Sunday, December 31, 2017

Courting Disaster: An Angie Amalfi Mystery by Joanne Pence

Courting Disaster: An Angie Amalfi Mystery by Joanne Pence stays true to the cozy mystery format giving Angie a mystery to solve while obsessing and stressing over the details of the engagement party her mother is planning without Angie's input. Her fear over the party not being perfect leads her to try to find out what's happening with the party creating as much a mystery for the reader as the connection between the murder that takes place, the mother and baby who find their way into her neighbor's, and therefore her, life, and the criminal behavior they uncover putting them all in danger. Courting Disaster mixes humor, food, mystery, and a set of unfortunate circumstances to keep the reader intrigued.

Red Cape Capers: Playful Backyard Meditations by Linda Varsell Smith

Red Cape Capers: Playful Backyard Meditations by Linda Varsell Smith is filled with thoughts on meditating and the struggle it can be to meditate. Varsell's poetry paints a picture of her backyard, her mother's red cape, and her attempts to meditate that draw the reader right into the experiences she shares as well as her ruminations on life and life events. Red Cape Capers is vivid and enchanting at times while thought-provoking and uncomfortable at others. 

Available at

Saturday, December 30, 2017

52 Lists for Happiness: Weekly Journaling for Positivity Balance, and Joy by Moorea Seal

I ordered 52 Lists for Happiness: Weekly Journaling Inspiration for Positivity Balance and Joy by Moorea Seal because I enjoyed her The 52 Lists Project: A Year of Weekly Journaling Inspiration. I wanted to keep exploring this idea of a weekly guided journal. 52 Lists for Happiness took on a different tenor for me though. I opted to do the lists every Sunday because I felt it would be a good way to start off the week. I had some struggles this year that sometimes made the lists hard to write and other times the lists cheered me up. Focusing on simple moments of happiness gave me an opportunity to remember the good in my life no matter what happened in the world around me.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Native Son by Richard Wright

Native Son by Richard Wright pulled me in and refused to let go. I started reading thinking this would be just another novel, just another story, but I soon found myself questioning my reactions, my attitude, and my beliefs. I found it oddly relevant to today's world in a way that made me sad. I had to remind myself multiple times that the book was originally published in 1940. Wright dropped me into Bigger Thomas's heart and mind even when I didn't want to be. Bigger's fear permeated the pages and wafted up from the words. His rage ran as an undercurrent throughout the book. The intensity with with Wright tells the story is at times uncomfortable but still engaging and intriguing. Native Son does little to elicit sympathy or even compassion from the reader though it does push the reader to examine the norms of society and the justice system when the book was written as well as those of the present.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Remarkable Oregon Women: Revolutionaries & Visionaries by Jennifer Chambers

Remarkable Oregon Women: Revolutionaries & Visionaries by Jennifer Chambers offers a snapshot into the history of the role of women in Oregon's history. Chambers provides enough information about each woman mentioned to spark an interest in learning more even providing sources for further reading. Remarkable Oregon Women is an interesting book that reminds the reader that women have always played an important role in the progress of society even when they've been stymied or their efforts have been hidden by history.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Common Courage: Bill Wassmuth, Human Rights, and Small-Town Activism by Andrea Vogt

Common Courage: Bill Wassmuth, Human Rights and Small Town Activism by Andrea Vogt traces the life of Bill Wassmuth through his journey to fight neo-Nazis in the Pacific Northwest, mostly focusing on his time in Idaho. Vogt talks about his efforts to bring awareness through his time in the priesthood and out of it. Common Courage details the power of unity to exact change toward acceptance and diversity in small towns and large towns as well. Vogt tells Wassmuth's life story which often lead him to seek justice for those unable to seek it for themselves. Vogt shares the wisdom Wassmuth shared with her over multiple interviews. Common Courage details Wassmuth's motivation to fight for social justice even at times when the fight seemed to be at odds with the teachings and norms that guided his religious beliefs. Common Courage is an interesting and easy to read book that is as relevant today as it was when it was published.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Christmas Jar by M. L. Roberts

The Christmas Jar by M. L. Roberts is a short story that essentially tells a story many of us have heard in other iterations. It's a sweet telling of understanding priorities and living a life based on those priorities. Roberts tells the story in an endearing, easy to grasp, loving way. The Christmas Jar will have many nodding along but smiling in the process with its story of family, priorities, love, and loss.

Note: I couldn't find this for purchase anywhere online to link to...

