Thursday, December 31, 2015

Windows to the Light: Enriching Your Spirit with Haiku Meditation

Windows to the Light: Enriching Your Spirit with Haiku Meditation by Lynne D. Finney celebrates the beauty of nature and the human spirit through haiku and photography. Each haiku is carefully worded to draw a bridge that connects us to our place in nature. Finney creates a book that can be a quick, energizing, relaxing read or a slow, meditative read to savor over several days.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

How To Be a Hero by Nick Sharma

How To Be a Hero by Nick Sharma takes the reader on an adventure beside three young children wanting to become heroes by imitating heroes they've seen in movies. There's an element of fantasy to the story often leaving the reader wondering how much of what happens is the children's imagination and how much is real. Sharma examines how the imagination connects dots allowing us to see more in events than exists in a story sure to appeal to anyone who has ever dreamed of being a hero. I often caught myself rooting for Shaneel and Karishma instead of Amith, the self-designated hero of the story. Sharma weaves the characteristics of heroic behavior between the attempts to appear heroic in an engaging and inspiring story that's sure to send the reader on a gamut of emotional reactions. How To Be a Hero pushes the reader to examine how best to be a hero when facing the realities of life.


Friday, December 18, 2015

Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by Bell Hooks

Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by Bell Hooks forced me to think about feminism in a different way. It pushed me to examine my attitudes toward equality in a new way. In many ways, Hooks ideas about feminism made more sense to me than other books and articles I've read. She brought into play the effect of class on the feminist movement. I grew up in a farming community where everyone worked in the fields and then the women also cooked and cleaned. I never thought that was fair, but it was the way life was. Hooks delves into the way the women's movement was based on people who were financially well off enough to not need to work rather than addressing the needs of all women including those who had always worked just to make ends meet but had been unpaid fairly and treated unfairly in the workplace. The more I read, the more I realized just how multifaceted the struggle for equality is. Hooks brings the reader into the lives of women of myriad classes, backgrounds, and cultures while pointing out how the movement has worked and how it has failed. She offers suggestions on how to be more cohesive and how to honor the experiences of all women. At times I cringed as I identified with some misconceptions and nodded as I identified with others. Feminist Theory shines a light on how sexism, racism, and class-ism are much more intertwined than most of us truly understand. Hooks deftly but unapologetically brings to light the idea that to address one of these, all must be addressed while never denying the complications created by the place where myriad inequalities intersect.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Collected Poems Sylvia Plath edited by Ted Hughes

I bought The Collected Poems Sylvia Plath because I wanted to explore Plath's work. I don't remember reading Plath's work before, but several of the poems had a familiar feel to them so I must have read her at some point. As I read, I often felt an eerie connection to the words on the page. At times they felt like they mirrored thoughts and feelings I'd had about experiences in my own life. At other times I struggled to even make sense of the poems, but even those poems had a haunting essence to them. Plath used life itself to paint emotions and feelings and observations on the words she chose to put on the page. This collection includes a section after the main book of poems she wrote when she was younger. Those poems had a naivete that offered an unexpected rawness in their more traditional form and choice of words. I highly recommend The Collected Poems Sylvia Plath for anyone who is interested in Plath's work or in poetry in general. The Collected Poems Sylvia Plath is a great read filled with thought-provoking, emotionally challenging, and overall engaging poetry.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Communication Catalyst by Mickey Connolly & Richard Rianoshek, Ph.D.

The Communication Catalyst: The Fast (But Not Stupid) Track to Value for Customers, Investors, and Employees by Mickey Connolly & Richard Rianoshek, Ph.D. landed in my to-be-read pile quite a while ago. I'm not sure why I hesitated so long to read it, but I finally did. It's well written and contains many interesting ideas related to communicating, but much of it felt like stuff I already knew. I particularly enjoyed the Rev Baker sections of the book where the authors used a real life example to illustrate their points. These sections made it easy to visualize the concepts applied while breaking up the more academic sections of the book with an engaging, ongoing story. The Communication Catalyst encouraged me to evaluate the way I communicate with others to figure out what's working and what isn't.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Shalu, Happy Raksha Bandhan by Nick Sharma

