Book review: The Art of Purring

  Dalai Lama’s cat takes up the quest to define happiness

Dalai-lamas-cat-art-of-purring-michieRating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

In “The Art of Purring,” David Michie once again takes us on a delightful journey to reveal what only His Holiness’s Cat can discover in a Buddhist temple in this charming sequel to “The Dalai Lama’s Cat.” This time, the goal is no less than the pursuit of happiness.

Story: “What makes you purr? Of all the questions in the world, this is the most important. It is also the great leveler. Because no matter whether you are a playful kitten or a sedentary senior, a scrawny alley Tom or a sleek-coated uptown girl, whatever your circumstances, you just want to be happy. Not the kind of happy that comes and goes like a can of flaked tuna but an enduring happiness. The deep-down happiness that makes you purr from the heart.”

Before leaving for a teaching tour to America, the Dalai Lama poses a challenge to his beloved feline, HHC (His Holiness’s Cat): to discover the true cause of happiness. Little does she know what adventures this task will bring! (from Amazon.com)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. HHC ventures into new territory to discover the answer to the Dalai Lama’s challenge. While exploring yoga, an encounter with the mystical Yogi Tarchen leads to a discovery about her past with far-reaching implications. However, she learns that happiness doesn’t dwell in the past but only in the here and now.

The book explores both Eastern philosophy and Western science to describe a “happiness formula” and much more. It makes the point that everything is possible, even beyond events like clairvoyance, telepathy, and animal sentience.

My take: Michie takes his second Dalai Lama’s Cat novel into the realms of the magical with his lush and detailed descriptions of life among the Namgyal monks,particularly the inner workings of the temple and of Buddhist funeral rites. However, he keeps his philosophy firmly planted on all four paws. Although lyrical, The Art of Purring is a practical book written from the pragmatic perspective of this special cat who simply wants to know, what makes us purr? What makes us happy?

By hanging out at the Himalaya Book Café, HHC benefits from overheard conversations with famous writers, high-ranking lamas, and eminent psychologists discussing the relationship between happiness and success and the many facts of happiness, including its paradoxical nature. In many ways, this metaphysical novel is the perfect complement to the Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness.

What is the true cause of purring? The answer unfolds for both the cat and her reading companions with HHC’s trademark charm and a hint of mischeviousness that delights and entertains in equal doses.

Details:
The Dalai Lama’s Cat and the Art of Purring, by David Michie
Hay House, 2013
Paperback, 208 pages
Buy at Amazon

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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.

Details:
Dukkha Reverb: A Sam Reeves Martial Arts Thriller, by Loren W. Christensen
Published by YMAA Publication Center, 2013
Paperback, 535 pages
Buy at Amazon

Book review: Cliff of the Ruin

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

Cliff-of-the-Ruin

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.

Details:
Cliff of the Ruin, by Bonnie McKernan
Published by Abbott Press, 2012
Paperback, 416 pages
Buy at Amazon

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

tahlia newland visionary fiction author

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 Amazon.com)

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.

Details:
Transforming Pandora, by Carolyn Mathews
Roundfire Books, 2012
Paperback, 345 pages
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Book review: The Dalai Lama’s Cat

  Quirky spiritual novel is short on tale, long on charm

The Dalai Lama's Cat metaphysical novel Buddhist fictionRating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Charming and life affirming, “The Dalai Lama’s Cat” is perfect for a sunny afternoon when you want a quick read that reminds you of what’s truly important.  Written from the cat’s perspective, this spiritual/metaphysical novel explores how the simplest of actions–even a cat’s–can lead to spiritual growth.

Story: Starving and pitiful, a mud-smeared kitten is rescued from the slums of New Delhi and transported to a life she could have never imagined. In a beautiful sanctuary overlooking the snow-capped Himalayas, she begins her new life as the Dalai Lama’s cat.

