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The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: A Practical Commentary for Leading a Successful Spiritual Life

George Burke. Light of the Spirit Press, $24.95 (534p) ISBN 978-1-73-252660-0

Going verse by verse through the ancient Hindu text the Bhagavad Gita, Burke, director of the Light of the Spirit Monastery in Cedar Crest, N.Mex., enthusiastically explores the story as a means for knowing oneself, the cosmos, and one’s calling within it. This dense work is not for those with a mere curiosity; Burke goes deep, with transliterations of Sanskrit terms that pepper every page alongside his commentary on their meanings. Burke also argues that the Gita is inherently practical and not overly philosophical. His plainspoken insights often distill complex lessons with simplicity and sagacity: “those who live for their personal gratification... really live to no real purpose, for death in a moment sweeps away everything they value.” Burke also interweaves numerous quotes from the Bible, the Buddha, and other religious traditions to support his points, encouraging readers to be “Krishna-minded” and “Christ-minded” at the same time. While Burke’s intended audience is vague, those with a deep interest in the Gita will find much wisdom here. (Self-published.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Rescript the Story You’re Telling Yourself: The Eight Practices to Quiet Your Inner Antagonist, Amplify Your Inner Advocate, and Author a Limitless Life

Colleen Georges. Author Academy Elite, $9.99 ebook (324p) ISBN 978-1-64085-559-5

Life coach Georges’s upbeat but formulaic debut applies the tenets of positive psychology toward a motivational practice centered on reframing negative thoughts. Georges writes that “life is like a story, and we have more authorship over the script than we often tell ourselves,” and imagines that story is told by two opposing narrators: the healthy “Inner Advocate” and the “Inner Antagonist,” which needs to be quieted. She presents eight tools, across eight identically structured chapters, for maintaining focus—“Release Rumination,” “Engage Growth Goals vs. Evading Them,” “Seek Strengths vs. Scrutinizing Shortcomings,” “Challenge Catastrophizing,” and “Restrict Regrets,” among others. Overuse of alliteration and overwhelmingly detailed lists (such as suggested “acknowledgments and affirmations”) drown out Georges’s more creative ideas about shifting one’s personal “negativity bias.” The workbook format is generally frustrating and poorly done, leaving blanks to be filled in without sufficient space and repeating the same sections in each chapter. Nevertheless, Georges provides a thoughtful framework for changing one’s attitude, and readers should be able to find some workable approaches among the dozens of practices Georges covers. Readers willing to sift through the myriad prompts and repetitive structure will find motivation for battling one’s inner critic. (Self-published.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Gates of Eden

Nadene LeCheminant. Cottage Street Books, $12.99 trade paper (318p) ISBN 978-0-9600215-0-5

LeCheminant’s intriguing debut follows converts to Mormonism trekking across the U.S. in the mid-1800s. In 1855, missionaries in England have gathered new “Saints” from the destitute of Liverpool. Sixteen-year-old Josephine Bell and her mother, Elizabeth, lost everything when Josephine’s father died in debt, and the two converts board a ship to America, survive typhus and dysentery on board, and land in New York. After a suffocating train ride to Iowa City, their next task is to travel 1,300 miles to Utah with nothing but a handcart meant to hold all of their worldly possessions—Josephine becomes known as a “handcart maiden”—but they find the promised land is not quite as promised: Josephine is forced to marry a man who already has one wife, and who’s “old ’nough to be [her] grandpa.” But Brigham Young and his apostles are determined that polygamy is sacred, and they’re willing to fight federal troops in order to protect the religion and its tenets. LeCheminant’s story is ambitious, though sometimes weighed down by a plodding pace. This often fascinating novel will be appreciated by historical fans, particularly those seeking a look into the early days of Mormonism. (Self-published.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Black Heart Boys’ Choir

Curtis M. Lawson. Wyrd Horror, $14.99 trade paper (252p) ISBN 978-1-07-510806-8

Fluid writing and expert pacing cannot make up for the unnuanced protagonist of this gory horror novel from Lawson (To Kill an Archangel). After the father of pretentious teenage musician Lucien Beaumont kills himself, Lucian’s alcoholic mother blows through their remaining money, and he is forced to leave his private high school for life as a social outcast in public school where he entertains violent fantasies about his classmates. When Lucien discovers an unfinished piece of music written by his late father that heralds the apocalypse, he becomes desperate to finish it, befriending three other outcast boys and roping them into his obsession. It’s not as simple as just writing notes on paper, however: A demon unicorn who served as Lucien’s father’s muse will share the music with Lucien only after Lucien pays for it with blood. Lawson imbues Lucien with a powerful voice, but his one-note rage and myopic, brooding vision of the world are exhausting and insufferable. This dark novel’s combination of carnage and teenage angst will turn off squeamish readers. (Self-published.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Soul Mender

R.S. Dabney. Red Pen Warriors, $14.99 trade paper (380p) ISBN 978-0-692-47201-9

A familiar science fiction theme—a parallel reality populated by alter egos of the inhabitants of our own—gets a fresh spin in this intriguing variant of a dark fantasy. Since childhood, Riley Dale, an environmental scientist living in Boulder, Colo., has been plagued by visions. Then she unexpectedly crosses over into the world of her imaginings with the help of a magic ring left to her by her grandmother. Partnering with Oz, a drug-addicted ne’er-do-well who represents the other half of her divided soul, and protector Zachary Stone, who’s a serial killer in her own world, Riley travels cross-country to Los Angeles, the terrorist-bombed capital of this alternate U.S., to learn the crucial role she must play in events rocking the parallel world. Dabney’s writing is crisp and confident, and her characters—including both of their personalities—are well-developed. She introduces more subplots than can be resolved by the novel’s end, making this a promising start for a projected trilogy. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Hunting in the Zoo: A Detective Pete Nazareth Novel

