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

Advertisements

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: The Novice by Thich Nhat Hanh

 Thought-provoking spiritual novel inspires compassion

Bernie Gourley, guest reviewer

The Novice by Thich Nhat HanhRating: 5 out of 5 stars

The Novice is the retelling of a Vietnamese folk tale about a young monk who is repeatedly wronged, but who always does the virtuous thing. As I read this book, I thought the story seemed familiar, and I realized that I read the same story as The Martyr by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. Akutagawa does a much better job of story building. The Japanese writer doesn’t reveal to the reader that Lorenzo (his novice and the equivalent of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Kihn Tâm) is a female until the end—thus definitely resolving the claim that the young monk fathered a child out-of-wedlock and in contravention of vows for the reader at the same time as the characters in the story learn it.

Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that the novice is a female at the beginning, and he does so via backstory that serves both to give justification for why Kihn Tâm chooses to disguise herself and become a monk and to pile onto the injustice. We learn that Kihn Tâm’s female alter ego had been married, but the marriage ended with a false accusation of attempted murder of her husband. This backstory probably isn’t worth the drag for either of the aforementioned purposes—but the former is more justifiable than the latter.

What Thich Nhat Hanh lacks in gripping narrative structure, he gains in provoking thought. The Zen monk and poet gives the reader insight into how Kinh Tâm manages to be preternaturally virtuous. In The Martyr this is a black box affair. Hanh also encourages the reader to see Kihn Tâm’s accusers as the novice does, i.e. with compassion. Akutagawa does what any writer would do; he vilifies the accusers so as to make the story resonate with the average, petty, martyr-complex prone reader—as opposed to the enlightenment-aspiring reader. Hanh leaves the other monks in Kinh Tâm’s corner, i.e. when everyone else is condemning the novice, they still believe in her. In Akutagawa’s story, monastics are not inherently so perfect.

The book offers some interesting back matter. The most substantial of the appendices is an account by Sister Chan Khong of the works of Thich Nhat Hanh and his followers both during the war and afterword when they tried to establish a monastery in Communist Vietnam. The essay echoes the themes of loving-kindness and compassion that form the core of the novella, as does the essay by Hanh that brings the book to a conclusion. While this back matter is filler to make up for the fact that the story is not novel length, it nevertheless makes for interesting reading.

I’d recommend this book for those with an interested in Zen. If you’re looking for a good story, read Akutagawa’s The Martyr, but if you want to be inspired to compassion, read Thich Nhat Hanh. 

Details:
The Novice: A Story of True Love, by Thich Nhat Hanh
HarperOne, 2012
Paperback, 120 pages
Buy at Amazon

This book review was reprinted with permission from Bernie Gourley, who writes at http://berniegourley.com

Book review: Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho

 Metaphysical novel borrows from Coelho’s own experience

Veronika Decides to Die Paulo Coelho

Bernie Gourley, guest reviewer

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Veronika Decides to Die is about a young Slovenian woman, Veronika, who attempts suicide, fails, is institutionalized, and is informed that her attempted suicide damaged her heart and she has only five days to live. In the hospital she has to come to grips with what it means to be dying, but also what it means to be insane.

The book deals with the effect of Veronika’s death sentence diagnosis on her as well as on other patients with whom she interacts. The first patient Veronika comes in contact with is a depressive named Zedka who offers Veronika advice and insight. Then there is Maria, a woman who withdrew from her professional and family life to be institutionalized because she was having inexplicable panic attacks. Finally, there is Eduardo, a schizophrenic who is virtually non-functional when he meets Veronika, but who ends up in a relationship with the young woman nonetheless. These patients come to realize that they are hiding out at the hospital. They stay in the hospital because they are free to defy norms without judgment. When Veronika decides she doesn’t want to die hiding out, it has a profound impact on the others.

The book borrows heavily upon Coelho’s personal experience. He was institutionalized as a young man by parents who were disturbed when he went artsy and began hanging out with undesirables. Interestingly, Coelho has a cameo role in the book as himself. In the book he writes an article that playfully asks the question, “Where is Slovenia?” When Veronika is waiting to die from her overdose, she reads the article and decides to write a letter to the editor claiming that she killed herself because of the depressing effect of Coelho’s suggestion that nobody who’s anybody knows or cares where Slovenia is located.

In the end Veronika finds that she is truly free. Veronika seems to have everything at the beginning of the story: a job, boyfriends, and popularity. However, it’s those things that she comes to feel enslave her, and that’s what leads to the attempted suicide. In a way, Veronika is doubly freed. She is free because she is dying, and what can one do to a dying person. Second, she has been labeled crazy, and, having such a label, people expect her to act oddly. She has the freedom to do those things she has been too frightened to do all her life.

I’d recommend this metaphysical book. It’s short, readable, and offers clear food for thought.

Details:
Veronika Decides to Die, by Paulo Coelho
Harper Perennial, 2006
Paperback, 240 pages
Buy at Amazon

This book review was reprinted with permission from Bernie Gourley, who writes at http://berniegourley.com

Beyond Words: Always do what you are afraid to do

metaphysical fiction visionary inspirational

What have you done recently that you were afraid to do?

