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: Dark Night of the Soul

A real gem of metaphysical fiction

Dark Night of the Soul by E.M. Havens metaphysical fiction sci fi-fantasy novel

Tahlia Newland, guest reviewer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Dark Night of the Soul is a real gem. E.M Havens has used magical realism in this YA novel to examine suicide and the issues that surround it, and like all the very best indies, it’s a completely unique voice that explores its theme in a brave new way.

Seventeen-year-old Jayden commits suicide and finds herself in a kind of purgatory where teams of people who have committed suicide protect other suicidal souls from the demons that whisper in their ears and incite them to suicide. Life in this purgatory is a series of battles. If they defeat the demons, the person lives; if they lose, the person succeeds in their quest for death and their soul joins the team. When a new member arrives, the Judgement–a kind of sparkly storm cloud–comes for another. If it’s you it comes for, you’ll meet a statue of yourself and you can either submit to the judgment or fight to keep the demons off your statue/soul. If the judgment takes you, you’ll either move on to the next realm, or you’ll go back to your life. It’s a second chance. It’s difficult to explain and it’s bizarre, but it works.

Havens takes us through a series of events in which Jayden grows as a person.This isn’t a story you can say much about without blowing the intricacies, surprises and beautiful ending. What I can say, though, is that I didn’t want to put it down.

The author skilfully revealed the details of the world and the character’s lives as the story progressed, so that there was always something new to learn and a different angle to take on what we’d already seen. A romance blossoms as well, one with a bitter-sweet flavour because it apparently has little chance of long-term success. The environment is surreal, taking the group of demon slayers through various terrain and a wide variety of accommodations provided by “Him.” Is it God? No one knows. One powerful image is of a Walmart in the middle of a desert where the manager uses televisions to show Jayden the options the suicides don’t see due to their tunnel vision. That’s when she learns why they fight to keep the demons from luring people to their death.

Though the subject is suicide, this is not a sad or depressing book; it’s a great tale with layers of meaning. Though it appears as a fantasy, everything is a vehicle for insight making it more precisely metaphysical fiction and magical realism.

It’s simply but effectively written and warrants 5 stars once an issue of formatting has been corrected.

Favourite quote:

“Is it Heaven.”
“No.” He looked down at me in awe, a smile gracing his burnt and peeling lips. “Better. It’s Walmart.”

Dark Night of the Soul, by E.M. Havens
E.M. Havens, 2013
Kindle, 166 printed pages
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tahlia newland visionary fiction author

Tahlia Newland

Tahlia Newland writes heart-warming and inspiring contemporary fantasy, magical realism, and visionary fiction at, and she also writes reviews for

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
Buy at Amazon

Book review: Unison (The Spheral)

  Simultaneous lifetimes give reincarnation novel a fresh feel

Unison (The Spheral) reincarnation fiction visionary novelRating: 4 out of 5 stars

What if you could go back and try, again and again, until you got it right? The Groundhog Day premise of “Unison” is familiar, but Papanou keeps it fresh with a futuristic utopian/dystopian setting and some visionary plot twists.

Story: Illness has been eradicated in Unity thanks to a healing implant, and criminals are cured with virtual reality therapy. In this seemingly idyllic community, Damon 1300-333-1M is condemned to relive his life until he uncovers a suppressed memory. Attempting to help him remember his clouded past is a woman who communicates with him in visions and dreams, but a frightening premonition keeps diverting him to a cabin where a dangerous encounter leads to his friend’s death. The tragedy will play out for lifetimes to come and open his eyes to the truth about Unity and himself. To break the endless cycle of his life, Damon must confront his darkest fears and unveil a memory that’s too painful to remember. Only then can he discover an even more profound truth that expands beyond his mind and the Universe. (from

Spiritual/metaphysical content: Medium. Ultimate karma in real time gives this spiritual/metaphysical/visionary novel its structure and theme. In Unison, karma plays out in the form of a single lifetime that loops again and again, and certain characters have the ability to remember the lessons from previous lifetimes (eventually). The idea is that, not only does fate or destiny or karma affect serial lifetimes, it also affects a single lifetime replayed many times, allowing us to make key decisions over and over again until we are satisfied with the outcome.

