Book Review: Journal Sparks

Journal Sparks: Fire Up Your Creativity with Spontaneous Art, Wild Writing, and Inventive ThinkingIn Journal Sparks, Emily Neuburger delivers exactly what she promises. This delightful book simply brims with ideas to fire up the reader’s creativity with “spontaneous art, wild writing, and inventive thinking.” Organized around seven themes, including invention, color and construction, wordsmith, and journal making and hacking, each section uses colorful photographs, illustrations, and guest journalers to provide numerous prompts to spur the reader’s own creativity. For example, Neuburger suggests making a visual record of the day, creating and naming new colors, and creating alphabetical lists of interesting things. As an added bonus, Neuburger includes over ten double-sided, pull-out pages of collage paper and stickers to nudge the reader to begin. However, what makes this book really stand out is Neuburger’s abundant enthusiasm for creative journaling that is so apparent in its pages. That enthusiasm is contagious and will make it hard for the reader to resist trying at least a few of the prompts. For the person who fears the blank page or the experienced journaler looking for new ideas, Journal Sparks is an excellent choice.

(Originally reviewed for Manhattan Book Review.)

Book Review: A Well-Timed Murder

A Well-Timed Murder: An Agnes Lüthi Mystery (Agnes Luthi Mysteries)A well-known watchmaker, Guy Chavanon, dies at a reception at his son’s boarding school from anaphylactic shock resulting from his peanut allergy. Was it just bad luck, or was it murder? Chavanon’s daughter insists her father was murdered because he was an eccentric genius who had made a great discovery. Others argue that Chavanon was mentally unbalanced. Agnes Luthi, barely back on the job from her last case, dives immediately into the intriguing, but tight-knit world of Swiss watchmaking. Alternating between a glamorous trade show and an exclusive private school, Luthi deftly sorts numerous loose ends, while occasionally tangling with her mother in law, dealing with her own grief, and trying not to think about the handsome, wealthy gentlemen who seems to be ever present. In A Well-Timed Murder, Tracee de Hahn has written a well-paced murder mystery in an alluring setting that will keep the reader interested and guessing until the end.

(Originally reviewed through Netgalley.)


Book Review: Merton’s Palace of Nowhere

Merton's Palace of NowhereAs a young contemplative, James Finley had the opportunity to learn under Thomas Merton at the Abbey of Gethsemani. Years later, he shared those insights into Merton’s thinking in his book, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere. Now forty years later, Finley’s work is being reissued, and this book remains as startlingly insightful as it was when first published. Merton was capable of seeing through to the truth of our reality in a way that few us achieve, and Finley’s writing makes that wisdom all the more accessible for us. This small volume, which begins by distinguishing our true and false selves and ends by instructing on the two selves’ ultimate conclusion in death, provides sufficient material for a lifetime of contemplation. Whether revisiting this volume or discovering it for the first time, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere should not be missed by the serious contemplative, lay or otherwise.

(Reviewed through Netgalley.)

365 Somethings Project: Week 7

This will be a short update. I knew these weeks would be hectic, but I still have a bit of progress to report!

1. Ashley Cowl: After spending a considerable amount of time carefully unraveling every stitch because my attempts at corrections failed, I can finally say that I am off to a solid start. Furthermore, given our rather hectic pace, working with yarn can be incredibly soothing.

Ashley Cowl – A New Beginning

2. Rachel Reinert’s Color Workshop: I completed her colorless blender project. I’m learning a great deal about layering colors that I wouldn’t necessarily have thought to mix. Very eye opening. (That said, I’m not happy with this photo. The lighting is terrible, but needs must.)

Using a colorless blender to smooth out Prismacolor pencil

3. WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: This week the challenge topic was “Tour Guide,” and I took a nice shot of Mt. Baring in the Cascades that form the backdrop to our home.

Sometimes, it feels like progress here is so very slow, especially while I’m unraveling a few inches of cowl. Still, I feel that I am learning, and, given the others demands in my life, I’m doing fairly well. So, bring on the next week!

Review: Restore and Rebalance

Product DetailsIn a stressful world, Judith Hanson Lasater gives the gift of deep relaxation through twenty yoga poses. In her book, Lasater provides very detailed instructions for preparing props to support each pose, entering each pose physically and mentally, and exiting each pose. Black and white photos further clarify the instructions to ensure correct postures, although it would probably be beneficial to practice with a partner to check each pose. Special advice for teachers follows each pose as well. In a final section, Lasater offers pose sequences based either on time constraints or particular concerns. Furthermore, a better teacher would be difficult to find, as, among her many accomplishments, Lasater co-founded Yoga Journal magazine and is President Emeritus of the California Yoga Teachers Association. Few would disagree that we live in stressful times, and Restore and Rebalance provides a wonderful antidote.

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.

(Received 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 through Netgalley.)

Review: The Fifth Petal

Product Details

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.

(Review copy received through Netgalley.)

Review: A Fatal Twist

Product Details

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 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 for San Francisco Book Review.)