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee covers the vast and myriad history of cancer including much of the development of medicine over the centuries. Mukherjee introduces cancer in terms of both its effects on humans and its resilience. He illuminates the path the myriad of treatments have taken over the years reminding the reader that science and medicine require much determination and a willingness to follow through and change direction as the research points in new directions. The Emperor of All Maladies reminds the reader of the benefits of working across borders and cultures to find answers. The history of cancer is rather dark and even eerie at times but leaves one feeling a grudging respect for its tenacity. Mukherjee explains how it adapts to human beings attempts to eradicate it. As Mukherjee draws direct lines between researchers and research findings from around the world that have brought us to where we are today in the treatment of cancer, he reminds us that cooperation often benefits us all more than isolation does. The Emperor of All Maladies puts cancer under the microscope for anyone whose life has been affected by cancer or might someday be affected by cancer, directly or indirectly.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor is one of those books I feel like I should have read years, maybe even decades ago, and not just because it's a young adult book. As I read the words I was transported into the lives of the Logan family. I cringed even as I cheered for Cassie to stand up for herself. My fear for her safety battling my need for her to conquer the injustice she faced. I saw in her an innocent child who couldn't and wouldn't understand why her life as a young black child had different rules than those for the young white children around her. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is a story about perseverance, persistence, and strength in the face of injustice, hardship, and deceit. Taylor creates a story that puts the reader in the midst of the Logan family's love for one another, for community, and for their land even as she forces the reader to feel the turmoil of unfairness, manipulation, and danger swirling around them for wanting to keep and farm their own land. While Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is written for young adults, it is an engaging glimpse into the history of racial relations in the United States south that will engage readers of any age.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Winding Stair and Other Poems by W. B. Yeats

The Winding Stair and Other Poems by W. B. Yeats contains a myriad of poems the manage to be both mired in their time and timeless.  Yeats takes ordinary events in ordinary lives and writes about them in poems that touch people's hearts and minds even years after they were written. While one might not know the characters about whom he writes, the experiences feel all too real reminding the reader that there are certain experiences that transcend time, boundaries, and locale. With lines that demand the reader read them one, twice, thrice just to feel the entirety of their meaning, The Winding Stair and Other Poems often feels like it's pushing beyond the page and into the shared experience of being human even while searching for what that shared experience really means.

Friday, November 17, 2017

I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't): Making the Journey form "What Will People Think?" to "I Am Enough" by Brene Brown, Ph. D., LMSW

I've been intrigued with BrenĂ© Brown's work since I listened to her Ted Talk on Vulnerability. I finally got around to starting to read her books. I expected I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't): Making the Journey from "What Will People Think?" to "I Am Enough" to be a reiteration of all the things I've heard her say in her talks and classes and in her interviews. It was that but it was also more. In fact, it was more than I expected or perhaps was ready for. I sat down intending to simply read the book and ended up deciding to take her advice and work through the exercises. I didn't always like the answers that arose for me, but it was worth the time it took. I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't) pushed me to examine my thoughts and my attitudes toward shame and blame and vulnerability and strength. I started the book thinking that I'd already done this work, so this would just be me learning more about the topic. Brown breaks down shame and connection in ways that make her points highly relatable and highly relevant. As a writer, I found Brown's research also provides insight into writing characters who are mired in shame and those who aren't.  I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't) is a book based on research but written for every human, but particularly women and girls, who have ever been shamed into silence or into roles they didn't want to live.

For more on my thoughts on shame, read my blog post Shame: An Old Foe Still in the Shadows.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Forgotten Reflections by Young Im-Lee

36395914The characters in Forgotten Reflections by Young Im-Lee took up residence in my imagination in a way that felt like I was living with them even when I wasn't reading. I walked the small village with Isuel and Jung-Soo. I felt the depths of the forest and the pain of war with Jung-Soo and Dae-Gun. I felt the fear and the confusion. I felt the excitement over both the little moments and the monumental moments shared. The heartache of betrayal and family secrets and the bravery of the villagers rang through the pages. Forgotten Reflections bridges the past and the present through the eyes of a granddaughter desperate to understand her grandmother and her family history. There's a thread of rebellion and strength that weaves through Forgotten Reflections demonstrating that human beings find a way to rise to the occasion when faced with dire circumstances. Mythology confronts reality while bravery and cowardice fight their own battle. Forgotten Reflections is a love story surrounded by a war story surrounded by a story of resilience and perseverance that touches the heart while provoking thought about the experiences we share and don't share as well as the roles we play as we traverse life...

