New Books to Recommend: RenWomen, Where are Pat and Ernie Now? and Five Sextillion Atoms

As many of you know, I have a new book out—Heart on a Fence, which you can see here. And I have several friends who also have new books out—books I think you would love to have and read.

Dale Griffiths Stamos’ new book is a compilation of the life stories of sixteen “Renaissance women”—modern-day superwomen who have lived lives of purpose and service to humanity. Written with her twin brother, W. Scott Griffiths, RenWomen, What Modern Renaissance Women Have to Teach Us About Living Rich, Fulfilling Lives incorporates a bit of history about past RenWomen, the stories about sixteen modern RenWomen, and how we can encourage young women to follow their own dreams of exploring many different paths.

Simply put, RenWomen are women who excel in many different fields—from arts and literature to math and science to philanthropy and mentoring. I was especially delighted to see that one women profiled in the book is a dear friend of mine—Eva Haller, truly a RenWoman if there ever was one. Eva was born in Hungary and escaped the Nazis at the age of 14, finding her way to Ecuador and ultimately the United States, where she quickly realized she needed an education and work. She found both, and also the first of two great loves of her life. Her third husband, Murray Roman, was an entrepreneur marketer and public relations genius who made a fortune advising presidential candidates in the mid-1960s. Murray and Eva turned to philanthropy and charitable giving, but in 1975, Maury was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1984. Eva was devastated. Three years later, she met Dr. Yoel Haller and the two have been inseparable ever since, traveling the world and continuing the mentoring and philanthropy that Eva and Murray began together.

Eva’s is just one of the many inspiring stories in RenWomen. Pick it up. You won’t be disappointed.

My buddy Ernie Witham’s latest book of humor is Where are Pat and Ernie Now?, a compilation of his many essays on their worldwide travel adventures. I love Ernie’s voice, kind of a combination of self-deprecation, fun and husbandy idiocy. Pat is always the long-suffering spouse in their various escapades, but the last laugh is always on Ernie, and with us. Where are Pat and Ernie Now? is Ernie’s third book. He’s written columns and essays for numerous publications over many years, including several editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. You don’t want to miss this chronicle of their latest fun-filled explorations of the world.

And last, but certainly not least, my dear friend Jayne Benjulian’s beautiful debut collection of poetry is out. It’s called Five Sextillion Atoms, which is how many atoms are in a drop of water. Her poems are both spare and powerful; she holds back no punches as she explores her past and her childhood, her experiences as a mother, and her relationships with stepsiblings.

I especially love the poems in Part Three, which seem more accessible, perhaps because she herself has finally become more comfortable emotionally with the material. I don’t know. But this I do know: Five Sextillion Atoms will wow you.

A Lovely Poetry Debut - Beth Marshall Jack

Reading Beth Marshall Jack’s lovely debut poetry collection, These Worlds Between Us, is like sitting down to a cup of tea with a wise and gentle friend. Her poems are intimate and lyrical, letting us into an interior landscape that mirrors our own fears, yearnings, joys, disappointments, and wonders.

Jack’s deep command of language and imagery allow us as readers to enter the poems easily and with confidence that what we encounter will enlighten and lift us to some greater understanding of a universal truth. In one of my favorite poems, “With a Click of My Heels,” Jack confronts loss and the helplessness one feels over the inability to make things different.

With a Click of My Heels


I hold your shoes and close my eyes,

the long pause of your absence

languished all afternoon.

Tissue paper stuffed in heels and purses

seemed unfamiliar.

Your seven metal hangers looked empty and sinister.


Somehow I must find a way back

from this empty closet and rows of elegant shoes.

I must summon the child who remembered to be brave,

like Cinderella,

or that girl from Kansas,

who recognized clues, knew slippers were the answers

to everything, a sure guarantee that one could escape

a fire, a witch, poisoned flowers,

even tragedy.


I stand alone, barefoot.

Jack’s imagistic language soars, sometimes eliciting an audible “oh!” as in these lines from “Compass”: “…every breath sags heavily, as I squeeze the sponge/tighter and tighter, as if stanzas were turned/inside out from me, how my body/half-turned, still expected him.” Or these lines from “Figurante”: “I am crumpled, worn out like an old ballet slipper/with ribbons bleached, once carnation pink/…Even the mirrors seem to leer/deliberate satyr teeth.

Many of her poems have mythic allusions, including the lovely “Circe,” which was awarded second prize in poetry from The Writer’s Journal.

Jack is an accomplished writer whose poetry has been honored many times over the years. This worthy collection reflects her careful attention to language, rhythm, imagery and story.

Review - Thrive, by Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington’s latest book, Thrive, the Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-being, Wisdom and Wonder, is the Huffington Post founder’s effort to get us all to stop and smell the roses.

Huffington decided to write this book after she collapsed from exhaustion in 2007, two years after founding the Huffington Post. She realized, she writes, “my life was out of control. In terms of traditional measures of success, which focus on money and power, I was very successful. But I was not living a successful life by any sane definition of success. I knew something had to radically change.”

