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Spurred by illustrator and “accidental astrologer” Heather Buchanan’s popular Instagram account @Horror.Scoops, Blame the Stars: A Very Good, Totally Accurate Collection of Astrological Advice is a hilarious journey through astrology, a subject that is, Buchanan writes, “stuffed to the glittering gills with practical, utilitarian functions.” But that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun with it. “In such a bizarre universe,” she writes, “the most logical response is to get bizarre right back at it.” 

With colorful, offbeat drawings and handwritten captions, Buchanan gives classic signs silly names and outrageous descriptions: The corresponding animal of Splattitaribus (Sagittarius) is “a skunk haunted by the ghosts of her past;” a Lehbrah (Libra) is “the last push of breath that blows up a pool toy.” Buchanan is a joke factory, but Blame the Stars never feels mean-spirited. She balances out her playfulness with a palpable admiration for each sign, and, despite the absurdist claims, traditional astrology buffs will recognize kernels of wisdom. The book really shines with absurdist journal prompts: “What if everyone who hated cilantro had their teeth turn into cilantro? . . . Discuss.” 

Blame the Stars is beautifully constructed with quality paper and a well-thought-out jacket that manages to include illustrations of all the signs without feeling too busy. That impressive attention to detail continues throughout the book, with art included on almost every page. If you’re a lover of astrology, or if you’re perhaps looking for some silly direction among the stars, you’ll certainly find solace, laughs and maybe even some inspiration in these pages.

Blame the Stars, by the creator of popular Instagram account @Horror.Scoops, provides offbeat takes on astrology that will keep readers giggling and contemplating their next steps in life.
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Last year I told everyone who would listen about a book I was reading—Breath by James Nestor—and how radically it had impacted my thinking. Most of us breathe poorly, and it’s a real problem. Another excellent, easy-to-browse resource to get your breathing back on track is Jean Hall’s Breathe: Simple Breathing Techniques for a Calmer, Happier Life. You might think of it as the “now do this” counterpart to Nestor’s researched narrative. The breathing exercises offered here, many of which are adapted from yogic philosophy, are designed “to return the breath to its natural optimum pattern of slow, soft, steady spaciousness,” Hall writes. The outcome? Better mental and physical health (and yes, science backs this up). Some breath patterns are designed to enable sleep, others to energize or focus the mind, some to prep for meditation. If a class-based yoga practice isn’t the right fit for you, this book offers some of the basic teachings in a clear, succinct format.

Jean Hall’s Breathe is an excellent, easy-to-browse resource to get your breathing back on track.

“One of the many things that I love about plants is their will and determination to live by any means necessary,” Brandi Sellerz-Jackson writes. “What if we all dared not only to reach for the sun but to take up space while doing so?”

In On Thriving: Harnessing Joy Through Life’s Great Labors, Sellerz-Jackson draws inspiration from the plant world as she shares how she’s moved from existing to thriving. As a birth, postpartum and life doula, and as a blogger and founder of the Black-mom collective Moms of Color, she has coached others through their biggest challenges. On Thriving offers guidance for flourishing in relationships and with one’s self.

Sellerz-Jackson has faced devastating challenges of her own from the time she was a hyper-vigilant child whose instinct was to hide every sharp object in the house so her abusive father couldn’t do greater harm to her mother or himself. So when she references a plant’s journey, she’s not making light of traumatic human experiences. Instead, she’s drawing an analogy between the inner work she’s completed and the plant life that inspires her. On Thriving blends memoir and self-help, with Sellerz-Jackson excavating her own experiences and prompting others to examine the ways they’re holding back.

Most chapters conclude with questions or journal prompts meant to guide the reader back into conversation with themselves. Brief, poetic interludes provide a pause in the midst of often-heavy reflection. Throughout, and especially in the book’s final section, Sellerz-Jackson examines ways being othered has affected her identity and healing. As a Black woman and a mother, she has wrestled with the expectation of being a “goddess”—which she says, “robs us Black women of our humanity and plays into the strong Black woman archetype.”

