Thursday, October 18, 2012

A New Language for Life: Happy No Matter What by Louis Koster

A New Language for Life: Happy No Matter What. Louis Koster. Morgan James Publishing. October 2012. 232 pp. ISBN No. 9781614483533.

Imagine for a moment if you were less affected, less stressed out, by the inner and external voices describing some past or present failure on the part of anyone or even you!  It might be an external failure and it might be an inner weakness.  Louis Koster has written a book in which he states it’s a choice to confirm these lies in speech and thought, thereby cementing their disastrous outcomes and perpetuating a similar run into the future.  Or what about if you could come to a point where you truly knew there is nothing to fear but fear itself?  Louis Koster proposes some credible strategies that he claims will lead you to precisely what he claims in the title – a new language that guarantees happiness and peace at all times.  He insists - Break the cycle and live a new language for life!

Koster initially describes the course of his own life as a person who had some noble objectives in becoming a med student, goals that were eventually shattered by the farce he knew he was living.  Recognizing the farce and unable to forgive himself for rejecting society’s expectations, he set off for Europe where he began a momentous inner journey that would change his life forever.  The rest of this book outlines what he learned and tested with time and challenges along the way while he was doing outstanding medical work to the needy throughout the world.

What does this involve? It basically focuses on recognizing that “I” am the source of everything I say, think or do.  I choose to believe in a certain outlook and that choice can mean working at “being” or working at “misery.”  Tough choice?  Yet it seems to actually be so since so few make it.  It means one can trust that life is good even in the middle of events that seem the exact opposite of that goodness. This point is the crux of the author’s story for here is when all well-intentioned choices meet the crucible of reality.  Yet the author finds just as much joy in his new lifestyle (mentally and emotionally) that the reader can definitely sense in its appealing invitation.

There is much, much more in this book that one should read slowly and meditatively, stopping to ponder each page rather than rushing through it like a thriller.  This is a thriller in a sense that far exceeds the fleeting ups and downs of adrenaline-pumping highs that evolve from a life directed by others.  Again, imagine a thrilling but serene life in you are the source of being living a life that is indeed good and fulfilling, without the drama!  Highly recommended!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Happily Ever Madder: Misadventures of a Mad Fat Girl by Stephanie McAfee

Happily Ever Madder: Misadventures of a Mad Fat Girl. Stephanie McAfee. New American Library Trade Paperback Original. November 2012. 352 pp. ISBN #: 9780451238054.

Ace Jones, a Southern artist from Bugtussle, Mississippi.  The name of her hometown matches her funny, feisty nature.  Now she has just opened her first art gallery in Pelican Grove and is so nervous that her first speech on opening night is a disaster, a hodgepodge of embarrassingly inane comments.  What it does earn her is the absolute scorn of the town's biggest charity donor, at least in rumor if not in actual donations.  Ace, however, has promised herself she will control her tendency to fight and utter comments that could wreck her reputation in five seconds or less. Oh yes, Ace is one sassy lady for sure!

Mrs. Lenore Kennashaw seems to have decided she will ruin Ace's life. Her attempts are foiled, however, by Ace's initially tame responses.  Mrs. Kennashaw's cronies, however, are so fearful of losing the spotlight they share, they give in and treat Ace like an "outsider," something that shames her and makes her wonder if she's really made a terrible, terrible decision to come to this town.  She is finally engaged to Mason, the love of her life since forever and sticks it all out for their sake.  Will they survive and how?  Quite simply really! Ace declares war and the fun begins!

Happily, Ace meets a group of friends who are as crazy as she is.  Their plot to reveal a secret of their enemy thrills them and the reader but with unforeseen results.  As Ace's friends meet lovers and make future plans, Ace's uncertainty grows.  She's homesick for Mississippi but really is just unsure and needs space, even though she and Mason still love each other dearly.

This is a funny, tender story about growing up, using humor as one's stabilizer and security - until it goes too far.  It's also a gentle satire about smallness of spirit in towns (and not just the South) where everyone knows everyone else and a social order rules that can make or break a person or persons.  But most of all, it's comic and light, a great read, depicting a character almost every reader can fall for, love, feel sorry for, sympathize and even empathize with.  This reviewer hopes we'll hear more about Ace in the future! Nicely done, Ms. McAfee!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Wandering Falcon - A Novel by Jamil Ahmad

The Wandering Falcon: A Novel. Jamil Ahmad. Riverhead Trade Paperback. October 2012. 256 pp. ISBN #: 9781594486166.

