The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The day that Daniel’s father took him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books changed the course of history for more than one person. That was the day that Daniel Sempere lay to claim the last unburnt copy of The Shadow of the Wind written by an obscure author with the name of Julian Carax. 

Set in Barcelona immediately after the Francoist dictatorship, this novel of intrigue and suspense will carry you away with its precise descriptions and well-developed characters as Daniel sets out to unravel the mystery of Julian Carax, formerly from Spain who published poorly sold books in Spanish from Paris.

Along with eccentric book lover Gustavo Barcelo and beggar turned secret agent Fermin Romero de Torres, Daniel searches for clues and stumbles upon intersecting histories that include Don Federico the watchmaker, who every now and then dons a diva costume and performs at an underground variety show in drag, Clara, the lovely, blind daughter of Gustavo who steals Daniel’s heart and the notorious giggling Inspector Fumero. 

The Shadow of the Wind doesn’t hold back on romance either. From the tragic story of Daniel’s widowed father to the heedless entanglements of Daniel’s own love life, there are overlapping stories of unrequited love, forbidden love, and eternal love with catastrophic results. 

I must warn you that the complexity of the story and the formal Spanish tone and vocabulary choices mean this isn’t a light beach read even in translation. You may need to take a break every now and then to wrap your head around the mystery or ponder the clues. However, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (not the one by Julian Carax) was one of the best romantic mystery novels that I’ve read in quite some time. 

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

Did you ever wonder what sort of work went into creating the Oxford English Dictionary, complied a century before computers were invented? The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester is the chronicle of that Herculean task by two men one of whom was a patient at the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, the other attached to the London Philological Society. 

Each chapter begins with a definition taken from the dictionary itself that introduces a theme found therein. The intertwining stories of how these two men devoted themselves to creating such a comprehensive list of words in an attempt to define all the terms in the English language is quite an incredible tale. All in all, it took more than seventy years to complete the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary composed of more than half a million words. 

The fascinating biographies of Dr. James Murray and Dr. W. C. Minor, whose lives have both been lost to obscurity, will keep you turning the pages of this unique book. It isn’t necessarily an easy read, however. After all, there are all those words that go into the making of a dictionary. But if you enjoy little-known facts, word origins, and an interesting storyline, then The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester is a book you should pick up.

Sustainability for the Rest of Us: Your No-Bullshit Five-point Plan for Saving the Planet by John Pabon

I had a self-serving reason to pick Sustainability for the Rest of Us: Your No-Bullshit Five-point Plan for Saving the Planet by John Pabon up to read. I want to be sustainable. I want to save the planet. I’ve made efforts over time to reduce my carbon footprint, but it never seemed like enough. I hoped that the author would finally provide me with some additional clues on where my efforts could be better expended. 

In the beginning, I believed that I had made an error in judgment. This wasn’t the book for me, after all. Not only does Mr. Pabon declare that “this idea that you can be the change you want to see in this world is nonsense,” but he goes on to poke fun at the environmentally conscious, calling them “greenies.” Then he talks about how no one in their right mind would give up their smartphone and car and live off-grid. Hmm, well, since I don’t have a smartphone or car and do, in fact, live off-grid, perhaps I am not in my right mind. Or maybe I’m an anomaly. Or probably Mr. Pabon is making generalizations here.

Regardless, I thought I’d keep going despite being insulted to my face since the book promised so much. Fortunately, the next few chapters were well-researched and refrained from name-calling. Well, I guess that isn’t true since point number three was, “Don’t be a Dick.” Of course, I didn’t feel like I was doing the dicky things highlighted in that chapter, so it wasn’t offensive to me anyway.

Although you probably have figured it out already from the title, there isn’t a lot of pussy-footing around the topic of sustainability in this book. From declaring that China is now in the forefront of the green revolution to berating Prince Henry as being far from environmentally conscious when he takes his private jet to summits even if he isn’t wearing any shoes at the podium, it was interesting to see our that “heroes” have feet of clay after all.

Complicated environmental issues were broken down into easily digestible segments, and the down-to-earth commentary wasn’t as abrasive at it first seemed. I would suggest that the author learn when to use an apostrophe and when just to add an -s to nouns, but I’m an English teacher, so I notice that sort of repeated grammar error.

The section that appealed to me most was on how to be a pragmatic altruist. It’s true that the methods in the past are not effective in enacting real change. A pragmatic altruist will thus find a different way to participate in the climate revolution. I also found the afterward “Sustainability in the Time of Coronavirus” to be an interesting addition to the climate change discussion. 

All-in-all, Sustainability for the Rest of Us: Your No-Bullshit Five-point Plan for Saving the Planet by John Pabon provided quite a bit of food for thought about my future actions. If you’ve any interest in saving our planet, then I would recommend you pick up a copy of this book too.