Scientific Proof That You Can Choose Happiness

Happiness Joy 

One theory in psychology research suggests that we all have a happiness “set-point”that largely determines our overall well-being. We oscillate around this set point, becoming happier when something positive happens or the opposite, afterwards returning to equilibrium.

But this set-point, to a certain extent, can be reset. Although our general mood levels and well-being are partially determined by factors like genetics and upbringing, roughly 40 percent of our happiness is within our control, according to some experts, and a large body of research in the field of positive psychology has shown that happiness is a choice that anyone can make. As psychologist William James put it, “The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by altering his attitude.”

Here are eight ways you can take control of your own happiness.

Simply try.

happiness

A little effort can go a long way in increasing happiness. Two small experimental studies, published this year in the Journal of Positive Psychology, found that simplytrying to be happier could actually elevate mood and well-being. In one study, two groups of students listened to “happy” music — one group was instructed to make a concerted effort to feel happier, while the other group was instructed not to actively try to lift their mood. The group that tried to feel happy experienced the most elevated moods after listening to the music.

Make happiness your number-one goal.

People who are happy choose to make happiness among their top goals in life, according to psychologist Tom G. Stevens, Ph.D., author of You Can Choose to Be Happy.

“Choose to take advantage of opportunities to learn how to be happy,” Stevens told WebMD. “For example, reprogram your beliefs and values. Learn good self-management skills, good interpersonal skills, and good career-related skills. Choose to be in environments and around people that increase your probability of happiness. The persons who become the happiest and grow the most are those who also make truth and their own personal growth primary values.”

Linger on those little, positive moments.

coffee

According to Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness, our brains are wired to scout for all that’s bad — as he puts it, the brain is like velcro for negative experiences and teflon for positive ones. This “negativity bias” causes the brain to react intensely to bad news, compared to how it responds to good news. But we can counter the brain’s negativity bias — which triggers us to form stronger bad memories than good ones — by appreciating and lingering on those tiny, positive moments.

“People don’t recognize the hidden power of everyday experiences,” Hanson told The Huffington Post. “We’re surrounded by opportunities — 10 seconds here or 20 seconds there — to just register useful experiences and learn from them. People don’t do that when they could.”

Choose mindfulness.

meditation

The secret to happiness could be as simple (and difficult) as becoming more mindful. Meditation — a practice that anyone can do, anywhere, so long as they’re willing to sit and try to silence the mind — is thought to be a happiness-booster.

University of Wisconsin psychology professor Richard Davidson found in his research that a meditation practice might help to shift brain activity from the right frontal area of the brain (associated with depression, anxiety and worry) to the left, which has been found to correlate with feelings of happiness, excitement, joy and alertness.

Smile your way to happiness.

success and motivation

The secret to boosting your mood could be as simple as making yourself smile. A2011 Michigan State University study found that workers who smiled as a result of cultivating positive thoughts exhibited improved mood and less withdrawal. Fake smiling, on the other hand, resulted in worse moods and withdrawal from work.

Practice gratitude.

gratitude

Cultivating thankfulness and gratitude is a scientifically-backed way to increase happiness, and it’s firmly within your control to choose to be more grateful.

Grateful people tend to appreciate simple pleasures, defined as “those pleasures in life that are available to most people,” according to a report in the journal of Social Behavior and Personality.

Pursue happiness, find happiness — and success.

success

Conventional thinking has it that pursuing success will lead to happiness, but research has shown that it may be just the opposite. Pursuing happiness leads not only to happiness itself, but also to success, according to Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage.

In his 12 years researching happiness at Harvard, Achor found that cultivating apositive mindset could boost well-being and improve workers’ performance on many levels, from productivity to creativity and engagement.

“People who cultivate a positive mind-set perform better in the face of challenge,”he wrote in Harvard Business Review in 2012. “I call this the ‘happiness advantage’ — every business outcome shows improvement when the brain is positive.”

Let yourself be happy.

happiness and dancing

Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse who spent years working with elderly people on their deathbeds, noticed a common theme that came up repeatedly among her patients at the end of their lives: They regretted not “letting” themselves be happy.

Ware, the author of The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying, wrote in a Huffington Post blog:

Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again … Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

Practice compassion.

restoring balance

Want to increase your brain’s capacity for happiness? Try meditating on compassion. Brain-scanning studies on French monk Matthieu Ricard found that when he was practicing loving-kindness meditation, his brain produced gamma waves “never reported before in the neuroscience literature.” Ricard has the largest capacity for happiness ever recorded, thanks to neuroplasticity.

“Meditation is not just blissing out under a mango tree but it completely changes your brain and therefore changes what you are,” Ricard told the New York Daily News.

Reblogged from HuffPost

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.”

Details:
Dark Night of the Soul, by E.M. Havens
E.M. Havens, 2013
Kindle, 166 printed pages
Buy at Amazon

tahlia newland visionary fiction author

Tahlia Newland

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