Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Resume Magic, by Susan Britton Whitcomb

Resume Magic, by Susan Britton Whitcomb

Genre: Self-Improvement - Job Hunt

Reason for Reading: Trying to buff up my resume so that I feel more presentable.

Synopsis: This book contains a lot of information about content and format of resumes. It starts by encouraging the reader to find his or her own personal brand, so that it can shine through on the resume. Then, Whitcomb discusses the differences between a chronological resume and a functional resume and provides suggestions about when each type of resume would be helpful. She helps the reader create an outline of the resume, later fleshing it out with helpful tips about content. She emphasizes the importance of listing accomplishments. Finally, she dwells on proof-reading. She provides a guide of the basic grammar and punctuation mistakes people make while writing resumes. The final few chapters outline her thought on job search through social media and on cover letters. These sections, of course, aren't as thorough as the chapters about resumes, but I think she's trying to whet our appetites for her other books..which I hear are just as thorough.

My thoughts: First. DON'T get the ebook! Get a hard-copy, because the figures and tables are really tiny in ebook format. Second, this book did not really have a lot of information that was relevant to writing a CV, for those of us who have a PhD. Although Whitcomb provided examples of resumes for a large variety of job types, she focused primarily on business, sales, and marketing. Sometimes I wondered if her tips applied to me or not. However, the book DID provide enough information for me to make my resume more presentable. Third, the title. Ouch. I almost didn't buy this book because the title was too pretentious. Fourth, Whitcomb was a bit heavy-handed with her self-marketing: Resume Magic often read like an advertisement for Whitcomb's webpage and other books. 

And now I see that my thoughts are rather top-heavy in criticism. I hadn't intended my review to be negative. Resume Magic is loaded with information and tips, and I'm much happier with my CV now than I was before reading this book. Resumes and job hunting have changed dramatically in the last few years, and books like these are very helpful for catching up on what employers are expecting. Because, let's face it, first impressions are a LOT about presentation. And don't we all want to make a good first impression?

I haven't read any other resume books, and I don't have the time to do so right now, so I can't very easily compare this to other books on the market. I have been reading Joyce Lain Kennedy's Job Interviews for Dummies and Job Search Letters for Dummies, though, so I can make a guess at what her Resumes for Dummies is like. My guess is that Whitcomb's book is more heavy in specific tips, and Kennedy's books tend to be more general. They both provide a lot of good examples, and they both explain what makes those examples stand out. But Whitcomb's style is more self-aggrandizing and opinionated. Kennedy recommends books by authors other than herself (including Whitcomb!), which makes her advice seem more sincere and approachable. So I guess if you're trying to choose between the two - pick Whitcomb if you want a book heavy in information, and Kennedy if you want more general advice from someone who's willing to reference opinions other than her own (even when they do not exactly coincide with her own).  

Tips that most helped me in my resume redesign:


  • I am applying to several different types of jobs, mostly branching out from my degree in science. Each job type requires a different set of basic skills, so I prepared a few basic resume types, each arranged in a way that accentuated the traits requested by each job type.
  • In order to determine the what skills to emphasize in each resume type, I searched the internet for job listings and company mission statements to determine what is required for a good candidate in each job type.
  • Each time I apply for a job, I change my "qualifications" section, so that it directly reflects the skills requested by the job listing as well as the mission statement of the employer.
  • I emphasized numbers-based accomplishments for each job that I listed.
  • I did not include affiliations or bio, since this information made my resume way too long. So I've decided to include a link to my blog bio (which I am currently re-writing). Thus, my potential employers can get a sense of my "personal brand." 
  • I put my strongest attributes / qualifications in the visual center of the first page (just below the name and contact information), drawing further attention by setting this section off with lines.
  • I included a keyword section for electronically submitted resumes.
  • I created two versions of the resume - one for printing off, and one for submitting on the internet. The one for submitting on the internet must have very common fonts, and minimal fancy formatting (avoid tables, for instance).
Looking ahead
  • Although I certainly hope that whatever job I find will be long-term, I am going to start a file of all accomplishments, evaluations, letters / memos of approval, etc. This information might come in handy in the future. I'd never thought of collecting it before!
Clearly, this is not an exhaustive list of the tips provided in Resume Magic, but these include the major changes I made to my resume. 

