BILK (2013)*

This experiment failed miserably. I have moved twice since I started the page, did not have tons of time to read, and now I can’t remember what I did read. I’ll still add books here that I love, but I’ll likely forget a bunch of them and well…that’s life. 11/6/14


I’ve never kept track of all the books I’ve read in a year. Inspired by Nina Badzin, I am going to give it a whirl. My New Year’s resolution is to list the books I complete here, write a tiny blurb and then post my review on Amazon. It is a way to to share books I enjoy with my blog readers and give back to authors. A positive exchange of energy.

I never finish books I don’t like,(too many books, too little time)so you won’t find bad reviews here. Also, these are books I am reading in 2013, but not not necessarily released in 2013.

Bring it on! Happy New Year! Happy reading!

*Books I’d Like to Kiss.

1) Even the Stars Look Lonesome by Maya Angelou.

This is not the first time I’ve read this book, but it’s been many years and I am a different person than when I read it last, so it was almost new to me. Reading Even the Stars Look Lonesome feels like being gifted with wisdom from a treasured elder. One story in this collection about one of Dr. Angelou’s marriages that ended, particularly sticks with me. Also, the love with which she writes of her own mother is so very poignant. Her relentlessness in looking at her own truth and the truth of our nation’s history will forever be an inspiration to me. I think it was a very good idea to start the year off reading Dr. Angelou.


2) Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell.

Well, let’s see. I picked this up at the library less than 24 hours ago and I just finished it. That ought to tell you something. It is a gorgeous book. The first line:

It’s an old, old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and so we shared that too.

Caldwell was best friends with Caroline Knapp, author of Drinking: A Love Story. It is a truly courageous story of the bond between two friends making their way in the world on their own terms. And it is the story of unexpected loss. Underlying themes are alcoholism (and becoming sober) and also a love of dogs. I loved this book.


3) The Woman Who Changed Her Brain, by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young. A book about a woman who overcame her own learning disabilities using the principle of neuroplasticity. She developed exercises to help herself and started a school which has now branched out into many school across Canada and the U.S. It was very inspiring and has me looking at how these progams or similar ones might help my own children. See the author’s TED talk here.

4) Brain School, by Howard Eaton. More on the Arrowsmith schools. Many anecdotal case studies of children who have gone through the program. Lots of charts with before and after scores. A wonderful book from an educator’s standpoint. One who was skeptical at first, but now believes in Arrowsmith and runs an Arrowsmith school himself.


5) The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. This novel is beautiful and disturbing at the same time. It is about a girl in California, who is living through a shift in the earth’s rotational system which makes the days accumulate minutes and basically is leading civilization as we know it to its slow end. All this happening amidst the highs and lows of the middle school aged child. The book is poignant. That’s what it is.


6) Miracles Every Day, by Maura Poston Zagrans. How have I lived in Cleveland for over five years and not heard about Dr. Nemeh? He is a medical doctor, (an anesthesiologist turned acupuncturist) who allows himself to be used as a vessel for God’s healing. This is a beautiful love story, not just about about Dr. Nemeh and his wife Kathy, but about Dr. Nemeh’s relationship with God. His unwavering faith is inspiring. His willingness to  follow his calling, and his compassion for those he treats, is all very moving. The story is beautifully written. I loved how seamlessly the author weaves past and present stories back and forth. I feel glad to have come across this book, and to get a glimpse at this beautiful, humble man.


7) The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, by Jan-Philipp Sendker. This book is a beautiful tale of a daughter who was searching for her father who had gone missing. She follows a trail to Burma and finds out about his former life/and love, a discovers a whole part of him she never knew. I don’t want to give too much away, but it is an incredible story. Much of this book is truly breath-taking. Sometimes it would confuse me, because it would be so beautiful, and then there would be a sentence thrown in here or there that seemed like amateur writing. But not very often. I found myself loving it anyway…and forgiving the occasional blip. What moved me most in the book was the love story between a “crippled” woman and a “blind” man. How they each became what the other was missing. The author captured that pure, unconditional, true love, in love, indestructible love that is so very rare. The image of the two together is going to stay with me. When I got to the end of the book, I discovered this was the author’s English language debut, which explains my concerns above. By the end of the book it no longer mattered to me though. I loved the story.


