Book review: Dukkha Reverb

Action and adventure complement insight and exoticism in martial arts thriller

dukkha reverb loren christensen visionary fictionRating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

This well-written martial arts thriller interweaves enough action to maintain a breakneck pace, enough spirituality to satisfy the metaphysical/spiritual reader, and enough extraordinary detail to deliver a captivating read.

StoryUp until six weeks ago, Sam Reeves, a respected Portland, Oregon police detective, martial artist, and teacher, had a good life. That is until a series of unimaginable events turned it upside down some good, some very, very bad. Still reeling from this maelstrom of fate, Sam heads to exotic Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam seeking refuge with his family, and to reflect on his deadly past. Sam is captivated by the contrast of beauty and struggle of a country still recovering from war, and by the warmth of his newfound family his father Samuel, wife Kim, half sisters, and the beautiful enchanting Mai. But the grief-crazed mob boss, Lai Van Tan, seeks revenge against Samuel who he holds responsible for the death of his son. Ever the protector, Sam Reeves joins the fight to thwart Lai Van Tan s deadly attacks on the family. (from Goodreads)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: High.The martial arts teachers, which figure prominently in this novel, are masters of the metaphysical. They use Buddhist techniques and other approaches (such as meditation, mindfulness, and chi manipulation) to attain high levels of not only achievement but wisdom. The book resonates with quotes from spiritual luminaries such as Buddhist nun Pema Chodron: “It isn’t what happens to us that causes us to suffer; it is what we say to ourselves about what happened.”

My take: Flawed people — both physically and spiritually — make up the rich cast of characters in this martial arts thriller. The author presents a fully rounded picture of each individual, including the spiritual/Buddhist tenets they employ to combat their flaws. This approach, combined with Christensen’s excellent prose style, gives the novel a depth and resonance that most psychological thrillers can’t approach, let alone a typical crime thriller.

Warriors, both old and new, is a prominent theme in this metaphysical thriller. Christensen, a Vietnam vet, speaks with great reverence, sensitivity, and authority about the south Asian fighters who engaged in the Vietnam conflict on both sides. He refines their hard-won insight and makes it understandable for younger generations training in the martial arts.

My only complaint with Christensen’s style is that he dwells too long on details that, while fascinating, slow down the pace of the story. If you’re in the mood for a leisurely read full of color, action, insight, and compassion, this is the metaphysical novel for you.

Dukkha Reverb: A Sam Reeves Martial Arts Thriller, by Loren W. Christensen
Published by YMAA Publication Center, 2013
Paperback, 535 pages
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Book review: Cliff of the Ruin

5 Sparkly Stars for ‘Cliff of the Ruin’ by Bonnie McKernan


Tahlia Newland, guest reviewer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Cliff of the Ruin by Bonnie McKernan is an awesome historical fantasy with complex undercurrents, spiritual depth and many surprises. It takes us from post revolution America, across the ocean to Ireland and into the lair of the Shee (the Sidhe).

The story begins like a straight historical novel. Mae lives with her aunt and uncle, and their children, Aaron, a young man, and Charlotte, still a child. All of them are keen to find a husband for twenty six year old Mae, but after a broken engagement, she isn’t particularly interested in taking the risk of opening up again.

Until she meets the man on the riverbank.

Kieran the fisherman was so beautiful, that I suspected some other worldly intervention, but the full truth of what was to become a mystery around this man only became clear at the end. The influence of the Shee grew as the story progressed, and I found myself gradually drawn deeper and deeper into a world where spaces dwelled within spaces and time had a different meaning.

After a shocking revelation about her supposedly dead father, Mae disappears with Kieran for two weeks, then returns with a fever, a ring on her finger and no memory of how it got there. Clearly, Kieran is a scoundrel, and Will, a handsome lawyer friend of Mae’s uncle, is called in to help sort out the mess. Mae must become free of this husband, but the options for divorce for women in the nineteenth century were limited.

To reveal more of the story would do the potential reader a disservice, so I will only say that the plot is full of unexpected twists and turns, and the end provides a dramatic culmination of a rich story. The pacing is impeccable, and there is nothing extraneous yet everything we need to go deeply into the characters which are finely drawn and very real.