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

No Acute Distress Poems by Jennifer Richter

No Acute Distress Poems by Jennifer Richter explores life, death, illness, self-autonomy, and family life in poems filled with raw honesty combined with both despair and hope. In explorations of how our bodies can both betray us and heal us, Richter demonstrates how intellectual knowledge sometimes struggles to reconcile with emotional connections. Richter's use of language is inventive and lyrical while remaining approachable and relatable. No Acute Distress feels at once highly personal and undeniably universal bringing the reader into Richter's life and her into the readers' life demonstrating how people's lives affect one another directly and indirectly.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Jubilee Year: An Erelong Novel by Gerard O'Neill

Jubilee Year (Erelong, #1)Jubilee Year: An Erelong Novel by Gerard O'Neill is the beginning of the end of the world as its inhabitants know it. O'Neill drops the reader into a world where the new normal makes little sense compared to what people remember. As disaster looms, the characters search for a way to survive. People fight for the life they remember even while being told to trust those in power.  Jubilee Year is a stark but entertaining novel that pulls the reader deeply into its characters' lives while also affording the reader enough distance to question the decisions, the motives, and the actions of the characters. O'Neill demonstrates the dangers of allowing too few people to hold the power over people's lives while at the same time leaving the reader to wonder how to best fight tyrannical forces that come from unexpected places by exposing that those in power appear to be someone or something else's puppets. Jubilee Year is a thought provoking, emotion wrenching novel that offers moments of hope in the midst of chaos, destruction, and a world that's lost its way and many of its resources.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

disinheritance poems by John Sibley Williams

I've heard John Sibley Williams read his poems at poetry reading a few times, and I've read his work before. I've always enjoyed Williams work, but disinheritance surprised me with the depth of emotion woven with intellect in poems that grieved out loud and unapologetically. Williams's grief travels from poem to poem taking the reader into a place both painful and hopeful. Disinheritance feels like the grief we try to disown whenever someone else feels uncomfortable with us feeling it, let alone expressing it. In this book of beautiful, heartfelt, touching poetry, Williams explores grief in a way that never forgets that some losses become a part of who we are as well as who we aren't.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Wreck and Order by Hannah Tennant-Moore

Wreck and Order by Hannah Tennant-Moore grabs the reader in an unrelenting grip of the consequences of choices Elsie makes. Self-destructive and searching for herself, Elsie constantly seeks out relationships that take her down dark paths and allow her to fall apart before abandoning a string of people in her life. Tennant-Moore write Elsie's self-destruction with a rawness that left me aching and identifying with the emotions even when I didn't identify with Elsie's actions. At times, I found Wreck and Order difficult to read because of the bluntness surrounding abuse and sexual trauma yet I couldn't stop. Even through my frustration with Elsie I wanted to convince her that eventually things get better. I saw in her a girl with too much and too little at the same time searching for something that would give her life meaning. Wreck and Order explores the addiction to drama that seems prevalent in modern society without apology or excuse.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Camanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S. C. Gwynne

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Camanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S. C. Gwynne wasn't what I expected when I bought it though I'm not sure what I expected. Gwynne appears to try to tell the history fairly, but how fair can a story be when the documentation of the other side is often biased and the documentation on the other side is scarce? Gwynne certainly pulled me into this well written story with visceral details about the interactions between the Comanches and the settlers as well as the landscape. He has no qualms talking about the settlers taking the land, but like so many books written by oppressors seems to marvel that people will kill to keep the land they've inhabited for generations and will reject invaders telling them how to live their lives. Empire of the Summer Moon paints a picture that feeds into stereotypes about Indigenous Peoples and relies heavily on documentation by the "white man" while excusing this by saying the Comanches didn't keep records. Having read An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States before reading Empire of the Summer Moon, I couldn't help but notice how differently the books presented the histories of the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the Europeans who "settled" the United States. Still, I found Empire of the Summer Moon engaging, informative, and interesting as well as bold and graphic.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Fire Up Your Writing Brain: How to Use Proven Neuroscience to Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Writer by Susan Reynolds