8.  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. This book was recommended by a few different bloggers so I took it out from the library on my Kindle. So super cool that we can do that. Magic! Anyway….I wasn’t so sure about this book. It is not the kind of book I usually read. Wife goes missing. I am not a CSI type of person. But the writing was so engaging, and the book was put together so seamlessly, I got too far in to quit it. And then, it isn’t what you think it is. If you like novels with unexpected twists and turns, and if you are okay with a little raunch, because there is raunch in this. If you like delving into the mind of a sociopath, you will like this book. It’s not the kind of book I read, but I am dying to talk about it with someone. It would be a great book group pick. It really leaves you thinking.


9) Marrying George Clooney by Amy Ferris. I loved this book. Love, loved it. It is about a woman going through menopause, while her mother is going through dementia. It is about insomnia. And it is about the prickly mother/daughter dynamic, and the strong underlying love beneath it. It is hilarious. Laugh out loud, embarrass yourself at the coffee shop hilarious, and then two seconds later, you’ll be embarrassed again, this time crying because it is so poignant. Did I mention I loved it? I did? Good.

(Ferris is co-editor of a powerful anthology called Dancing at the Shame Prom, which I technically read last year, but thought I’d add mention of it here too, just because it’s awesome).


10) Betti on the High Wire by Lisa Railsback. This book was soooooo good. We read it for the book group I facilitate for 10-12 year olds. It tugged at my heartstrings so many times, but not in a sappy sentimental way. It tells the story of Betti, a “leftover” kid, a child from a war torn country. Somehow the author made this really difficult subject matter suitable for reading to children. It has humor and a great story, and yes, sadness and loss, but there is also a thread of human kindness throughout the book. As a writer, I just want to study how Lisa Railsback wove it all together so seamlessly. Seriously, how did she do that? I loved it. Not just for children.

11) The Business of Baby by Jennifer Margulis. I read this because I am going to review it on my blog and I will link to that review here when it goes live, but let me tell you… this is an AWESOME book. I will be giving it to to every pregnant person I know and I will be encouraging EVERYONE to read it. I can’t say enough about it. I believe it is going to be a very important book and will change parenting in the U.S. by encouraging us to question the reasons why we do things. Jennifer’s blog is Sticking my Neck Out, and boy does she do just that in The Business of Baby. Generations of children to come are going to benefit from her bravery and willingness to do so.


12)Like Family by Paula McLain. McLain is author of the knock out hit The Paris Wife.  Like Family is a memoir McLain wrote about growing up with her sisters in a series of foster homes. The situations were different but I felt as I read this that so much of what McLain experienced was also my story. It’s a coming of age story full of abuse and neglect and scrappy survival. I read it because several people had suggested it to me after reading my book. “You have to read Like Family,” they said. And they were right. I had to. I’m glad I did. McLain is a poet, and the way she uses language in the book is so beautiful but she manages to do it in such a down to earth way. I think that takes real skill to pull off. I really loved this book. I have such an affinity for girls/women with a story to tell, and the bravery it takes to tell it.


13) Let the Dogs SpeakPuppies in Training Tell the Story of Canine Companions for Independence. I wrote about this book on my main page here. It is a book by Marianne McKiernan, a woman who raises puppies who are training to be service dogs through CCI. The book is told in the voices of four dogs Marianne has had the joy of helping to raise.


14) Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH. We read this one for our homeschool book club. Even though my kids have been in school for a year, I still facilitate the book club. It is fun to stay in touch with our homeschool friends this way and what a great bunch of kids. Anyway…Mrs. Frisbee was a very sweet book. It is about a mouse who is in need of moving her home, and it is quite an adventure. She has to enlist the help of other creatures and she is brave, all for the love of a sickly son who needs her. She meets some interesting rats along the way, who have been genetically modified and well….I won’t give it away.


15) The Evolution Angel: An Emergency Physician’s Lessons with Death and the Divine by Todd Michael. This book is a memoir about an ER doctor who begins to “hear” and communicate with people who have died. Think, The Long Island Medium in the ER, with the recently deceased, (without the accent). This author goes a little deeper than that, but basically he speaks about death and after-life experiences and meaning of life, etc. It was a fairly easy read, and I think it would be beneficial to read it again. It strikes me as a many layered book with more to be discovered with each read. I enjoyed it.