Mae, Will, Aaron and Finegal, the old man who befriends them on the ship, positively leap off the page. Each have their secrets, their flaws, and their ghosts from the past, and for Mae and Will in particular, their journey to find the scoundrel husband and force a divorce becomes one of personal reckoning and eventually healing.

Will in particular is an interesting character, his qualities of faith, strength and discipline are endearing, and his words to Mae about love underline the theme of the book.”A love that rests on beauty is meaningless.” He also says that though God is love, love is not God. A distinction that becomes clear in the actions of Petra, a Shee woman who wants to keep Kieran for herself.

The other major theme is that of forgiveness. It is clear from this story that bearing a grudge brings no happiness and rights no wrongs, and that no matter how much others forgive us, we are only forgiven when we forgive ourselves.

There are some lovely passages and snippets of wisdom in the book, like this one from Mae’s aunt when referring to issues in our life that we would rather forget, but need to deal with.

“No. Not forget. We never forget.” Aunt Gwendoline caressed her cheek. “To drain poison from the memory.”

And this lovely metaphor as a description of the state of grace that came over Will when he put his trust in God.

He didn’t need to search for the truth or even test it; it poured over him now and filled him like a dried up sponge becoming new again.

Cliff of the Ruin, by Bonnie McKernan
Published by Abbott Press, 2012
Paperback, 416 pages
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Tahlia Newland writes heart-warming and inspiring contemporary fantasy, magical realism, and visionary fiction at, and she also writes reviews for

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Tahlia Newland

Book review: Transforming Pandora

  Charming novel blends romance with spirituality

transforming_pandora_spiritual_fiction_metaphysical_romanceRating: 4 out of 5 stars

Carolyn Mathews’ story of love, loss, and spiritual transformation is a moving romance novel that balances both themes to create a delightful, insightful read.

Story: You don’t have to be a New Age flower-child to enjoy Pandora’s visits from a spectral guru who unexpectedly comes to call. She’s a newly single lady of a certain age, who’s torn between what’s best for her body and what’s best for her soul. Can her spiritual coach help her satisfy both her spiritual and romantic desires? (from

Spiritual/metaphysical content: Medium. Pandora gets involved in metaphysics via her free-spirited mother, exposed at an early age to the world of Transcendental Meditation, chakras, crystals, and the like. Later she returns to her spiritual roots, using meditation to help cope with her husband’s death.

She discovers Enoch, a channeled spirit whom Pandora evokes through automatic writing,  who guides her toward her spiritual goal. The novel explores Pandora’s spiritual awakening as she evolves into an enlightened soul. Mathews does a good job of identifying basic Buddhist precepts and other spiritual traditions and then weaving them into her story.

Circumstances and Enoch conspire to direct Pandora toward becoming a soul who can transform heavy energies such as grief and despair into hope and anticipation.  Her divine mission is to listen to others and give them hope at an energetic level through her heart chakra; indeed, the source of her name means “hope.

My takeTransforming Pandora is first and foremost is a love story, detailing all the pain and drama that goes with it, but Pandora has a very unique guide to help her make sense of her life in her later years. Pandora’s memoir jumps forward and back in time, chronicling her emotional highs and lows as she loses, then finds, and again loses the love of her life. At the same time, Pandora’s complicated story details how she finds, then loses, and again finds her life partner.

She learns through her own unhealthy entanglements how to build good relationships based on truth and keeping promises. With her angels’ help, she heals herself and her relationships  so that she may go on to help heal others.

Mathews is a talented writer, adroitly balancing the emotional and spiritual themes that drive this multi-layered metaphysical romance.  A rich cast of characters supplement the basic love story and keep the plot moving. In addition, Mathews does an excellent job keeping the reader on track as we time travel between Pandora’s loves and losses. Whether you’re looking for romance or spiritual guidance, this well-written novel of love and rebirth satisfies both.

Transforming Pandora, by Carolyn Mathews
Roundfire Books, 2012
Paperback, 345 pages
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Book review: Mareritt (Friar Tobe Fairy Tale Files)

Fascinating metaphysical mystery echoes acclaimed Rule of Ten series

mareritt-metaphysical-mystery-spiritual-novelTahlia Newland, guest reviewer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Mereritt  by Krisi Keley is a beautifully written, extraordinary and fascinating metaphysical mystery that is a great read for anyone who likes a supernatural mystery. It will particularly appeal to anyone who likes a bit of meat in their fiction and especially those interested in philosophy, which is seamlessly woven into the story.

