Review: Prayer Seeds

Product DetailsIn Prayer Seeds, Sr. Joyce Rupp has created a beautiful resource for rediscovering and kindling the sacred fire within us all. Drawn from her workshops, retreats, conferences and weekly prayer group, her work is quite simply balm for the soul. Her lovely metaphors bring peace and solace to the readers, while challenging and energizing them to improve themselves and the world at large. Although this book may be best suited to communal prayer, much can be derived from Rupp’s carefully selected readings and her poems and prayers in solitary contemplation as well. Furthermore, her subject matter is wide ranging: Christmas, Lent, birthdays and anniversaries, Mother’s and Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, the spring equinox, labyrinth prayer, the Eucharist, grief and loss, the song of a sparrow, a new year ritual for women, and transitioning to a nursing home are but a few. Something will prove meaningful to most everyone. Finally, Rupp thoughtfully provides a long list of her references for those who may wish to delve deeper into her resources. This book will prove a delightful addition to any spiritual library.

(Reviewed in exchange for a free copy of book through Netgalley.)

Review: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

Product DetailsAt the start of World War II, the women of the small village of Chilbury take the bold move of forming an all-women choir after the men have gone off to war. This novel tells their stories through journal entries and letters as they learn how to survive and even grow with the aid of their music and friendship. From the widow who faces the possible loss of her only son and the young Jewish refugee whose parents and baby brother remain under Nazi threat, to the beautiful, rebellious daughter of an abusive brigadier general and the unscrupulous midwife who will go to extremes to change her life, Jennifer Ryan deftly crafts her novel with unexpected twists that will keep the readers turning pages to find out what happens to these and other characters until the very last page. Furthermore, when readers turn that final page, they may well feel they are leaving old friends. The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is Ryan’s debut novel, and readers will hope more are to follow.

(Reviewed in exchange for a free copy of book through Netgalley.)

Review: The Fifth Petal

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In The Fifth Petal, a young man in Salem, Massachusetts, dies under mysterious circumstances. The woman suspected by the town of the committing the boy’s murder is a mentally unbalanced, former scholar who believes the trees talk to her and a banshee resides within her. This woman is also tied to the unsolved, violent murders of three young women in the 1980’s, who were related to women hanged as witches in the 1600’s. A new sheriff re-opens the unsolved case, believing all four deaths may be connected, while the now-grown girl who witnessed the three women’s murders returns to Salem to understand her past.

Brunonia Barry masterfully crafted this novel. Barry clearly took great care with her research, so this novel has a realistic sense of place and history. Furthermore, although she combines delightful elements of the supernatural, they do not overwhelm the mystery, but complement it. Finally, the mystery itself is solid and will keep readers turning the pages until the very end. The Fifth Petal is the second in a series, and fans of supernatural mysteries will be looking for more books in that series.

(Reviewed in exchange for a free copy of book through Netgalley.)

Review: A Fatal Twist

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In this fourth installment of the Downward Dog Mysteries series, yoga instructor Kate Davidson’s life takes yet another turn toward complete chaos. First, she agrees to play doula to her close friend who is expecting twins any minute, when her partner decides to foster two adorable but endlessly destructive pups who stress Kate’s digestively-challenged German Shepherd, Bella. To make matters worse, Kate’s friend is charged with the murder of her husband, a rather obnoxious, unfaithful fertility doctor.

Award-winning author Tracy Weber writes a solid mystery that will keep the reader guessing until the end. However, what makes Weber’s books so enjoyable is her humor. Kate is not your stereotypical yogini. Instead, she’s trying to find patience just like the rest of us, and she often describes her situation in terms that will have readers chuckling out loud. Furthermore, Kate’s interactions with other characters such as Tiffany, her edgy crime-solving partner with questionable taste in yoga attire, and her pregnant friend, Rene, who has an endless appetite and a subversive desire to avoid anything nutritious, will leave readers smiling while they puzzle through the mystery. A Fatal Twist is a strong addition to an already great mystery series.

(Reviewed in exchange for a free copy of book for Netgalley.)