16) What My Mother Gave Me edited by Elizabeth Benedict. I bought this thinking it would be a Mother’s Day present for my mom, but it didn’t arrive on time and so I just wound up reading it myself. It is a beautiful anthology full of stories about mothers. Some good. Some bad. Some happy. Some not. It left me feeling great compassion for all daughters and mothers. Gorgeous writing throughout. It felt like a book for writers. It wasn’t “light” writing. It contains writerly writing. The takeaway…. it made me feel like the sometimes prickly evolution of my own relationship with my mother is not so tragic or strange, and is even kind of normal. Turns out, it’s complicated for nearly everyone.

16) Healing Back Pain by John Sarno. This doctor believes almost all pack pain is due to repressed emotions. It is an interesting read and had much valuable information. What is annoying about this book and many others like it, is it keeps talking about a “program” but never gets to what the program actually is. So you are left feeling like….it’s all in my head, but with no tools to do anything about it. Chiropractors and back surgeons likely won’t appreciate this book. What I liked about it was that it was reassuring. I, like many, tend to worry about back pain, that it will get worse, that it will be serious, etc. The author says that is back pain’s purpose. To unconsciously have us focus on it so we can avoid focusing on what we are not wanting to deal with. Lighten up Francis is the message of this book, and I appreciated the reminder.


17) The Address of Happiness by David Kirkpatrick. This book, sometimes I didn’t know what to make of it. Some parts made me cry. Made me feel remember that the people I love most, our souls chose to be here in this time space reality, together, continually, learning and growing and most of all loving. Then sometimes my ego would jump in and say, the prose is kind of hokey. Reminding me of what a corny grandpa might say, rhyming, (the vibe of Phil on Modern Family if you know what that means), but with a spiritual bent. And I’d want to write it off, but I couldn’t. And I never had a corny grandpa, and you know what? It’s kind of nice. And the story is so beautiful. It is a very fast read, and it will have you thinking. I admit it. I loved it.  Stephen Simon is going to make it a movie and I am sure it will be beautiful. Amen.


18) We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler.  Extraordinary! I loved this book. The voice of the narrator is so unique. The story is so unique. It reminded me in some ways of a Huck Finn, only because it is teaching through compelling story telling. It is a smart book. It is an incredible story. The writing is exquisite. I don’t want to say much because I don’t want to give it away, but I would recommend not reading the reviews or the jacket before, so as not to spoil it for yourself.


19) The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, by Andrew Sean Greer. Electroshock therapy induced time travel. Many, many moments of pure poetry in this book. Possibilities of tinkering with time, and choices, in other lives we may be leading on other planes. This book is entertaining and nostalgic and makes you think.


20) Songs of the Gorilla Nation, by Dawn Prince-Hughes, Ph.D. This is a book about a woman who grew up with undiagnosed autism. She finds comfort in watching the gorillas in a zoo, and then the gorillas completely change her life. She describes it as… the gorillas showed her how to love and helped her “emerge” from a rather debilitating form of autism to a beautiful (though still very challenging) form of it. They gave her purpose, and led her to her education and a career. In observing them, she learned about human social interaction and shifts took place in her understanding.

This is a really beautiful book. The whole story is so interesting. From the author’s early childhood, to her homeless exotic dancing days, to the moment she meets the gorillas and beyond. It’s all in there and written in a pure voice with seamless transitions.

The respect she has for the gorillas, her true knowing of who they are, is a beautiful soul level thing. Sometimes a book about autism is the last thing an autism mom wants to read. It’s not that we don’t care, but we need a break when we are living it all the time. But this book didn’t make me weary. It helped me understand some things and it opened my heart further. I recognize this author’s beautiful gentle soul. I really do.


21) A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. We listened to this classic on tape during the commute to and from school. I’d never read it as a child. A scientist father gets trapped in a time warp. His children risk everything to save him. Lots of Universal truths in this wonderful book. The main character Meg is an outsider, on a heroic journey. We all loved it.