I became intrigued by Fire Up Your Writing Brain: How to Use Proven Neuroscience to Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Writer because I like things based in science, based on scientific research. That said, there were a few times when I wished the scientific research was a tiny bit more front and center in the discussion. When I started it, I thought it would be a fairly quick read even with the exercises... I thought wrong. Instead, I spent several months reading Fire Up Your Writing Brain and working through the exercises. I even did some of the extra credit options though not all. I saved some exercises for later when they fit my projects at hand. Fire Up Your Writing Brain made me look deeper into my writing process as well as more aware of where my attention goes throughout the day including what interferes with my writing process. While I sometimes became frustrated with some of the exercises working through them always brought me to either an epiphany or a new piece of work. Fire Up Your Writing Brain offers a great way to jump start a stalled writing process or even heighten one that isn't stalled. I will keep Fire Up Your Writing Brain on my shelves for reference and will likely return to the exercises when I feel the need to fire up my writing brain.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Verseweavers: The Oregon Poetry Association Anthology of Prize-winning Poems 2015

Verseweavers: The Oregon Poetry Association Anthology of Prize-winning Poems 2015 (Number 20) contains the that won The Oregon Poetry Association's Spring and Fall 2015 contests as well as commentary from the judges of the myriad categories. It's easy to see why a vast majority of these poems won even without reading the competing poems. While a few didn't quite hit the mark for me, I'm sure they would for other people. The poems explore a wide variety of forms and themes offering something for just about any poetry reader. Verseweavers 2015 was printed in  limited edition and therefore might not be easy to acquire a copy of; however, if you can it's worth a read.

This particular issue isn't available on The Oregon Poetry Association website as of the publication of this blog post; however past issues are. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange is a poem written for a stage performance or a play written in poetic form. Perhaps it is appropriate to call it both. There are moments in the reading when the stage direction feels incredibly integral to the experience of reading and others when it's slightly distracting. Shange brings her characters to life and delves into the beauty and the hardship of life with equal intensity. Shange's poetry  For Colored girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf offers a commentary on myriad issues and highlights the connections between us and our actions that we often fail to see or even willfully refuse to see. I longed to see the stage performance as I read. I will likely watch the movie on YouTube some time soon. The DVD of both the movie and the Broadway Theatre Archive versions are available on Amazon.


Monday, September 4, 2017

Mad Country by Samrat Upadhyay

Mad Country by Samrat Upadhyay puts the reader into the minds and hearts of a hodgepodge of characters while examining the social and political issues that govern their lives. These snippets of life push the reader to think about life from different perspectives perhaps even questioning the conventions of life we often accept without a moment's thought. Mad Country delves into the raw emotions and the intense dogmas held by people that create division and destroy communication while pushing the reader to cheer for some characters, commiserate with others, and despise others and sometimes doing all three for the one character or the other. Upadhyay writes stories that feel like snapshots of his characters' lives and drawing parallels that remind the reader just how interwoven all our lives really are.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

I started reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot without much knowledge about HeLa cells and particularly little know about their widespread use in medical research. Skloot tells the story not only of Henrietta and her family but of the evolution of medical research combined with glimpses into the history of race relations in America, at least in part. Skloot focuses on Henrietta and the Lacks family in a way that sometimes feels almost invasive but nonetheless is fascinating.  The Lacks family is a family like any other filled with interesting, multifaceted characters. There was an honesty and a rawness that was almost painful to read at times. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks demonstrates on almost every page just how interconnected we are. Skloot's investigation into the research that uses HeLa cells leaves little doubt that you and I are only alive today because of said research. Skloot tells a story that engages and enlightens by keeping the focus on the family and their experience even when she follows the HeLa cells to various labs around the world where they're used to make medical and scientific advances that benefit everyone even as the Lacks family struggles to make ends meet. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks weaves together the biography of a woman, a family saga, and a look into medical research in a way that is both thought provoking and enlightening.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The After Party by Jana Prikryl

The After Party by Jana Prikryl left me with more of a feeling or the impression of being than it did a distinct reaction to individual poems. There's a current of accepting the idea of just being that weaves itself through the myriad poems that took me on a journey alongside Prikryl. I appreciated Prikryl's use of language to examine how interconnected we are with one another with all our similarities and our differences as well as with the past, the present, and the future. As I read The After Party I often lost track of the words in an immersion of mood, atmosphere, and emotion feeling rather surprised when I came to the end of the poem. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Emma's Choice by Loretta Porter

Emma's ChoiceEmma's Choice by Loretta Porter pulled me in right away. My heart ached for Emma as she grieved. I identified with the desire to run away to a new place and start over where no one knows what one has experienced. In the midst of grieving the loss of her family, Emma moves from the United States to England as easily as moving from one state to another. She runs away from not only her grief but her support system. Emma came across as far too naive at times making me cringe and, to be honest, pulled me out of the story a few times. As she meets new people and starts to build a new life, her grief vacillates wildly, even uncomfortably so. Emma's Choice offers a rollercoaster of emotions that serves as a reminder just how fragile life is and how important living is.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Bluegrass State of Mind by Kathleen Brooks