Review: Marie Ponsot’s Collected Poems

Product DetailsMarie Ponsot published her first volume of poetry in 1956. After a twenty-five-year hiatus, she returned to poetry in 1981 and continues to publish today in her nineties. Thus, her Collected Poems is substantial and difficult to summarize in a limited space. Ponsot often finds inspiration from her life. Subjects vary from the major to the mundane: from her divorce to non-vegetarian cooking, from grief at various loses to bird watching, from a friend’s birthday to burning old papers. She also seems equally at ease with both formal and less strict forms. To all of this, Ponsot brings a strong classical background, a poet’s eye for connections, a delightfully defiant sense of a woman’s place, especially as she ages, but, most of all, an exquisite command of language. Many lines are a joy to read aloud and will remain with the reader. For example, in “Pourriture Noble” or “Noble Rot,” Ponsot takes a refreshing view of aging, concluding: “Age is not / all dry rot. / It’s never too late. / Sweet is your real estate.” Marie Ponsot’s Collected Poems is a testament to a life well lived and an art well practiced.

(Reviewed in exchange for a copy of book for San Francisco Book Review.)

Review: The House on the Edge of Night

Product DetailsIt is difficult to know where to begin in describing Catherine Banner’s truly excellent debut novel. Set on the Mediterranean island of Castellamare and covering almost one-hundred years, The House on the Edge of Night tells the story of four generations as they face world wars, economic collapse, fascism, and the advent of modernity. However, this novel is so much more than that. Night begins when a young doctor with no family arrives on the island in 1914 and begins collecting the stories of its inhabitants. Those stories open each part of the book, lending the character’s stories a mythic quality. As the lives of Esposito, his descendants, and the other islanders unfold over the next several decades, a sort of quiet magic envelops their lives and irresistibly draws the reader in. Furthermore, Banner masterfully imbues the lives of her characters with a sense of continuity in the bonds of family and friendship through the generations despite the hardships they face. Overall, Night is an absolute delight for the reader and should not be missed.

(Reviewed in exchange for a copy of book for Seattle Book Review.)

Review: Artist’s Sketchbook

Product DetailsFor the amateur artist, working from real life may provide a significant challenge. With so many changing variables in a real life situation, working from a photograph seems far less stressful. In her latest book, however, Cathy Johnson not only makes “on the spot” sketching seem possible for the average artist, but strongly preferable.

In Artist’s Sketchbook, Johnson addresses technical aspects of sketching from real life, including supply considerations and issues unique to a variety of different environs. She also provides exercises and informative step-by-step demonstrations throughout the book. Nevertheless, her approach to “on the spot” art is what makes this book so valuable. Johnson explains that working from real life provides a depth and freshness to the end result, which may not be possible with a photograph. This result is unsurprising, as Johnson recommends seeking subjects that speak to the artist’s heart and bringing a deep, abiding curiosity to object or locale. For readers, sketching from real life becomes not a formidable challenge, but a creative opportunity for capturing the beauty of our everyday lives. Those artists who think sketching from real life beyond their ability may suddenly find themselves grabbing their sketch kit and heading for the door.

(Reviewed in exchange for a copy of book for Manhattan Book Review.)

Review: Upstream

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Sometimes, books arrive just when they are needed most. For many, the past few weeks since our Presidential election have been anxious ones filled with uncertainty about the future. Published before the election and without thought to its outcome, Oliver’s essays in Upstream could not have come at a better time. Inside this small book, Oliver shows the reader her world. For a brief moment, the reader walks the forest and coast with Oliver and hears the terrifying cries of the horned owl, marvels at beauty in a fish’s entrails, becomes absorbed in a spider’s life, and chuckles at the prospect of a resident bear. Oliver speaks with eloquence about Emerson, Wordsworth and Whitman, reminding the reader of these troves of wisdom. Maybe most importantly, Oliver embraces with equanimity less pleasant aspects of life: predators eat the turtle’s eggs, the injured gull dies, the town transforms when the economy alters, and Oliver changes with age, but the beauty and strength Oliver finds does not diminish despite those realities. And the same will remain for the reader, whatever the future may bring.

(Reviewed in exchange for a copy of book via Netgalley.)