Shalu, Happy Raksha Bandhan by Nick Sharma is a sweet story of family, compassion, and unity geared toward children. I quite enjoyed this picture book. It made me smile with a its message of love and acceptance. Sharma explores Raksha Bandhan, the Hindi bonding tradition of brothers and sisters in a way that reminds us we are part of the human family in this engaging story.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

A Matter of Attention by Torrance Stephens

A Matter of Attention by Torrance Stephens grabbed my attention and held tight with its raw, unapologetic lyricism. Stephens writes a main character, Gash Love, who at once fascinates and infuriates. I read with rapt attention to the life story he told taking the character through several years of his life in this short tome. Filled with emotion, sensual energy, and intellect, a level of detachment also runs through the characters. Told from Gash's point of view, the story weaves his fantasy life and real life together in a way that felt reminiscent of the way people genuinely live with their perceptions tainting the way they see the events in their lives. A Matter of Attention made me think about the areas in my life where I'm less than attentive as well as how my perceptions taint the way I see the events surrounding me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Suspect by Robert Crais

I saved Suspect by Robert Crais for when I needed a treat read. Crais delivered, as usual. The book opens from the point of view of Maggie, an explosive sniffing German Shepard. I knew what was coming, sort of, but I still winced as I read. Crais handles Maggie's trauma with the same sensitivity he handles Officer Scott James's trauma. Crais delivers a mystery woven into the lives of two characters, one canine, one human, who need each other as they search to find family again. The devotion Maggie and Scott show one another as they bond over their losses is inspiring. I blinked back tears several times, sometimes tears of sadness, sometimes tears of jubilation, especially when Crais examined Maggie's reactions. The chapters written from Maggie's point of view left me longing for more.  Suspect offers just the right doses of intrigue, suspense, and emotion to bring the characters to life and keep the story engaging.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Road from Gap Creek by Robert Morgan

The Road from Gap Creek by Robert Morgan continues the saga of the Richards family from his earlier book, Gap Creek. I thought I remembered Gap Creek from when I read it years ago, but it took a couple of chapters for me to relate these characters to those characters, in a good way. Richards gives the youngest daughter a voice in The Road from Gap Creek. In doing so, he reminds the reader that stories have multiple storytellers because each person living the story, lives their own version. Morgan writes from the point of view of a character whose grammar often left me wanting to grab a red pen and edit her, but the imperfect grammar is important here to distinguish the character, to make her more real, to set her in her times. The characters pulled me toward my roots, toward my self, toward a deeper understanding of my grandparents. The German Shepherd in the story had me in tears as I remembered times with my Border Collie growing up. This family felt like family. They felt like people I grew up with. They felt like people... real people, not characters. Morgan created a world filled with characters I genuinely empathized with and cared about.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Eclipse: The Horse That Changed Racing History Forever by Nicholas Clee

Eclipse: The Horse That Changed Racing History Forever by Nicholas Clee appealed to me because of its connection to the Kentucky Derby and especially to Secretariat. I've always had an affinity for horses because they are so graceful, beautiful, and strong. I studied the Kentucky Derby in school, but I never gave much thought to the history of horse racing. Eclipse reminded me that racing has a long and rather sordid history. Clee delves into the history of horse racing and doesn't shy away from presenting different oral histories that have been accepted even though they contradict one another. Eclipse in some ways reminded me of how easily stories are spread regardless of the truth and how those stories become folklore. The factual elements of Eclipse's story are fascinating and interesting even without the intrigue created by the stories surrounding him. Clee spends a tremendous amount of time focused on the people who surrounded Eclipse in an effort to not only explore Eclipse's descendants but also his ascendants. His examination pushes the reader to see Eclipse in context of both his time and in context of his contribution to the future of racing. The treatment of horses during the time period surrounding Eclipse made my heart ache. In today's world, we'd recognize the treatment as abuse yet I couldn't help but wonder if we haven't traded one set of abuses for another all in the name of entertainment. While Eclipse is definitely a history lesson, it's also an important examination of how the racing industry became what it is today as well as human attitudes toward the other beings with which we share the Earth.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Wasteland by T. S. Eliot