12005534I started reading Bluegrass State of Mind by Kathleen Brooks while on a flight to Kentucky, and I finished it on the flight home about a week later. Bluegrass State of Mind offers romance with a dash of danger and dark intrigue. The lost love connection fighting to find its footing intrigued me but fell into the typical breakdown in basic communication that seems to permeate romance novels. Given the high profile of several of the characters, I wondered how certain bits of information could remain unknown by other characters. Brooks' characters, though at times falling victim to stereotypes, are interesting and even intriguing. I wanted to know what happened to the characters even when I questioned how plausible certain parts of the story were. Bluegrass State of Mind is a fun read, particularly if you enjoy romances.

Monday, July 24, 2017

She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton

I really wanted to love She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton, but I have to admit I only liked it. I saw a fundamental flaw with it in that she equates persistence with not taking no for an answer by opening and closing the books with phrases about not taking no for an answer. How can we be teaching that no means no on the one hand and that we shouldn't take no for an answer on the other hand? There are far too many people who have used this attitude in harmful ways. If we want men to take no for an answer, then we, as women, have to also be careful about how we teach persistence. I think it's important to teach persistence and to demonstrate how women have had to overcome doubters and those who refused them so much as a chance.  When I got past Clinton's focus on the phrasing of not taking no for an answer, I found the stories of the women who persisted and refused to be shut down inspiring and interesting. If I were reading this to a child, I would skip times she used the phrases about not taking no for an answer, and the message would be just as strong, perhaps even stronger. The illustrations by Alexandra Boiger are fun and perfectly suited to the book. Overall, She Persisted fell a bit short of what I hoped it would be in spite of the inspiring women whose stories were included in it.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Last Cut by Josh Armstrong

35173391The Last Cut by Josh Armstrong is a short story filled with layers of emotion in which Armstrong managed to remind me the importance of human connection, the importance of reaching out, and the importance of communication. As Carmen cuts Jude's hair, he talks about his plans to commit suicide. Carmen becomes involved in the conversation and as their connection grows, she begins to feel a shift within herself. All throughout the story, I kept wondering whose last cut it really was... The Last Cut left me feeling connected to both Jude and Cameron as their stories unfolded in a way that reminded me just how interconnected we all are and much we can influence one another, whether for the better or the worse is up to each of us to decide.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Write the Town 2016: Poems from Sites in Salem, Oregon by Poets of the Mid-Valley Poetry Society

Write the Town 2016: Poem from Sites in Salem, Oregon by Poets of the Mid-Valley Poetry Society is a short collection filled with poems that offer a taste of Salem, Oregon through the eyes of several poets who participated in Write the Town. The chapbook is divided into sections based on the sites the poets visited to find inspiration over the Summer of 2016. Reading Write the Town reads like a tour of Salem through the eyes of several quite talented poets. Some poems spoke to me on a deeper level than others but all the poems offered unique perspectives. I enjoyed reading Write the Town 2016 and look forward to Write the Town 2017.

Limited number of copies available at CC Willow Art Etsy Store.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir by Paul Monette

I bought Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir by Monette because it was recommended by a class on AIDS I was taking as research for a book I'm writing. I thought the book might help me better understand the AIDS patient and even AIDS itself. Monette tells a story that is a heartbreaking mix of love, family, and loss. Not just the loss of his life partner but loss of a way of being in the world. He demonstrates eloquently the devastation fear wreaks when knowledge is minimal while showing the immense power of love to hold people together. At times, Monette's self-deprecation felt a bit too much, but it showed a glimpse into how insecurities can push us to both our best and our worst. He talked with graphic detail about the physical havoc AIDS brought not only to the bodies of those who suffer with it but to the lives and the communities where AIDS became such an accepted part of life that people talked about when instead of if. Monette talks about his and the gay community's resentment of people's ignorance and particularly their determination to remain ignorant. His love for his life partner, Roger Horwitz, is palpable throughout the book. I felt almost like an interloper in their lives in some of the more intimate portions of the book. Monette writes in a way that had me wishing for Roger to be saved even though I knew before I even began the book that was impossible. Near the end, I also found myself longing for Roger's suffering to end even though the end of that suffering meant death. Monette's description of full-blown AIDS and the suffering of not only Roger but their friends broke my heart and made me determined to support death with dignity laws. Monette downplays his own diagnosis of AIDS throughout the book. Roger is his focus because Roger is the one who is in crisis. I felt Monette's grief throughout the pages. I felt the secrecy in place to try to protect those who could offer support. I felt the love these two men shared. I felt the openness of love and compassion coupled with the anger and despair at a system not moving quickly enough to make a difference in lives. Borrowed Time is a reminder that no matter who we are, how we live our lives, or who we love, the time we have is only borrowed and it will be taken away at some point...

