Jane Rosenberg LaForge’s An Unsuitable Princess weaves a unique combination of fiction and memoir as it tells two stories at once, stories that span the distance between a Renaissance fairy tale and a young woman’s experience coming of age in early-1970s Hollywood. This unusual pairing is achieved through a creative rendering of the book’s format. Foremost is a fantasy story about a mute orphan and her love for a blacksmith’s apprentice; in moments where the fantasy takes particular inspiration from her life, LaForge adds footnotes marked by flowers, which lead the reader into the second part of the book: her true account of young adulthood, Renaissance faires, and the boy who changed her life. As both stories unravel at the same time, the reader is introduced to a new and heady type of literary adventure, one that touches the heart and feeds the imagination.

One would expect, given such a unique style, that An Unsuitable Princess would require some particular skill or endeavoring on the reader’s part in order to best appreciate the book as a whole, but it’s a testament to LaForge’s ability – and perhaps her confidence therein – that the experience of reading this dual narrative feels surprisingly natural. Her alternating accounts are separated from each other by both the clarity of their unique atmospheres and the author’s dedicated tone. In the fantasy, the story of mute orphan Jenny and the young blacksmith Samuel is unraveled in a style that quickly draws the reader into its setting amid Renaissance England. Her characters – from the determined Sir Robert to the imposing Queen Marion – take vivid shape as the story follows Samuel’s determination to survive war and the unknown to be with Jenny. At comfortable and seemingly quite natural transition points, triggered by certain phrases or scenes in the fantasy, we’re brought forward in time to the real-world Laurel Canyon of the author’s childhood and young adult years, where she documents first her adventures in school and life before eventually getting to the heart of the matter, and the stories’ crucial point of relation: a boy named Sam. LaForge recounts their meeting as character volunteers at one of California’s renowned Renaissance faires in the decade when it was known more as a source of bawdy liberation than a family-friendly atmosphere; she explores the experiences they shared before finally resigning herself and her reader to the tragedy that waited at the end of their relationship. In this, the memoir that inspired the fantasy, her narrative is fast-paced and witty, but ultimately profound, infused with pop culture references that bring the world of her memories even more to life.

LaForge handles both the memoir and the fantasy story of An Unsuitable Princess with a caring and intimacy that strikes the reader’s emotions; it is clear in the words, in both the heartrending reality and the blissful imaginings, that the author is baring her deepest, most candid truth to her audience. Her efforts are applied with insight and heart; the combined nuances manifest into a gift as much for her reader, her family, and herself as it is for the memory of an imperfect time and the beauty of a young soul. Through a remarkable execution of prose and memory, LaForge unfolds her tales of fantasy and reality before the reader simultaneously and the result is a beautiful, one-of-a-kind experience.

Title: An Unsuitable Princess
Author: Jane Rosenberg LaForge
Genre: fantasy, memoir
Publisher: Jaded Ibis Press
Release date: April 15, 2014
Source: Book Savvy PR (c/o)
Buy the book: Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound
Connect with the author: Website/Blog | Facebook | Twitter

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First published in 1994, Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird is considered one of the quintessential books for writers. As the subtitle Some Instructions on Writing and Life suggests, Lamott’s narrative breaks down the writing life, guiding students of the craft on the journey to understand what drives our passion by sifting the intricacies of writing through the varying emotions and circumstances we’re apt to come across in our day-to-day lives. In chapters like School Lunches and Index Cards Lamott draws on her habits and experiences to better explain her own unique process, while in the chapter titled Writing a Present she explores the various ways in which her inspiration has taken root somewhere outside of herself. Her characteristic wit is at work throughout her narrative, often turning a darkly comic glance on the harrows we come across in writing and life that can sometimes help to fuel our journey.

While Bird by Bird covers a lot of ground, Lamott’s voice handles the material with a quick and comfortable pace. She has a unique ability to shift from seemingly superfluous stories to some hard-hitting and beautifully honest words of advice; occasionally the asides she takes will require the reader to pay a bit more attention in order to fully appreciate her meaning, while at other times she delivers blatant and profound bits of wisdom without preamble. Her ability to balance the two is one of the significant defining factors of the book, but at the core of its impact is the most basic, most important writing advice Lamott can offer, to her readers as well as to the students in her writing workshops.

Bird by Bird reads quickly and easily, and the reader can be in danger of sometimes zipping through its pages with a little too much casual enjoyment, at the risk of missing some of the book’s most powerful – yet delightfully simple – messages. Although she has a clear understanding for the intellectual science of the art of writing, Lamott’s focus weaves between the deliberate and the philosophical; her chapters on creating honest, in-depth characters and natural dialogue will have the reader fervently scribbling notes (“One line of dialogue that rings true reveals character in a way that pages of description can’t.”) while in other chapters she encourages the reader’s introspection and subjectivity (“Write towards vulnerability.”). When she gets to the most philosophical topics of her instruction, the vital question of why we write, she departs from her humor to offer some of her most heartwarming and thought-provoking words of encouragement. Although these are arguably the little gems – such as, “You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words” – that we as aspiring writers are the most quickly inspired by, throughout Bird by Bird Lamott delves into topics deeply important for writers, exploring them with a sense of wit, charm, and wisdom that will have a lasting resonance within her reader.