R.H. Johnson. Hampton, Westbrook, $17.95 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-5323-0214-5

Johnson’s suspenseful third novel featuring Det. Pete Nazareth of the NYPD (after A Measure of Revenge) places presidential candidate Archer Grande, who boasts that he could “stroll naked down Fifth Avenue, and my supporters would still vote for me,” in the crosshairs of an assassin. Nazareth is half of a team dubbed the Dynamic Duo, after he and fellow detective Tara Gimble amassed an impressive record for “not only closing the toughest cases but also for putting themselves in harm’s way again and again to get the job done right.” New York City’s mayor taps the pair to go after Stone Jackson, an expert sniper who has begun taking out child molesters, starting with the Little League coach who abused him. As Nazareth and Gimble search for Jackson, the killer ups the ante after concluding that Grande is a dangerous demagogue. Unexpected developments ratchet up the tension en route to a dramatic climax. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Flame Eater

Barbara Gaskell Denvil. Gaskell Publishing House, $4.99 e-book (424p) ASIN B01B8SEC3S

This meticulously detailed romantic thriller portrays two flawed families in medieval England whose less moral members are victims of a murderer/arsonist. The families are united in 1485 when heiress Emeline Wrotham marries Nicholas Chatwyn, an earl’s son and the aloof, scarred younger brother of Emeline’s true love, Peter, who was murdered. On their wedding night, the castle is engulfed in flames, and Nicholas is injured. Emeline and Nicholas, who is still recovering from extensive burns, depart for his cousin’s Nottingham home while the castle is being repaired, but an outbreak of the plague sends them away, eventually to London. During their travels, the marriage is consummated, and they become true partners, in love and in adventures. Charismatic and witty, Nicholas is the heart of Denvil’s novel; he works undercover for King Richard, rooting out political threats while maintaining the persona of a lazy drunkard to his disapproving father, whose favorite son is dead. Denvil’s numerous minor characters are as intriguing as Nicholas, infusing vitality and never detracting from the story. Everyday 15th-century life is richly evoked—the clothing, food, travel, habits—providing substance to a winning narrative. Family dysfunction is deftly woven into a mélange of murder, politics, and romance, with a wickedly realistic, often comical portrayal of kinship. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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American Tango

Jennifer Vandever. Melograno, $14 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-0-9966795-2-7

In her enjoyable second novel, Vandever cleverly meshes strikingly eccentric characters with everyday situations. Rosalind Plumley, a 37-year-old Oregonian, is an artist trapped in a retail job that caters to snobby hipsters. She’s the middle child in a bohemian family and married to a sweet but sad man who has a budding marijuana addiction. Amid her failing marriage and struggles with her neurotic family, Rosalind fantasizes about escaping her life and moving to Buenos Aires. She signs up for a tango class in preparation for her imagined future, and what follows is a story about love and reevaluating your dreams when reality comes crashing down. Rosalind can be amusingly gloomy and the story is seasoned with salty wit—she describes a pair of shoes as appearing to have been “dipped in the shimmery gold powder used to kill off a Bond girl,” and when her liberal mother considers a late-in-life romance, the greatest drawback is that the man voted for Romney. Vandever (The Brontë Project) writes smart, interesting characters who gradually mature in believable ways. Perceptive, bittersweet, and sometimes darkly funny, this is light enough for a quick read, yet it has enough depth to leave a satisfying impression. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Tough Girl: An Olympian’s Journey

Carolyn Wood. White Pine Press (Oregon), $18 paper (306p) ISBN 978-0-9977828-0-6

In this scattered debut work, written after hiking the Camino de Santiago, Wood reflects on the struggles of youth as the root of her courage and strength necessary to push on in later life. Wood, a competitive swimmer in her early years, attempts to relate a life of hard lessons that got her to the 1960 Junior Olympics in Rome and helped her through adolescence in the mid-1960s. However, while Wood thinks fondly of her time in the pool, swimming feels like something she did in between more important life happenings. Wood depicts herself in turn as a daughter in a strained relationship with a mother recovering from cancer, an athlete constantly pushing to be and do better, a lesbian finding comfort in her own sexuality, and a middle-aged woman looking to the next phase of life. Making stops at every trying life obstacle from childhood to late adulthood, she introduces so many charged elements that the novel feels unsure of which story it is trying to tell. The sections on swimming, her mother, and her lesbianism are thought provoking, but this is mostly an aimless journey in the present while dipping into the past, with a number of rhetorical questions that read as though she’s trying to figure out her life as she’s writing it. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Singing In My Own Key: A Vocalist’s Triumph Over Stroke

Valerie L. Giglio. Forza, $9.99 (250p) ASIN B01GF174YC

Giglio, a Boston-area singer and lawyer, details the year she spent recovering from a devastating brain stem stroke she suffered at age 42, which caused her musical and legal worlds “to spin out of control.” Balancing chapters on the details of her recovery—including prolonged hospital stays, confinement to a wheelchair, and “relentless” dizziness—with others on developments in both of her careers, Giglio more than meets her goal of showing readers that “miracles happen.” She deftly explores the “surreal” experience of having a stroke: “Inside you’re screaming to get out, but you can’t move.” She also describes the various grueling physical and mental therapies she endured in order to meet her goal of returning to performing in a year—a goal she accomplished with the help of supportive family and friends. She is guided by the words of her mentor, legendary jazz performer Al Vega, who shows her that “sometimes we have to take a chance and keep going no matter what obstacles we face.” Deciding that “the only limitations were the ones I put on myself,” Giglio hopes her story and struggles will help others “reach for the stars and dream big.” (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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