Dance in the Meadow by Cathay O. Reta

Dance in the Meadow by Cathay O. Reta
Publisher: Keep Walking Publications
Genre: Contemporary, Inspirational, Non-Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

What do you do when you become widowed, leave your church family of 45 years, retire from your job and move halfway across the country? You get real with yourself. Emerging from a season of loss and the unraveling of every belief and certainty she had so carefully cultivated, Cathay began to sit in conversation with God. With God, not to God. Listening to the still, small voice of her spirit, their conversations went deep and released a well-spring of life and wisdom. These musings will leave you feeling inspired to reflect on your own life and to find answers to questions you didn’t know to ask. They will leave you knowing that you are not alone.

This book took me a while to review because I kept making notes, re-reading certain passages or chapters and brought the book with me on trips. For people who are aghast at readers who mark pages in books, they’d explode because I have chapters, pages and sentences underlined (in pencil) and I have post-it notes sticking out all over the place and weird items being used as bookmarks. I found many references I could relate to in my own life. I found inspiration and experienced more Aha! moments than I expected while reading Cathay O. Reta’s journey with God as she navigated the dark times that followed upon becoming a widow. For the first time, she was defined not by the person she married or the job she had and what she did during it, but as her own person. Thing is, after identifying herself as part of everything outside herself, how does she see herself when all she has is … herself? All good questions.

There are many chapters and sections in the book so at first it might look overwhelming. The chapters are short, like baby-steps on a journey. Each one tackled a perception of self that needed to be torn down and re-written with the focus on how God sees and loves us. There is strength to be gained when we get out of our own way and let the good Lord lead us where we are meant to go. Dance in the Meadow is a year’s journey in the life of the author; what she learned, the internal conversations she had during meditation that led her to self-awareness, and their results. It may sound a bit woo-woo-ish, but meditation is practiced all over the world as part of many religious rituals and practices. The concentration needed to accomplish deep meditation is hard. Our world is inundated with distractions, noise and problems, and they affect the mind to the point it’s as busy as the world. At times, it is almost impossible to shut out. The author found a way to escape from the chaos, but it was not an overnight thing. Again, baby steps.

Elvis Presley was a distraction at one point (I do that kind of thing), the realization that rain isn’t an enemy, it’s adulting that makes it so, and the idea that certain foods weigh you down in unexpected ways (Chapter 25), was eye-opening. In Chapter 27 I learned that clutter isn’t restricted solely to our homes, but our souls and hearts, and is just as distracting and burdensome. What was interesting to me was the explanation of how love works. Not the love we read in romance books, but a healthy, non-commercial, spiritual, and profound love that is hard to put into practice. We’re actually out of touch with its true application in our lives. The author discovers that and more on her relationship journey with God. I even found it fascinating that we really do jump to negative interpretations. When we hear our boss say, I’m going to give you a challenging project, or if you are told, ‘here’s something to challenge you’, our response is most often negative, and we jump into self-protection mode. Yeah, I relate to that. But there’s another way to look at it, and Chapter 31 offers up that way. All I know is, that chapter is me.

There were a few observations and sections I didn’t agree with, some parts I gave the side-eye to, but overall, this book really does deliver an insightful, positive, and uplifting look at healing after the upheaval of becoming a widow after decades of being married and being part of a couple. Healing is not easy or quick, but with the right focus, it can happen.

Dance in the Meadow was a book I savored slowly. It’s going on my keeper shelf, mostly because of all the markings and notes I made, making it a book I’ll revisit for reference and to be reminded of what is and should be important in my life. To remember that I’m loved, not because of anything I’ve done or will do, but just because God loves me, unconditionally, unceasingly, and unswervingly. People can’t help but put conditions on it, whether they realize it or not. This book helped me to remember how it’s supposed to be. I’m glad I read it.

Lion Man: The First and Greatest Black Superhero by Demetrius Sherman

Lion Man: The First and Greatest Black Superhero by Demetrius Sherman
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Non-Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When no Black comic book heroes existed, he battled the most dangerous villains in the world.. He was Lion Man. Discover the fascinating history of African American journalists and cartoonists. Learn why Lion Man was the first and greatest Black superhero.