Even the mystery itself is of a metaphysical nature. Four girls have the same nightmares, see ghostly visions and are involved in strange accidents, one of them is in a coma. The question is, is someone trying to hurt them, or are they just mentally unstable? It’s not a case the police can do anything about, so one of the girl’s mother seeks out the local private investigator, Friar Tobe, as he is known.

Tobias isn’t a Friar. He left the order before completing his novitiate, but he is a Christian with a clearly profound faith who had been on his way to becoming a Brother, and the locals have taken to referring to him as Friar Tobe.  In this way, he is the Christian equivalent of Tenzin from the Rule of Ten books by Gay Hendricks. Tenzin is an ex-Buddhist monk and also a PI but his cases are more of a worldly nature.

Tobias  is a likeable character, open-minded, self-aware, intelligent and with a highly refined wit that is shared by the equality intelligent female lead, Samantha. She is one of the four eighteen-year-olds involved in the case, and she flirts with him. He finds her enchanting, but since she is a client, he mustn’t fall for her, a fact that adds a nice undercurrent of sexual tension to the story.

Ms. Keley is a consummate story teller, and this book, like her On the Soul of a Vampire series, has a symbolic aspect, in this case in the shared nightmare. Tobias must piece together all the threads of a mystery that operates on the mental, physical and spiritual planes and that calls for his knowledge of linguistics and his understanding of the spiritual dimension.

All the characters are well-fleshed out and believable ( Sam is more mature than many eighteen-year-olds but not unrealistically so),  and another particularly likeable character is Father Mike. The relationship between the two men has the light touch that comes from a long and close friendship.

This is an entertaining and enjoyable mystery, but it is also much more. It is also a thought-provoking exploration of divine justice and redemption, a particularly wonderful book for those with an interest in philosophy, for Ms. Keley has a degree in theology. She knows her stuff and it shows. This is the finest kind of metaphysical fiction in that the philosophy and its world view are not only inseparable from the story, but also are fully researched and don’t in any way impinge upon or overpower the storyline. So it can be enjoyed on many levels; the kind of book that feeds your mind and soul, and perhaps even opens your heart somewhat.

It is also flawlessly edited, not a typo or grammatical error in sight. Highly recommended.

Review by Tahlia Newland. Read more of her reviews on Tahlia Newland, reader, writer & reviewer. You can also join her on Facebook , Twitter  Google+  or Linkedin.

Mareritt, by Krisi Keley
Krisi Keley, 2013
Kindle, 204 printed pages
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Book review: Chasing Bees

Uneven writing undermines novel’s spiritual message

Chasing Bees Renate M Bell spiritual fiction metaphysical novel new age novelRating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Renate M. Bell’s debut novel defies classification, even by the fuzzy standards of spiritual fiction. Is it literary fiction, memoir, creative nonfiction, or perhaps chick lit? Although it’s beautifully written and spiritually insightful, “Chasing Bees” doesn’t quite hit the mark in any category, resulting in an uneven story that both enthralls and bores the reader.

Story: In her debut novel, Renate M. Bell takes readers into the Lawson’s apiary in Umatilla, Florida, showing how the frailty of life mirrored in nature nurtures greater awareness and fosters spiritual awakening. The author’s firsthand struggles and triumphs as an amateur beekeeper stages a refreshingly unique background to this captivating tale. The unexpected death of Faye Lawson’s husband forces her to face the future alone. While tending the beehives, Faye unknowingly embarks on a sacred journey which tests her to the core. Will she realize death is an illusion, a great mystery of time and relocation, but not an end? Can Faye find the strength to forge a new path, one true to herself, but one that will end her husband’s dream? Will the unexpected telepathic link to a young boy with Down syndrome reveal the truth to who she really is and what her future holds? Will the guidance of the boy’s father open her heart and offer the hope she desperately needs? (From

Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. Faye’s spiritual guide is her dead husband Daniel, a beekeeper, accomplished healer, and metaphysical teacher. Visions, dreams, and astral visits from Daniel nudge Faye beyond her paralyzing and self-destructive fear as she learns to stop living others’ dreams and rediscover her own. She reaches out to Daniel for comfort and guidance, and in the process she reconnects with her soul.

