Category Archives: Books

Books I Love – Botticelli’s Muse

While I enjoy learning about history, many books about the past are so incredibly dull and dry, it’s nearly impossible to finish them. Weaving actual events into a story with engaging characters is much more entertaining. That’s why I loved reading Dorah Blume’s new novel Botticelli’s Muse.

Botticelli’s Muse is the first of a three-volume series that takes place in Italy during the 1400’s. It focuses on Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli, his association with the Medici family of Florence, and the woman at the heart of his paintings.

At that time, patrons would commission artists to create specific works. If an artist lost their patron, they could no longer support their art, so finding and keeping one was a big deal! Botticelli learns this firsthand when he falls out of favor with his patron and has to then work with another whom he doesn’t care for that’s only half his age. This difficult situation hurts his creativity.

During a visit to a convent where his sister is a nun, Botticelli finds a weaver, Floriana, who is being held as a captive. Her only crime? Refusing to denounce her Jewish faith! Captivated by her beauty, she becomes his muse and inspires his famous painting La Primavera.

Due to the turbulent political climate, near stranglehold of the Catholic church, and the intense personalities of the two lovers, their relationship is extremely rocky.

Sounds incredibly juicy, right? And it is! Not only are the characters depicted in an intensely detailed way, the writing itself is almost lyrical. One sentence that really sticks in my mind reads: “The young woman heard the cry of locusts pulsating in the scorched air.” So amazingly vivid!

One would imagine that such a book would be difficult to write and I found the backstory to be almost as interesting. According to Dorah, Botticelli’s Muse took her over 20 years to complete, with the original seed being planted all the way back in 1963 during a trip she took to Italy at age 19. 

To accompany the novel, there are 5 free coloring pages available which are a lot of fun, too.

Anyone who enjoys historical fiction should definitely pick up a copy of Botticelli’s Muse. Learn more about the book and connect with the author on her website.

Up All Night? “The Nocturnal Journal” is Worth Reading

As someone who has battled insomnia for over 20 years, I’ve tried pretty much everything available to induce sleepiness—Nyquil, Lavender oil, white noise machine, eyeshades, melatonin, eliminating blue light, special sheets, etc.

I’ve had limited success with individual products and with using them in conjunction, but some nights, no matter what I do, I simply am too wound up to get any rest. Typically, that results in a Netflix binge session, which occupies my time, but does little to quiet my mind.

The Nocturnal Journal, a new book by author Lee Crutchley, provides a good alternative for the occasionally and chronically sleepless. While it’s labeled a journal, I consider it more of an activity book, and the subtitle “A Late Night Exploration of What’s Really on Your Mind,” reflects that. The book doesn’t put you to sleep, it helps you figure out why you can’t.

Packed with leading questions, word associations, letter-writing prompts, fun lists, and thought-provoking ideas, The Nocturnal Journal is part distraction, part self-help. I found the activities to be soothing and entertaining. Certain pages that discuss bad memories or fears tend to wind me up, so I avoid those, but there is a lot of good material in the whole book and it’s easy to pick and choose which pages will work for you.

My favorite section is a blank page that’s entitled “Fill This Box With All of Your Worries.” It’s true that minor things can seem major when we’re alone in the middle of the night, and having the opportunity to scribble it out was a such a relief. The funny part is that my #1 worry was: I’m so tired, yet I can’t sleep! Another section I really enjoyed was made for adult coloring. I am terrible at drawing, but pulling out the colored pencils is fun anyway, even if it looks like a mess.

An entertaining reading and writing prompt to quiet down an overactive brain, Insomniacs, teens that refuse to go to bed, and creative/artistic types will love The Nocturnal Journal. It would also be a great addition to a carry-on bag for a red eye flight. 

Healing After an Unthinkable Tragedy

Nobody is immune from pain, suffering, illness, misery, and hardship—life is a constant rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. While most misfortune can be overcome eventually, there are certain types of loss that are so devastating, so unthinkable, it’s almost impossible to deal with, let alone recover from. This guest post from Theresa James is very difficult to read, let alone imagine happening firsthand (I literally sobbed!). She has lived through the absolute worst tragedy that could strike any mother and made it to the other side. Anyone who is feeling exceptionally low will find hope in her difficult journey.

