to take responsibility for their lives and their happiness.

The author carefully leads them back into themselves to convince them they have always had – and neglected – the tools to live the lives of their dreams. The missing ingredient has been gaining control of the knowledge, skills, and tools – and then developing them further.


Ms. Miller does not allow her reader simply to accept blame for her unhappiness. Blame is not really the issue, and wallowing in blame means looking backward. However, the past cannot be changed. Meaningful, strategic commitments in the present, confidently put into action, can create a successful future. Mantras help. Thoughts and language make a difference on the road to action, accomplishment, and well-being. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the June 26, 2013 For Myers Florida Weekly, click here  Florida Weekly – Barbara Miller 1 and here: Florida Weekly – Barbara Miller 2. It also appears as the “Healthy Living” lead article in the July 4 Naples edition.

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Little book packs big message about appearances

“I Am Brilliant,” by Jennifer Craig. Insight Strategist. 32 pages. $10.

Jennifer Craig

Child and family therapist Jennifer Craig has penned a delightful book for children (or their parents) that strives to offset the media blitz of debilitating messages about beauty. We’ve all seen the impossibly gorgeous, slender models with the perfect skin and hair used by advertisers of cosmetic products to sell their wares. We’ve all seen the attractive younger models donned in outfits for the ideally-proportioned teen or tween. So have young girls who will never attain the outward appearance that consciously or otherwise registers as their worth indicator – the key to acceptance and popularity. 

Ms. Craig, a licensed mental health practitioner, is out to redirect young people’s understanding of the keys to self-esteem. “I Am Brilliant,” subtitled “Steps to Finding Your Brilliance,” encourages youngsters (primarily girls, though the problem exists for boys as well) to focus on individuality and inner beauty. The young reader might find herself truly being herself – and enjoying being herself – rather than chasing after the accoutrements of fashion and developing unhealthy eating habits in an attempt to copy an impossible and misleading standard.

As well, these readers are likely to better understand how to value others – by looking for the inner beauty and brilliance of those whom they meet.

“I Am Brilliant” is a tiny book with an enormous message. In it, we meet a dog named Sugar who notices that the dogs on television are all smaller than she is, and those very dogs are flattered with attention and opportunity. Sugar thinks she has to shrink to find happiness. Of course, this cannot be. . . .

To read this review in its entirety as it appears in the June 8, 2011 issue of Fort Myers Florida Weekly and June 9 issue of the Naples edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Jennifer Craig pdf

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

We never outgrow the need to make new friends

“Make New Friends . . . Live Longer: A Guide for Seniors,” by Sunie Levin. Royal Heritage Press. 86 pages. $13.95.

Sunie Levin

Three cheers for the compact, clear, practical and upbeat book that helps people help themselves. Sunie Levin’s latest book is just such a volume. For today’s seniors, especially those who either must or choose to relocate in their retirement years, making new friends is a real problem. Ms. Levin has faced the problem herself, given it much thought, and offers sound advice spiced with brief illustrative stories of seniors taking control of their lives in new surroundings. 

While Ms. Levin is concerned for those who are housebound, divorced or bereft of a spouse, or trapped in caregiver situations, she is just as much concerned for those who “are simply watching their circle of friends dwindle year by year and area at a loss how to replace them.”

Many of her suggestions are familiar or simply exercises in common sense. However, the author’s caring, reassuring tone is what makes the difference. She persuades readers that they can make the changes that they need to make in order to avoid isolation and despair.

Here’s one of the most aggressive tactics that  Ms. Levin records.  A newcomer had a T-shirt made that read “I’m New Here – Displaced From Ohio. Please Talk to Me.” This simple, if flamboyant, tactic worked. Most of us, however, are not so extroverted.

We need to scour community newsletters, join clubs, invite new neighbors over for meals, ask their advice about doctors and beauticians, sign up with volunteer organizations, and take classes. We need to project a sunny disposition and avoid turning people off by complaining. Most importantly, we need to become good listeners; after all, there will be plenty of times when we need someone to listen – really listen – to us.

Establishing relationships with new people means being able to remember their names, how to contact them, and something about their interests. As we age, short-term memory loss weakens our ability to hold onto such information. Documenting what you learned about a new acquaintance allows you to make the next conversation more effective. People are delighted that you’ve remembered things about them. Moreover, this discipline of writing things down is in itself a memory aide.

To read this view in its entirety as it appears in the April 21, 2011 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Sunie Levin

1 Comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Learning to Find the Upside in Down Times

“Upside: How to Zig When Life Zags,” by Bonnie Michaels and Allison Blankenship. Collage Books. 214 pages. $15.95.

