Four New Books for September

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I’ve been catching up on reading the past few weeks while getting over Covid. If you are a friend on Goodreads, you can see that I’m on target to complete my reading goal for the year, which brings this bookworm a whole lot of joy. I’m also reading way too many books at a time, but that is my style. A few years ago, I took a quiz on reading styles and my results were that I was a promiscuous reader. I’d rather say I’m an unrestricted reader. I can do whatever I want in my reading life, so I do!

Since I had several e-galleys that were waiting to be read and reviewed on NetGalley, Goodreads, and Amazon, I got comfortable with my Kindle, cups of tea, piles of blankets, and read through a virtual stack of books. And these are four that are worth telling you about, so here they are:

Daily Creative: A Practical Guide for Staying Prolific, Brilliant, and Healthy is a reader with an entry for every day of the year. Each entry begins with a short passage sure to inspire and encourage, and ends with a question for clarity, focus, reflection, and as a source of intention setting and challenge. Stephen Covey wrote about “sharpening the saw” as one of his highly effective habits, and starting each day with this book would be an easy way to practice this habit. Daily Creative would make a wonderful gift for entrepreneurs, artists of all kinds, and small business owners.

At the Breakfast Table by Defne Suman evokes the sparkling, bright Turkish sunshine, the fragrance of coffee, fruit, and fresh bread, and mesmerizes with the fascinating and complicated characters who make up this story.
Nur, Fikret, and Celine come to Shirin’s house to celebrate her 100th birthday. She is Nur and Fikret’s grandmother, and Celine’s great-grandmother, as well as a famous artist. There is also Burak, Nur’s on-again off-again lover and friend, and Shirin’s faithful servant, Sadik.

This begins an unboxing of personal and family secrets Shirin has kept close for years, told mostly through painting on her dining room wall.
A beautiful novel; one that will be lovely to read during cold winter months. Highly recommended!

Mark Nepo’s books are sensitive, poetic, deeply thought-provoking, gentle, and spiritually-accessible. Surviving Storms: Finding the Strength the Face Adversity was written for us who are weary and wary in the chaotic twenty-first century world we find ourselves in.

Meant to give us hope, direction, and a place to put our grief and sense of unease, this book provides us with tools for “heartwork” as Nepo calls it. “We need to deepen our roots and solidify our connection to Spirit and all life” he says, so that we can be strong and resilient enough to survive whatever comes our way.

He ends each chapter with a journaling exercise or question and a suggestion for a conversation to have with a friend or family member. I highly recommend this book to those who are spiritual seekers, those in need of comfort and solace, and those who enjoy reflective, self-help books.

The Rising Tide, the tenth Vera Stanhope mystery is just as satisfying as all the previous ones. The murder takes place on Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, off the coast of Northumberland. A group of friends, who have been gathering every five years for 50 years, meet in a house on the island and one of them is dead before morning.
The theme is very much connected to the tides, which cut off the causeway to the island when they come in and allow access to the island as they go out. The timing of the murder is connected to the tide, of course, as well as to a murder that occurred there 50 years ago.
Vera and her team do the thorough police questioning and investigation and close in on the killer who is not above killing again to save themself from being found out. Can Vera get to the murderer in time before they strike again?
The ending is very abrupt and a bit of a shock. Which means there must be an eleventh novel in the works. The Rising Tide is highly recommended for all mystery, British mystery, and Vera fans (of the books or tv series).

If you read any of these, be sure to let me know what you thought in comments!

*Thanks to NetGalley for the free e-galleys in exchange for honest reviews.

Five Non-Fiction Books to Read in March

This month I’m hoping to finish up a few non-fiction books I’m meandering through because my TBR is piled super high. And because I’m soaking in the content and learning a great deal.

Creatrix: She Who Makes by Lucy H. Pearce. The author shares personal stories from her own life as well as the voices of many other creative women. What are the joys, the challenges, the highs and lows of creative living. The exhilarating experiences, the slogging through to finish, finding and making time for creative work in the margins of our busy lives. And I haven’t gotten to it yet, but there’s even a practical section about business and marketing. More when I finish the book!

Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World by Katherine Hayhoe. This book could also be titled ‘How to Talk to the Deniers, Dismissers, and Those Resistant to Reality’. LOL. But seriously, in only the first few chapters, the author gives clear ideas and examples on how to talk to people about planetary peril, climate catastrophe, etc. I look forward to reading the rest of it.

Abundance: The Inner Path to Wealth by Deepak Chopra. With his clear writing, Deepak takes complex concepts and distills them into easy-to-understand and practice principles for living an abundant life. I’ve already had several aha moments. I’m reading through his explanation of the chakra system at the moment and appreciate the way he takes the ‘woo woo’ out of this yogic way of looking at life.

The Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect People + Planet by Leah Thomas. This book has so much to teach us: from the explanation of terminology of words and concepts such as intersectional, to what has happened and what is happening to dismantle systems of oppression, to what we can do. I am learning so much and can’t wait to read the rest of the book.

Kinship: Belonging in a World of Relations, Volume 1: Planet edited by Gavin Van Horn, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and John Hausdoerffer. All I have to do is see Robin Wall Kimmerer’s name anywhere and I immediately have to read it. This is the first volume of a five volume set from the Center For Humans and Nature. Each piece is thoughtful and beautiful and helps the reader understand even more how we are all connected and related and how what we do matters. I am really looking forward to the piece by Kimmerer as well as the one by Drew Lanham in this volume.

Black Cake (A Book Review)

The new novel, Black Cake, by Charmaine Wilkerson unfolded into a much more complexly woven book than I expected. It starts out with two estranged adult siblings, Benny & Byron, who come together to listen to an audio recording their mother Eleanor left for them after her death.

They haven’t been on speaking terms for years and they can’t wait to get through their mother’s funeral and get back to their lives. When their mother’s lawyer sits them down to listen, their mother reveals one hidden layer of her life after another, stunning Byron and Benny with what she tells them. And the secrets they discover about their mother’s life will change their own.

I loved reading about Eleanor, and her friend, Bunny, as they grew up on the island, and about their lives after they left. Eleanor is really the main character and such a rich, unexpected and beautiful person.

I honestly didn’t like Byron or Benny. Byron is 45 years old, but emotionally is like a 25 year old. And Benny is also immature and self-centered. I can’t imagine not answering my mother’s texts or voice messages for years and years, no matter what happened.

There was such a message of regret through the whole book, which to me said very clearly, “Don’t let this happen to your family!” Life is beautiful and brief. Forgive. Move forward. Let stuff go. Be kind. Love your people. You’ll never regret these actions when you’re at a family member’s funeral.

Read Black Cake, enjoy the story, and may you be encouraged toward love and good deeds.

Evening Poetry, February 25

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In Memory of a Happy Day in February
by Anne Brontë

Was it the smile of early spring
That made my bosom glow?
'Twas sweet, but neither sun nor wind
Could raise my spirit so.

Was it some feeling of delight,
All vague and undefined?
No, 'twas a rapture deep and strong,
Expanding in the mind!

You can find this poem in The Collected Poems of the Brontë Sisters.

Elsewhere (A Book Review)

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Elsewhere by Alexis Schaitkin is a fiction feast of horror, fantasy, and mystery. After reading her previous novel, Saint X, it is clear that Schaitkin knows how to convey a strong sense of place and write about disappearances.

The story is told from the perspective of Vera, a woman who grows from childhood to womanhood within a strange, closed community set in the mountains, possibly the Alps. Everything has German-sounding names.

These people are afraid of anything or anyone from “elsewhere”, as they refer to the rest of the world. Not only people, animals too. They’re afraid of the clouds. And they live under an affliction: the mysterious disappearances of mothers. They never know when “the clouds” will take a mother, and they know how to erase her from the community’s memory once she is gone. You can feel the heavy menace of the townsfolk appearing to support mothers, yet completely judging them for every perceived misstep.

Follow Vera from before her mother disappears, till afterward when she lives alone with her father, the troubling relationship with a stranger, Ruth, and then on to her marriage and motherhood. We really feel all the deep emotions that accompany becoming a mother and loving one’s child, the temptation of allowing oneself to be absorbed by, and to lose one’s sense of self, to be replaced by a non-entity that only serves the child.

This is a hauntingly beautiful story of mothers and daughters, of all the phases of becoming, holding on, and letting go that accompany parenthood. I highly recommend that anyone who read or watched ‘The Lost Daughter’ read Elsewhere as well. (Also, as someone married to an illustrator, kudos to Celadon for what appears to be an illustrated rather than a photoshopped cover.) Publishing date is June 28, 2022, so preorder yours wherever you order books.

*I received an Advanced Reading Copy of ‘Elsewhere’ from Celadon Books in exchange for my honest review.

Evening Poetry, February 23

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Today is our third wedding anniversary; this poem honors the day and our love for one another.

 "I loved you first: but afterwards your love"
by Christina Rossetti

I loved you first: but afterwards your love
Outsoaring mine, sang such a loftier song
As drowned the friendly cooings of my dove.
Which owes the other most? my love was long,
And yours one moment seemed to wax more strong;
I loved and guessed at you, you construed me
And loved me for what might or might not be –
Nay, weights and measures do us both a wrong.
For verily love knows not ‘mine’ or ‘thine;’
With separate ‘I’ and ‘thou’ free love has done,
For one is both and both are one in love:
Rich love knows nought of ‘thine that is not mine;’
Both have the strength and both the length thereof,
Both of us, of the love which makes us one.

