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The 3-Day Effect by Florence Williams (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 3+ hours
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The 3-Day Effect by Florence Williams is a quick look at the effects of being out in nature and how it can “calm” the brain. Cognitive neuroscientist David Strayer, who teaches and conducts research at the University of Utah, found in his studies that creativity increases after three days spent in natural settings and his subjects improved in cognitive testing.

She takes several nature trips with different groups of people. The first group of veterans tackles the obstacles and hardships of nature easily, while the second group of women who have faced abuse in the past have a harder time dealing with nature’s struggles. Williams also takes a trip in Utah with her city friend, who writes about the benefits of city living.

Williams clearly sees the benefits of nature, but the 3-day effect may not have the same impact on everyone. The veterans took to the hikes and time in nature as a way to get some peace from the PTSD they normally experience at home with their friends, family, and others. The second group of women needed a bit of modification to see the benefits of nature, as they lived in fear for many years, reinforcing those fears in the elements was not the best option. One women who had been homeless and lived outside expressed serious concerns about camping outside where wild animals would be. Williams’ friend struggled with some of the hiking and was less than convinced that the effort to reach summits was worth it.

The 3-Day Effect by Florence Williams offers some scientific data and testing, but I wouldn’t call this a scientific study as there are no control groups for comparison and many of the data sets are too small. I also wouldn’t recommend this to people who are likely to take these anecdotal experiences and drop their medications and treatments on a whim without medical advice from a professional. I did find the book interesting to listen to and see how people reacted on the hiking trail and sleeping in nature, as well as how they felt afterward and what effects the stint in nature had on their productivity and real life.

RATING: Tercet

As One Fire Consumes Another by John Sibley Williams

Source: the poet
Paperback, 86 pgs.
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As One Fire Consumes Another by John Sibley Williams, winner of the 2018 Orison Poetry Prize, reminds readers that beneath the ash there is enough to rebuild life. Amidst the darkness present in a society tearing itself apart, there are flashes of hope within the flames. Even the cover with its words made of matchsticks is a prime example of the fuel that sets this book afire.

Sundogs (pg. 9)
            For Charlottesville

This isn't how I'm told halos work. 
Two mock suns lighting up the low
horizon, as if competing for grace-
giving, as if at war with each other.
The borders of their brief bodies
converging in one great arc flanking
then eclipsing the real. An imagined
architecture of virtue. A pure white
history. Torchlight flickers & feasts,
flickers & feasts, flickers & feasts. 
Whatever we think they stand for,
the old gods are toppling.

Williams’ words leap off the page just as many of the tragic events in our recent history have from the deaths of immigrant detainees to white power rallies. His collection seeks to tackle some of the biggest fractures in our nation, calling attention to the destruction of our country’s ideals and dreams. “You must have arrived here by/belief, too, searching for something/you could mistake for a life,” says the narrator of “the Detainee Is Granted One Wish.” (pg. 20) It only takes the flick of a match to set it all aflame. The country may seem large and strong, but these poems remind us that it can topple as easily as a house made of matchsticks.

In “No Island Is an Island, & So Forth” (pg. 26), Williams’ narrator reminds us that we cannot cast stones or pass judgment on others without first looking at our own history, our own lives. “When/writing your obituary, make sure to/leave some space for grandfather’s/casual racism.” The poem points to the follies of humanity and its obsession with want. The narrator asks that we look beyond our desires and see how the “want” devastates the world around us and look to be someone better.

As One Fire Consumes Another by John Sibley Williams is a collection that will consume you in fire — a passionate call for change. “My children are learning all wars/begin with belief.” (“Everests,” pg. 38) Let’s break the chain, let’s be better.