I decided I needed to read The Wasteland by T. S. Eliot because well... it's by T. S. Eliot and it's an important poem... Not the best reason for reading a poem, but at least it brought me to it. That said, it felt oddly familiar and completely unfamiliar all at once. I read the words and felt taken away from reality and immersed in reality all at once. Eliot hit on universal truths that will mean different things to different people at different times in their lives. I read it slowly - intentionally slowly - over several night, so I could think about the words and the message. The Wasteland sparked thoughts about the current state of the world in which we live forcing me to wonder just how much things really change yet there were moments when I struggled to connect to Eliot's words.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Summer Doesn't Dance Anymore by Tammy Ruggles

In Summer Doesn't Dance Anymore, a short story by Tammy Ruggles, Summer loses her desire to continue dancing, her passion in life, signaling her best friend, Ellie, to reach out to her friend and those around her to figure out what has caused Summer to withdraw from life and her passion for dancing. In this tightly written story, Ruggles explores Summer's pain and reaction to a life event that has her questioning everything about herself and her life. Summer Doesn't Dance Anymore is a compassionately written story that many girls and women will relate to.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Ancient Shadows by Joanne Pence

Joanne Pence's Ancient Shadows lurks in the corners and hides behind the curtains keeping the reader on edge. Best known for her Angie Amalfi series, Pence seems to have found a new stride with her Michael Rempart books. Filled with mysticism, mythology, and mystery, Ancient Shadows delves into ancient beliefs and supernatural occurrences with characters who are at once intriguing and infuriating. Pence takes the reader around the world with stops in Italy, Canada, Los Angeles, Idaho, and China in search of answers about how to contain the power of a red pearl, and alchemist's stone. She weaves folklore and mythology into a tale of avarice and power reminding us that when the supernatural offers to make dreams come true, there's always a high price to pay. Ancient Shadows creates worlds within worlds and leaves the reader unsure who is trustworthy and what is real keeping the reader on edge looking for the next mirage to be exposed and the next demon to be revealed putting the characters in ever increasing danger.


Friday, July 31, 2015

The Eddy Fence Poems by Donna Henderson

The Eddy Fence Poems by Donna Henderson felt voyeuristic and universal all at once. Henderson lays grief open like a surgeon and exposes the tender scar it leaves in its wake. Her beautifully poignant poems connected me with memories from times in my life when I'd faced the struggle between holding on for myself and letting go for someone else. Henderson explores heartache and dying alongside the destruction of nature while always finding a thread of resilience and hope in the cycle of life and loss and living.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

I wanted to love The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. I picked it up with expectations of being inspired, of being enraged, of being enlightened... I was convinced this book would turn me into a militant feminist; okay not really, but I thought it would somehow change my relationship with feminism, answer questions I'd never thought to ask, radically change my life... In that, I think perhaps my expectations were too high. It is an important book. It is well written, and Friedan makes her points quite convincingly. As a way to understand the foundation of modern feminism, I highly recommend it. That said, I found myself reminding myself that some of the research she cites is outdated, has been proven incomplete and, at times, inaccurate while grimacing that we are facing some of the same battles yet again - or perhaps still. As I read The Feminine Mystique it became very clear to me that equality, at least for women, seems to wax and wane. Progress is made, then fear, misconceptions, deception, and even greed drive back the progress. Friedan delves into industry, marketing, psychology, family values, education, and expectations to explore the role of women in society and what fosters inequality. I, at times, felt The Feminine Mystique was incomplete because of its focus on the experiences of white middle class, perhaps even upper middle class, women. Reading The Feminine Mystique often felt like reading about people whose lives were so far removed from my upbringing in a small farming community as to be glimpsing into another world and yet much of it makes sense to my current life. Seeing my own life through both sets of eyes made the dichotomy in the fight for equality for all women that much more visible. There's much to learn from The Feminine Mystique as we study the history of feminism and the current fight for equality, but it is not the complete story of women, feminism, or the need for equality.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Figured Wheel by Robert Pinsky