World War II changed the world in many ways…including when it came to what people expected from superheroes!

One of the many things I learned from this novella was just how much some adults fretted over comic strips in the 1940s. There were fears that children would prefer this style of entertainment over reading novels, so some parents tried to discourage their kids from picking up comic strips at all. I have seen some modern parents share similar concerns about what their children are reading and whether graphic novels should be counted as reading time at all. The solution to this dilemma that Evans came up with made a great deal of sense for his era as well as for our own.

It would have been helpful to have more examples of how the last few sections were intended to tie into Lion Man’s groundbreaking accomplishment. While I understood that they were giving other examples of how African-American artists and creators were producing all sorts of toys and content beginning in the early 1900s, it did feel a little disjointed to me to suddenly leap to this topic after spending so much time on Orrin C. Evan’s career specifically. As much as I wanted to give this a full five-star rating, I needed stronger connections between these sections in order to feel justified about doing so.

I appreciated all of the time Mr. Sherman invested in explaining the historical context for Lion Man and the other African-American comic book characters that Orrin C. Evans invented. There were some scenes from these strips that could be read in very different ways today due to how much American culture has changed over the last eighty years, so knowing the original intentions behind them was as educational as it was interesting.

Lion Man: The First and Greatest Black Superhero made me smile.

Lavender Is a Boring Color by Kevin Courtney Black

Lavender Is a Boring Color by Kevin Courtney Black
Publisher: Satin Colorway Publishing
Genre: Non-Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Lavender is a Boring Color follows a collection of poetry woven together through the vivid experiences of the author, as he depicts his early adulthood struggles with debilitating depression, anxiety, heartbreak, self-doubt, and his journey of self-love. The author wrote this book longing for better days when life feels blissful and fragrant as if it were lavishly engulfed by the fiery sweet nectar of lavender. Divided into three sections, Lavender Is A Boring Color takes the reader through the turbulence of life-questioning thoughts and reflective healing. This is his first book of poetry.

Life is full of second chances.

Some of the most memorable poems were the ones that explored how relationships can be affected by mental illness. “A Somber Sky of Aurora Lights” was one of the best examples of this in my opinion. Part of it was dedicated to the speaker’s relationship with a woman who was as dark, gloomy, and beautiful as an aurora borealis against a cloudy night sky. Interspersed with these descriptions were allusions to how her deep, unrelenting sadness was forever changing their relationship. It’s important to remember who a person is beyond their illness, but it’s also a good idea to recognize how diseases like depression can affect not only the person suffering from them but also everyone who cares about that individual.

It would have been helpful if some of these poems had gone into more detail. “Please Find Us in Me and Our Alternate Universe” was one such example of this. No sooner had the narrator described the overwhelming thoughts of the character in this poem than the whole thing was finished without much of a resolution. As much as I appreciated Mr. Black’s brevity when he had a quick thought or image or share, I would have loved to see him dive even more deeply into what it feels like to go through a day with the heavy thoughts that often roll around in his head. This is something I’m sharing as someone who has struggled with many of the same things he has. While I was able to make educated guesses about what he left unsaid, readers who don’t have this same personal experience with the subject might not be able to do the same. My hope is that his next book will do just that as I’m quite curious to read more from him.

I resonated with the descriptions of what it’s like to have anxiety and depression. There were far too many examples of this to list as almost the entire collection fit into here in some way. Those diagnoses can make even simple tasks feel insurmountable and can also wildly distort the way one thinks about oneself and their relationships with others. As someone I know once said, depression lies. Not every frightening thought the human mind comes up with has any basis whatsoever in the truth.

Lavender is a Boring Color was thoughtful.

Gratitude: A Way of Life by Louise Hay

Gratitude: A Way of Life by Louise Hay
Publisher: Hay House
Genre: Non-Fiction, Self-Help, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

New York Times bestseller, Louise Hay, has gathered the insights and collected wisdom of some of the most wonderful teachers and writers she knows…people who have demonstrated the power of gratitude in their own lives.