Papanou tackles that fine line between individual choice and predetermination and tries to demonstrate how both can exist in parallel–all with a careful emphasis on avoiding freighted words specific to religions, such as karma, God, reincarnation, etc. In keeping with the futuristic setting of the novel, she instead chooses analogies that evoke technology such as uploads and downloads of memory at death and birth. 

Fresh metaphors illuminate the spiritual theme, such as music. One character in the orchestra with Damon is uncomfortable with the idea of fate or destiny–“the idea of being played by a hand I can’t see.” Damon replies that we actually “play” ourselves. Everyone has their own constant frequency that exists forever within the grand symphony of the “Progenitor.” Each string vibrates independently, but the tones resonate in unison. Each individual’s frequency is endless, and every unique tune, so to speak, is downloaded at birth in a constant cycle of life.

Damon exemplifies a principle that is laid clear by the structure of this novel: “What keeps me going is that with each passing lifetime, I realize how little I know–how little anyone knows. The quest for understanding the implications of that truth is both maddening and thrilling. . . . It’s a constant reminder to me of what if means to be free.”

My take: Despite taking the time to replay eight of Damon’s lives, Unison is tautly written and engrossing. A multitude of finely drawn and fascinating characters enliven Damon’s journeys at every turn. Papanou’s world is just as finely detailed, veering from utopian to dystopian and then to something beyond them both as the world and the characters evolve. The ending feels a bit rushed, but perhaps that’s understandable since The Spheral appears to be a series.

An interesting aspect of this reincarnation novel is that it deliberately avoids religious overtones. It simply presents the structure of the universe(s) in such a way that seemingly mystical events (such as living multiple, simultaneous lives) are easily explainable because of the laws of that universe. The reader learns about esoteric practices and principles without the obscuring layer of religion that so often fracture universal truths instead of reveal their logic and uniformity. As do the characters in this well-crafted, fascinating book, you get to choose what to make of it yourself.

Unison (The Spheral), by Eleni Papanou
Philophrosyne Publishing, 2013
Paperback, 563 pages
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Book review: Crashing Eden

Technology meets spirituality in this bold and satisfying YA novel

Crashing Eden Michael Sussman visionary fiction metaphysical novel spiritualRating: 4 out of 5 stars

Imagine an engrossing tale that samples the angst of  “Catcher in the Rye”  and insight of “Ordinary People,” barrels toward “Johnny Mnemonic,” and then smoothly sails past “The Celestine Prophecy” toward a truly unexpected climax. Michael Sussman’s young-adult visionary fiction builds upon these themes to create a truly original novel of technical innovation, psychological insight, and spiritual growth. Sussman’s second novel is by no means perfect, but it delivers a fresh, fast-paced read that you ponder long after the last page.

Story:  For one boy and his friends, the path to Paradise comes at a cost–one they may not be prepared to pay. When a biking accident leaves 17-year-old Joss Kazdan with the ability to hear things others can’t, reality as he knows it begins to unravel. A world of legends exists beyond the ordinary life he’s always known, and he is transported to the same Paradise he’s studying in World Mythology. But the strange gets even stranger when his new friends build a device that delivers people through the gates of the Garden of Eden. Now Samael, the Creator God, is furious. As Samael rains down his apocalyptic devastation on the ecstasy-seeking teens, Joss and his companions must find a way to appease Samael–or the world will be destroyed forever. (From

Spiritual/metaphysical content: Medium. Sussman describes the Fall of Man as when human consciousness was cut off from the divine force, which is a pervasive theme throughout most world religions. Mankind no longer experienced a “primal organic unity, fully in the moment, unfiltered by language or logic.”

Joss experiences this Edenic consciousness after a head injury and for a time exists in a state of ecstasy, at one with everything around him. After living in a profound state of depression for two years, he is desperate to regain that unity. Technology enables him to reconnect by tuning into the (fictional, as far as I can tell) Shankman Frequency, which Sussman describes as the primordial vibration of the universe–the OM.

