Sunday, April 29, 2012

Two from the capable pen of Kate Rigby

What happens when a beloved eldest daughter drowns in a boating accident and her sister feels at fault and left out by both parents because they are so torn apart by grief? In this case, she runs away and lives with people who live in the fringes of society, about as far away from her parents world of wealth and privilege as one can imagine. Far Cry From The Turquoise Room is a story that could easily have been romanticized, but isn’t. It is gritty and real and, as novelist and reviewer Susannah Burke says, “is a novel not to be missed.” 
A definite 5 stars.

Savage to Savvy is the story of an eleven year old girl who was bred to be a feral child who was raised by dogs. It is also the story about a place called the Institute of Developmental and Behavioral Psychology and its Director, an Albanian immigrant named Elena, a dodgy character named Aleksander, a man named Rob Ivory (aka “the Singing Man”), and Heidi, the young psychologist who solves the riddle of who Nikki is, how she became a feral child, and exposes the Professor and his “research” as frauds.
Ultimately, Nikki escapes her minders and returns to where she is the most comfortable, living in the wild with the animals she loves and understands. From a savage, she has become savvy to the ways of humans. As a young teenage girl caught between two worlds, Nikki is also very vulnerable to harm, as she lacks the knowledge she needs to live successfully in a world that is controlled by humans. She isn’t savvy enough to make it in the world, and I fear for her future.
I give this one 5 stars because of its theme and the skill with which Kate Rigby tells the story. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A valuable companion to take along on the adventure of life

Reading Quantum Meditations is an adventure and, like everyone knows, adventures take patience and time to bring their rewards each step of the way. 
The best way to read this book is to sit down with it and take your time to savor each poem as you would a fine meal that is served in multiple courses, each one delivered when the one you’ve been enjoying has been savored and it is time to  move on to the next. If you’re looking for a fast food kind of book, you’re better off looking elsewhere. But if it’s wisdom that you’re seeking, this book is a wonderful companion to spend some quality time with.
As the great mystics and poets have shown us so well, change sometimes appears to occur suddenly when all the pieces come together. In “Quantum Leap” (page 51), PD allen writes:
“Change in a complex
system occurs incrementally
bit by bit
below the surface
while the system as
a whole appears stable until
some critical threshold
is exceeded. And then
the entire system appears
to change in one instantaneous
The key word and concept is “incrementally”, the way our universe was created in the cataclysmic explosion we call “The Big Bang”.
The first poem, in the section called “Opening Enigma”, is “The Flame”:
“I am the flame,
    not the reflection
I am the flame,
                                               by the fluttering
                           of the moths.
I am the flame.”
In his commentary on the Opening Enigma series (page 221), he writes: “Our journey begins with the unanswerable riddle of who we are. There are no words to answer this riddle, but if you look within  you will find the answer. We are that which is forever outside of its definition. We are that which defines itself.” 
So take your time with this great book.  Breathe calmly and deeply, linger with each poem, taste each syllable and sound. There are three volumes of Quantum Meditations now available to take with us on our journey through life. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are (I am 78); what matters is that we learn to live our lives consciously and without fear. 
“Have wings that feared ever 
touched the sun?
I was born when all I once
feared -- I could
-- Rabia of Basra, c. 717-801
In “Our Song” (page 49), he writes:
“The world sings for me
All I need do
      is listen.”
PD Allen’s Quantum Meditations is a valuable addition to meditation literature. You will never finish reading it, just as I never finish reading those books in my library from which I draw sustenance and insight.
This book is a clear 5 star read, one that I highly recommend.

Monday, April 9, 2012

An engaging and unforgettable novel of love in a time of violence

“Duende” is a Spanish word that refers to the deeper, more earthy notes and sounds of life where all is not light. Set in Spain (mainly in Barcelona and Madrid) in the years between World War One and the Spanish Civil War of 1936, duende is a prominent presence in the novel as Spain devolves into increasing social discord and violence. Yet the novel isn’t only about that; it is also about one of the great love stories in literature as these two young men begin their careers and grow as life around them descends into the darkness of civil war and Francisco Franco’s fascist regime. 

Once I opened “Duende” and began reading, I found it impossible to put the book down. 
The story follows the lives of Antonio (“Nayo”) and José from their school days in Barcelona to their studies and developing careers in Madrid and does it so well that I felt I was there as Nayo painted and José studied and taught philosophy as their world gradually descended into violence. Reading “Duende” is more than reading about these two men and the world they lived in, it is being there, being inside their heads as they struggle to comprehend the forces that threaten to tear their world apart. I have seldom read a novel that is quite like this one, that includes in such detail the intellectual and creative struggles of its characters, and makes it so lifelike and lively that I felt a part of the story. How is it possible to include so much information about what a philosopher teaches and an artist struggles with and make it vitally interesting to a reader? Yet Lizzie Eldridge does it, does it superbly well, and does it in her debut novel. I am impressed.
The love between Nayo and José is tender, poignant, and beautifully drawn. I felt I knew these two men, that they’d be a joy to have coffee with, that I couldn’t wait until Nayo’s next exhibit (I even knew what painting I wanted), and I feared for them and their friends as the situation in Madrid worsened. 
Lizzie Eldridge is a writer to watch. I look forward to her next book. This one is a definite 5 star read.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A spellbinding memoir of escape from tyranny and death.

I am willing to bet that most people know very little about the Ukraine and its history beyond the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster and perhaps the Ukraine's independence when the Soviet Union unraveled. Fewer still may know about Stalin’s brutal campaign to starve the Ukrainian people into submission in the years before World War II. That is the world into which Andy Szpuk’s father, Stefan, was born and where lived until, as a young teenager, he and his father were forced to flee their home village to avoid execution at the hands of the invading German army. After a few months with his father’s sister and her family in a town further west, the whole town was forced to flee to the west to avoid the now retreating Germans. From there, Stefan and his father are pretty much on their own.

Imagine being 14 or 15 years old, being on the run, wondering what has happened to your mother, and what will happen to you as you flee into the Carpathian Mountains, cross into Slovakia (Czechoslovakia), into the Czech region ... and then your father is killed in an air raid, leaving you absolutely alone and knowing only one thing: you must find food, and you must continue going west until you reach Germany just as the war has ended and you are at the very end of your rope.
This memoir is a page-turner that will keep you on the edge of your seat, make you cheer and weep and give a high five to Stefan when he makes it to England and begins a new life. Then another high five when he and his family visit his old home village to meet family members he has never seen.
My hat is off to his son Andy for writing his father’s story down so the rest of us can read it, and to the Ukrainian people for never giving up no matter what the obstacles are.
A definite 5 Star read.