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Death Makes No Deals by David L. Hoof

Death Makes No Deals by David L. Hoof offers the reader a nonnegotiable deal filled with intrigue, suspicion, and complicated relationships. Hoof’s characters feel like someone you could meet at your favorite coffee shop or strike up a conversation with in a bar and never guess the depths of the secrets they hold, the struggles they face, or the world they live in all while assuming far too much in common or far too many differences. Death Makes No Deals coaxes the reader to accept that humans have a tendency to create a reality we can accept even when everything around us screams our reality is little more than fantasy. Hoof aptly demonstrates that the past will haunt the present and both will inform the future based on our interpretations and decisions. Death Makes No Deals is filled with deadly deals that demonstrate the power of death over the living.

Note: This review is based on an unedited ARC provided by the author.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver parallels flights taken for preservation by juxtaposing a housewife's need to spread her wings with the migration of Monarch butterflies. Kingsolver demonstrates the feeling of not belonging in one's own life through Dellarobia's interactions and internal thoughts and the exploration of what would cause the Monarch butterfly to overwinter in an area that could cause its extinction rather than its usual habitat. My heart ached for Dellarobia as the lack of real communication combined with financial hardship complicates every part of her life. Kingsolver brings the consequences of changing environments to the forefront in this exploration of migration patterns, climate change, self-discovery, and life changes. Interspersed throughout Flight Behavior is the conflict between religious beliefs and science in both Dellarobia's life and community. Flight Behavior creates a microcosm of the world in which we live demonstrating how interconnected we all are regardless of the beliefs we embrace or the facts we refuse to embrace.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Lift Off: From the Classroom to the Stars by Donovan Livingston

Lift Off: From the Classroom to the Stars by Donovan Livingston is a small book with quite an impact. The words of Livingston take us on a journey through the history and the importance of education. Lift Off reminds us that the way we change the world is through education that teaches us where we came from, so we know where we're going. As I read I couldn't help but think about how important it is that we get education right, that we stop playing politics with education, and that we give all children an equal chance at an education that prepares them for the future. Lift Off inspires in its honesty and its hope.

Note: Lift Off was a spoken word poem given by Donovan Livingston as the convocation at Harvard Graduate School of Education in May 2016. Below is the video if you'd like to watch it.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes edited by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel

The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes edited by Arnold Rampersad, Editor, and David Roessel, Associate Editor covers the poetry Langston Hughes wrote during his life. Hughes tackled myriad issues throughout his lifetime without apology. His language, though lyrical, is also often blunt and leaves little to interpretation though it invokes intense imagery at times. I felt a wide range of emotions as I read The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. The poems depicted a life I'll never life while offering insight into the reality of others in a way that forced me to think about my own existence in the world and how I interact with those around me. Authenticity rings through Hughes's work even when he paints moments that feel a bit fantastical. I took my time reading these poems because many are intense and require thought while others are lighthearted observations on life. I was, at times, surprised at how much punch some of Hughes's shorter works contained. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes reminded me how important poetry is to the narrative of our lives and history being made around us even in the moments that seem the most ordinary to us.

Friday, May 5, 2017

High Point of Persistence: The Miriam Richards Story by Damara Paris, Miriam Richards, and Hilary White

High Point of Persistence: The Miriam Richards Story by Damara Paris, Miriam Richards, and Hilary White illustrates how determination, perseverance, and persistence work together to push people to overcome challenges and obstacles. Miriam Richards didn't let anything, including her deafness or Multiple Sclerosis, get in the way of her goals. When she faced a challenge that appeared to have no solution, she found a way around it. She pursued her goal of visiting the high points in each state pushing herself beyond limits that seem impossible. Her story is at times heart-wrenching, at times ordinary, at times joyous, but it is always inspiring and encouraging to those who wish to accomplish more in their lives. Richards determination to push herself even when she was in pain made me feel determined to stop letting minor inconveniences get in the way of my progress. High Point of Persistence: The Miriam Richards Story inspired me to step outside my comfort zone and think about the things I would like to accomplish even if it makes me uncomfortable to get there...