I bought Robert Pinsky's book, The Figured Wheel, several years ago at a reading he did in Sun Valley, Idaho. It languished in my to-be-read pile for far too long. I'm not sure why, but I hesitated to start reading it. Until recently. The books covers poems he wrote ranging from 1966-1996. Once I started reading, I found myself alternating between loving the poems and trying to find meaning in them. Some were clear. Others felt rather obscure. I kept reading. Many of the poems felt universal and some felt deeply personal. Pinsky narrates life experience and muses on belief systems with equal weight. He explores mythology and juxtaposes it with everyday life in a thought provoking manner. He's not afraid to use as many or as few words as he needs to drive his point home. The Figured Wheel engrossed me in thought.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The American Sign Language Phrase Book with DVD by Lou Fant and Barbara Bernstein Fant

I read The American Sign Language Phrase Book with DVD by Lou Fant and Barbara Bernstein Fant because it was the assigned book for my American Sign Language Class. The first part of the book gives the reader instructions on how to use the book as well as a guide to ASL. While it might be tempting to skip these two sections, they actually hold some good tips for learning the language. There were times when I had a little trouble discerning the movements in the book. I think this is probably inevitable in this type of book as the book uses still drawings to depict movement that is sometimes slight. The DVD is incredibly helpful in learning the signs. I quickly learned in class that, like any language, ASL is a living language which means it changes to meet the needs of those using it. Our instructor pointed out when signs have changed or when new signs have been added, but if you're relying only on the book to learn, you have no way to know about these changes. Anyone interested in learning American Sign Language will benefit from The American Sign Language Phrase Book with DVD.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Kracken by Ray Ellis

Ray Ellis delivers once again with Kracken. When I started Kracken I didn't know what to expect, but having read Ellis's crime fiction, I already appreciated his storytelling ability. Kracken has a sci-fi, fantasy, love story essence that never forgets its characters are inherently human. Kracken is a classic story of good and evil with a hint that neither is always as good or as evil as it seems giving hope that redemption is always possible. As the characters come together, are torn apart, and find their way back together, they face danger, injury, and death. Ellis's character whether male or female exhibit emotion, rationality, strength, weakness, and capability as they fight each other and work together to create the world they wish to inhabit. The sometimes flawed decisions of the characters make them all the more real and give the reader a sense of satisfaction when they are forced to face the consequences of their decisions. Ellis writes stories that grip the reader and refuse to let go, and Kracken is no exception.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Congress of Strange People by Stephanie Lenox

Congress of Strange People by Stephanie Lenox introduces a variety of characters through poems that tantalize and intrigue.  Poems explore life's ability to be completely normal and incredibly strange all at the same time. Metaphors and straightforward prose juxtapose one another with beautiful clarity and lines that leave the reader stumbling over one's preconceptions about how life moves forward. Lenox draws the reader into the lines until there's no desire to escape.Congress of Strange People fills the reader with a sense of knowing and not-knowing the world one inhabits. Sometimes the titles themselves leave the reader hesitant to ingest the words but unable to resist. Lenox weaves fantasy and reality into a tapestry that explores the outer edges of what we think we know with the strangeness we often work so hard to deny.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Affrilachia by Frank X. Walker

Affrilachia by Frank X. Walker feels universal and intimate all at once. Walker weaves humor and serious observation into his poems in a way that keeps the reader engaged and entertained while provoking thought. His poems explore his own life experience and the experiences of those around him. His observations on people's behavior and choices often hit hard against the preconceived notions people tend to assign to one another. He dives headfirst into the societal ills so many people work so hard to ignore. Affrilachia is a beautiful, powerful examination of life that deeply resonated with my heart, soul, and mind.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Seeing Voices by Oliver Sacks

