Do you enjoy reading stories told from multiple perspectives in alternating chapters? Do you like your characters to surprise you, but still feel authentic? Are you more moved by a story with substance but also want it to be a page-turner?  
If you answered yes, then there's a good chance you'll enjoy three of my recent five-star reads. Each one shares all the traits mentioned, but the best part? Their similarities end there. Because, when I put down a book I love, I want another great book, but not the same great book. I want to be surprised by something new.
Book jacket: The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna NorthThe Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North is fiction, but it reads like the true documentary of a controversial filmmaker. Sophie Stark's life unfolds in chapters told from the perspective of the people that were most affected by her and by her work. Never mind that the title gives away the ending; I got sucked in fast to this story and didn't dare look away for fear of missing a hint or clue as to where it all went wrong. Sophie Stark is not exactly likable, but as an outcast artist, who relies on images to express how she sees the world when words fail her, she was absolutely believable. If you love outsider stories or psychological fiction about art and creativity, don't pass this one up!
Book jacket: The Fair Fight by Anna FreemanI have a hard time imagining why anyone wouldn't want to read about female bare-knuckle boxers in 18th century England, so I'm baffled that The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman doesn't have holds on it. Told from the perspective of three characters who defy social class and convention in their own way, this is a great read for fans of richly-detailed historical fiction looking for unconventional characters. But what makes this book especially fun to read is the language. Filled with cullies, strumpers, and babbers, The Fair Fight is a brilliant, brash and brawling book that shoves you through a mass of foul smelling coats, out the back door of a Bristol tavern where you're left looking up at a young woman on a low wooden stage, petticoats pinned up to expose thick legs, stays loosened, bandaged fists raised, head high and eyes fixed, letting her opponent know, "I'll drive that breath out of you sonny." 
Book Jacket: All That Followed by Gabriel UrzaAll That Followed by Gabriel Urza begins with a terrorist act. The 2004 bombing of commuter trains in Madrid, stirs up painful memories in a small Basque town miles away. The truth behind the gossip whispered in the cafes of Muriga unfolds slowly, told in alternating voices by the town's residents: the lovely young widow of a murdered outsider politician, an American expat teacher with a dark past that binds him tightly to his adopted homeland, and the young radicalized Basque separatist, jailed for his part in a crime that should have never happened.
If you like fiction that brings to life newspaper headlines, this could be a book for you. If you like stories vividly set in small towns with complicated histories and nuanced characters with dark secrets that leave you questioning where to place blame; this might be a book for you. If you think you'd like a story where a character believes her donated "terrorist kidney" is talking to her, sharing images and smells from the donor's life, this is definitely a book for you!
Have you recently loved a book, but are still waiting to find your next great read? Tell me about it, I'd like to help!

Photo of My Librarian Darcee meditating with running child in backgroundIf I’ve learned nothing else from my twenty-five years as a perpetual beginning yoga student, it’s to honor where I’m at in the moment. And in this moment I’m a total mess.

School started yesterday and with it, the slow begrudging shift back into scheduled living. I have a hard enough time just getting myself out the door in the morning, so trying to corral a free-spirited and easily distracted kid in addition, is easily my least favorite part of parenting.

The one thing that helps quiet my mind and find focus in the eye of the storm that is the morning ritual, is a regular yoga practice. Like many, I don’t have the time nor money to get to a yoga studio as often as I’d like and I lack the focus to go solo at home. That’s why, in anticipation of amped up school mornings, I’ve been turning to Hoopla.

Did you know that there is a treasure trove of wide-ranging yoga instruction videos available to stream right now on Hoopla? I didn’t until recently. So I tried a few out.

I started out bold with a Vinyasa class with Clara Roberts-Oss, jumping in at Episode 3, Twist it out Yoga.  The mountain setting was lovely but the Vinyasa flows were too fast and unfamiliar for me. Then Clara said “booty” and “awesome” one too many times and I went into child pose and didn’t come out.

Humbled by Clara, I next visited Rodney Yee Complete Yoga for Beginners -Season 1, starting with his morning workout. There’s something extraordinarily calming about Rodney Yee and this was a gentle and meditative workout.  And yes, for twenty glorious minutes and a few thereafter, the morning was all tranquil waters and clear skies. Then I got whacked in the face with a foam Thor hammer and realized I’m going to need something with a bit more vigor to reach a deeper calm.

I think I found my go-to class in Hatha Yoga with Cameron Gilley. Yoga videos can veer towards cheesy and over-produced, but Cameron comes off as just a straight-forward tattooed guy on a pink mat in front of what looks like a drizzly Northwest marina. Flow with Grace & Slow Burn Hatha feel a lot like the average yoga class you’d attend at any number of Portland studios and for me, that’s a good thing.