You can find this poem in The Complete Poems.

Memphis (A Book Review)

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This richly beautiful novel, Memphis, by Tara Stringfellow tells the stories of three generations of Black women living in the South.

It weaves back and forth from the 1930s to the present day to unfold the lives of Hazel, her daughters Miriam and August, and Miriam’s daughter, Joan. (Her younger daughter Mya is a supporting character.)
It opens with Miriam, Joan, and Mya returning to live with her sister August in their mother’s home.

Miriam’s marriage has fallen apart and now she must find a way forward, make a new life for herself and her girls. August has been on her own for many years, raising her troubled son alone, supporting herself with the beauty salon she owns and runs from her basement. Joan is an artist and a dreamer who experienced trauma at age three and hasn’t recovered. And eventually the story winds back to Hazel, how she fell in love and married, and how she carried on after white violence changes her life forever.

One of the assets of this family is the Black community who know and love “the North women” and rally around them whenever they need it. Throughout the book, Black women and men are talked down to, mistreated, abused, and even killed by white people. The only white person the North women consider a friend is the Jewish deli owner.

There are tough circumstances, tragedy, traumas, and hardships but these women each find their strength, lean on one another, and keep living. Through the years, they support themselves, raise their children, reach for their dreams and let some go, lose and find love, and continue to discover truths about themselves and each other.

I highly recommend Memphis to everyone! The release date is March 8, 2022.

*I received a free e-copy from Net Galley in exchange for my honest review.

Our Crooked Hearts (A Book Review)

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Melissa Albert’s new book, Our Crooked Hearts, exceeded my expectations in so many directions. I knew it would be dark, and it is. And twisted. And a story of a mother’s and daughter’s relationship, the love, the mistakes, the ugly and beautiful, and the thread that connects them. This was one I stayed up late reading.

Get ready to be scared and for good reason. Teenage girls dabbling in magic seems like a fairly normal plot, except when the magic is real and overpowers them; when it gives them power to do things that cannot be undone, for better or worse.

The story is about Ivy, a smart, introverted teen who is trying to discover who she is and understand her mother who seems harsh and self-centered and definitely weird. It’s also about her mother’s teen years and how she and her friends got involved with magic that changed their lives forever. The narrative switches between present-day Chicago from Ivy’s POV and the Chicago of twenty years earlier with her mom, Dana, telling the story.

There are some intensely dark and scary scenes, so if you like fantasy and horror YA, you definitely will be thrilled. I highly recommend Our Crooked Hearts! The release date is June 28, 2022; pre-order your copy wherever you purchase books.

*I received a free e-galley from Net Galley in exchange for my honest review.

A Thousand Steps (A Book Review)

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Here is a mystery that takes you back to the late 60s scene in California, with hippies, experimental drugs, bands, VW vans, wild parties, etc. If you dig this era, then you’ll enjoy reading A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker.

Matt is the central character: a teenage boy with an absentee dad and a druggie mom, living by his own wits, working a paper route odd jobs, and fishing and visiting the local food pantry to get enough food to eat. (My mother heart went out to him.)

When Matt’s sister goes missing, no one seems to take it seriously. They assume she went off on her own for some reasons of her own, but Matt believes something has happened to her. He is determined to find her, and doggedly looks for clues and refuses to give up searching until he does.

Along the way, he has run-ins with cops and gangsters, experiences his first tastes of teenage love, works hard to keep himself fed and clothed, and to convince the adults around him that his sister needs their help.

This book felt a bit lengthy, but perhaps that was the author’s intent to portray Matt on a long and sometimes tedious path of sifting through possible evidence for clues (with many frustrating dead ends and false hopes in between) that will lead him to his sister.

Was it worth reading? Yes! It was a fascinating look into the past and a good mystery as well.
If this time period interests you, give A Thousand Steps a read.

*I received a free e-galley from Net Galley in return for my honest review.

The Magic of Found Objects, a book review

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The Magic of Found Objects by Maddie Dawson is a heartwarming tale of a woman becoming herself, of discovering what she really wanted in life, who was important to her. It’s a love story and a family story and I found it captivating

Phronsie grew up with a troubled home life, idolizing her hippie mom who she didn’t get to see, despising her dedicated, caring stepmom who she thought was an interfering control freak, and trying to stay on the good side of her bad-tempered father.

Now a successful career woman in her thirties wanting to settle down and start a family, Phronsie still hasn’t dealt with the pain from her growing up years.

And speaking of settling down, her best friend thinks that since they each haven’t found suitable mates they should marry each other. They do get along so well after all.

Is this what love is supposed to be–comfortable, dependable, stable? Is there more?

Read what Phronsie discovers about true love, parenting, responsibility, following one’s heart, and more in The Magic of Found Objects. Highly recommended!

I received a free e-copy from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.