The most vital changes that were made to my resume after reading this book were that I made it more accomplishment-oriented, I learned how to direct the qualifications/special skills section towards a specific job, and (for most basic versions) I moved my retail and TA experience into a separate section from my research experience. Thus, I had a chronological "Research" section and a second chronological "Mentorship"section. This really tightened up the resume.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Drowning Girl, by Caitlin R Kiernan

The Drowning Girl, Written by Caitlin R. Kiernan, Narrated by Suzy Jackson

Genre: Dark Fantasy

Reason for Reading: This was one of the nominations last year for the World Fantasy Awards

Synopsis: In The Drowning Girl a young schizophrenic woman, Imp, tells the story of her meetings with Eva Canning - a ghost? a mermaid? a werewolf? a normal, disturbed young woman? As Imp's mind roils in schizophrenic fantasy, the readers are left wondering how much of the story is reality and how much is fantasy. 

My thoughts: I'm having a hard time coming up with viable thoughts about this book. I just don't know what to think! I was interested throughout; I always cared about Imp - and about her girlfriend Abalyn - but I never knew quite what to think. Which, I suppose, is the point of the book? Kiernan did a fantastic job of spiraling Imp's writing in and out of control, and the pacing of the spirals was quite amazing. This is a skilled bit of writing. Likewise, Jackson was a superb narrator for this role. Her inflections were perfect for hinting at whether Imp was "in control" or "out of control" when certain passages were read. I would recommend this book to people who enjoy open-ended stories, especially those stories with an aura of unreality. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Pastor's Wife Wears Biker Boots, by Karla Akins

The Pastor's Wife Wears Biker Boots, by Karla Akins

Genre: Christian Fiction / Women's Fiction

Reason for reading: I'm leading a discussion on this book from February 24th through 28th on the American Christian Fiction Writer's Association book club. You can join the email discussion group if you wish! Just click on the link, and subscribe to the yahoo group. There's still plenty of time to read the book!

Synopsis: Kirstie is stressed out trying to maintain the image of the perfect pastor's wife. She'd really just like to relax and not worry about what everyone in her congregation thinks. On top of that, she has a severely autistic son, and another rebellious teenage son - both of whom lead to a lot of sideways looks from her conservative neighbors.  When she realizes that riding a motorcycle releases her built up tension and makes her love life again, she has to deal with the prejudices of small-town gossips. 

My Thoughts: This is not the type of book that I usually read, so I was surprised when, after about 30-or-so pages, I became really attached to the characters and their issues. This was a sweet, funny book about finding friends in unexpected places, letting go of preconceived notions, forgiving those who gossip about you, and putting your family above work and social image. I got lots of good laughs over the antics of our "biker chicks." 

I was a little concerned at the beginning of the book when the subject of autism was first brought up: Kirstie called it an "ugly disease" and her "enemy." It is possible that some people will find this portrayal of autism to be offensive. However, I was glad to see Kirstie grow throughout the rest of the book. As she released her woes on the road, Kirstie became less depressed and was better able to cope with the difficulties of autism. Hidden here is a fantastic message that we can not give fully to loved ones unless we take care of ourselves too. 

I don't want to drop any spoilers, but I have to say that the ending of the book was not only the most exciting part, it was the funniest as well. Wow. Way to pack it in at the end! :) Fantastic finish. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Many-Colored Land, by Julian May

The Many-Colored Land, by Julian May

Genre: Science Fiction / Fantasy Mesh (Adult)

Reason for reading: I read this book a long time ago and always intended on picking up the rest of the series. This year, I convinced my real-life book club to read it. So hopefully I'll get to the rest of the series soon!

Synopsis: In the near future, an alien federation called the Galactic Milieu has intervened on Earth, and welcomed humans into the its fold. For most of humanity, the Milieu is a blessing. Long life, health, an ethical law system, the adventure of space travel - these are the perks that humans enjoy. But some feel confined by the rules of the Milieu and yearn for a simpler life. And some are too sociopathic to be accepted in the Milieu's society. These people can go into Exile - they are sent back in time to the Earth's Pliocene epoch. The Many-Colored Land follows the story of one group of exiles as they discover what lies on the other end of the time-portal. Life isn't as simple as they expect, and they are soon swept up in a world of war and conspiracy. 