With a limit of eight checkouts per month, I can’t rely on Hoopla workouts entirely to keep me calm this school year. But maybe it can provide the bridge I need to finally inch towards a regular home yoga practice. And when I do lose my cool (because I will), perhaps I can return back to center just a little bit faster.

Check out my list for more online resources and books to help build your physical yoga practice at home. Are you loving an online yoga class that I've overlooked? Share your favorites in the comments!

Photo of The Nakeds by Lisa Glatt resting on a lawn chair with a summer cocktail

I hadn’t heard a thing about The Nakeds by Lisa Glatt when I saw it in the new fiction section of my library. The title made me smile and the collaged cover art drew me in closer.  Then a quick skim of the book jacket picked up the words: 1970s… Southern California… painfully honest...nudist camp, and I was sold.

But while 1970s California nudist camp was enough to pique my interest, this book is so much more. When the story opens, 6-year-old Hannah Teller’s parents are busy with the argument that will culminate in the end of their marriage. Hannah steps out of her home, determined to walk to school on her own and is struck by a hopelessly drunk teenage driver named Martin Kettle.  Sounds like a real downer right?

Bear with me. Yes, The Nakeds is a story of a broken girl, a broken marriage and a broken young addict but it’s funny- not quirky funny but unflinchingly honest and brave funny.  Plus it’s a story filled with so much human beauty and compassion that you want to hang around: Even as Hannah gets fitted for yet another cast by another doctor who probably can’t fix her. Even as Hannah’s dad goes ahead and becomes a Jew for Jesus, marrying the blonde Christian surfer girl he started an affair with back when Hannah’s mom was pregnant.  Even as (especially as) Hannah’s mom and her new stepdad expand their nudist camp weekends to include naked Fridays at home. And perhaps most difficult, as Martin Kettle stops and starts his life, paralyzed by denial and self loathing for what he did and failed to own up to.

So beat the crowds and spend a regret-free weekend with The Nakeds this summer. When you’re finished, check out this list for more intriguing new titles you may have missed.

Book Jacket: The City of Palaces by Michael NavaA handsome doctor, tortured by his dark past, returns home from exile in Europe to perform house calls for bored, rich housewives.

Robbed of her beauty by smallpox, a spinster countess in a crumbling palace, swallows her own pain by devoting her life to God and caring for the downtrodden in the city’s worst neighborhoods.

An upper class gentleman, shunned from the city as a “sodomite” returns as an openly gay revolutionary who refuses to apologize for his politics nor for whom he loves.

It’s the end of the 19th century and the setting is Mexico City under the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz. The Eurocentric old guard are losing their hold on the city, but who or what will replace it remains uncertain.

The book is The City of Palaces by Michael Nava; A finalist for this year’s Lambda Literary Awards. As a devout chilangophile, I’ll read anything set in Mexico City, but this particular book took my breath away. The surprising cast of characters sucked me in right from the start and Nava's talent for storytelling carried me straight to the heart of a country on the brink of revolution.

If you need a page-turner to read this Summer with amazing characters that breathe life into history, check out The City of Palaces

Book jacket: Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter by Nina MacLaughlinWhen I was approaching 30, I left a job in Seattle and moved to Portland to become a woodworker.  I spent the last of my cashed out 401k on a table saw, hung my hand tools neatly on pegboard and slowly and with great discipline became a master carpenter.  Not true.  I spent about a month dressed in overalls, creating little more than sawdust before stopping to admire my tools with a self-congratulatory glass(es) of wine. And then I panicked and signed on with a temp agency to do mind-numbing office work.

Nina MacLaughlin carried out what I only fantasized about.  After spending much of her 20s working as a journalist in Boston she realized that somewhere along the line, the work that had once inspired her, had grown oppressive.  Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter is her memoir of what happened when she quit her desk job and traded in her cubicle and computer for a hammer, a tile saw and a 50lb bag of grout.

Picking up Hammer Head, I felt an immediate kinship and let’s face it- envy for MacLaughlin.  We share an enormous satisfaction in mastering a new tool and an appreciation for the unique history and warmth that radiates off of a freshly-sanded plank of wood. But by the end, it was her boss Mary that I fell in love with. It was Mary’s Craigslist ad: Carpenter’s Assistant: Women strongly encouraged to apply, that started MacLaughlin’s journey.  Not much of a talker, Mary offered only the simplest instruction and encouragement (“Be smarter than the tools”), but abundant patience and quiet humor. McLaughlin's inspiring memoir is as much about her own leap of faith towards meaningful work, as it is a love letter to her straight shooting and unflappable mentor.

Oh why weren’t you in Portland in 2001, Mary?


Check out this list for more memoirs that will inspire you to follow your bliss.