Warmhearted, irreverent, and wise, this cat of many names opens a window to the inner sanctum of life in Dharamsala. A tiny spy observing the constant flow of private meetings between His Holiness and everyone from Hollywood celebrities to philanthropists to self-help authors, the Dalai Lama’s cat provides us with insights on how to find happiness and meaning in a busy, materialistic world. Her story will put a smile on the face of anyone who has been blessed by the kneading paws and bountiful purring of a cat. (from Amazon.com)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. Because she belongs to the Dalai Lama, this cat of many names decides she should reflect the spiritual nature of the Jokhang Buddhist temple. The novel revolves around the teachings from the Dalai Lama and other household members, which apply to both visitors and the observant cat. We learn along with “His Holiness’s Cat” the value in very life (even cockroaches), compassion for mice, mindfulness in all things, how self-development can lead to self-absorption (and hairballs), the perils of attachment (gluttony, in her case), how karma works, how to meditate and more on her way to becoming a “bodhicatva.”

The cat comes to understand that ” . . . it is not so much the circumstances of our lives that make us happy or unhappy but the way we see them,” and the wonderful paradox that “. . . the best way to achieve happiness for oneself is to give happiness to others.”

The lessons are simple, typically taught to a visitor which the cat then applies to her own life; it is an effective way to learn the basic precepts of Buddhism. Michie incorporates a bit of neuroscience research that validates the benefits of mindfulness and meditation and the science behind Buddhism to make the principles more palatable to the western reader.

My take: Michie’s approach to this novel was clever. Many readers are entranced by the day-to-day experiences of famous people and their pets, even though the experiences themselves are quite mundane. But you won’t need bombs and car chases to keep turning the pages; the combination of cute cat, a world-renowned holy man, and a liberal dose of spiritual wisdom is quite enjoyable.

The theme-driven plot is thin; events happen mostly to illustrate a spiritual lesson. However, several characters in town are developed to show their growth over time, which makes for a satisfying ending. The conflicts are minor, and the triumphs are small steps for both the human characters and the cat. But isn’t life like that? We experience one small hurt at a time and grow–or retreat–depending on the story we create about that event. The sometimes-quirky story reminds us that every thought and action matters. Michie’s Buddhist novel will not keep you on the edge of your seat, but you will close the book with a satisfied smile.

Details:
The Dalai Lama’s Cat, by David Michie
Hay House Visions, 2012
Paperback, 240 pages
Buy at Amazon

Book review: Star Child

Metaphysical novel serves up a feast for the senses

star child metaphysical fiction spiritual novelRating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Kay Goldstein’s “Star Child” is lovely, not only for its elegant prose and theme but also for the novel’s beautiful design and craftsmanship. Rich with metaphorical and literal imagery, this slim novel is a delightful read and a feast for the senses.

Story: Imagine two mystical and mysterious beings descend from the heavens. What could their journey on earth possibly teach us? Only what it means to be truly human. And that is the greatest lesson of all. Terra and Marius are star children, heavenly beings who come to earth with all their special wisdom and powers to live as human beings in a faraway time and place. Like all modern youth, they face the challenges of fear, loneliness, the need to please, and the stigma of showing their true selves when they do not fit in with those around them. Betraying their own hearts, each gives up or misuses the very things that make them unique. In this universal and touching tale of love and loss, young adults and old souls will treasure their encounter with the star children on their magical journey back to themselves and each other. (from Amazon.com)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. Although the heroine and hero are described as “star children,” they are not alien beings; they are evolved humans we all aspire to become. Their challenges create an immediate connection with the reader because we have all faced the same emotional and physical hardships. They learn as we learn–sometimes painfully, sometimes with gentle guidance.

A wise character makes a simple comment, but it captured my attention in a very profound way: “Once I had seen myself, I could not pretend to be someone else.” This short spiritual novel‘s sparse, Zen-like narrative touched me in a way that a 100,000-word epic could not have.

My take: Goldstein’s wonderful sense of voice makes her words fly off the page to create three-dimensional events that feel like tart lemonade on a scorching day. The story is simple but powerful, with vivid, visceral images that bring to mind Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate.