RATING: Cinquain

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About the Poet:

John Sibley Williams is the author of As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize, 2019), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, University of Nebraska Press, 2019), Disinheritance, and Controlled Hallucinations. He has also served as editor of two Northwest poetry anthologies, Alive at the Center (Ooligan Press, 2013) and Motionless from the Iron Bridge (barebones books, 2013). A nineteen-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Laux/Millar Prize, Wabash Prize, Philip Booth Award, American Literary Review Poetry Contest, Phyllis Smart-Young Prize, The 46er Prize, Nancy D. Hargrove Editors’ Prize, Confrontation Poetry Prize, and Vallum Award for Poetry. He serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and works as a teacher and literary agent. Previous publishing credits include: Yale Review, Midwest Quarterly, Southern Review, Colorado Review, Sycamore Review, Prairie Schooner, Massachusetts Review, Poet Lore, Saranac Review, Atlanta Review, TriQuarterly, Columbia Poetry Review, Mid-American Review, Poetry Northwest, Third Coast, and various anthologies.

Killer by Nature by Jan Smith (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 4+ hrs.
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Are serial killers born or made? That’s one of the questions that emerges throughout the narrative of Killer by Nature by Jan Smith, narrated by Angela Griffin, Robert James-Collier, Katherine Kelly, Will Mellor, and Thomas Turgoose. This audible original drama reminded me of the old radio shows my dad and grandfather used to talk about. In this audio drama, Dr. Diane Buckley is a forensic psychologist sent to interview Alfred Dinklage, “The Playground Killer” when a series of similar murders occur while he’s behind bars. Can this killer walk through prison walls or is there a copycat striving to finish the serial killer’s work.

Dinklage is seriously creepy and can make you shiver with any nursery rhyme he utters. In her one-on-one sessions with Dinklage, Dr. Buckley must sift through the manipulations and lies to find the truth and help the police find their suspect before more murders are committed. Meanwhile, life at home is no picnic with a teenage daughter acting out at school and home, leaving little room for calm. Buckley has her hands full.

The killer is creepy throughout until the end when he appears more sympathetic, but in many ways, this is how psychologists can disarm psychotic killers — finding what button to push to either turn themselves in or do what the police want them to do. Dr. Buckley is very clinical until the end, and I fear there are layers of her character that are not addressed in this short episode. She clearly has things in her past that are not dealt with properly in this short production. It would be good to see her and her family in a longer production, even with Inspector Winterman, who also has some things in his past to deal with. These characters are too multilayered to be dealt with in such a short production, which is why the audio focuses on the search for the killer.

One complaint is that in the middle of chapters the narration repeats the title and author of the book, which can break up the narrative and take the reader out of the tense suspense. It was quite obnoxious. I’m not sure why Audible would go that route, but in future audiobooks of this nature, I hope they don’t repeat it.

Killer by Nature by Jan Smith, narrated by Angela Griffin, Robert James-Collier, Katherine Kelly, Will Mellor, and Thomas Turgoose, is suspenseful, but a bit predictable. However, the production is well rendered with music, sound effects, and splendid voice actors.

RATING: Quatrain

Nanopedia by Charles Jensen

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 73 pgs.
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Nanopedia by Charles Jensen is the poetry collection you’ve been waiting for all year — or at least I have. Jensen takes a keen look at the America we live in today and examines its past through a different lens. He picks apart the facade of American life, whether as a gay man looking for love in all the wrong places or the search for identity and place in a social structure that demeans us, as it does with millennials. All of these prose poems taken together demonstrate the fractured nature of American society. Beneath the surface of American bravery and diversity are the fissures brought bigotry, classism, and self-hatred.

“Modern Art” (pg. 19)

Absence is a bomb that detonates inward.

Jensen’s lines and his sort poems are like an explosion that obliterates broad perceptions of America. Americans who search for validation in the acquisition of things, Americans who dislike babies but cannot say so, and so many more will be found in this collection. The poems ask for self-reflection and provide it whether the reader is willing to participate or not. The collection is more than short reference entries about American present and past. It’s a mirror of our foibles and hardships — a reflection of things we want to change but are ultimately so hard to change, making it a doubly frustrating and perhaps unattainable.

A powerful collection in which politics and the political landscape are hovering in the background but never quite rise to the surface of these lives, but it is there, waiting to insert itself in every conversation, every look, every moment to muddy the waters even further.

Nanopedia by Charles Jensen uses prose poems to examine the American life whether at a distance or in its most intimate setting between two lovers. His poems reach into the darkness to reveal a tragic comedy of errors, an American history that continues to write and rewrite itself.

