New Release Review: How To Be Alive

Colin Beavan, How To Be Alive (2016)

How to Be Alive coverWhen I was in high school I took an English class called “Utopia.” After exploring the utopian and dystopian visions of writers from Thomas More to Aldous Huxley to Charlotte Perkins Gilman, our assignment was to create a plan of our own for the “perfect society.” Having heard all our grandiose ideas, our teacher asked if we’d like to hear about her own notion of utopia.

She said that rather than moving to a distant island or making sweeping societal changes, she’d start with her own Seattle neighborhood, by strengthening the ties of community, sharing more and consuming less. Not every house on a street needs its own lawnmower, for example. While not advocating that we throw away the benefits of individualism — not everyone needs to move into the same house — she argued that we can’t create a better world without working together. And who better to work with than the people we already know?

Her idea has stuck with me for all these many years since, as an example of how to create change in the only way we truly can: starting from where we are. And when I read Colin Beavan’s new book How To Be Alive, I recognized exactly the same impulse. Beavan believes that ideas like my English teacher’s are not just nice ideas, but the way to realize our true selves while making the world a better place.

Colin Beavan APHaving taken some rather dramatic action himself — he’s the author of the bestselling book No Impact Man, which chronicles his year of trying to live as lightly on the planet as possible, and founder of the No Impact Project — Beavan has some impressive practical experience in which to ground his ideas. But it’s not necessary to go so far in order to follow in his footsteps. Indeed, the point of this book is to help people take that first step toward change, no matter how small.

Beavan incorporates research, real-life examples, and step-by-step exercises in chapters that touch on all the basic needs of our lives, which include meaning, purpose, and community as well as food, shelter, and transportation. He asks us to rethink the conventional wisdom that’s gotten us into our current mess — that selfishness and competition are the driving forces of human nature — and consider that cooperation and sharing are not only truer ways to realize our highest potential, but also make us happier.

You don’t have to be “alternative.” All that makes you a lifequester is that you actively choose what is authentic to you.

Are you alive to who you really are? Are you awake to the world around you and its needs? Do you do things because they are what everyone else does? Or do you do things because you are awake and conscious and want to do the best by yourself and everyone else?

Most of the information Beavan presents is not new. Some of it is thousands of years old, as all religious and meditative traditions exhort us to remember that we are part of one another and that our truest selves are found through that awareness. It’s his way of combining ancient philosophies, humanist psychology, scientific discoveries, and true stories of people changing their lives and the world that made for a fresh and compelling presentation. Although I wasn’t always enamored of his word choices or casual writing style (I couldn’t call myself a “lifequester” with a straight face), his points were clearly made, well organized, and thought-provoking.

Not all of his suggestions are applicable to my particular situation — it would be pretty difficult for me to go car-free, for example, as I live in a rural area with no public transportation — but this book is not a blueprint to be mindlessly followed. It’s meant as inspiration for each of us to get more creative with our individual lives, to realize how precious and incredible are the opportunities we have just through being here on this planet, and to stop being paralyzed by loneliness and fear. What will happen if a significant number of people take up this challenge? I don’t know, but I do hope we’re going to find out.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to join in their tour for How To Be Alive. Click on the link for more tour stops and information.


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New Release Review and Giveaway: The Wild Girl

Kate Forsyth, The Wild Girl (2013, US edition 2015)

WildGirlOnce upon a time, there was a young girl who fell in love with the boy next door. He was handsome, clever, and kind, but much too poor to think of marriage, and her stern and forbidding father kept her closely guarded. Only after many years of trials and delays were the couple able to marry, and build a happier life together.

This is no fairy tale, but the true story of Dortchen Wild, who became the wife of Wilhelm Grimm, editor with his brother Jakob of the famous German story collection Kinder- und Hausmärchen. While little is known about her — not much more than the bare outline above — out of these scraps of material Kate Forsyth has woven a moving and compelling novel that demonstrates the power of stories to reveal and heal our innermost souls.

For one thing we do know about Dortchen is that she was a storyteller. She told Wilhelm a quarter of the tales included in the first edition of the Grimm collection, although she and other contributors were uncredited and remained largely ignored throughout most of the ensuing reprints and revisions. The brothers wanted to emphasize the roots of the tales in old Germanic tradition, not how they were filtered through the imagination of a nineteen-year-old girl. And while their deep universality and archetypal value have become clear over the past two centuries, it’s still intriguing to wonder what individual experiences might have shaped the stories and their tellers. With so little else to go by, what do Dortchen’s stories tell us about her? They are some of the most beautiful, extraordinary, and puzzling of the whole collection, including the disturbing “Coat of Many Furs,” with its themes of incest, oppression, and silence. Where did they come from, and what happened to the girl who told them?