Chasing Bees is a detailed, intimate portrait of how Faye moves beyond simply recalling Daniel’s spiritual lessons and puts them into practice, including magnetic healing. Faye’s spiritual journey reveals many personal insights, such as how she views people only through the lens of her own expectations. She meditates for long hours to “free herself from the three-dimensional cage” that traps her spirit,  and then ultimately realizes she’s missed the whole point of meditation.

My take:  I flipped between awe and boredom as I read Chasing Bees. The pace is slow, the conflicts mundane, and the characters hastily sketched. But then I would turn the page and a haunting section of  lyrical description, lavish imagery, and profound insight would hold me in thrall for a few more pages. Bell’s poetic descriptions, particularly of nature, remind me of Annie Dillard’s or Barbara Kingsolver’s literary novels; each sense comes alive as Bell draws us into her world. Bell’s other strength is how she effectively translates metaphysical principles into action, using beekeeping as a metaphor for spiritual growth. The novel lovingly details myriad subtle aspects of the life of a beekeeper and captures both the beauty and savagery of the natural world.

Bell notes that the novel is based on her experience, which lends the story credibility. However, had this metaphysical story been written as a memoir, perhaps the meandering pace and lack of rich characters would have been less distracting. The supporting cast, particularly her husband Daniel, seem  too perfect to be of this world. The romantic aspects are hastily and awkwardly drawn, and despite Faye’s many internal dialogues her character is fully realized only within a few dimensions. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if a scene is real or fantasy and whether it occurs in the past or present. Bell’s writing style veers between clunky conversations and lyrical prose, and the story is jammed between two completely different writing styles that try to stitch up the loose ends.

Nonetheless, Bell’s intent is to demonstrate how we can experience spiritual growth, heal ourselves, and accept the cycles of life in spite of–or perhaps because of–devastating personal loss. Chasing Bees achieves this goal, which makes the novel a worthwhile read.

Details: Chasing Bees, by Renate M. Bell
CreateSpace, 2008
Paperback, 152 pages
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Book review: Threads–The Reincarnation of Anne Boleyn

Richly textured spiritual novel explores karmic balance, stays true to history

Threads: Reincarnation of Anne Boleyn spiritual novel metaphysical fiction new ageRating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Why did King Henry VIII nearly destroy England and create a new religion in order to marry Anne Boleyn, only to have her executed three years later? Nell Gavin’s fascinating, well-written  spiritual novel makes the compelling case that his nearly incomprehensible behavior is explained by the karma created throughout their many lifetimes together.

Story: In 1536, Henry and Anne are at the mercy of influences outside their control, explosively incompatible, and caught in a marriage that ends in betrayal so shocking that Anne requires lifetimes to recover. Henry, seemingly in defense of Anne (but more likely acting out of “stubborn perverseness,” she observes), terrorizes England and decrees widespread political murder in order to protect her. Ultimately, to Anne’s horror, this once passionate husband turns on her and has her executed as well. Threads, a reincarnation fantasy, opens with Anne’s execution. Her fury at her husband s betrayal has enough momentum to survive centuries, but in Threads she learns that she has been assigned a hard task: she must review their history together through a number of past lives, and find it within herself to forgive him. This may prove difficult and take some time. The husband in question is Henry Tudor, the notorious Henry VIII. The narrator is the stubborn, volatile Anne Boleyn, who is not at all inclined to forgive. (From

Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. In the opening chapters, Anne finds herself in a “place of peace” after her execution. There she reviews her life with Henry VIII in England, as well as a dozen other lifetimes that she and Henry, along with other family and friends, share in various combinations. Gavin suggests that the crux of Anne and Henry’s tumultuous relationship partly results from Anne’s abandonment of her child (Henry) in a previous life. Henry  pursues her and obsesses over her beyond all reason, she says, “as only a lost child could or would.”