It’s often said that everyone has a story to tell. My story is different than most, but perhaps others will be able to relate, having dealt with their own hardships. The full account can be found in my book, Healing Tears, but the following will provide an overview:

My nightmare began in the summer of 1998. Just days after my divorce was final, my ex-husband broke into my house and murdered my three children before killing himself. I believe he left me alive to live a “hell on earth,” and truly, that’s what it was—an absolute hell.

During the divorce process, which was exceptionally was ugly, I had journaled daily to cope. After my children’s deaths, I continued to write and express my emotions on paper—my anger, hatred, devastation and grief. I missed them so much it was nearly unbearable!

After almost a year of making notes, I decided to put them into book format, which took another year. Reliving everything that happened forced me to work through those emotions, and I promised myself that I would not give in, nor would I give up. I knew my children would not want me to succumb to the negative thoughts and feelings; they would want me to have love, joy and happiness again. Though I was dealing with tremendous pain and grief, I was fortunate to have unconditional love and support from my family and friends. I also worked with an incredible therapist who helped me keep my sanity.

The healing process is just that: a process. There is no quick fix. In 1999, I made the decision to get remarried, to a wonderful man whom I had known for many years prior. During the next 16 years, I tried to live a “normal” life with Todd and his two children. I changed careers and we moved to another state. I made new friends and only shared my private pain with a select few. 

In 2008, Todd and I moved to the Chicagoland area due to a job change for him. I again sought the assistance of a therapist and continued the sessions  I started years earlier. In the summer of 2016, I decided it was time to release my story to the public. (Publishing my book was always my goal, but I felt that back when it first occurred, I was not ready, mentally and emotionally, to release it.)

Sadly, our society now deals with horrible crimes more frequently and other mothers have experienced the same type of loss. My wish is that anyone who reads my story will find the inspiration to overcome their own struggles, whatever those may be. I want to encourage others to share their own stories, as well. The more we share with others, the more we will develop compassion and understanding. Each one of us is trying to do the best that we can while working through life’s struggles, seeking love. None of us should have to do it alone.

About the Author:

Theresa James is a writer and a proud veteran of the US Air Force. She has triumphed over tragedy by using her experience as a crime victim to create books of hope and healing, inspired and cheered on from above by the memory of her beloved children Sean, Jarod, and Brandi. She and her husband live in Indiana. Connect with Theresa through her website.

Books I Love – The Four Agreements

Do self-limiting beliefs rob us of joy and create needless suffering? According to author Don Miguel Ruiz, the answer is definitely “Yes!” In his book, The Four Agreements, he shares a unique approach to self help based on Toltec wisdom.

The Toltec were an ancient people that lived in Mexico over 3,000 years ago. They developed a philosophy that offers an interesting way to balance our deeply held but little acknowledged beliefs, expectations, agreements, and assumptions. By learning theses tips, we can live a happier, more authentic life:

1. Be Impeccable With Your Word

“Speak with integrity and say what you mean. Avoid using words against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”

I must admit that I am guilty of saying mean and hurtful things, both to myself and other people. Usually it’s because I get caught up in the heat of the moment, but I recognize that words have power and I need to carefully chose mine.

2. Don’t Take Anything Personally

“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”

Of all the agreements, this one speaks to me the most, on such a deep level. For most of my life, I literally could not understand why others wouldn’t see my point of view. Only now, at 35-years-old, do I recognize that everybody has their own idea, their own way, their own path. By focusing on myself only and not trying to change them and refusing to let anyone change me, life is so much simpler. This is precisely why arguing is such a waste of time. Nobody is listening, they just want to express their own ideology. Better to agree to disagree and move on. I truly wish I had learned this lesson decades ago!

3. Don’t Make Assumptions

“Find the courage to ask questions and express what you really want. Communicate as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama.”

I’ve never had a problem expressing my opinion. The problem was that I often had a self righteous attitude and was convinced that others should feel exactly the same. Guess what: my way is only good for me! I’ll offer an opinion if asked, but I don’t push them on others anymore. Big lesson learned.

4. Always Do Your Best

“Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, try to do what’s best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.”

My biggest mistake in this area was confusing “best” with “perfection.” I am not perfect, nobody on earth is perfect. By accepting life’s limitations that things can—and often do—go wrong, there is no impossible expectation to live up to. Making reasonable allowances, for myself and others, is a much better strategy.

We can’t change others, we can’t change the world, we can’t change the weather, we can’t change anything at all—except our own attitudes and behavior. By adopting that mindset, no matter what happens in life, good or bad, we don’t have to feel like victims and we can learn to cope in a healthy way.