My thoughts: I must have read a lot more hard-core science fiction when I was a teenager, because I don't remember this book being as heavy as it felt this time around. All the descriptions of futuristic technologies / cultures slowed me down because I don't read enough science fiction to be used to the terminology. It may have been slow reading for me, but I felt refreshed by the newness of the plot. This is a very complex book, with many layers of hidden foundation. Superficially, I think the characters could have used a little more development - but I'm sure they grow throughout the series. This first book in the Pliocene quartet was mainly world-building. We were introduced to the alien cultures - both the good and the bad aspects. We got a hefty background on the Pliocene epoch. And we got some hints of how these events in the Pliocene might have impacted humanity's development millions of years later. It's a fascinating set-up, and I'm eager to see how the rest of the series plays out. I've heard so many good things about it.

Monday, February 10, 2014

How do we know about Jesus?

As I pointed out in my New Years Resolutions, this year I have decided to explore my relationship with Jesus. Who is Jesus, and what does he mean to me? This has always been a sticky question that I avoided. My first book in my quest is: The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, by Marcus Borg and N. T. Wright. Borg is a liberal Jesus historian and Wright a conservative one. The book is a set of essays which outlines an ongoing discussion that these two friends have continued for years. 

In the introduction, they list three target audiences: first, they hope that this book will be of interest to Christians and non-Christians alike. 

"We both believe strongly that what we say about Jesus and the Christian life belongs, not in a private world, inaccessible and incomprehensible except 'from faith to faith,' but in the public world of historical and cross-cultural study, in the contemporary world as well as the church."

Second, they hope that this book will provide new insight into a debate that has become gridlocked among Christians - liberal vs. conservatives.

Third, they hope that their book will speak to people who want to better understand how different visions of Jesus translate into Christian life. This, I suppose, is why I bought the book originally - though the academic arguments will probably be of more interest to me. :)

In their first section, they ask the question: How do we know about Jesus? In their separate essays, Borg and Wright point out the difficulties of deciphering the historical data about Jesus. They agree that everybody's interpretation of history is viewed through the lens of their own perception or worldview. Borg describes four lenses through which he views Jesus: 

  1. Gospels are history remembered as well as history metaphorized
  2. Jesus was a Jewish figure teaching and acting within Judaism
  3. Jesus' legacy was developed by the community of early Christians
  4. Jesus' legacy was developed by a variety of modern forms of Christianity, as well as other religions.
Borg and Wright agree that modern secular culture, which believes that the universe can be studied, understood, and described by natural laws, can be used as a weapon against faith. Borg says that it is easy to lose sight of the divine Jesus when you have a strongly secular worldview. Wright points out that with a secular worldview, you are focused on data and theories. Both scientists and historians ask the questions: 

Does the theory make sense of the available data? Does it have the appropriate simplicity? Does it shed lights on other areas of research? 

History differs from science in that there are no agreed-on criteria for what counts as "making sense" and "simplicity." Therefore, it is very hard to for Jesus historians to come up with any consensus. 

Both Wright and Borg focus on the difficulty of working out the historical evidence of Jesus and the gospels. Borg thinks it is necessary to see and appreciate both the historical Jesus and the spiritual one, lest you lose sight of Jesus altogether. These two entities are not the same - the first is an actual man who was once alive, the second is a concept that has influenced spirituality for thousands of years. 

"When we emphasize his divinity at the expense of his humanity, we lose track of the utterly remarkable human being that he was." 

On the other hand, Borg believes that if you emphasize only historical fact and what Jesus meant in his own time to his own people, you lose sight of how strongly his message has influenced today's culture, and what he means to us today. 

In contrast, Wright says that he doesn't think the early Christians made a distinction between the historical Jesus and the divine Jesus, so why should he? He feels that these "two versions" of Jesus are one and the same, and that whenever he reads literature about the historical Jesus, it reinforces his faith in the spiritual Jesus. 

Personally, I'm inclined to agree with Borg on this subject. I think that he nailed my problem directly on the head: all my life I've tried to combine the historical Jesus and the divine Jesus into one entity. Thus, my faith and my secular worldview were battling for prominence in my perception of Jesus, and I lost sight of Him altogether. If I can separate the two entities in my head, I will be able to appreciate both the wisdom of the historical man and the divine love of the Christ Jesus. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Intercessory Prayer - Does it influence the Divine Opinion?

Throughout my life, I've often wondered about the power of prayer. If God is all-powerful, and He wishes the best for all of us, then why do prayers matter? If I pray that my friend's medical school applications will go well, for instance, what difference do I make? Certainly God already has a Divine Opinion on whether my friend should get into medical school or not. Certainly God has the power to help my friend get into the right medical school without my prayers. So why pray? Of course, there is the chance that by praying I'm releasing endorphins or reducing levels of stress hormones in my body. So maybe prayer is more for my own physical well-being than to nudge God into seeing things my way? 