Gratitude is an inspirational book meant to highlight all the wonderful things in your life to be grateful for.

Renowned contributors share their understanding of the practice of gratitude with Louise… and with you. Including:

• Dr Wayne W. Dyer: “Gratitude: One of Life’s Miracles”
• Dan Millman: “Transcendental Gratitude”
• Bernie S. Siegel, M.D.: “Gratitude: A State of Mind”
• Amy E. Dean: “Gratitude Is Awareness”
• Susan Jeffers, Ph.D.: “Noticing the Abundance”…and many more!

If you need a pick-me-up, then this might be the book for you.

Gratitude is the thing you need when you’re down. It sounds odd, but it’s true. Be grateful for all the things you have and even the things you don’t have. Maybe there are terrible things happening in your life. This book helped to open my eyes that sometimes the terrible things are gateways to better things. It’s true. Be grateful for what you have and you’ll see you have a lot.

There are little essays and this ventures into the inspirational at times. It’s good. It works. Give it a try. The dose of positive will help.

If you’re looking for something positive to give you a lift, then give this book a try. You’ll be glad you did.

Hound for the Holidays by Kim Levin and John O’Neill

Hound for the Holidays by Kim Levin and John O’Neill
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Genre: Photography, Non-Fiction, Holiday
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

“This holiday season, let’s remember the things that really matter.” So begins Kim Levin and John O’Neill’s Hound for the Holidays a warm reminder from man (and woman’s) best friend to hold loved ones dear at this special time of the year.

The holidays (like dogs) are all about sharing, unconditional love, and enjoying the moment, but sometimes, with the hubbub of shopping, open houses, family gatherings, and parties, it’s easy to lose that holiday spirit.

So who better to put the “happy” back in holidays than a cast of dogs celebrating the season? Whether they are two pooches window-shopping, an urbane Jack Russell on a trip to the big city, or a German Shepherd catching snowflakes on his tongue, the dogs in these charming photos all deliver the message “Enjoy!”

Pet portrait artist Kim Levin’s striking and expressive photos pair perfectly with John O’Neill’s warm and upbeat words to make a great holiday treat.

A cute book for the holiday season.

I picked up this book because it was cute and had dogs. I mean, how can you go wrong? The photos are great and make the season bright. The little captions fit the photos perfectly, too. This is a short book, but worth the read. This is a great book as a gift or to share with family over the holidays.

If you want something warm and fuzzy this holiday season, then this is a must read for you!

Hello Around the World by Sindhu Narasimhan

Hello Around the World by Sindhu Narasimhan
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Non-Fiction, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

“Hello Around the World: Learn to Say Hello in 20 Languages – A Practical Guide with Pronunciation, Flags, and Traditional Dress for Kids Across Cultures” offers an immersive learning experience for children aged 2-6. This paperback book is designed to open young minds to the richness of global cultures and the power of simple greetings.

Saying hello can be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I appreciated the pronunciation guides for saying hello in all of these different languages. It made it easy to sound them out and practice this greeting with all of the characters I met in this picture book. I was surprised by how many syllables are required for this greeting in some languages as well as how similar some of the answers were depending on which parts of the world they came from and how closely related they were to similar tongues. What a fun discovery that was!

It would have been nice if the children’s names were given the same treatment. While I already knew how to pronounce some of them, others weren’t so familiar to me. Knowing someone’s name is such an important part of socializing and learning about other cultures, so I wish there had been some assistance here as well. I would have chosen a higher rating if this had been included.

This little book was the perfect length for toddlers or young preschoolers. Those aren’t always easy ages to write for by any means, so I commend the author for condensing his messages about kindness, inclusion, and learning small pieces of new languages down to something that can be read in a few short minutes and adapted to even the shortest attention spans. What a good job he did with that. I look forward to seeing what he might come up with next.

Hello Around the World made me smile.

2024… Your Year of More by Noah William Smith

strong>2024… Your Year of More by Noah William Smith
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Non-Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe


2024… Your Year of More is your go-to book to set goals and mindfully invest your efforts. It appeals to adults of all ages, nationalities, and backgrounds who wish to improve their lives. Its pages are packed with something special for everyone.

