Versions of the Self

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I’d like to share this amazing book by Christy Birmingham with you. I highly recommend it to men and women, to people who love to read poetry and to people who have never read poetry. To everyone who has ever been filled with doubts or regrets, love and joy.

The poems found in Versions of the Self resonated with me when I read them, and they’re still resonating. There are so many feelings that can be found here, so many relationships, so many selves.

I loved the poems that celebrated freedom and could at times feel my soul soaring along with the words. Then different poems made me stop and think while bringing me back to Earth.

The poem, “Within a Few Feet,” shows the regrets that hold us back and keep us earthbound, all while freedom is only a few feet away in the form of seagulls tempting the author to fly.

Some poems show the gradual process of healing before being able to move on, then we come to, “Made to Write,” where the writer discovers her purpose and “I Stand Here,” showing her growing confidence with this last stanza: “I stand alive,/Healthy and complete, as/My branches extend into fresh air around me.”

We also see the joy of new love and the fear of that love diminishing or disappearing. Questions and disappointments surface, but then there’s always that chance for freedom and soaring again. “You, Colors, and Realization” shows this perfectly after stating “You were once a masterpiece”:

“Today, your colors fall to a wooden floor,/While I run a paintbrush under the kitchen tap/To clean the bristles and/Paint a new day,/Made of colors that I alone choose.”

Anyone who has ever had doubts while in a relationship, and I’m guessing that’s everyone, will find themselves here. Times of insecurity and despair combine with a blooming confidence and an ecstasy for life, giving the reader an overall feeling of positive energy and tingling inspiration.

We see the friendships we form with different people, how we push each other, help each other, inspire each other, and push each other away.

The theme of freedom floats through the pages, and it’s not always meant as freedom from a particular relationship. There’s a stronger sense of freedom from fear, freedom from anything holding you back from what you’re meant to do.

We see this in “Flight Path” with these lines: “You are more than your drenched feathers…You are meant to fly, I know you can, and/It is the moment when you turn can into will/That I will savor the most.”

With all of these poems and inspiring words, we see the bravery it takes to step forward into each day and the exhilaration that’s felt when we leave our fear behind. Everyone who reads this collection will see different versions of herself or himself, the effects we have on each other, and all the energy that can be felt when we find a way to be true to ourselves.

Happy International Women’s Day – and thank you to Christy for your inspirational poems!

How will you be celebrating International Women’s Day?

Thoughts on The Book Thief and Colors

the book thiefI kept hearing about The Book Thief. It stayed on my to-read list for a long time, probably because I’d hear it described like this:

It’s about a little girl living in Nazi Germany. Her family hides a Jewish man in their basement and they become friends. The story is narrated by Death.

I thought it sounded too depressing. Strangely though, it’s not.

That’s the basic story, but it’s also about the survival and growth of love in the harshest environments. It’s about the effects of books on our lives, the power of words, and the importance of friendship and hope. More than that even, it’s about colors.

Markus Zusak paints with words and he doesn’t just paint pictures. He paints feelings into those pictures. His father painted houses and that must have influenced his descriptions because the colors come through in such a vibrant and unique way. A sense of wonder and amazement for life can be felt along with the colors and words.

When I read a book, I want to feel and experience everything. Reading The Book Thief feels like this:


Yes, there’s darkness and sadness in it. But there’s also light and so many glowing colors. And the light does have a way of shining through.

Book Review: The Artemis Effect

I knew right away this would be a novel I’d enjoy. It starts out generally talking about Earth and all the creatures that inhabit it. Then it zooms in on three groups of people from Australia, Britain, and America. We get a brief look into their lives before the introduction states they have no idea that something is about to happen.

The characters from Australia are members of a group called the Society for the Watching for Alien Presences (SWAP). The dialogue is realistic, to the point where their discussions reminded me of conversations I’ve had with my friends. They enjoy each other’s company and joke around a lot, which makes it fun to read.

One of the things I loved about this book is that author Kasia James shows tenuous connections between the characters living on different continents. The characters don’t always recognize these connections, but they are there.

As we get involved in the lives of the characters, the moon begins to change. This has global effects that aren’t noticed at first as people go on with their lives. When communication systems break down, transportation stops, and food isn’t readily available, everyone is forced into making changes in order to survive.

At times The Artemis Effect reminded me of The Stand or Earth Abides and those are some of my favorite books. The Artemis Effect has its own personality though, complete with quirky characters that readers will want to cheer on and keep visiting.

This novel is worth more than the $2.99 Kindle price. It kept me thoroughly entertained and left me wondering what might happen next until the end. A paperback version is due to be published in the future. For more information on author Kasia James, please visit her website at:

Book Review: The Night Circus

The Night Circus is a beautifully written book. From the very beginning, the author invites you into the circus and it feels as if you’re there, breathing in the cotton-candy atmosphere, amazed by all the magic.

Descriptions of wonders like the Cloud Maze, Ice Garden or Wishing Tree will make you want to construct your own creations out in the backyard somehow.

I love how this book shows that creativity can be a collaboration and that people can build off of each other to make each other better. The main characters, Celia and Marco, enter into a vague competition as children. At the heart of this competition is a unique love story. The story illustrates the effects of this love, not only on the characters involved but on everyone they come in contact with and the circus itself, rejuvenating all with the magic love creates.

Yes, this book is heavy on description (something writers are told not to do), but the writing is so lyrical that I ended up enjoying those descriptions possibly more than the actual story. Reading The Night Circus is like indulging in rich chocolate and licking it off your fingers while it oozes uncontrollably everywhere. And that kind of thing is fine with me. In fact, it should happen more often.

There are too few books like this these days, books that pay attention to the sound of the words and sentences. Many don’t bother in favor of the plot. The Night Circus gives us both an exciting story and a beautifully written one while showing that such things, and many others, are still possible.

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Book Review: American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 by H.W. Brands

Just the fact that H.W. Brands attempts to make sense of recent American and world history should earn him accolades. I think he comes as close as anyone can to accomplishing that goal in less than 400 pages.

It’s an extreme overview, but that worked well for me since I read it as research for the 1940s-80s. Many parts were emotional to read, especially the 1960s. These days that time period is romanticized for its hippies and music, yet it was also a time of deep dissension and division. Heroes were gunned down too often. We can’t help but wonder what the world might be like now if people like Martin Luther King, John Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy hadn’t been killed. Those deaths caused a lot of people to retract from the world in a way, or to simply give up. Brands shows this and ties it in well with the history that follows.

It was fun to read about the more recent history that I remember living through like the Cold War and the destruction of the Berlin Wall. The 9/11 tragedy was another emotional event to read about as history. Brands seems to be pretty objective through most of the book, which is always tough to do when discussing politics. At one point, he mentions that President Obama was elected for economic reasons. Dreamer that I am, I believe he was elected for peace.

Near the end, Brands states that an odd inversion in the nature of American dreams occurred between 1945 and the present day. He says, “The dreams of 1945 had been collectively ambitious but individually modest; those of 2010 were collectively modest but individually ambitious.”

While that may be true overall, it’s also very sad whenever a back is turned on the world in favor of individual pursuits. As history continues and the world faces more environmental challenges, I hope we’ll learn that we all share this one world and that we need to take better care of it and each other.