Gavin carefully constructs the “place between lives,” where words are physical beings with vibrant form, color, and substance. With the help of the Voice, Anne begins to understand the complex interactions within this group of souls, which choose to incarnate together across three millenia.  She focuses on the emotional relationships within the group, what lessons they need to learn, and what contributes to or hinders their growth. Toward the end, she feels herself “grow small with understanding” as she glimpses the true nature of reincarnation.

Gavin offers an interesting approach to understanding karma: Success earns us karmic cash,  while failure forces us to borrow. We “pay for what we take and are paid for what we give” across lifetimes. If a person successfully completes their assigned job, says Gavin, that success can be used “like currency toward the next existence on earth. The tally determines destiny, good or bad, upon one’s return” to the place between lives.

My take: This elegant literary novel, rife with imagery and insight, focuses on the emotional and spiritual relationship between Anne and Henry, emphasizing psychology over history. I was grateful that I had read several of Philippa Gregory’s excellent novels about the English Reformation, which helped me follow Gavin’s minimalist portrayal of  events and time lines. The historical details are painstakingly researched, and Gavin offers fascinating psychological insight into how karma and reincarnation nicely account for the almost inconceivable manner in which Henry VIII pursued and then discarded Anne.

Gavin is a skilled and powerful author, and Threads is an elegant tapestry of Henry and Anne’s many lives together. Gavin develops her characters more fully than most books can, not only exploring the physical and psychological dynamics of their relationship, but also projecting those dynamics across 3,000 years of shared history. This adds a rich spiritual dimension to her characters that is not possible in many novels. I highly recommend this historical novel to readers interested in learning how reincarnation may influence their own relationships.

Threads: The Reincarnation of Anne Boleyn, by Nell Gavin
Book and Quill Press, 2011
Kindle, 6500 (approx. 300 pages)
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Book review: Kabbalah, A Love Story

Romancing the Kabbalah: Kushner’s mystical novel is a work of love

Kabbalah: A Love Story, Harold Kushner spiritual novel mystical metaphysical fiction

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Rabbi Harold Kushner’s 2007 mystical novel is more than a spiritual romance (although it reads quite well as one);  it is a celebration of Jewish mysticism and spiritual insight that uses rich metaphor and prose to immerse the reader in an experience rather than just tell a story. Interwoven plots, historical revelations, and profound insight make “Kabbalah” an entertaining introduction to Jewish mysticism. The most profound insight is also one of the simplest– “People become mystics … for one of three reasons: because they’ve had a mystical experience, because they want one, or because they’re in love.”

Story: Hidden within the binding of an ancient text that has been passed down through the ages lies the answer to one of the heart’s eternal questions. When the text falls into the hands of Rabbi Kalman Stern, he has no idea that his lonely life of intellectual pursuits is about to change once he opens the book. Soon afterward, he meets astronomer Isabel Benveniste, a woman of science who stirs his soul as no woman has for many years. But Kalman has much to learn before he can unlock his heart and let true love into his life. The key lies in the mysterious document he finds inside the Zohar, the master text of the Kabbalah. (From

Spiritual/metaphysical content: Medium. Although the book offers only a brief introduction to a very complex subject, Kushner’s spiritual novel can help a reader new to Jewish traditions understand the power and allure of the Kabbalah. In the end, Kalman discovers that “knowing ultimate truth and giving yourself to your lover are effectively identical. You move from this World of Separation to the World of Unity by giving yourself away, and once you can do that, new life is the reward.”

My take: Kushner’s first novel operates on many levels at once, and all deal with love. The late-blossoming romance between Kalman and Isabel parallels another love story in 13th-century Spain that suggests how the Zohar came to be written. However, the greatest love story to me is Kalman’s (and Kushner’s) love for the Zohar itself. To read Kabbalah is to immerse one’s self in the magic of Jewish mysticism, where we discover our true nature only by opening ourselves to love.

The story feels like magical realism in spiritual expression, rich with metaphors that help expose essential truths– “That’s the way  it is with a good book: Just when you think you’ve read all its words, the damn thing falls apart in your hands and you have to start all over again.” The novel suffers from a predictable plot and stiff characters, but the beauty of the message, the pull of those multi-layered love stories, and the powerful questions Kushner poses both engaged and challenged me to the last page.

Kabbalah: A Love Story, by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner
Broadway, 2007
Hardcover, 208 pages
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