There have been several scientific studies which explored the power of prayer. I think the most frequently cited is the Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer in Cardiac Bypass Patients. But, as I pointed out in a previous post about whether God belongs in science, these studies tend to be inconclusive and easily misinterpreted. Clearly, I will not find a scientific answer to my question. 

Prayer seems to be a very natural human urge. It's not just people from the mainstream religions that pray. For instance, some people "pray" to the universe, as in Rhonda Byrne's The Secret. Byrne's philosophy uses positive thinking to direct the power of the universe, with life-changing results. Similarly, my Wiccan friend once likened spell-casting to a form of prayer. He said that if you focus your mind on a certain goal, you are more likely to achieve that goal - regardless of whether you consider this spell-casting or prayer. The universal belief among these religions and philosophies is that there is some sort of greater power out there (whether it be a self-aware God or simply the universe) that is ready to be harnessed for the good of humanity. 

Personally, I have a Christian perspective on prayer. The idea is: pray to Jesus / God for what you want and then finish up with a nice "Thy will be done." This phrase always gets to me though. Of course God's will is going to be done. I realize that this phrase is supposed to help me accept the fact that sometimes God's answer will be "no." But the phrase still bothers me - and maybe that's because I still haven't decided whether prayer really influences God's Divine Opinion or not. 

I have two basic types of intercessory prayer that I commonly use. The first is the general "please God, let such and such happen. Please, please, please. Thanks! Oh...yeah. Thy will be done and all that jazz!" I pray like this because a part of me doesn't really believe that I'm influencing the Divine Opinion. But I go ahead and pray, because part of me really does believe. *sigh* Wavering doubt has always been my biggest weakness, as you can read in my recent post about doubt.  

Surprisingly, I am much more confident about my second type of intercessory prayer. I meditate upon God's love...I visualize it streaming out of the sky and filling me till I'm overflowing. Then I concentrate on whoever I happen to be praying for. I visualize a string of love pumping out of me and into the other person. This isn't difficult, since I have an inexhaustible source of love coming from God. I hold this connection with the other person as long as I am able. 

In my heart, I know that this form of prayer works. I really AM channeling God's love when I pray that way. So this is the way I prefer to pray. (Although it tends to be more about love and less about getting my dream job, so I have to pray the other way too!) But why am I so confident about this type of prayer and so doubtful of the other? I mean, shouldn't the same questions be raised? If God is all-powerful, why would He need me to channel His love for Him? But I thought - maybe that's what He put us here on Earth for. To amplify and channel his love. Maybe we're part of His power. Maybe we're meant to provide this love to our neighbors. This interpretation seems to fit with Christian philosophy. So I'm running with it. :)

On the other hand, I still need to reconcile myself to my other type of intercessory prayer. Perhaps my readers would like to share their thoughts on the subject?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Hunted, by Maggie Stiefvater

Hunted: Spirit Animals Book 2, by Maggie Stiefvater

Genre: Middle School Fantasy / Adventure

Reason for Reading: This is the second book in a so-far excellent series

Synopsis: (May contain slight spoilers for book 1). Conor, Abeke, Meilin, and Rollan hike across Eura on quest to capture the talisman of the Great Boar before the Conquerors get their hands on it. But the Conquerors have a few surprises up their sleeves - they are now able to force an unnatural bond between humans and animals! They now have the advantage of superior numbers of bonded warriors. In order for our heroes to survive, they must learn to trust one another and fight as a team. 

My Thoughts: This was an excellent follow-up to Brandon Mull's Wild Born (reviewed here). The characters are developing - and so is the philosophy. In this book, our heroes struggle with trust. It's a story of strengthening ones bond with friends - how such a bond can never fully be broken, even when trust fails. It's a story about following your heart, even when your heart leads you astray from logic (a fitting theme given my thoughts on doubt last month!) I'm eagerly awaiting the third book in this series, Blood Ties, which comes out in March.