Put aside the stereotypical depictions of people from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Whether or not you believe what you hear from media, perhaps and probably there are a huge host of peoples who have lives that are different from you and me and yet in some ways they are just like us.  Jamil Ahmad has written a novel in which he introduces us to men and women who live by a code of honor that is as powerful as any law in Western society.  They seek to profit as businessmen.  They exhibit a cleverness in making treaties that is remarkable. They demonstrate passion and love of country and family/tribe. Their story is clear, honest, heart-rending, and difficult in a society that is just beginning to offer the chance of living beyond the cusp of poverty!

Here you will meet the "subedar" who will not violate tribal rules and laws but will offer shelter and food for a couple who are being hunted for violating an honor code. That simple act of mercy results in five years more of life for the parents and the birth of a boy who will rise to be a well-respected leader, Tor Baz, trained by wise and practical mentors.

Consider the behavior of Sardor Karim Khan Kharot who for years has guided people in and out of the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, respected by all until progress arrives and there is no job.  The respect he loses with this job is the ubiquitous state of the elderly who no longer find purpose once they are no longer employed.  We are rooting for him on every page.

Read about how different tribes and groups were pulled hither and yon by the Germans and British, leaving these native men wondering how to choose the right side and in a sense rise above living like tools of the occupiers. And what about woman sold to save their family from total starvation and the way they come to love, as well as yield, to their new spouse and family?

There is so much in this brief but potent and poignant novel.  What a refreshing, revealing canvas of characters lies herein, a work of art that will leave readers deeply moved and greatly informed of a whole slice of life that has for too long been hidden in darkness.  Jamil Ahmad is a master of words who has gifted the world with a unique group of literate stories.  This is award-winning writing and a must read for those who would like exposure to a larger picture of life in the Mideast countries of Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. Splendid!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Just Remember to Breathe by Charles Sheehan-Miles

Just Remember to Breathe. Charles Sheehan-Miles. Cincinnatus Press. November 2012. 290 pages - paperback. ISBN #: 9780988273608.

Alex and Dylan had what seemed to be a promising love affair while they were both foreign exchange students in Israel a long time ago.  The stint in Israel ended and each went their separate ways, believing they'd had a good thing but that it might not continue.  However, they stayed in touch until one day Dylan sees something that absolutely devastates him.  He totally switches off email and Facebook and joins the Army.  There the tragic sequence of events escalates when he and friends run over a bomb in Afghanistan, one that kills his good friend and shatters his leg in multiple spots. But the inner wounds are far deeper than that!

Chance throws Dylan and Alex together at Columbia University, where they are forced together in a work-study program for a drunken professor seeking research for another book. It's quite clear they still are absolutely mad over each other, but they agree to a set of "Rules" in order to keep their work life together separate from their past relationship.  Rules, it is said, remember, are made to be broken!

To say more would spoil a poignant story of love surviving trauma of the highest order.  For Dylan has a past haunting his present behavior, a past he doesn't ever want to repeat or inflict on a loved one.  Add to that the tremendous fury and guilt resulting from his Afghanistan time and what we clearly know to be post-traumatic depression and more.

In spite of the heavy background and tension-ridden scenes, this is a novel of hope and forgiveness.  The theme of healing and wholeness is stronger than the wreckage of war, stronger than the havoc of family misunderstandings.  The characters get stronger.  No naive scenes fill these pages; sheer cusp-cutting dialogue cuts through the nonsense, avoiding annoying repetition and insisting on change rather than pity.  The romance is hot and honest as well!

It's a refreshing, necessary point of view that we need to hear more of in this decade when soldiers are returning from single or multiple tours of duty, some to be treated in a similar manner and others to be ignored.  Kudos to you, Charles Sheehan-Miles, for taking on this topic and creating a novel that should be read by a wide audience!!! Just Remember to Breathe is a must read!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sad Sack Salad by Jessica Grose

Sad Desk Salad: A Novel. Jessica Grose. Harper Collins Publishers. October 2012. 304 pages - paperback. ISBN #: 9780062188342.

Chick Habit is a sponsored website where a group of women are paid to write what others refer to a "gossip" column, posting comments on contemporary social and cultural items of high interest throughout the entire day.  Their success depends on the number of hits they achieve each day for the advertisers and promoters, and the ceiling rises with time.  Alex Lyons works for this site, known as "Chick Habit."  Alex works from home in a smelly mu mu and leaves the apartment only to get her lunch of the title name of this novel.  Her life is consumed on getting the dirt that will really capture her reader's attention and increase their large audience.  It's one website that is multiplied dozens and dozens of times elsewhere, sometimes under the guise of news and at other times being equivalent to a sleazy paparazzi-haunted newspaper or TV scandal sheet. 