Without reducing these stories to mere personal allegories, Forsyth imaginatively reconstructs a possible life for Dortchen that is as dark and grim as the tales themselves, but ultimately as uplifting and redemptive. Along the way she also illuminates the place, time, and people that gave them birth, to which I’m embarrassed to say I never gave a thought before. I never considered the plight of the Germanic kingdoms under Napoleonic rule, the fight to preserve their heritage as they were being overrun by French and Russian soldiers, having their young men conscripted into a doomed army, their wealth and resources ruined and lost by puppet kings. I never thought of how determined and brave the Grimm brothers were to keep at their task of preserving stories and poems that many must have thought useless at such a turbulent time, even though they were so poor they could hardly keep body and soul together. And above all, I never wondered who told them these stories, or what gave them their sources of spiritual strength and power.

I’m so glad that Kate Forsyth brought these questions to light, and that in The Wild Girl she has crafted them into such a rich story of love, suffering, and redemption. We may never know most of the objective facts of Dortchen’s life, but for the time of this telling she can live for us again, in a way that is true to the nature and essence of her marvelous tales.

I’m delighted to be able to offer a copy of The Wild Girl courtesy of Thomas Dunne Books. This giveaway will run through July 7 and is open to US entrants age 18 and over. Please use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter, and good luck!

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Author Guest Post: The Lover’s Path

Hard on the heels of the Dante-inspired In a Dark Wood, I had the opportunity to join in the blog tour for The Lover’s Path, which is spreading the word about new electronic editions of a beautiful “illustrated novella of Venice” by author-artist Kris Waldherr. This atmospheric story of forbidden romance is complemented by brief vignettes about lovers throughout history and legend, sensitively portrayed in rich, glowing images. Presented as if it were an artifact from the “Museo di Palazzo Filomela,” with attendant notes, maps, and museum information, it melds history and imagination in a way that will intrigue and delight lovers of Renaissance art and classical mythology.

The original print edition was a deluxe production with removable letters and other tactile features that greatly enhanced the reading experience; the e-book is available in several forms, including from PDF to Kindle to full-color interactive editions. I was curious about how the author found the process of transferring this unique content into a digital form, and pleased that she agreed to share her thoughts. It turns out that to create the e-book, she had to reimagine the whole project — and added much new and unique content in the process. Read on to learn more about her path of design discovery.


The Rebirth of The Lover’s Path by Kris Waldherr

printeditionloverspathOf all my books, The Lover’s Path is one of my favorites. It was also one of my most complex to write, design, and illustrate. The Lover’s Path took a full decade of work before it was finally published in 2005 by Abrams Books as a full color gift book. And now, another decade later, I’m delighted it is finally available as an e-book—a rebirth that almost didn’t happen.

Set in Renaissance Venice, The Lover’s Path was inspired by the true story of a courtesan named Tullia d’Aragona and her younger sister. It included illustrations, artifacts, and love myths from a faux museum called the Museo di Palazzo Filomela. The print book included letters, tarot cards, and other tactile elements. Though I’d obtained digital rights from the publisher in 2012, I couldn’t bring myself to begin work on it. It was too overwhelming. Another road block: the square dimensions of the print book didn’t translate well for e-readers, which are more horizontal of proportion. Was there any way I could make my book more beautiful, more emotionally satisfying, more interactive as an e-book? I couldn’t see how. No matter how exquisitely I designed the digital edition, it wouldn’t be the same.

loverspathdrawingI was about to consign The Lover’s Path to the halls of Beloved Books of Years Past. We’ll always have Venice, I told myself. Then I realized: the best way forward was a new way forward. This eureka moment gave me the creative freedom to treat the digital book as a separate entity from the print. So hooray!

Here’s how The Lover’s Path has been reborn for a new world: Not only does the digital edition sport a lovely new cover, the text has been expanded to flesh out the story. (The text in the original print edition was kept short because of cost—four color books are uber-expensive to produce.) I was also able to add new “artifacts” from the Museo di Palazzo Filomela in an expanded chapter. Coolest of all, the iPad edition even includes interactive graphics and maps.