The pages contain practical ideas from A to Z, thought-provoking questions, and self-reflective exercises that inspire you to live your best life.

The book is an ideal companion during your moments of solitude. You can read it in the early morning before the rest of the world wakes up or during the evenings after a long day. You may also find it enjoyable while writing in your journal or taking a lunch break.

Enthusiastic indie author Noah William Smith knows the blessings and challenges of intelligence, creativity, high sensitivity and being a minority, underdog and outsider. While his books are based on his experiences, they offer valuable insights without being prescriptive or offering advice.

The book’s authenticity and invaluable insights make it a compelling read that will remain relevant for many years!

Are you considering investing in yourself or searching for the perfect gift for someone special? 2024… Your Year of More is a life-changing book that you cannot afford to miss!

The new year is a fabulous time to turn over a new leaf.

This was a gentle look at self-improvement that included plenty of tips for self-care and for determining if the things you might have wanted in 2023 (or 2013 or 2003!) still resonate with you today. Incremental changes over time are often the most effective way to begin any sort of new habit or lifestyle change, so it was nice to be reminded regularly to be kind to myself and to focus on small steps one at a time instead of trying to drastically change everything at once.

The repetition made it difficult for me to remain interested in reading this at times. Every section began with an anecdote or two from the author’s life before diving into the same series of questions about goals the reader might want to set in three-month increments in 2024. I must admit that due to this I felt the urge to skip ahead to sections that appealed to me more, although I did read the entire thing in order.

One of the things I appreciated most about this book was how much it could be customized. It made few if any assumptions about the ages, backgrounds, or values of the people who will read it. This meant that nearly ever section could apply to anyone in any stage of life from being a student to being retired. The few that were more specific could still easily be altered for people who are disabled, stay-at-home parents, otherwise out of the workforce, working multiple jobs or long hours, or who feel out of step with most other adults for any other reason. There is definitely something to be said for making goal setting so accessible to anyone who wants to change a few things in their lives next year!

2024… Your Year of More was a thought-provoking look at how to make goal setting easier for everyone.

Hot Potato: The story of The Wiggles by Jeff Fatt, Directed by: Sally Aitken

Hot Potato: The story of The Wiggles by Jeff Fatt, Directed by: Sally Aitken
Publisher: Amazon MGM Studios and Screen Australia
Genre: Contemporary, Non-fiction, Documentary, Film
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Hot Potato is a backstage pass to the global phenomenon, The Wiggles. The documentary chronicles the story of three preschool teachers, Anthony, Murray and Greg, and their friend Jeff, as they triumph over the odds to become one of the most successful children’s acts of all time.

This is a film about my favorite group that had a positive influence on my kids as they were growing up. The movie explores the backstory, creation and history of The Wiggles, starring Anthony Field (blue), Murray Cook (red), Jeff Fatt (purple) and Greg Page (yellow). My kids discovered them when the group made the arrangement with the Disney Channel. Kids in Australia and New Zealand knew about them years before and it’s not a wonder that they took the rest of the world by storm. I learned so much about them while watching this documentary that it simply blew my mind. Their songs may have been simple, catchy, bouncy, and fun, but the four guys’ journey wasn’t nearly so benign, easy or without serious challenges.

My most favorite aspect of the film was the nostalgia triggered by the awesome songs I sang along to with my kids as they watched the shows and videos over and over again, Hot Potato being only one of many. The dance moves that accompanied them always made me feel that if they had an exercise video based on the songs and all the moves, I would have bought the video for myself. To this very day, I’ll break out in songs like Hot Potato, Fruit Salad, Here Comes a Bear, and the silly, Do the Monkey. Man, those were awesome times when my kids were little.

Did you know that at their highest point, they made more money than AC/DC, Hugh Jackman and many others? The Wiggles did that – all while appealing to the sense of joy, fun, and energy of toddlers, and bringing their parents along for the ride. And, what a ride it was, in that Big Red Car.