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho was one of those books I put on my reading list a long time ago and finally got around to reading recently. I really wasn't sure what to expect, but I'd heard from many people The Alchemist was worth reading. I'm glad I finally did even though at times I found it a bit too symbolic. The weaving of the supernatural, religion, and culture seemed to be a bit on the cliche side in spite of the message of the story. The Alchemist works as an allegory for having faith in the "signs" life presents as one travels through it. Coelho's writing immersed me in the story and made the characters seem all too real and surreal at the same time. The Alchemist is filled with a sense of wonder and mystery in the simplicity of the story that seems to transcend itself but really always comes back to the message that one must seek in order to find.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson

The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson is the kind of book you want to finish but don't want to end. I read it slowly forcing myself to stop reading after a few pages each day, so I could stay immersed in the story just a little longer and yet the story pulled me back. In fact, it stayed with me as I went about my day waiting to read some more. The characters grabbed me and held on tight. Everything Wilkinson writes has a way of transporting me back to my childhood growing up in a holler where family was everything and everyone knew everyone's business. The town of Opulence feels like a place I've been, longed to leave, and yearned for despite my best efforts to leave it behind. Secrets, lies, and truths combat each other through characters that seem trapped in tradition and freed by imagination in the pages of The Birds of Opulence.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Spirit Horses by Alan S. Evans

4861018Spirit Horses by Alan S. Evans is a story of hope and resilience. Evans drops us into the world of horses and indigenous peoples in this story of love, loss, and living. He examines the connection we all share as inhabitants of this planet and the role greed plays to divide and destroy in the name of amassing wealth. Interwoven with characters who are easy to relate to, Spirit Horses reminds us of the importance of embracing those we love and the world we cherish. Evans spotlights the important of communication in understanding one another while never forgetting that every action and reaction communicates something even if it's not what we intend. I was drawn into Spirit Horses, and I loved the scenes where the characters watched the wild horses in their natural habitat. In a story that on the surface appears to pit tradition against modernity, Spirit Horses digs deeper to encourage us all to see one another more clearly, respect those we don't quite understand, and seek to better understand that which we don't in order to find a way for tradition and modernity to survive side-by-side.


Friday, March 17, 2017

The ROMANCE of CUNNILINGUS: Tips from Both Sides of the Tongue by J. R. Luxor

22755562The ROMANCE of CUNNILINGUS by J.R. Luxor, John Reimann (Editor), and Mislav Marahnic' (Photographer) takes a look at demystifying cunnilingus. Luxor approaches the subject with a dash of romance, a pinch of humor, and a sprinkle of seriousness. Encouragement for better communication between partners and a better understanding of anatomy fill this small book. The ROMANCE of CUNNILINGUS is a quick and easy to understand read that offers those interested an opening to have the conversation with a trusted sexual partner.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert grabbed my attention from the first page. Kolbert illustrates the future of extinction by illuminating the history of extinction. She tells a story of the Earth we inhabit in both scientific and historical terms related to the myriad species of animals that have and do inhabit the Earth. She travels to myriad places on the Earth to talk to scientists and historians. I felt like she took me along on her journey to places I would never go on my own. She discussed the effects of natural processes as well as unnatural processes affecting the extinction of species and how those extinctions lead to other extinctions. Her references to previous mass extinctions were always linked to the story of our Earth and present-day extinctions. She talked about frogs, bats, auks, coral, and trees among other things. The Sixth Extinction doesn't shy away from pointing out how each species is a part of an ecosystem and how all our ecosystems are both independent and interconnected. The Sixth Extinction makes the research of extinction including its causes and effects accessible through great storytelling and relateable moments.

This book was part of Cory Booker's Book Club, and he interviewed the author during a Facebook live video for those who might be interested in the conversation.


Friday, February 10, 2017

How Dun It Forensics: A Guide for Writers by D. P. Lyle, M.D.