RATING: Cinquain

Treading the Uneven Road by L.M. Brown

Source: the author
Paperback, 190 pgs.
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Treading the Uneven Road by L.M. Brown is a collection of short stories set in Ireland with a cast of characters who are like little puzzles to solve. Their lives have not gone as planned and it is how they adapt (or don’t) to changes and bumps in the road that make them so puzzling. Brown also has adeptly created a collection of stories in which characters from one may be connected to those in another. Even as we follow these characters, readers come to realize that where they come from — a tiny village bypassed by progress — is slowly dying. This dying town weighs heavily on these stories and is a character who motivates Brown’s protagonists or forces them to take action.

From “The Lady on the Bridge”

“She felt the same keen nervousness reaching for her husband’s book as she did with the thought of the flooding.” (pg. 1)

“A dark cloud had spread in her chest but she didn’t know why.” (pg. 12)

Like “The Lady on the Bridge,” readers are swept away by the emotion of Brown’s stories — a woman whose husband has a gay lover, a man whose child dies, a brother who has become an anchor, a dyslexic man who seeks revenge on a former teacher, and so many more. Each character is larger than life, living big emotions and trying to bury them beneath the surface. These emotions can bubble to the surface at any time, and they often do. The narration lulls you into a trance as Brown navigates this small town and its cast of characters, but this trance is filled with tension, as she weaves her tales and surprises so seamlessly. The connections between the characters are not always obvious, and some are startling.

Much like the uneven gravel roads of small town Irish living, these characters must learn to cope with their loves, the bumps in the road, and the low hanging clouds obscuring their view. Readers will enjoy the different perspectives provided by some characters of the same person. It is true that you can never know everything about someone, even the ones you are most intimate with.

Masterfully crafted short stories with a multitude of perspectives about a dying town’s small-town life. Don’t miss out on Treading the Uneven Road by L.M. Brown.

RATING: Cinquain

An Everyday Thing by Nancy Richardson

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 57 pgs.
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An Everyday Thing by Nancy Richardson explores what happens in the every day when there is an intersection of politics and society. Many of these based in Ohio or Kent State examine the unimaginable — what happens when guns go off and students are shot or what happens when feelings unexpectedly change and so much more. Richardson’s collection juxtaposes the unthinkable with the idea that it is just an every day thing. It can happen at any time.

The collection’s cover offers the chaotic mess of these events coupled with the symmetry of a square (the intersection) with a focal point in red (is this the blood spilled? or the harm left behind?). Richardson’s verse is peppered with lyrics and notes from trials, and so much more. Providing readers with a lot of food for thought. She explores the nature of Ohio and politics, socioeconomic issues that still create tense relationships, exposing emotional vulnerability. So many links in the chains of these poems. “The words were linked//like small blue train cars, silent, unmoving on their tracks./That’s the trouble with scripts, words chained to one another.//” (from “Transaction” p. 25)

An Everyday Thing by Nancy Richardson is a collection chock full of connections that are begging to be explored. By turns a dark look at the underbelly of America’s history and looks at hopeful moments, Richardson explores blue collar worlds, deep relationships, sadness, and hope that things can change for the better.

RATING: Cinquain

For more opinions, check out the Poetic Book Tours blog tour for the book.

A Mind of Her Own by Paula McLain (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 1+ hrs.
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A Mind of Her Own by Paula McLain, narrated by Hillary Huber, is a short introduction to Marie Skłodowska, who later marries Pierre Curie, and becomes one of the most famous physicists and chemists of our time. McLain introduces us to a young Marie, who has made it to France to study at the Sorbonne — one of the only women in the sciences. She faces a great deal of criticism from male students who feel she does not belong there, but she also finds that there are those who are willing to help her and believe in her education and work.

This story is relatively short, but it provides a sketch of Curie’s determination and persistence, but also how dealing with prejudice on a daily basis can skew our perceptions of other people’s intentions, particularly those people who actually support us. McLain delves lightly into the subject of overcoming these internal biases to see the good in front of us.