Some may have been othered in different ways, and she encourages them to examine how that experience has affected the ways they move through the world. Sellerz-Jackson uses a conversational, direct tone and tremendous empathy to guide all readers to live as the best versions of themselves.

In Brandi Sellerz-Jackson’s On Thriving, she uses a conversational, direct tone and tremendous empathy to guide readers on how to move from existing to thriving.
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As I’ve become interested in observing pagan holidays, or sabbats, such as Yule and Mabon, Raechel Henderson’s The Natural Home Wheel of the Year: Crafting, Cooking, Decorating & Magic for Every Sabbat feels right on time. “The sabbats give us a new station roughly every 45 days, at which we can pause and notice the world around us,” she writes. Rituals, special meals and craft projects give meaningful shape and heft to that attention, and can be as simple as a dinner table place setting for a departed loved one, or as ambitious as a homemade oil lamp. As the holiday Imbolc hints at the coming spring, making a bird feeder or a batch of oatcakes with honey butter could brighten the last weeks of winter. In late summer, Lammas marks an ideal moment to forage for berries or bake bread. Henderson also provides journal prompts for a check-in with our internal selves in accordance with the cycle of nature, a way to connect the inner and outer worlds. Decked out in color photos and including helpful templates for some of the crafts, this book is a beautiful year-round resource.

The Natural Home Wheel of the Year is a guide to rituals, special meals and craft projects that give meaningful shape to pagan holidays.
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Scandi words for better living have been floating around the zeitgeist for a while now, and I’m not mad about it. First there was one of my all-time favorite concepts, hygge, the Scandinavian take on cozy comfort. Then came lykke (happiness) and fika (coffee break). Now meet njuter, the Swedish verb that means “to savor the moment.” Njuta: Enjoy, Delight In: The Swedish Art of Savoring the Moment by Niki Brantmark explores njuta, the art of cherishing the small delights in life, from several angles—at work, in nature, in food and drink, in hobbies and more. Embrace the concept and you might be deemed a livsnjutare, a person who thoroughly enjoys the finer things. (Like a hedonist, perhaps, but without any negative connotation.) There’s much herein about the positives of Swedish culture. Proverbs such as “Hard bread makes the cheek red” dot the book. Brantmark offers recipes for pinnbröd (bread on a stick), gröt (porridge) and kokkafe (a “slow” coffee); she boosts the benefits of spending time in the great outdoors and adding a fulsnygg (“ugly pretty”) piece of decor to your home. While not all of the ideas here will feel new, you’ll definitely learn a lot of fun Swedish terms and customs along the way.

Niki Brantmark’s Njuta surveys the Swedish art of cherishing small delights.

Katherine May’s essay collection Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age offers similar meditative pleasures as her previous collection, Wintering—though you don’t need to have read Wintering to enjoy Enchantment. “When I want to describe how I feel right now, the word I reach for the most is discombobulated,” she writes, going on to chart the losses, burnout and anxieties of the COVID-19 pandemic, and of this era. “Time has looped and gathered, and I sometimes worry that I could skip through decades like this, standing in my bathroom, until I am suddenly old.”

In the opening essay, May describes feeling like she had lost some fundamental part of being alive, some elemental human feeling—like she had become disconnected from meaning. Without this missing piece, “the world feels like tap water left overnight, flat and chemical, devoid of life,” she writes. She began to wonder if she could find a solution in enchantment, which she defines as “small wonder magnified through meaning, fascination caught in the web of fable and memory.” So she set out to find and record such moments, beginning with the places where she found beauty as a child, such as the farmland outside her grandparents’ English village.

Enchantment’s essays are arranged into four sections—Earth, Water, Fire and Air—detailing May’s investigations into each realm. For example, a visit to an ancient healing well goes in the Water section. “There are steps down to a pool of dark water about a foot deep, the heart-shaped petals of the [briar] rose floating on its surface,” she writes about this hidden well. As in the book’s other essays, May doesn’t gloss over her feelings of awkwardness and inadequacy. “It has the air of a place that has waited patiently for a long time for someone to come along and worship, and now it has me standing awkwardly before it, at a loss. It crackles with magic, but I have no template for how to behave around it, no tradition or culture that prepared me for this.”