22) Somewhere in October we read Alice in Wonderland, book on tape in the car during the commute with the kids. It was crazy and lovely as ever. They had not heard it in a full version before. By the time we got to Through the Looking Glass however, we were done and did not finish it.

23)Notching up The Nurtured Heart Approach: If you already have read any of the Nurtured Heart books this is a nice follow up, or it can be read on its own. I loved it. I love this approach to being with children, or with anyone. The concept is: build a person’s inner wealth by noticing what is good about them and telling them. And for particularly difficult children, setting up opportunities to notice what is good about them (because after a time, some of them can have their heels dug in about being bad, and you have to get around that). I love The Nurtured Heart approach so much I sent my son to a school that used the approach for the entire curriculum and I use it with my kids. It’s part of who I am as a parent and I am so grateful that another mom, Kyra, an amazing mom and woman, recommended the first book to me years ago.

24) James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl. The kids absolutely loved this one. They had seen bits and pieces of the movie, but loved the book so much better, which is music to my ears. Usually our rule is to read a book before seeing the movie. The book really fleshed out parts of the movie that didn’t make sense to them. The book, full of silliness and poetry and fun and justice was very entertaining for us on those long drives home from school.

25) Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga, by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper. This book helped me decide to sign up for Yoga Teacher Training. I know personally how transformative and nurturing yoga is. The book gave me the courage to believe there is a need for the kind of non-twenty-something-super-bendy-yoga that I embody, and that I might be able to take my experience as a survivor of trauma and use it to help others. The book also helped me to understand language that might be helpful while working with people who have been through trauma, and it offered up scenarios which opened my heart toward more compassion for fellow travelers on the path of spiritual transformation.

25) Your Soul’s Plan by Robert Schwartz. I just finished this book and it kind of blew my mind. It is about our intention from our non-physical perspective before we come into this world. Why our souls choose the parents we do, why we choose the circumstances that will happen to us, how free-will fits into this type of thing. It is based on readings with mediums so if you are uncomfortable with that, the book might not be for you. The mediums claim there are pre-birth planning sessions, kind of like a chess board, “If you do this, then that…this is how it might play out. If you do this other thing, then things will shift this way….etc.”

If what the book says is true, it takes a whole ‘lotta weight off of my shoulders. If my child was planning on having autism (or some other similar life challenge) before we ever met on this physical plane, and I agreed to be her mother and agreed to the circumstances that would occur so that we could expand together, then I guess I can stop feeling victimized on her behalf, no?

If what is said in this book is true, we truly cannot look at anyone else and judge their situation to be good or bad. Only what the soul intended, as an opportunity to learn and grow. Not karmic punishment by any means, but full-on choice about what they were coming here to do in this life. It is a perspective worth considering.

*The author lives in Cleveland. I found out at the very end. Could have had coffee with him! Dang!



8 Responses to BILK (2013)*

  1. Courtney says:

    I don’t finish books I don’t like either, for the same reason.
    Also, I don’t get the whole, “I hated this book, but I got through to the end, and now I’m going to put up reviews all over the place to tell you just how awful it is” thing. I’d much rather tell you all about things I loved.
    So I have a feeling I’m going to love this new feature of yours.

  2. Carrie Link says:

    Why am I just now seeing this? LOVE that you’re doing it! What a great idea! I am impressed you’ve already read 2 books this year. Like, super impressed!

  3. Laurel says:

    I love this and think I might steal it for my newer blog that’s for my book:) GREAT idea and TQ for sharing! 2 books already! WOW!

  4. I kept track last year on Goodreads and it was fun to review the list at the end of the year. I’m doing it again this year. I read “Let’s Take The Long Road Home” and loved it! I’ll keep checking your list to see what looks good to add to my list! (-:
    Oh, and um, *cough* If you’re interested in a humorous dog book, mine just got published: “Let the Dogs Speak! Puppies in Training Tell the Story of Canine Companions for Independence.” Available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, paperback, Kindle & Nook versions.

  5. Michelle O'Neil says:

    Congrats Marianne! That’s great news!

  6. Tanya Savko says:

    Just noticed this and I love that you’re doing it!

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