My American Sign Language teacher recommended the class read Seeing Voices by Oliver Sacks, so I decided to read it during our break between terms. I quickly found myself immersed in a world within the world in which we live. Sacks, a hearing man, explores the Deaf world and Deaf Culture in a way that brings clarity to something that feels impossible to understand. Sacks provides a glimpse into the history of deaf people and their interactions with the world. His observations are compassionate but never pitying. At times I found myself wincing at the cruelty people are capable of inflicting on one another as I read his descriptions of the attitudes toward deaf people throughout history. In his discussion on communication among the Deaf and between Deaf and hearing people, I felt a sense of the urgency all living beings feel to communicate. His examination of deaf people's attempts to communicate and how often hearing people force their communication on other people as if its the only way to communicate left me heartsick but more aware of my own tendencies. I felt incredibly aware of how often I take hearing for granted and how often it serves me without me giving it a second thought. Sacks also pushed me to think about how "normal" doesn't mean the same thing to everyone, something I know but sometimes forget. Seeing Voices is about more than Deaf Culture and deaf people, it's a book about how society functions and normalizes and fears and creates and destroys and changes. Seeing Voices screams for us to open our world and see beyond the limitations we place on ourselves and others based on misconception and lack of communication...

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Snitch in Time by Sunny Frazier

Sunny Frazier always delights, and A Snitch in Time is no exception. She writes the Christy Bristol series in a way that feels lighthearted even in its darkest moments. When Bristol goes on vacation to visit her friend, Lennie, she never expects to get drafted into working for a different department doing her job. Bristol is intrigued enough by the crime at hand that her protestations seem half-hearted at times though her annoyance is very real. When she and Lennie get into a fight, she's left with nothing but the work the department expects her to do. Frazier drops the reader in the Sierra Nevada Foothills creating a sense of isolation that makes the reader cheer for Bristol to stand up to her superiors and get out of there while simultaneously wanting to her to solve the crime. When a witness contacts Bristol via phone she doesn't take her seriously at first only to discover she might have vital information. With suspicion cast in multiple directions, Bristol isn't sure who to trust even suspecting the forest ranger whose cabin she borrows briefly. When she and Lennie finally make up, Bristol finally finds someone to talk through what she's learning about the case who can understand her position. Throughout the book, Frazier keeps the reader wondering what Bristol will do next and if it will bring her closer to solving the case or put her in danger. A Snitch in Time is a fun, fast paced, easy to read mystery that will leave the reader wanting more of Christy Bristol and her best friend, Lennie.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Reincarnation of Douglas Kavanaugh by Tony Haynes

I started reading The Reincarnation of Douglas Kavanaugh by Tony Haynes uncertain what to expect. I'm familiar with Haynes's poetry and songwriting, but I hadn't read his prose before. Haynes creates a realistic world that feels both familiar and unfamiliar. As I allowed myself to drift into the world Douglas Kavanaugh inhabits and stop trying to create poetry, I felt Kavanaugh's struggle to figure out his life as it changed from one incarnation to another. There's a supernatural feeling to Haynes's writing that left me feeling like I was on a ride between realities and life changes. Kavanaugh goes from likable to unlikable and back to likable. He inhabits many different personalities and motivations but always remains faithful to his desire to not only cure cancer but rid the world of it. His drive to achieve this goal often conflicts with his desire to enjoy his life. His strong need to cure the world also allows him to compromise scientific testing to begin implementation not quite realizing just how the side effects from his cure will affect the world for both the good and the bad. The conflict that arises when those side effects take place forced me to think about my future, my ambition, my role in the world. The Reincarnation of Douglas Kavanaugh is at its heart a story exploring the ripple effect of every action we take in the world.