Title: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Author: Anne Lamott
Genre: nonfiction, writing
Publisher: Pantheon Books (first edition)
Release date: January 1, 1994
Source: Local Library
Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | BetterWorldBooks
Connect with the author: Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

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Dr. Rajeev Kurapati was standing by a lake in quiet reflection near his Cincinnati workplace when he had the epiphany which eventually led him to write his book. His realization was of a nature that goaded him to explore the idea that self-inquiry, rather than the memorization and ritualization of religion, leads to an even greater and deeper spiritual practice. He believed that the center of all faith could be found within oneself, and that this faith required a dedication to self-awareness as well as a release from the bonds of both social and religious confinement. His book, Unbound Intelligence: Discover the God Within is the result of his journey through self-actualized enlightenment. Throughout his narrative Kurapati explores the essences of God, love, religion, scripture, human nature, the universe and the mind by sifting each topic through a studied lens. Utilizing the worlds of science, history, and spirituality, Kurapati presents a new view of the social and cultural norms we face in our everyday lives, and encourages his readers to see beyond them by looking first within.

Studiously researched, Unbound Intelligence covers much ground with apparent ease, culminating in a brief yet effective history of the nature of humankind. Kurapati’s objective is well achieved through his unique approach, consulting both the spiritual and scientific resources of the world as well as seeking inspiration from philosophers, writers, religious figures, and other great minds throughout time. His use of language is extensive and sophisticated while maintaining a simplicity that balances the expansive topics of his narrative. Throughout his discussion of the many religions and cultures of the world he also manages the challenging task of being impartial while making the case for the theories that have driven him to write this book. Perhaps some of the most fascinating pages of Unbound Intelligence are the ones in which Kurapati explores the history of religion without the typical encumbrance of religious bias; he dives deeply into the natures of Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, unearthing the many similarities among the religions, shining light on the often overlooked circumstances of their differences, and ultimately exploring the many ways in which each religion could inhibit its practitioner from continuing to evolve spiritually along with the cultural and humanistic evolution of the world. While these chapters will lead most meditative readers into the deep reaches of thought and maybe even inspire moments of enlightenment, at their surface they also offer a unique opportunity to understand the basis of each religion in a simple, historical and intellectual context.

Unbound Intelligence is more of a philosophical and spiritual examination than a step-by-step how-to on the subject of self-realization; in this way Kurapati stays true to his motive that spiritual truth requires personal inquiry. The book will inspire many readers into conversation with themselves, arming them with the intellectual preparation for self-discovery. Kurapati also draws on his own experiences, calling up stories of patients from his past that helped him to better understand the ideas he puts forth in his book. In that way Unbound Intelligence becomes a rare and applicable resource for self-actualization, taking at times the shape of a personal account of enlightenment, a philosophical exploration into religion, and a scientific documentation of our spiritual history. The combination results in a deeply thought-provoking and spiritually stimulating book that will encourage readers to unearth the power of individual thinking and remind them of the vital importance of a relationship with oneself.

Title: Unbound Intelligence: Discover the God Within
Author: Rajeev Kurapati, MD
Genre: spirituality, philosophy
Publisher: Pranova Publishing
Release date: January 21, 2014
Source: Rajeev Kurapati (c/o)
Buy the book: Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble
Connect with the author: Website/Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

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Review: Dog Songs by Mary Oliver

by Casee Marie on February 28, 2014 · 0 comments

in Nonfiction, Reviews

Mary Oliver’s poetry dependably lingers on the topics that quicken her heart, which is to say the blessings of the natural world: flowers and field mice, the magic of a bird flying over breaking waves, morning light (and sunsets as well). But the subject she seems to come most alive writing about is certainly dogs. In Dog Songs she compiles thirty-six writings of various styles – poems of differing natures, and one essay – which extol the many beloved virtues of the dogs she’s known and loved. Her writings cross between poignant and joyful, paying homage in full to the history of dogs and to the unique way they have of changing our lives. Alongside her poems are illustrations by John Burgoyne depicting the subjects of her Songs; a collection of pictures rendered in a style that elegantly echoes Oliver’s writing in its surface simplicity and deeper vastness.

From the first poem to the last, Dog Songs rings of Oliver’s very singular magic with poetry and capturing the nature of dogs. One of my favorites was the sad yet hopeful poem Luke’s Junkyard Song which includes the lines, “Listen, a junkyard puppy / Learns quickly how to dream. / Listen, whatever you see and love- / That’s where you are.” Of loss, she handles the sadness of the subject with a lot of truth, something particularly evident in poems like Her Grave. Here Oliver alternates her musings on the past – and on the goodness of dogs in general – with her present, a visit to a beloved dog’s grave. Between showing us the scene of the grave she offers such delightful asides as: “A dog can never tell you what she knows from the / smells of the world, but you know, watching her, / that you know / almost nothing.”

In a way that’s entirely characteristic of her poetic approach to everything in life Oliver goes beyond the now, calling on the prehistoric history of how and who we are. Her application of that insight on the subject of dogs brings her to touch on their ultimate wildness, their connection to wolves and the rough-hewn freedom that has been handed down to them throughout their evolution. It makes for a particularly wonderful bit of imagery, perfectly captured in Dog Talk when “Wolf faces appear in dreams”. I think it’s here that Oliver reaches some of her most passionate writing, when she’s paying tribute, in her way, to the most basic nature of dogs and connecting the past wildness to the present compassion, ultimately achieving the illustration of perfect love as she sees it (on four legs, giving kisses, and probably indulging in some grand mischief).

Dog Songs had been on my reading list – and very highly anticipated – since it was published last year, and despite my high expectations it still didn’t disappoint. I don’t think Mary Oliver knows how to disappoint, and she certainly isn’t going to try when she gets onto this particular subject. With all of her trademark natural beauty, the poems in Dog Songs are a must-have collection for dog lovers with a poetic inclination.

Title: I Always Loved You
Author: Mary Oliver
Genre: poetry
Publisher: The Penguin Press
Release date: October 8, 2013
Source: Local library
Buy the book: Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound
Connect with the author: Website

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