I learned much about the world’s religions and mythologies, particularly Gnostics, and Sussman adds a satisfying convergence of religious traditions that brightens the penultimate chapter. However, technology rather than self-discovery drives the characters’ spiritual growth.

My take:  Sussman is a skilled writer. Crashing Eden offers rich characterization, nail-nibbling tension, and plenty of action for the metaphysical fiction audience. One of his greatest strengths is his ability to describe complex emotional issues such as depression and suicide in bald, unsentimental language that intensifies the power of those scenes. The tension builds as Joss and his friends journey beyond existential peril into mortal danger.

Sussman offers fascinating psychological insights, including parallels between the Gnostic Christian deity and an abusive parent.  He delivers the requisite explication with great skill, employing a range of narrators from teachers to dogs, which makes the novel less “preachy” than comparable spiritual/metaphysical fiction.

I appreciated the characters’ ethnic diversity and how Sussman showcases the common themes that unite most world religions, including Christianity. However, the teens in this YA novel occasionally lapse into language more suited to Sussman’s clinical psychology practice. He draws comparisons to the 1966 Hugo Award winner  Flowers for Algernon, which is an apt metaphor but one that may not resonate with contemporary teen readers.

Ultimately, the characters’ spiritual growth is driven by technology rather than self discovery, which makes the book less than ideal for me. Nonetheless, Sussman strikes a very satisfying balance between action, character, and theme in this fast-paced, enjoyable YA novel of vision and verve.

Crashing Eden, by Michael Sussman
Solstice Publishing, 2012
Paperback, 215 pages
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Book review, take 2: The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You

Ancient wisdom in a modern language

kin_of_ata_are_waiting_for_you_Dorothy_Bryant_spiritual_novel_new_age_fictionGuest reviewer: Judy Croome, South

3 out of 5 stars

A book of hope and inspiration, THE KIN OF ATA ARE WAITING FOR YOU by Dorothy Bryant carries the reader along as gently and as inexorably as a mountain stream.

The anti-hero we meet in the first pages is unlikeable in many ways; despite this (or perhaps because of it) one has a stake in the outcome of his spiritual journey on the island of Ata and his final test back in the material world.

Life on Ata is what one imagines pre-lapserian Eden was like. As he experiences more of the community of Ata; as he learns to understand more than just the spoken language of the Kin, and as he bonds emotionally with the stately Augustine, a woman like none other he has known, his soul evolves and blossoms like a desert flower after the first drops of life giving rain.

There are many insights and thought-provoking scenes throughout this story, all the more remarkable when one remembers that this story was written in 1971! It’s all too easy to miss the far-sighted vision of Bryant when one reads this book in the second decade of the 21st century, when the search for individual spiritual enlightenment has been mainstream for the last twenty years or more. When it was first published, THE KIN OF ATA must surely have been both ground-breaking and deeply illuminating.

THE KIN OF ATA is a story that must be read with an open mind and patience, for its message is subtle, layered and important.

However, I had personal issue with the projection of a universal human condition (racial prejudice) onto the convenient scapegoat that is South Africa. In addition, there were times when the narrative was too lengthy. Mostly, the writing was so lyrical and so dream-like it only added to the otherworldly ambience of the anti-hero’s soul journey. There were occasions, though, when some dialogue, or shorter descriptions may have been more effective in holding the reader. The current title, too, is obscure; I prefer the original title “The Comforter.”

The final strength of this story lies in the lingering effect it has on a reader. Ultimately, this is a book for all ages and all seasons: the truths it contains are truths of an ancient wisdom spoken in the language of our time. We may, as the anti-hero did when he first arrived on Ata, take some time to fully understand what we’ve experienced but, when we reach that moment of enlightenment, we’ll find ourselves forever changed. See PJ’s earlier review

Guest reviewer:

judy_croome_author_dancing_in_the_shadows_of_loveJudy Croome lives and writes in Johannesburg, South Africa. She was shortlisted in the African Writing Flash Fiction 2011 competition, and other short stories and poems have appeared in Itch-e Magazine and Notes from Underground Anthology. Her independently published novel, Dancing in the Shadows of Love, is available from Visit Judy on her blog