I won’t spoil the brief, simple, but ever-so-satisfying epilogue for you. Suffice to say, it does what every good ending should do: Offer a heart-lifting conclusion, touch lightly upon the depth and insight of the theme, and weave its very specific message into the fabric of the wider world. The epilogue’s beautiful prose and illustration complement each other splendidly. I closed Star Child‘s perfectly crafted pages with a satisfied sigh and immediately turned to Amazon to find another Kay Goldstein book. No more novels, alas, but a book of recipes and stories called Book of Feasts–a perfect description for this book as well.

Details:
Star Child, by Kay Goldstein
Vineyard Stories, 2012
Hardcover, 81 pages
Buy at Amazon

Book review: God Is an Atheist

 If God doesn’t believe in Himself, what about us?

God Is an Athiest metaphysical fiction novellaRating: 4 out of 5 stars

Would you like to have a real conversation with God? Not the reasonable, polished, Neale Donald Walsch kind, but a no-holds-barred, “What the hell?” kind of conversation. If so, “God Is an Atheist” by N. Nosirrah (really) may be the story for you.

Story: A profoundly funny romp through religion, spirituality, and the contemporary clash of cultures of belief, with special attention to the human obsession with knowing what can’t be known. Nosirrah provokes just about everyone as he describes a world where God is on the run from Islamic extremists, the Pope announces he shares a bed with Richard Dawkins, and Buddha’s son disappoints by getting enlightened instead of becoming a doctor. To say this novella is strange might give the reader a way to relate to it, but in fact, nothing will shift the burden away from the reader. In its pages, the world is bent around the reader’s mind until either the mind itself begins to bend, or indeed, breaks. A book without plot, characters, structure, or obvious purpose, this is an endless descent into the netherworlds of a dystopian mind. (from Amazon.com)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. There is so much spiritual wisdom in this novella, spilling out of every page and paragraph. There’s no way to do justice to either the author’s depth of insight or the mind-confounding presentation, so here’s a random sampling of Nosirrah’s and God’s thoughts.

God is I AM–everything, all inclusive. Men try to parse the whole of God into smaller, more manageable chunks, which is why religions can seem schizophrenic. Most people can’t listen–just listen–to each other, the birds, the creek, our own bodies. We hear only the parts we like, and we form God’s voice and our beliefs based on that part instead of on the whole.

Having faith requires an anchor or foundation, something upon which to construct our beliefs. But relying on anchors (for example, religious dogma) doesn’t teach us about the actual world; we just know a great deal about what we already know. Letting go of our answers, accepting that we cannot know, is much harder. But that’s where God is.

God doesn’t believe in Himself, or even believe in belief. All of our believing has caused humanity nothing but problems, God says. He’d like to see a human culture beyond belief. As Nosirrah puts it, “A believer will destroy God and himself before he’ll let go of his beliefs.” In one scene, no one can see God when He approaches them because “each of us is captured by what we know and we organize reality to fit it.”

My take:  This novella, a series of vignettes and soliloquies, attempts to have no plot, no protagonist, no conflict to resolve. But we as readers can’t help ourselves–we must weave stories together to make sense of our world.  Nosirrah’s thesis explores this potent theme of story. “Do not under any circumstances believe the story of your life . . . Everything is story, everything is constructed.” Original sin, says Nosirrah, is feeling safe by making up a nice story. We are addicted to the narrative of our lives. We will tell any tale to make the world make sense.

As an author, Nosirrah is a bit heavy handed, prone to digression, hubris, and self-aggrandizement, but his style is nicely leavened by a generous helping of humor. As a metaphysical novel, God is an Atheist packs a strangely powerful punch. The lack of story forces us to engage more, to make up our own stories to explain what is happening–and that just proves Nosirrah’s point.

Details:
God Is an Atheist: A Novella for Those Who Have Run Out of Time, by N. Nosirrah
Sentient Publications, 2008
Paperback, 119 pages
Buy at Amazon