I received an ARC from Reedsy Discovery. You can read my review here.

Intentionally Becoming Different: Coach yourself by Alexander Trost

If you are like me, you are always looking for ways to make your life better. I don’t mean career-wise, although that is important. I don’t mean improving relationships, even though that too is essential. I mean improving myself. If I can improve myself, all other aspects of my life will naturally follow. I believe that so much I even chose the word “improve” as my single focus for this year. 

Intentionally Becoming Different by Alexander Trost provided “provocative statements, transformational quotes, and guided exercises” to help me improve, well, me. As a lover of word origins, I enjoyed how the author illustrated his points with word syntax. For instance, did you know the world develop is the opposite of envelope. So developing refers to an unfolding. What an amazing visual for the process of self-development–an unfolding of self! 

Another imagery that appealed to me was the idea of our lives being a book. The chapters are our life goals. Our life mission is the title. I don’t know about you, but I want a well-written book as evidence of my life, not some dull or ridiculous storyline. In order to do that, I certainly would want to live an intentional life, wouldn’t you agree?

There were a few things that I thought could have been better explained by the author. He discusses the GROW model accredited to Sir John Whitmore in one chapter. I spent some time contemplating this model only to find out that it wasn’t the coaching method that the rest of the book focused on. Instead, the premise of the self-examination exercises is based on the Wheel of Life. The author says that the concept originates from the Buddist wheel of life. However, I’m not all that familiar with that and had a hard time understanding the connections.

Despite the poor understanding I had of the framework, the chapters were clear, the self-reflection questions were useful, and the application/mind shift activities were enlightening. There were explicit examples to help me formulate my own thoughts throughout. Furthermore, I learned quite a bit about the functioning of my own brain and the mechanical, emotional, and rational parts that make it up both through the informative text and the self-exploration questions. 

This isn’t a book you can read through and voila become the person you always dreamed you’d be. Once you have the tools the author provides, it is up to you to chisel away at your own life to discover the deeper meaning of it. Answers to the self-reflective questions will undoubtedly change as you develop (unfold) and you’ll need to reevaluate where you stand regularly. If you are ready for some hard self-examination and soul-searching, then Intentionally Becoming Different by Alexander Trost is the book for you.

I received an ARC of this book from Reedsy Discovery. You can read my review here.

Finding Happiness After COVID-19 by Pam and Peter Keevil

Self-quarantining has taken a lot out of me, as I’ve sure it’s done to you. The ups and downs of new cases, anti-maskers, death rates, and vaccine prognosis keep me from finding any sort of equilibrium on a daily basis. When I saw Finding Happiness After COVID-19 by Pam and Peter Keevil, I decided that it might be just what I needed. And, in the end, it certainly was. 

Many of the concepts in the book were familiar ones. I have been working through some CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) courses, after all, this year. However, it really helped to see how these actions and thoughts can be applied to the current pandemic situation, and more particularly, my own life right now. 

Happiness builds on itself. It is reflected in all aspects of our lives. And yet, sometimes, like right now, it’s hard to find even a glimmer of a silver lining in the situation. This book was exactly what I needed to refocus on reframing what I have now as being enough instead of focusing on what I can’t have just now. 

Since happiness is subjective, I can’t say which sections will resonate with you personally. However, I can say that you’ll have plenty of useful information with which to rethink your life as you work towards finding happiness after COVID-19. The concepts are clear. The examples are helpful. The self-assessment questions are enlightening.

I recommend Finding Happiness After COVID-19 by Pam and Peter Keevil to everyone struggling with the current global pandemic situation. Really, what have you got to lose?

Survival Tips, Tricks and Traps by Wanda Priday and William Priday

I’ve read dozens of prepper books over the years and found most to belong to the tin foil hat club. That is to say, the authors expect you to subscribe to their conspiracy theories which they go to great lengths to explain before they knuckle down and get to the practical stuff. I was delighted to find that Survival Tips, Tricks and Traps by Wanda Priday and William Priday was not that sort of book. 

Instead, it was chocked full of useful tidbits that you can apply to emergency situations, whatever that may be. In fact, the book is so practical that the last few pages are “firestarter” pages making it the perfect book to tote around on your hunting or camping expeditions, as well as keeping a second copy in your bug-out-bag.  

There are nine chapters that cover fire, water, tools, weapons, navigation and traps. Each chapter gives sensible tips to help you best survive whatever the situation you find yourself in, from a sudden WROL (without rule of law) scenario to a plane crash. 

I totally agree with the thought the authors present that your skills are what will keep you alive in any SHTF situation, not the stockpile of shiny prepper items you have stockpiled in your bunker. To that end, this book isn’t an all inclusive survival book, but tips meant to increase the chances of your survival. It includes some checklists, a few tool suggestions, ways to practice your prepper skills in everyday life, and reams of good advice.