I confess Howdunit Forensics: A Guide for Writers by D. P. Lyle, M.D. was in my to-be-read stack for quite a long time before I started reading it. I initially bought it to do research for a couple of mysteries I was writing. When one of those books turned into more of a mainstream novel removing emphasis from the mystery element, I put Howdundt Forensics to the side. Then as I was editing the book I realized there were some factual issues I needed to address, so I found Lyle's book and started reading. Initially just to fill in those gaps, but I soon realized the book itself offers a great foundation for writing multiple elements of a book that includes a criminal aspect. Lyle explains forensics in layman's terms while always honoring the science. I appreciated his attention to process and detail as well as his honest depictions even when it meant pointing out the errors we often let pass by us when reading, watching, or writing crime fiction. Howdunit Forensics is an informative and helpful book for the crime fiction writer or even the writer who just has a story with a criminal investigation sprinkled between the main plot line. I think even crime fiction readers who don't write would find this book interesting. Lyle makes forensics accessible, so that it's easy to incorporate into the writing process. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Why Is the Dalai Lama Always Smiling?: A Westerner's Introduction and Guide to Tibetan Buddhist Practice by Lama Tsomo

I agreed to read Why Is the Dalai Lama Always Smiling?: A Westerner's Introduction and Guide to Tibetan Buddhist Practice by Lama Tsomo and give a fair and impartial review in exchange for a free book because Buddhism is a spiritual practice that I haven't spent much time exploring. I was intrigued. Lama Tsomo writes in an accessible and enjoyable voice. She blends humor with the serious while describing her journey to Buddhism. Alas, Why Is the Dalai Lama Always Smiling? didn't convert me to Buddhism or even tempt me to give it a try, but I enjoyed reading her descriptions of the meditation practices and the benefits she sees in them. The book is packed with beautiful and inspiring photos. It comes with cards to help those who want to try the practices described within the book. I did, however, find the numerous references to their website and classes distracting. Overall, Why Is the Dalai Lama Always Smiling? is an interesting introduction to Tibetan Buddhist Practice through the journey of an American becoming a Buddhist.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The 52 Lists Project: A Year of Weekly Journaling Inspiration by Moorea Seal

I first ordered The 52 Lists Project: A Year of Weekly Journaling Inspiration by Moorea Seal last January after I read about it in an article I have long since forgotten. I liked the idea so much I sent copies to a few friends and my nieces. As stated it's a journal. The prompts are often thought-provoking without seeming overwhelming. They push journalers to look deeper inside and to examine the lives they live, the world around them, and the lives they wish they lived. Seal is on to something with this book. While I started it late and didn't really dedicate myself to it at first, when I finally did, I really enjoyed the vast majority of the prompts. There was the occasional prompt that just didn't apply to me personally, but even those gave me a reason to think about why they didn't apply to me. I did manage to finish it by the end of the year. I found the prompts intriguing and the exercise fulfilling. I imagine The 52 Lists Project: A Year of Weekly Journaling Inspiration might just become a gift I'll give again and again. I enjoyed it so much I also bought her new journaling book to work through this year.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

2,100 Asanas: The Complete Yoga Poses by Daniel Lacerda

2,100 Asanas: The Complete Yoga Poses by Daniel Lacerda offers a way to better understand myriad yoga poses and the variations thereof. The photos of each pose are accompanied with information about each pose. The information sometimes feels a bit underdeveloped, but the photos are fantastic. I discovered ways to modify a couple of poses I'd been struggling to do correctly in ways that moved me closer to the pose I wanted to do. The variations and the illustrations are helpful. He even offers a pronunciation guide for the poses Sanskrit names. I enjoyed this book. In spite of it's length, it's a fairly quick read as much of the book is made up of photos. I think this is a book anyone who practices yoga would find value in. It's the kind of book I'll keep on my shelves as a reference book for whenever I'm struggling with a pose.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Sometimes a book comes along that makes you re-think your very existence, your history, everything you think you know about your place in the world. An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz raised all those questions in my heart, mind, and soul. An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States made me look at every history class I've ever taken through a different lens. Dunbar-Ortiz writes an engaging history that reminds us that whenever we declare people "enemy" we often strip them of their humanity in order to justify our own horrendous actions, from internment camps to genocide, while writing ourselves simultaneously as the victims and the heroes. I wish I had the power to make An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States required reading, but I'll have to settle for recommending it to everyone I know and even people I don't know.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Leaves of Grass (1855 Edition) by Walt Whitman

I'm not sure what I expected when I started reading Leaves of Grass (1855 Edition) by Walt Whitman, but I found myself surprised as I read. His language was reflective of his time but felt a bit unrefined in places, which at times was refreshing and at others uncomfortable. His prejudices, in line with the times in which he lived, shined forth in some passages. His use of imagery and language to express the nature of life and living offers a sense of connection and contradiction that pushed me to think and to feel connected to the world he described even when I resisted. Whitman observed and recorded the world around him in a way that gives the reader a glimpse into that world as he saw it and moved through it in Leaves of Grass.