This is my first book by Maggie Stiefvater, and I'm eager to pick up some more now! I like the way this series is designed - with a different author for each book. That way, I am introduced to authors that I might otherwise never gotten around to reading. :)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

February Update

Another good month has passed, and as you can see I've accumulated more books than I've read - yet again! As far as my resolutions go, I 1) posted 3 book reviews this month: Hero's Lot by Patrick W Carr, The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan, and Wool by Hugh Howey; as well as an entry about my career development and some thoughts on doubt. 2) I've done a terrible job of getting back into shape for a mud run this summer. :( 3) I've worked really hard on buffing up my resume, and 4) I have only joined one group read - which I quickly realized I wouldn't be able to keep up with. So, yay for partly keeping up on my resolutions!

As for personal news, my mom found out she has breast cancer this month. :( She had the lumpectomy a couple of weeks ago, and now she'll have 6 months of chemotherapy followed, most likely, by a couple months of radiation. On happier news, my sister announced that she is pregnant again - another boy. That should be a big change for the family!

Film and Reading Completed This Month

Watched this with my good friend (eeblue) while I was waiting for the New Year to ring in. This is the world's first introduction to the Daleks, and I really enjoyed it despite (or perhaps because of) the cheesy acting and special effects. I LOVE that they haven't changed the design in all these years - the Daleks STILL have a plunger for a hand. :)

In this story arc, The Doctor, Susan, Barbara, and Ian land on another planet which has been ravaged by nuclear war. On the planet are two races - the peaceful Thal and the violent Dalek. The Thal would like to carve a truce with the Dalek, they will share their anti-radiation medication and the Dalek will share their food. But the Dalek have another plan. EXTERMINATION.

I love the philosophy of these shows. It questioned whether the Thal were really pacifist if it came down to defending themselves, or whether they simply THOUGHT they were pacifist. It also raised the point: There is pride in being unafraid to die, but there is shame in being afraid to live.

I also watched this story arc while waiting for the ball to drop. This story wasn't very interesting to me, I'm afraid. The TARDIS "crashed" and the group was stuck in the ship for two whole episodes. They went paranoid (for seemingly no reason) and started accusing each other of conspiracy. The story didn't present any new concepts or philosophies, and the acting / directing  wasn't strong enough to carry such an uneventful story. :( I almost fell asleep.

I started this audiobook months ago for my real-life book club (eeblue and morphidae). I finally decided I ought to finish it.  

Adorable picture book about a monster who wants to be loved, but he's the only non-cute guy around. He searches and searches for love until... 

I read this book when I was a teenager, and always planned on getting to the rest of the series - but never did. I chose this as a re-read for my real-life bookclub (eeblue and morphidae) with hopes that I'll finish the series this time around. I enjoyed the book, though it was harder-core science fiction than I recalled. I used to read a lot more hard-core stuff when I was a teen. 
Read this book because it was one of the nominations for the World Fantasy Award last year. 

Newly Acquired

Recommendation from a friend on LibraryThing - she says it will help me on my quest to understand :)

Another recommendation from my friend on LibraryThing
Gift from my Aunt 
Gift from my best friend
Free Friday book for Nook
Despite my resolution that I wouldn't commit myself to group reads this year, I have broken down within the first few days of January. :) There is a thread on LibraryThing to read and discuss the books of this series, and I thought it would fit in well with my "Question of Jesus" resolution. :)
I've been meaning to read this series for a long time. Looks pretty good.
I couldn't resist buying this beautifully illustrated book at bargain price at Barnes and Noble
My aunt sent me this book because it helped her fall back in love with Jesus - she thought it would help me answer the "Question of Jesus"
This is the second book to a series that I started last year. I hope it's as cute as the first.
Will read this for a bookclub meeting in April..
Thought I'd perk up my resume a bit. This seems to be a popular resume-writing book.
Yes, I've gotten to the point where I'm buying "For Dummies" books. What has the world come to? I'm hoping they provide some good tips, though.

This is one of the textbooks suggested for The Great Courses - The New Testament, which I'm using as one of my guides to my New Testament and Discovery of Jesus quest.
And this is the other main textbook for The Great Courses - The New Testament
Free Friday book for Nook
My friend Liz is going to teach me how to knit. I want to knit a sweater! She says I should start with a wash cloth. 
Will listen to this audiobook with my friend Liz while I learn how to knit.

Bought this for my nephew
Signed by author. I'm leading a discussion on this book at the end of February for the American Christian Fiction Writer's Association. You can join the discussion by joining the email list. There's still plenty of time to read the book!
Free Friday Nook Book

This monthly update was cross-posted on The Sunday Salon, Caffeinated Book's Sunday Post,  The Story Siren's In My Mailbox, Book Journey's It's Monday What are You Reading?, and on Mailbox Monday.