Even to this day, one of my most favorite video/movies The Wiggles made was with Steve Irwin at the Australia Zoo. At that point, I was just as much a fan of the group as my kids. The documentary showed the amazing steps Anthony, Murray, Jeff and Greg took to get to that moment in their careers. It covers the difficult times after the 9/11 attack in New York City and there were a few moments in their retelling that had me tearing up. The tone was somber, respectful, and introspective. The film also covers why Greg left The Wiggles. By the time that happened, my kids were fully immersed in their school career, and we no longer subscribed to the channel that brought The Wiggles singing and dancing into our lives. I had no idea about the seriousness of Greg’s condition, nor the challenges the group faced to find someone to step in for him. Nor did I have a clue as to what role Anthony played in The Wiggles existence as the years went on.

After I watched the documentary, I looked at some reviews. Wow – that was a revelation. The film shared some examples but that nowhere touched upon the emotional response and backlash that occurred during the many transitions The Wiggles went through. I even read one where the commenter claimed that Anthony ruined The Wiggles because of the changes and decisions he’d made over the years after two other members retired. After watching the film, I disagree with that sentiment. Anthony saved The Wiggles by keeping it going, keeping their name, music, and presence alive, not letting it fade away until the point in 2019 when they were all able to come together to do a benefit in support of the Australian people who were suffering the worst fire season in the country. Society and pop culture change frequently and what is popular one day becomes lost and forgotten the next. If not for Anthony, I don’t think the public would have responded so well and enthusiastically for a band no one remembered. Instead, according to the film clips I saw, many of the attendees were in their 20s, kids that grew up singing and dancing with The Wiggles and were now young adults, with jobs and incomes that allowed them to attend and support the cause. That joy came across the screen and brought me back in time when my kids and I had the best time singing the songs together.

Do you know what else I learned while watching this documentary? Anthony and Jeff were a part of a successful singing group called the Cockroaches. One of their songs was played during an interview with Greg and I’m thinking, “I’d listen to that!” In fact, if you pay attention, you’ll get a hint of the energy and talent that would later contribute to the success of The Wiggles. I also learned the background of Dorothy the Dinosaur. I had no hint how important that character ended up being to their success. I even laughed when I heard how Captain Feathersword came about. Little by little I was seeing how The Wiggles I knew came to be. It was so cool!

Another adorable thing I enjoyed while watching the film were the film clips. Parents must have submitted them to the group. They showed their toddlers reacting and interacting with The Wiggles on television and generally having a great time singing, learning and laughing. There is power in laughter and in music.

Hot Potato: The story of The Wiggles was one of the most enjoyable documentaries I’ve ever watched. How the group came to be such a success was fascinating to watch. To think, if not for two of them being teachers, and their passion and joy for teaching, which I believe contributed to the focus of singing songs for preschoolers, I don’t think The Wiggles could have come to be. Learning how Anthony, Jeff, Greg and Murray came together to create a singing group that touched generations starting with the littlest of fans, was a sheer joy to experience. I am awfully glad I discovered this film. I highly recommend this documentary for all those who were parents at the time who repeatedly watched the videos and sang the songs with their kids. I think it would be great for those littlest fans, now grown up, to learn more about the men and characters that enriched their childhood. It’s fascinating, entertaining and eye opening. This film made me appreciate The Wiggles all the more.

I Am Changing Careers: Questions to Guide a Job Seeker by Anita Job

I Am Changing Careers: Questions to Guide a Job Seeker by Anita Job
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Non-Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

In “I Am Changing Careers” you will learn:

How to find fulfilling work
Receive a daily job search roadmap to focus on the right activities
Leverage non-traditional job search techniques and strategies that worked for Anita and will work for you
How to maintain your physical, mental and emotional health while job hunting: a holistic approach
Make a great first impression at your dream job!
Perfect for high school guidance counselors, those entering the workplace (school-to-work transition), college graduates, or those changing industries mid-career.

So what are you waiting for? Buy now and join the many readers who have gone from job seekers to employed in their perfect career!

A good attitude is essential while looking for work, but that’s just the beginning of what one needs to succeed.