The narration was good, though I felt there was little emotion in the narration. Perhaps due to Curie’s character and her scientific manner, but I would have liked a bit more emotion.

A Mind of Her Own by Paula McLain should be its own novel. Curie is a fascinating woman of science who had to overcome a lot and who suffered a great deal for her discoveries. My one complaint is that it should have been a full-length novel.

Rating: Quatrain

Lucky Suit by Lauren Blakely (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 2+ hrs.
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Lucky Suit by Lauren Blakely, narrated by Zachary Webber and Andi Arndt, is a quick listen high on humor and romance. Think Hallmark movie with witty dialogue and flirting. Kristen Leonard has had it with blind dates and looking for love in all the wrong places, but her gramma won’t hear it. She thinks there’s a guy out there for her scientific wiz grandkid and she won’t stop until he’s found. There’s just one kink in the chain, Kristen has decided to place her fate in the hands of internet algorithms and data.

Cameron whisks into town to his uncle’s car auction to visit while in Miami on business. Little does he know that a hot little lady is interested in him and the cars — the cars for herself and him for her granddaughter.

Lucky Suit by Lauren Blakely, narrated by Zachary Webber and Andi Arndt, is a hot little read with playful dialogue, flirtation, and a lightheartedness I needed.  It had me smiling every time Kristen and Cameron were chatting away.  Her grandmother is a fiery one too, and there is no end to the witticisms involving science. Looking for a fun read to relax with, this is for you. I was smitten with these characters and I might just check out Blakely’s longer works when I need another pick-me-up.

RATING: Cinquain

Make This! Building, Thinking, and Tinkering Projects for the Amazing Maker in You by Ella Schwartz

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 160 pgs.
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Make This! Building, Thinking, and Tinkering Projects for the Amazing Maker in You by Ella Schwartz is a magazine quality book chock full of experiments for kids to do with one another or with a supervising parent over spring break or summer break from school. This allows kids to learn how to create functioning items out of recyclable materials and repurpose them. It has been a delight to watch our daughter choose a project and run with it.

My daughter made the solar oven mostly on her own over spring break, but our weather was uncooperative most of the time for her to see it in action making s’mores. Once she was back at school, we had a sunny day so I put the solar oven outside for her. The chocolate on the s’mores did start to glisten and look a bit melted, but unfortunately, her pencil that held the foil at an angle kept blowing open, making it hard for the heat to be sustained and actually make the s’mores.

Since initially getting this review ready, my daughter spent some more time with the book and picked out a project she was confident in tackling on her own. She was on a break from electronics on a rainy day, and this one fit the bill. She built her own catapult.

Not too many supplies were needed, and she even let me take a video of her trying it out. There were several takes in making this video, but she was happy with this one.

Make This! Building, Thinking, and Tinkering Projects for the Amazing Maker in You by Ella Schwartz is a book that every inquisitive kid should have at home. I’m sure we’ll be using this one again and again, especially when I hear the phrase, “Mom, I’m so bored.” She needs direction now and this book will get her active and creative at the same time.

 

RATING: Cinquain

Mrs. Rossi’s Dream by Khanh Ha

Source: Premier Virtual Author Book Tours
Paperback, 312 pgs.
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Mrs. Rossi’s Dream by Khanh Ha is a tale of enduring love, nearly senseless sacrifice, and a war that not only divided a country and its people, but also cut a great number of lives short. Le Giang is a North Vietnamese man who defected during the Vietnam War, who works at an inn doing odd jobs, driving tourists, and more. His story is woven together with Catherine Rossi and her search for the resting place of her son Nicola. Rossi’s son, who served during the Vietnam War between 1966 and 1967, died in battle and all she has left of him is a young Vietnamese daughter she adopted and his letters. Ha carefully shifts from the current story in 1987 (20 years after Rossi died in the war and 10 years after Le was imprisoned for defecting) to the letters from Rossi’s son and the memories Le shares with Rossi’s adopted daughter and Rossi herself.