Thrive offers Huffington’s advice on how to do just that, working through what she calls the three metrics of Well-being, Wisdom and Wonder. In the section on Well-being, she recounts copious research reminding us to get plenty of sleep, eat well, and slow down. Our succeed-at-any-and-all-costs culture is killing us, she says, and burnout, stress and depression have become worldwide epidemics. She recommends daily meditation, walking or some kind of daily exercise, and getting a full night’s sleep as first steps toward countering burnout.

Her sections on Wisdom and Wonder offered deeper insights into living a full and balanced life, exploring spirituality and faith, death, and the development of an inner life that allows one to really thrive. Ultimately, she reminds us that giving to others is the way to give to yourself.

Anyone who struggles with today’s constant barrage of doing more and consuming more would benefit from reading Huffington’s story of how she was forced to put down her smartphone and pay attention to her inner world instead.

(Disclosures: I have known Arianna Huffington for many years as a friend and colleague. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.)

Review - Anne Lamott's Help Thanks Wow

My God box

My God box

Anne Lamott’s new book, Help Thanks Wow, The Three Essential Prayers, is a sweet, moving guidebook to what Lamott considers the three most important prayers one can utter. I love Anne’s books. Her Bird by Bird has been on my bookshelves for many years, and I especially enjoyed Traveling Mercies. One doesn’t have to be religious, or even particularly spiritual, to appreciate Help Thanks Wow, as Anne mentions in the introduction. You only have to believe that something is bigger than you, and that if you ask for help and express gratitude, things will happen in your life that will make you say “wow.”

What I love about Lamott is even though she is a firm believer in Jesus, she also knows that neither she nor Christianity (or any other organized religion) has the answers. In fact, she says, no one does, and if they try to tell you they do, they’re delusional.

Anne Lamott's Help Thanks Wow

Anne Lamott's Help Thanks Wow

She had me close to tears with the first section on “Help,” because what she describes is so perfectly the human condition. We all go through difficulties, and most of us will not be spared life’s harshest experiences. But, she says, just uttering the simple entreaty, “help,” can shift things within us, can allow us to give over the suffering to something bigger than we are, and that can make all the difference in our ability to handle whatever we face.

“Most good, honest prayers remind me that I am not in charge,” she writes, “that I cannot fix anything, and that I open myself to being helped by something, some force, some friends, some something. These prayers say, ‘Dear Some Something, I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t see where I’m going, I’m getting more lost, more afraid, more clenched. Help.’”

And then, she says, let it go.

Lamott says she has a “God box” that she puts her prayers into, then closes the lid and lets whatever universal power is out there take care of it. It could be anything, a glove box, a crayon box. I like this idea.

For my birthday last week, a dear friend gave me a lovely wooden box with the tree of life and birds carved into the top. I have made this my God box (I just mistyped God as Dog – that works, too).

I also especially believe in the second prayer, “Thanks.” Gratitude is a powerful emotion, and I can attest to its ability to shift perspective. Every day I mindfully say thanks, for everything, and more often than not something even more serendipitous or fortuitous comes into my life. 

The final prayer, “Wow,” is a wonderful expression and acknowledgement of how wondrous life is.  Look around. You will always find something, even if it’s just a tiny hummingbird flitting around a bottlebrush tree – to be amazed about. Wow.

Help Thanks Wow is a slim volume – I read it in about an hour or so – but it packs a powerful message. And with the world we have today, it’s a message many of us need to hear.

Michele Wolfe's Debut Novel

Michele Wolfe’s lovely debut novel, The Three Graces, takes readers on a wonderful  journey with the three protagonists to understanding and wholeness.

Jessie, Isabel and Sara meet in a class during their senior year of college in Colorado, and quickly discover they share strange and frightening out-of-reality experiences. When the three decide to travel to California’s Central Coast and visit Hearst Castle on break, they have an extraordinary experience with a statue on the grounds – the Three Graces. These three deities – Brilliance, Joy and Bloom – guide Jessie, Isabel and Sara as they come into their own and discover their unique gifts.

The Three Graces is sure to become a great book club read. For any young woman who has struggled to understand her path, The Three Graces will show the way.

A little Lust for after Valentine's Day

Lust image.jpg

My friend Diana Raab’s latest poetry collection, Lust, is a veritable cornucopia of luscious, lusty, “whoa baby!” poems that give erotica a good name. Tantalizing and sexy, this collection oozes with sensuality, love, desire, fear and regret – all the emotions that come with loving someone, figuratively and literally.

Raab has never wavered from sharing herself in her poetry and her nonfiction, but this book goes deeper, expressing in words what many of us only feel physically.

Warning: Do not leave Lust around for the cleaning folks – or your children – to find. Keep it tucked in a sacred spot in the boudoir, where you can share it with an appreciative lover.

Here's one of my favorites from the collection:

The First Time

The moment after we met

and seconds after your smile,

beside me on the old cross-country jet,

I knew that inside a dream, our bodies

would one day twist around each other.


And I would lose track of where

yours began and mine ended

and so many other things in my life,

such as my beliefs

or even what happened between us.


I would not recount anything,

not a feeling, a touch or a visual

or the voice you used

to toss me on the bed

and remove my over-the-knee boots

worn during our loving act --


All I will remember is a deep sense

of euphoria transcending every part

of my essence, every hair follicle,

missing breast and scar which makes

me what I am and the idea

and how I will never

walk down the same path again.