So just when Alex's quota seems unreachable, a "source" hands her a provocative story on a silver platter via email and some quick chat texts with photos. The news is an explosive expose about the behavior of a daughter of a woman who has written a book about perfect parenting.  What follows is not just cute, inane comments about social events or notable people. Some interpret the expose as a violation of civil privacy and some treat it as a necessary statement about those who don't live the talk of perfection.

The responses are even more devastating as one particular writer decides to get even with Alex and begins to post pictures and comments that are hugely embarrassing to Alex.  The writer even threatens to tell a story about Alex's father that would shame her immensely and which even make her wonder how much she did or didn't know about her father. At the same time her relationship with her boyfriend is deteriorating and he challenges her reasons for spending innumerable hours on such a sordid career, which offends her but causes her to question her own career goals.  

She and her friends decide to track down this attacker and find out why this response is so vitriolic.  And, as usual the media are having a frenzied heyday with the whole sordid series of exposures.

Sad Desk Salad is a timely novel about an issue of immense significance in today's media onslaught of "bad" behavior on the part of stars and notable persons.  Where is the line between privacy and public right to knowledge of those who hold themselves up as public models?  How far is "too far?"  Light in tone in just the right spots, serious where such an issue should be, this novel is one that deserves higher attention and discussion.  Although it's a surface treatment, it's the beginning of a necessary conversation.  Nice intro, Jessica Grose!!!

Nicholas Cooke: Actor, Soldier, Physician, Priest by Stephanie Cowell

Nicholas Cooke: Actor, Soldier, Physician, Priest. Stephanie Cowell. West End Productions, Inc./Amazon Digital Productions, Inc. August 2012. 371 pp./571 KB.  ASIN B0094KFHJQ. 

In the late 1500's a young man, whose father was hung as a thief and mother a woman forced to sell herself, is traumatized by a brutal childhood.  He dreams of becoming a priest but due to his volatile temper he reacts before he thinks and must flee his boyhood village because he believes he has murdered the man to whom he was apprenticed.  So begins the story spanning over thirty years in which this tortured young soul seeks love and guidance from others older and wiser.  Yet always on the cusp of seeming to attain maturity, his yearnings and guilt arise and propel him elsewhere, frequently inflicting great frustration and pain on others who forgive him far beyond the threshold point of most human beings.  

Arriving in London, he becomes an actor apprentice, falling in love with Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, and other great writers and actors of the time who at the time are fledglings in their craft and subject to the favor of Queen Elizabeth and those who fawn at her throne for power and riches.  He must learn swordplay, tumbling, and other necessary skills and that he does very well indeed, also exhibiting an intellectual curiosity unusual for one in his social class.  Years pass and after betraying his master's trust he flees to become a man by fighting with Lord Essex against the Irish who are rebelling against the Queen.  Although he makes a great friend, Toby, he grows up fast after seeing the horrors and stupidity of warfare, a scenario of unprepared soldiers outnumbered and out-skilled by rebels passionate for their cause.

Returning to London, he takes up acting again.  The coming of the plague begins to bring out his compassionate desire to be a healer and find a cure for this devastating illness that he himself will survive.  Then follows a period of aspiring to be a deacon where his wife follows him into a bleak and lonely existence, compounded by a terrible, unspeakable loss that will scar and yet form him anew.  He will thus meet scientists and clergy who will lead him back to what they believe is his clear call to become a priest.

The plot seems simple, yet Stephanie Cowell is a master at exposing every conflicting and inspiring thought that transpires in our hero's mind and soul.  Multiple riveting details fill out the synopsis briefly stated above. Historical events of the times are cleanly and clearly interwoven naturally into the plot. One meets the grand and the poor in all their glory and squalor, scenes where the lines frequently cross mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. The reader feels he or she is right there in England as the theater develops from its shameful beginnings into its final professional status, when new discoveries in learning and science are thrilling the minds and spirit of this revolutionary century, and when men are learning to think for themselves about spirituality even in the midst of the "darkest" hours of their lives.  The outcome is painfully positive and yet one couldn't imagine it any other way, and there are twists and turns that keep the reader alert and flipping the pages for more...more...more! There is so much more to say about Nicholas and his friends/ foes and the only way to catch it all is to read this magnificent historical story!

This reviewer loved this novel from beginning to end and believe it to be a true classic of historical fiction! Highly, highly recommended!