“You can’t tell a Vietnamese skull from an American skull.” (pg. 158)

Until Mrs. Rossi arrives, Le is content in the life he leads and the job he has at the inn, dealing very little with the life he had before. He is forced to look on that life and come to terms with not only his own sacrifices, but also the ultimate tragedy of war — no one is innocent and no one is not touched by its bloodshed.

Through the Mekong Delta and the U Minh forest, Ha’s characters travel inside, outside, and alongside the horrors of war — the most gruesome things imaginable, including the burning flesh after a napalm attack. These images stay with the reader throughout out Rossi and Le’s journey to the River of White Water Lilies. The river becomes a mythical piece in which the characters must cross over in order to make peace with the war and the role they played in it and on the outside of fit. The ghosts of lost soldiers, innocents, and others are within the ripples waiting for a moment to reach out and be heard.

Mrs. Rossi’s Dream by Khanh Ha is less atmospheric and dream-like as I’ve come to expect from Ha’s work. This does not detract from the ability of Ha to craft a multi-layered story that leaves a lasting impression. The Vietnam War was a complicated war tactically, politically, and socially not only for American soldiers (as many other books will attest) but also for those who live in Vietnam. Some families found themselves torn apart, others saw sons leave for war and never return, and many soldiers were conscripted against their desires or beliefs and had little to do but fight for their own survival (sometimes an endeavor in futility). Ha is one of the best writers in this genre and his novels always leave the reader with a great deal to think about — especially when it comes to American preconceptions about the Vietnam War. I never say “no” to reading Ha’s books, and this, his third, is the best yet.

RATING: Cinquain

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About the Author:

Khanh Ha is the author of Flesh (Black Heron Press) and The Demon Who Peddled Longing (Underground Voices). He is a seven-time Pushcart nominee, a Best Indie Lit New England nominee, twice a finalist of The William Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Award, and the recipient of Sand Hills Prize for Best Fiction, and Greensboro Review’s Robert Watson Literary Prize in fiction. The Demon Who Peddled Longing was honored by Shelf Unbound as a Notable Indie Book. Ha graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

Have a Nice Day by Billy Crystal (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 1+ hours
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Have a Nice Day by Billy Crystal is another Audible original that will delight listeners. The comedy begins at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., but the subject is at once unexpected and humorous. With Kevin Cline, Annette Benning, and so many others (including a star from Moana), the anonymous and unexpected nature of death is explored through humor and ridiculous situations in the public eye, as President David Murray appears to be losing his mind as he talks to himself in grocery stores, etc. Even as his conversations appear one-sided, he actually spends a great deal of time speaking to the anonymous grim reaper (Billy Crystal) and coaching him on how to be a good angel of death.

Even though there are twists in the story, which I found a bit predictable, I laughed a number of times while listening to this comedic story. It’s a tale of humor, but also demonstrates how we never know when death comes for us and we should live our lives with purpose and be sure things are in order before the angel of death does come. There are no second chances or do-overs for most of us.

Have a Nice Day by Billy Crystal was a delightful surprise. With the award winning cast, it should not have been. Aesop in comedic form.

RATING: Quatrain

Patti Smith at the Minetta Lane by Patti Smith (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 1+ hours
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Patti Smith at the Minetta Lane by Patti Smith is an Audible original that mixes  Smith’s memoirs, poetry, and music into one live performance. In spoken-word style and deadpan tone, Smith takes listeners on a journey into her creative life where they will meet Robert Mapplethorpe, Allen Ginsberg, and so many others. She talks about her early nomad days in New York and the freedom it afforded her, but also the deep hunger for food she couldn’t afford. Working to feed her belly became an early goal.

Her children, Jackson and Jesse Paris Smith, accompany her performance as well, making this a delightful family affair. Even though I’ve read her memoirs, I really loved hearing them spoken aloud in her own words and accompanied by her music. It creates an intimate portrait of the singer and writer. Patti Smith at the Minetta Lane by Patti Smith is a great addition to her memoirs on the shelf and the music in your ears.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Patti Smith is a writer, performer, and visual artist. She gained recognition in the 1970s for her revolutionary merging of poetry and rock. She has released twelve albums, including Horses, which has been hailed as one of the top one hundred debut albums of all time by Rolling Stone.