Monday, April 6, 2015

New and Selected Poems Volume One by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver's New and Selected Poems Volume One covers decades of Mary Oliver's poetry. With many nature poems populating the pages, Oliver draws direct lines between the world in which we live and the experience of living in the world. Threads of melancholy and joy weave together a full experience of life in the examination of changing seasons.Oliver takes the reader through the forest and into the snow visiting myriad animals along the journey. In this way, she immerses the reader in the functioning of the world and the experience of those whose lives we can only imagine. In doing so, she leads the reader to a deeper understanding and connection with self. At times New and Selected Poems Volume One feels like a wild, unpredictable ride and at other times it feels like floating on a calm river as it delivers beautifully written, relatable poems.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley, Ph.D

A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra) by Barbara Oakley, Ph.D. reaches far beyond math and science and even beyond learning. Oakley explores techniques for learning more efficiently and deeply based on her own experience overcoming her difficulty learning math. A Mind for Numbers explores the importance of focused mode and diffused mode in the learning process and how the two support one another in the learning process. Oakley delves into how our brains chunks material for deeper learning. She addresses procrastination, reasons for procrastination, why procrastination is unavoidable, and tips to effectively address procrastination using techniques that allow us to give focused attention to priority tasks and use diffuse mode by switching tasks. I recognized several techniques that I employed during my college years and even some that had worked their way into my writing routine though I'd never thought of them as techniques in quite the way she described them. As I read through the book, I saw ways I could use the techniques in the book to improve my research as well as my writing. A Mind for Numbers is a very interesting exploration of the way the brain works and how to more effectively be productive whether studying or working. A Mind for Numbers is a well written, easy to understand, inspiring book of insights into not only the process of learning but the process of being more effective in any endeavor that requires focused attention, time to think, and expansion of one's knowledge base.

To see more on my thoughts regarding A Mind for Numbers, please read my blog post, How Writers Can Benefit from Learning to Learn, written about the Coursera Class, Learning How to Learn based on the book.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Axis Mundi Poems by Karen Holmberg

Axis Mundi by Karen Holmberg weave nature, emotion, memory, and life into a book of experiences that leave the reader immersed in each moment and floating toward the next. Holmberg's delightful and enthralling prose draws connections that invigorate the senses. Holmberg's poems explore life from myriad angles breaking open the reader's natural resistance to see the ugly in the beautiful and the beautiful in the ugly. With metaphors that seem delightfully specific and yet somehow vague enough to drive the reader's imagination to new places as it conjures images of memories and slices of nostalgia, the poems in Axis Mundi bring the reader face-to-face with the inter-connectivity of the world.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

24 Questions to Answer Before You Build Your Writer Platform by Christina Katz

Christina Katz's 24 Questions to Answer Before You Build Your Writer Platform for writers on is a class designed to help writer's identify their platform and determine if they're ready to create their platform. The class does what it promises to do by helping writers hone in on their accomplishments and see how they want to use their work in the world. The class offers The Platform Bingo Worksheet for  listing the answers to the lectures/questions each day. Katz has students write the answers on the worksheet. If one is at the beginning of one's career, the worksheet will probably work fine. For me, however, my sheet is so full it is difficult to decipher and therefore isn't useful to me in this form. I will likely review each of the questions and write out the answers on notebook paper soon. I may later also type the answers into a document that I can revise as I go. Something about handwriting helped though.  In the process, I felt more connected to what I have accomplished over the course of my career thus far and got a greater sense of how that demonstrates who I am and what I have to offer. The course reminded me how easy it is to get caught up in what we don't accomplish and ignore what we have accomplished. The reality is writers all have a message they're expressing and a goal or ten or a hundred they'd like to accomplish with their words. While we might not like to think of that as our platform, it becomes one. Katz seems to be asking "Do you want to control your platform or let your platform control you?" There's something organic about a writer's platform that comes out of the things a writer writes and the message a writer wishes to send into the world on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, life-long basis. Katz asks students to ask themselves what that message is and whether or not they think the work they're putting into the world is in line with that message. I think beginning writers would find this process useful but I would caution beginning writers to not get so hung up on platform they forget about writing. I think experienced writers might find the exercise helpful if only to revisit the platform from which they operate and to get a sense of what they have actually accomplished. Writers taking this class will also get a glimpse into their strengths and weaknesses as well as their comfort zones and not-so-comfortable zones as they answer the questions. Regardless of how one feels about the concept of a writer's platform, the questions Katz asked helps writers to pause for a moment to get grounded again and then move forward.