Bonnie Michaels, a Naples part-timer who founded the consulting firm Managing Work & Family in 1987, has put her expertise to work to help people navigate the special challenges of today’s depressed and unstable economy. For this new book, her third, she has partnered with another Naples part-timer, Allison Blankenship, a communications specialist and corporate entrepreneur whose background and skills compliment those of Ms. Michaels. Together, they have fashioned a timely self-help book that is responsive to several new challenges in lifestyle and career dynamics.

One of these challenges is that the conventional notion of career-building, one that includes a vision of two-way loyalties cementing decades of employer-employee bonds, is no longer operative. Old habits of expectation and entitlement in the workplace are mind-set handicaps that have to be eliminated. Imagining that you are owed something (for your skills, your past performance, or your credentials) doesn’t get you anywhere when the future is essentially not known. It is also a path to bitterness and stasis.

Dealing with the “not known” is one concern of “Upside” to which the authors give extended attention. People adjusting to meet new – yet not predictable – financial, personal, and professional conditions need to develop resilience and the ability to transform their patterns of thought and action. They must learn how to flourish in an epoch for which the traditional American Dream is a not a healthy goal.

To view this review in its entirety, as it appears in the June 30-July 6, 2010 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 1-7 issues of the Naples and Charlotte editions of Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Upside.

Blankenship & Michaels

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

BOOK BEAT 67 – Silvia Casabianca

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   May 8, 2008

by Philip K. Jason

Have you ever felt guilty after swallowing yet another pill to mask symptoms of a disease or injury? Have you wondered if there was a better approach to physical (and spiritual) well-being than going on an antibiotic regimen or ingesting medicines designed to reduce inflammation? Silvia Casabianca causes us to ponder such questions in her new book, “Regaining Body Wisdom: A Multidimensional View,” published by Eyes Wide Open.

Casabianca’s mantra is that most of our remedies for discomfort and disease are at odds with the body’s natural responses to various types of invasion or imbalance. In her view, much of what is labeled conventional medicine overlooks and often hampers the necessary and natural communication between organs and the flow of vital energy that maintains health.

One of the simplest examples is that, when suffering from illness and injury, we do everything we can to minimize rest – and yet our bodies are screaming that rest is required. Our medicinal shortcuts to resume habitual modes of work and pleasure defy the body’s wisdom (in this case, the strongly felt call for rest), and often at significant peril. Recovery is actually jeopardized, and the opportunity to discover a dimension of the self is lost.

After a brief prelude of enticing stories that set her theme, Casabianca packages her material in three sturdy sections. The first of these, “The New Perspectives,” covers quite a bit of ground in surveying holistic approaches to well-being. For this reader, the most intriguing discussion is the one labeled “Curing vs. Healing.” Here, the author clarifies an important distinction. She writes, “Curing means removing a symptom,” which is not the same thing as discovering what caused the problem or seeing it in the perspective of a life history and the overall condition of the body.  Healing pays attention to these latter concerns, and it has more than physical dimension. “Healing,” writes the author, “is the product of our inner search for lost integrity; the developing and broadening of our awareness that allows us to recognize ourselves as creatures of the Universe and helps us assume responsibility over our body, our actions, our environment, our relationships with others, with ourselves and the world.”

The second section of the book, “The Body Wisdom,” explores the various bodily systems (connective, circulatory, respiratory, immune, etc.) and illustrates, in lay terms, the functions of each as well as the interrelationships among them.  This section of the book also elaborates the concept of the “inner healer.” For Casabianca, it is learning to hear and heed the inner healer that is the key to physical and psychic well-being. In a passage titled “The body speaks to us,” Casabianca insists not only on the need to be receptive to the body’s messages, but also to recognize that anything that affects us “affects the whole of us, even if we can only see part of the picture.” We need to enhance our receptors and learn to act on the full range of information and wisdom that is always being broadcast and to which we are not sufficiently attuned.

Finally, in the third section of her book, Casabianca – a licensed Reiki Master – introduces readers to “Reiki and the Art of Healing.” Here she traces the history and precepts of a philosophy for personal growth and healing through balance. The relationship between practitioner and recipient is explored, as is the full embrace of consciousness and self-knowledge requisite for harmonious existence.

Generally clear, straightforward, and nonacademic in style, “Regaining Body Wisdom” is still underpinned with scholarship and references to a wide variety of sources that Casabianca most often weaves together with sure-handedness and grace. Yes, there are passages in the book that could use one more level of stylistic revision; however, most of the material is presented with precision and – more importantly – the passion of conviction. If I would ask for one more ingredient to make this valuable book even more valuable, it would be an analytical index.

Information about the author, including ordering information for this and her other books, is available through the intriguing bilingual website: silviacasabianco.com.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club.


Filed under Authors and Books, Book Beat, Florida Authors