As a result, I believe the e-book is a much richer, more immersive literary and artistic experience than the print edition, as lovely as it was. However, what pleases me most is that The Lover’s Path is now a living book, which can be updated at will. For example, I plan to record a sound walk in Venice this summer; this will find its way into future multimedia editions.

Now that the e-book edition of The Lover’s Path is here at last, I am so excited to share it with the world. And remember, to truly love another, you must walk along the lover’s path wherever it may lead you.


Kris Waldherr is the author and illustrator of The Lover’s Path: An Illustrated Novella of Venice, which is now available for the first time as an e-book. She is also the author of Doomed Queens: Royal Women Who Met Bad Ends, The Book of Goddesses, and many other books and card decks. Learn more at



New Release Review: In a Dark Wood

Joseph Luzzi, In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love (2015)

Midway through his life’s journey, Joseph Luzzi found himself in a forest of seemingly impenetrable darkness. His pregnant wife, Katherine, had died as the result of a car accident, shortly after delivering their daughter Isabel by emergency caesarean. Unprepared for sudden single fatherhood, Luzzi wrapped himself in grief and in his work as a professor of Italian at Bard College, largely leaving the raising of Isabel to his close-knit Calabrian family. But as he shuttled back and forth between Bard and the childhood home in Rhode Island that he thought he’d left behind for academia, he found that his lifelong study of Dante’s Divine Comedy was speaking to the most urgent questions of his life. Heeding its message, he struggled to lift himself out of hell and into a new understanding of the real meaning of love.

In this memoir of his years of struggling through darkness into the light, structured around the three parts of Dante’s masterpiece (Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso), Luzzi writes with honesty and hard-gained self knowledge. He takes us along on his journey from the self-absorption of hell, through the purgatory of learning to forgive and trust again, and into the acceptance of responsibility that is the gateway to heaven and the only sure foundation for healthy relationships. His style is simple and direct, never pretentious or preachy, and allows us to enter into his story as if hearing it from a close friend. Without attempting to approach the artistic summits of his literary guide, Luzzi adds a humble footnote to the truths of the great epic: yes, this is part of what it means to be human.

Luzzi doesn’t spend as much time on Dante as I expected, based on his title. He chooses a few key moments and characters that provided him with illumination, as well as some aspects of the poet’s life, but most of the narrative has to do with his own experiences, feelings, and thoughts. Given that these do fall into the archetypal pattern of the Commedia, descending into the ultimate pit of suffering as a necessary step toward true integration, the connection is valid enough.

I feel that my own experience has been enlarged through Luzzi’s willingness to articulate both his suffering and his joy, and am grateful that he opened his heart to share these difficult lessons with us.

This is the final stop on the TLC Book Tour for In a Dark Wood. Click on the link for more information on the tour.


Book Blog Tour: Where Have I Been All My Life?

Cheryl Rice, Where Have I Been All My Life? (She Writes Press, 2014)


Today, I’m pleased to be hosting a stop on the blog tour for Where Have I Been All My Life? In this honest and heartfelt memoir, Cheryl Rice takes us along on the difficult road she had to travel after losing her mother to cancer. Attempting to heal herself, she started therapy — and promptly fell desperately in love with her therapist. Now what? Could she learn to give up her addiction to unattainable love, and embrace the love she already had in abundance at home — and most of all, within herself?

This kind of book has to walk the fine line between self-revelation and self-indulgence, but Cheryl, a first-time author, does so gracefully. Her writing is fluent and engaging, and although she claims she never learned how to play as a child, she has a lively sense of humor that helps to bring balance to her reflections on loss and deprivation. This prevents the narrative from becoming maudlin or depressing, and gives a welcome sense of perspective.

Short, non-chronological chapters keep things moving, and I particularly liked the notes and letters that are sprinkled throughout the book: one to her therapist pleading to be allowed to redecorate his office, an offer he wisely refuses; several (never sent) to a friend who suddenly and traumatically cut off their relationship years ago; most poignantly, a “ghostwritten” letter from Cheryl’s mother, giving a picture of her own flawed, needy, but very human nature. We all want to communicate our truths, to be heard and understood by our loved ones; the letter format symbolizes this wish, while also effectively capturing the personality of the writer.

I feel privileged to have met Cheryl Rice through the pages of her book. It seems most suitable that in her career as a speaker and life coach she is trying to help other women to find and express their own truths, and I thank her for sharing her story with all of us.

For more about Cheryl, visit her website; and for more tour stops, click here.

Review copy source: Paperback from TLC Book Tours