It was nice to have so many open-ended questions to mull over as I read this. The job hunt can vary quite a bit for people in different industries or stages of life, so it made sense to ask the audience to think about what they bring to the table and what sort of company they’re interested in instead of making any assumptions about that. I also liked the fact that readers were asked to consider their own preferences for working conditions and any personal or medical considerations they might want to think about when deciding whether to pursue options like shift work, long commutes, long workweeks, or similar issues.

Online applications, virtual job interviews, and asynchronous interviews are incredibly common in many fields these days. Ms. Job spent almost no time discussing how technology has changed the process of looking for work or how to reword resumes with keywords from the job ads in order to get them past the automated applicant tracking system (ATS) and into the hands of a manager or some other employee at a company who screens applications. I was surprised by these choices and wished the author had included a chapter or two of advice on how to get your resume or application seen by an actual person. It would have also been helpful to have advice on how to ace interviews that either happen online or involve the applicant recording their answers in front of a camera without ever having a chance to talk to a live person from the company they’ve applied to until or unless they happen to be selected for the next round of interviews.

One of the things that surprised me about this work was how much time it spent talking about the importance of maintaining one’s physical and mental health while job hunting. Everything from exercise to eating a healthy diet to keeping one’s spirits up if things aren’t progressing the way you might have hoped they would, were covered in detail here. There is definitely something to be said for looking out for all of these things and doing plenty of self-care activities during what can be a stressful and lonely time for some folks.

With that being said, I did find myself wishing for more chapters that included practical advice for changing careers or otherwise landing work. This could have easily been expanded from 90 pages into a full-length book on the topic, and there was so much more the author could have said about best practices for trying to find a new position in the current climate. For example, cover letters seem to be less common in some industries, and many places have relaxed their dress codes as well.

The bibliography was filled with links to all sorts of organizations that can make life easier for people who are currently going through hard times. While many of them were specifically about careers, others could be used by folks in a wide variety of other circumstances. I appreciated the work that was put into compiling this list. It highlighted some of the best parts of the earlier chapters about networking, self-care, and so many other relevant topics.

I Am Changing Careers – Questions to Guide a Job Seeker was a thought-provoking read.

Rat Race Reboot by Laura Noel

Rat Race Reboot by Laura Noel
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Non-Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Escape the rat race and create your ideal future today!

Are you tired of the endless daily grind? Of feeling that constant need to do more, achieve more, be more? Are you reaching the end of the day and feeling exhausted after going nowhere so fast?

You can design—and have—your dream life, if you learn how to reboot your mind. Your brain is more powerful than you realize and knowing how to use your thoughts to empower you is the key to setting and achieving “impossible” goals every single day.

Rat Race Reboot contains the answers you need to maximize your potential, find a meaningful purpose, and create a fulfilling life. With the strategies you’ll learn in Rat Race Reboot, you can become your best, most successful self, and discover the joy you’ve always wanted.

Hope and hard work never go out of fashion.

I liked the author’s emphasis on having a good attitude and persevering even if your second or your tenth attempt to do something doesn’t succeed. There is a lot of wisdom in that advice. Sometimes it takes multiple attempts to reach a goal, and others are more likely to help people who remain positive and focused on what they want to accomplish in life than those who look at everything through a negative perspective.

With that being said, I wish the author had spent more time explaining what realistic goals look like and which signs might let someone know that what they’re trying to accomplish isn’t going to happen right now for whatever reason. Imagining a better future is critically important, but thinking positive thoughts cannot make every single dream a person can think of come true. Some fantasies require many years of hard work and a lot of luck to turn into reality, while others could be seriously hampered by, say, the quiet prejudice of the person who decides whether to hire someone for their dream job or offer them the loan they need to start a small business. This is a complex topic, and I wish the author had spent more time leaning into the many different outcomes that are possible other than relatively quick success.

This was a well-organized book that was easy to read. I appreciated the many lists included in it of ways to change everything from one’s office to the way one thinks in order to maximize the possibility of success. While not everything in life is within our control by any means, there is still something to be said for making the best of life and looking on the bright side even if it feels like there will never be a breakthrough. Having something to quickly reference during times like these is important, especially when it’s as accessible as this was.

Rat Race Reboot was a thought-provoking read.