As I mentioned, I’ve read a plethora of prepper books, and am passionate about the practical value of the plant life that surrounds me. However, there were some things mentioned in this book that were completely new to me including the phenomenon of spalting rocks, the versatility of potassium permanganate, and the nutritional value of earthworms among others.

My favorite chapter, if I had to pick one, focused on tools. Did you know you could open a can without a knife or can opener? Or that your walking stick should be taller than you for safety reasons? How about the many uses of inner tubes, towels, condoms, tampons and cigarettes in a survival situation? 

The final chapter on traps is extensive. It details several types of animal traps specific to the type of animal you are hunting and the materials you have on hand, complete with illustrations. I may never need to use that information, but should I find myself in a situation where I do, I’ll certainly be glad I picked up a copy of Survival Tips, Tricks and Traps by Wanda Priday and William Priday.

I received an ARC from Reedsy Discovery. You can read my review here.

Your Next Chapter: Re-Writing Your Life Success Story by Evelyn Watkins

Click on the cover for a preview.

If the summer of 2020 were a book, I’d be tempted to skip ahead. Not much is happening in my life. I haven’t been able to go out and have adventures. Civil unrest, pandemics, looming financial collapse are not pleasant bedtime reading.  

After reading Your Next Chapter: Re-Writing Your Life Success Story by Evelyn Watkins, I realized that I was doing myself a disservice by trying to speed things along. The story will progress at its own pace, and I am responsible for writing the next chapter of my life. There is no time like the present to begin. 

The author urges readers to create a life mission statement. Then to design a life that is true to that statement. It requires careful planning, a vision board, some sacrifices, perhaps some pruning and a whole lot of patience. The alternative is to accept the life you’ve always lived, which is poor consolation when it could be so much more. 

The book contains small but meaningful actions you can take during this planning period in order to create the life you want to live moving forward. This movement for change calls for you to rethink how you perceive failures, deciding what your core values are, and finding a supportive network. 

What are you waiting for? There’s no time like the present to rewrite your next chapter!

The Green Reaper: Memoirs of an Eco-mortician by Elizabeth Fournier

Click on the cover for a preview.

After Elizabeth’s mother died, she became a little obsessed with death. Her Barbies had elaborate funeral processions, and she became the go to girl when a beloved pet needed a proper send-off. Teenage Elizabeth could often be found relaxing in the cemetery or funeral crashing. 

She was in seventh-heaven when she landed a gig as a graveyard caretaker in college. She moved up to the big leagues as an assistant director at a funeral home chain and bought her first hearse she christened Lucrezia. Dealing with the recently departed and their loved ones wasn’t the place she expected to find love, but there it was, in the form of the cremator who worked in the basement.  

The two madcap undertakers took a leap of faith when Elizabeth opened her own eco-friendly funeral home in what was formerly a goat barn in the middle of someplace or other. You’ll adore Elizabeth’s look back at how she developed her green funeral options, despaired at the leaky roof, and gave birth to a fairy child who could talk to the dead, named after the Catholic Patron Saint of Widows and Widowers.

The concept of death has become so sterilized over time that we’ve forgotten how to approach death with respect and awe. We’ve also lost our sense of self, as part of the larger whole. After all, “dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Genesis 3:19 KJV) The author candidly shares the struggles she overcame to bring to life her vision of a proper service and burial unique to each grieving family. You’ll laugh, roll your eyes, and shed a few tears as you read this amazing memoir, The Green Reaper: Memoirs of an Eco-mortician.

Elizabeth Fournier is also the author of The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial.

Click on the cover for a preview.

Significance: How to Refocus your Life on what Matters Most by Paul Hannam

Click on the cover for a preview.

I don’t know about you, but COVID-19 has changed how I am spending my time this year. I wake up some days with determined productivity in mind, only to barely manage the essentials that day. Other days, it just seems pointless to try and get anything done. So when I picked up Significance: How to Refocus your Life on what Matters Most by Paul Hannam I was delighted to find how relevant the information in the book was to our current global situation. 

The author extorts the reader to take this time to reflect on where we are and where we want to be in our personal development and life fulfillment. When restrictions ease and we go back about our business again, it should be with renewed purpose, not despair that we’ve returned to the same old rut. 

Finding significance to our lives doesn’t have to be complicated. We already intuitively know what it is that makes us happy. However, we’ve been conditioned to put that aside, and instead, take up the yoke of employment, marriage, and responsibility. What if we could break free from what no longer serves us? Imagine what we could accomplish!

Because our mortality has been thrust before us like no other time in our lives, it really is the time to reconsider what it means to be fully, wonderfully alive. Significance: How to Refocus your Life on what Matters Most by Paul Hannam can help you do just that.