May details the small disappointments and larger surprises she encountered on her journey, and her sentences, plain yet gorgeous, cast a spell. The essay “Hierophany” opens simply, “Just after lunchtime when I was a child, my grandmother would sit down to eat an orange, and peace would fall over the house.” Enchantment mixes nature writing and bits of history, theology and literature with memoir—scenes from May’s childhood, her failures at meditation, ordinary marital discontents—to form a lucid, restful collection. Though May’s search for enchantment seems perhaps better suited to the English landscape, with its fairy tale-like ancient sites and villages, than to our American suburban sprawl, Enchantment offers a lovely, meditative way to begin another tumultuous year.

Wintering author Katherine May returns with Enchantment, a lovely, meditative ode to finding connection in a disconnected age.

Yoga classes, cleanses, wellness retreats: We’ve all heard these and other remedies marketed as “self-care” for life in an exhausting and distressing world. But debut author Pooja Lakshmin wants readers to know that, while these types of self-care may make us feel temporarily better, they are part of an ineffectual system that keeps people (especially women and minorities) feeling inadequate and overwhelmed. As the psychiatrist and New York Times contributor writes in her introduction to Real Self-Care: A Transformative Program for Redefining Wellness (Crystals, Cleanses, and Bubble Baths Not Included), “This book is my letter to every woman out there who has flirted with hopping in the car and running away from it all.”

Lakshmin wants to help readers find ways to more authentically enjoy their everyday lives, and she uses anecdotes about her patients to illustrate what this might look like. For example, there’s Shelby, who shifted from viewing breastfeeding as imperative to something that just didn’t work out (and that’s OK!), and Clara, who started her own business after realizing teaching was no longer sustainable.

How did they get there? Via Lakshmin’s four principles for real self-care: setting boundaries without guilt, practicing self-compassion, exploring your real self and asserting power. Helpful tools, exercises, scripts and a “Real Self-Care Compass” smooth the way to the gratifying final stage, which is “facing, straight-on, the toxicity and trauma that our culture brings to women . . . and it’s only when a critical mass of women do this internal work that we will come to collective change in our world.”

Daunting? Sure. Doable? The author believes so, and she contends that the hard, ongoing work is worth it. After all, she is writing as a fellow traveler alongside her readers. “I ended up falling for Big Wellness in the worst way,” she writes. “I joined a cult!” While her time with the cult, which practiced “orgasmic meditation,” did offer some benefits (she worked with neuroscientists at the Rutgers fMRI orgasm lab, and the meditation practice “was healing for me in profound ways”), when she left the group, she was deeply depressed for quite some time. 

Over time, Lakshmin realized that “real self-care is not a noun, it’s a verb—an ongoing internal process that guides us toward profound emotional wellness and reimagines how we interact with others.” In her heartfelt and empathetic Real Self-Care, she shares how she moved beyond shame and regret to a happier, more true-to-herself life, something she believes readers can do, too. Lakshmin’s first step: reclaiming the term self-care by imbuing it with self-knowledge, sustainability and joy.

Psychiatrist Pooja Lakshmin wants to reclaim the term self-care by helping readers find ways to more authentically enjoy their everyday lives.
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In What’s Eating Us: Women, Food, and the Epidemic of Body Anxiety, author and four-time Emmy Award-winning television journalist Cole Kazdin declares there’s hope for those who have tried and failed to quit diet culture. As only someone with firsthand experience can, Kazdin explains in unflinching detail just how damaging dieting can be to our mental and physical health. Although What’s Eating Us centers on Kazdin herself—a journalist determined to reach recovery for her eating disorder—this isn’t just one woman’s story. Neither is it just a fact-based report aimed at finding answers. It’s both of these things: personal and illuminating, subjective yet relatable. Citing medical research alongside real-life testimonies, with a balance of personal candor and well-executed analysis, this book will resonate with anyone who’s ever been critical of their reflection in a mirror.

From body positivity to neutrality to liberation, Kazdin explores the different approaches to redefining our relationships with our bodies. For most people, this journey begins when we challenge our understanding of weight, health and dieting, which are topics mired in misinformation. Separating weight and health, Kazdin explains, becomes even more difficult when you factor in the ways that diet companies misleadingly brand themselves as holistic health and wellness programs. 

But perhaps the real feat of Kazdin’s book is its ability to propel the reader into thinking about their body in a way that feels connected to society—to gender, race and economic class—which makes the individual burden feel a little less heavy. The ways in which the scientific and medical communities have failed individuals when it comes to dietary health, Kazdin argues, is often rooted in systemic structures around racism, sexism and prejudice against larger bodies. For example, the toxicity of diet culture impacts everyone but especially women of color, whose health concerns often go unheard or ignored by doctors.

Folded within the book’s narrative are statements that may seem radical but are actually evidence-based and supported. Yes, people of all sizes can be healthy. No, a person’s weight is not always within their control. And yes, dieting to lose weight typically leads to gaining it back again. With empathy and understanding, Kazdin offers the reader everything they need to better understand this difficult topic. There are the daunting, disheartening facts; the levity of shared incredulity; and finally, the neutrality needed to see the number on the scale as just that: a number.

With its balance of personal candor and research, Cole Kazdin’s What’s Eating Us will resonate with anyone who’s ever been critical of their reflection in a mirror.
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At the intersection of books on witchcraft, creative writing guides and poetry anthologies alights Poetry as Spellcasting: Poems, Essays, and Prompts for Manifesting Liberation and Reclaiming Power, which manages to pull off something utterly unique.

Centering the experiences and perspectives of writers of color and queer writers, the contributors’ essays honor the work of Audre Lorde, Lucille Clifton, Selah Saterstrom and Rainer Maria Rilke, among others. They examine the connections among poetry, prayer and chant, and they explore the liberation that can come with revision. One writing prompt invites readers to compose a letter to an “absent presence” or an ancestor; another provides instructions for writing a collective poem with friends. “In this book,” editors Tamiko Beyer, Destiny Hemphill and Lisbeth White conclude, “we remember how the nexus between ritual and poetry can be a sacred container to manifest change and transformation.”

At the intersection of books on witchcraft, creative writing guides and poetry anthologies alights the utterly unique Poetry as Spellcasting.
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These days, you probably know someone who uses THC for physical or mental health reasons (or that person is you). You may even know someone who microdoses psychedelics (or that person is you). My point: The psychedelics landscape is shifting rapidly, and thankfully it’s getting easier to find evidence-based information on the therapeutic uses of cannabinoids and psilocybin.

A most valuable addition to this field is Jennifer Chesak’s The Psilocybin Handbook for Women: How Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelic Therapy, and Microdosing Can Benefit Your Mental, Physical, and Spiritual Health. Chesak answers a slew of questions people assigned female at birth may have about using magic mushrooms, covering safety, bad trips, shrooms and parenting, mushrooms’ effects on menstruation and endometriosis and more. She also writes poignantly about her own guided trip and other women’s experiences using mushrooms for conditions such as eating disorders and ADHD, which gives this guide real heart and added richness from people’s stories.

Chesak comes across as a wise B.F.F., making you feel both smarter and better supported. This is an empowering, enlightening read.

Jennifer Chesak’s guide to psilocybin for women is an empowering, enlightening read, full of evidence-based information on the therapeutic uses of psychedelic mushrooms.
STARRED REVIEW
May 23, 2023

Readers’ Choice: Best Books of 2023 (so far)

The best books of 2023 (so far) as determined by BookPage.com readers include the latest from Abraham Verghese, Kate Morton, Jenny Odell and Ann Napolitano, as well as a remarkable debut from Margot Douaihy.
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Book jacket image for Saving Time by Jenny Odell

Saving Time

Many writers have imitated Jenny Odell’s unique style since the publication of How to Do Nothing, but Saving Time proves that no one can do ...
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Book jacket image for Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano

Hello Beautiful

This bighearted domestic novel from the author of Dear Edward reaches comforting highs and despairing lows as it sharply examines the many ways that families ...
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Book jacket image for Homecoming by Kate Morton

Homecoming

One of the delights for readers of a mystery is picking up little crumbs of evidence along the way. As Homecoming gallops toward its close, ...
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Book jacket image for The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese

The Covenant of Water

Abraham Verghese, probably the best doctor-writer since Anton Chekhov, upends all of our expectations again and again in his long awaited follow-up to Cutting for ...
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Book jacket image for Death Comes to Marlow by Robert Thorogood

Death Comes to Marlow

This engaging cozy mystery is an homage to Agatha Christie with a trio of warmhearted friendships at its core.
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Book jacket image for A Sinister Revenge by Deanna Raybourn

A Sinister Revenge

Deanna Raybourn’s masterful balance between romance and mystery makes A Sinister Revenge a standout entry in an already excellent series.
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Book jacket image for The Stolen Heir by Holly Black

The Stolen Heir

This highly anticipated spinoff to Holly Black’s bestselling Folk of the Air trilogy offers a tale deliciously wrought with mistrust and longing.
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Book jacket image for The White Lady by Jacqueline Winspear

The White Lady

Historical mystery readers searching for a complex main character will admire the uncompromising storytelling of Jacqueline Winspear’s The White Lady.
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Book jacket image for Scorched Grace by Margot Douaihy

Scorched Grace

Scorched Grace is an entertaining and devastating mystery that introduces Sister Holiday, a queer nun with a clever, curious mind and a fatalistic yet somehow ...
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Book jacket image for The Great Reclamation by Rachel Heng

The Great Reclamation

The prose in Rachel Heng’s second novel is alive. Each character is rich with complexity and depth, each snapshot brimming with imagery.
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The best books of 2023 (so far) as determined by BookPage.com readers include the latest from Abraham Verghese, Kate Morton, Jenny Odell and Ann Napolitano, as well as a remarkable debut from Margot Douaihy.
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Sharon Salzberg is a well-respected teacher of Buddhist meditation and mindfulness with many books to her name. Her newest, Finding Your Way, gathers bite-size insights derived from her decades of work in the field. As such, for readers who seek ballast in the midst of busy schedules, it’s a godsend, a garden ripe for the picking. Passages touch on gratitude, the connection between joy and resilience, lovingkindness, self-talk, attention and more. “Comparison is disempowering. It disassociates us from our own potential,” she writes, offering a mental image to encourage slow, steady progress—a bucket filling drop by drop. (Don’t get distracted by peering into others’ buckets!) Salzberg foregrounds other voices, too, sharing conversations and experiences she’s had with other thinkers and in spiritual places, making this book equal parts retrospective and informative, a beautiful gift.

For readers who seek ballast in the midst of busy schedules, Sharon Salzberg’s bite-sized Buddhist insights are a garden ripe for the picking.

Written and narrated by Tricia Hersey, founder of the Nap Ministry, Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto (5.5 hours) is a powerful reminder to prioritize mental health and overall well-being. To listeners who are smothered and exhausted by “grind culture,” Hersey offers a fierce clarion call, encouraging them to defy the dehumanizing demands of our capitalist society.

Hersey draws a damning thread between capitalism and white supremacy’s quest for power. She makes it clear that people who have grown up in poverty—particularly Black people and those in historically excluded communities—find themselves in a constant hustle just to survive. She advocates for finding inner peace via the simple act of resting: letting your worries ebb away for small intervals at a time, and allowing your dreams and imagination to take center stage. 

Hersey’s clear message will no doubt resonate with listeners seeking a reprieve from overwork and hopelessness.

Read our starred review of the print edition of Rest Is Resistance.

To folks who are exhausted and smothered by “grind culture,” Tricia Hersey offers a fierce clarion call, encouraging listeners to defy the dehumanizing demands of our capitalist society.

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