River of Ink
Cooper’s River of Ink is an exquisite offering whose words sing in the blood. This is a tale of ancient Sri Lanka, a tale of conquest, change and forbidden love.
It is the story of Asanka, royal poet to King Parakrama. When an invading army takes over the kingdom, Asanka is commissioned by the new ruler, Kalinga Magha, to translate the epic poem of Shishupal from the Sanskrit into the local Tamil language, so that it might be available to all. In an act of rebellion towards a capricious ruler, Asanka slips allusions into his crafting, hinting at Magha being like Shishupal, another ruthless ruler.
Now, ancient Sri Lanka is not my usual forte for historical fiction, but Cooper does seem to have done an admirable amount of research. The characters are well drawn out. I will admit, there were times when Asanka got on my nerves with his timidity. However, he is a poet, a writer, not a warrior; the type of person whose gentle and empathic nature would be singularly affected by brutality and violence.
River of Ink is Cooper’s debut novel, a marvelous offering from a brilliant young author. I look forward to future works from him.
January 26th 2016
Mack Hammeker: Colorado Bound
Tressler’s Mack Hammeker: Colorado Bound was my first foray into “Westerns.” Despite loving historical fiction, I never really got into this era and place. I’m really glad I gave this book a try! Mack Hammeker is a fascinating glimpse into a world just past, when the US nation was still young and growing. Living in a fixed place had its risks. Drought and storms could wreak havoc on a farm. Yet for all of that, attempting the journey west was fraught with peril at every turn. Floods, tornadoes, scarcity of game, broken wagons, injured animals/people, and trail fever are just a few of the calamities awaiting intrepid pioneers.
Mack Hammeker is a retired bounty hunter who now lives on a quietly failing farm with a wife and four children. When a terrible tragedy cloaked in hypocritical goodness takes Margaret Hammeker from her family, Mack must re-evaluate what is best for them. What he really wants in life is to go back west and set up a cattle ranch of his own, a legacy he would be able to leave his children. Manna from heaven in the form of unexpected bounties gives Mack the means to make his dream reality.
Joining with a wagon train, Mack and his family embark on the long, deadly journey west. Complications leave Hammeker, his family, and their travelling companions, Samantha and Allister Hamilton, stuck in the town of Laporte, beside the Cache le Poudre River. Mack and company decide to make Laporte their home, but a recently arrived Jack Slade, and his wife, who are running the newly built Virginia Dale stagecoach line station, take umbrage at the former bounty-hunter and set out to do him in. Along the way, Hammeker and his family make new friends with the Hamiltons, with Antoine Janis, Texas Hank, Red Feather, and several native Arapaho, among others.
This story really drew me in, making me feel I was a part of it, not an outside observer. It was fast-paced and well-written, and, so far as I know, the historical points were well-researched. I loved that reading this recalled to me my youthful grade schools days playing Oregon Trail. Familiar places from the Oregon Trail game showed up, too, like Fort Laramie and the Platte River. One of my favorite parts is when old Red Feather carries out a vigil for the sick travelers where he asks the ancestral spirits to heal them or help them move on. Two owls land on the infirmary roof, and, after they fly away, a large raven lands on the roof as well, telling Red Feather that two of the sick ones would heal, but one would succumb to the trail fever. My only dislike was that from “The Reckoning” to the end of the book, things seemed a little disjointed. But it didn’t really detract from the book.
Recommended, especially if you enjoy westerns or historical fiction.
The Wisdom of Not Knowing: Discovering a Life of Wonder by Embracing Uncertainty
Using lessons garnered from such diverse sources as Jewish mysticism, Buddhism, psychology, mythic studies, and spiritual alchemy, Frankel offers a new way of looking at the unknown and embracing the chaos of uncertainty. As we age, we lose the wonder of the child, for whom everything is new. As pressures of time and the responsibility that come with age strip the wonder from us, we grow more fearful of the unknown. In other cases, people who are introverts tend to be more wary of change from a young age, and this only solidifies with age.
In The Wisdom of Not Knowing, Frankel teaches us to regain that sense of wonder we once had as a child. Woven into mythic analysis and psychological commentary are exercises to help open us to the unknown once again. With gentle, piercing clarity, Frankel reminds us that xenophobia will only stunt our growth and stifle us with a slow suffocation most are not even aware of. One of my favorite characters from the Harry Potter movies is Luna Lovegood’s father. His personality thoroughly embodies his name: Xenophilius, love of the unknown. Frankel teaches us how to transmute fear to delight, to transmute xenophobia to xenophilia.
I am an extreme introvert. I despise change and need an advance warning for changes, especially large ones, to give time for acceptance. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and have started making use of the techniques. One, near the beginning, reminded me I had been gifted with a small metal labyrinth that you trace a stylus through. I’ve dug it back out for the labyrinth exercise. Other exercises sparked my inspiration again. I’ve been languishing in an apathetic haze since, well, the horrors of the election. That I’ve felt the stirrings of my creativity waking once again thrills me to no end. The exercises have helped in other ways, too.
I don’t drive, and don’t see well. I’ve been very resistant to taking the bus places for fear of getting lost. It’s engendered a near phobic fear that triggers panic and has severely curtailed my freedom. During my reading, I worked up the nerve to do something I’ve dreaded trying because of the unknown factor. I took a trip that required a bus change each way. That Frankel’s work helped me achieve this speaks volumes to me of its value.
I enjoyed the quotes at the beginning of each chapter and the snippets of poems and passages within the chapters, especially the occasional Rumi. This book gave me a new appreciation for Jewish mysticism/ Kabbalah and prompted an interest in delving further. I also ended up snagging Frankel’s other book, Sacred Therapy.
This is a valuable tool for any looking to befriend the unknown and find a valuable ally for living whole and free from fear of life’s uncertainties.
The Other Einstein: A Novel
The Other Einstein, by Marie Benedict, is a look at lost dreams, failing hopes, and “what ifs.” What if Mileva, the little known first wife of Albert Einstein, had never forsaken her path and graduated with a physics degree as she had planned? What if she had collaborated equally with her husband?
This extraordinary woman had the misfortune to be born into a world reluctant to allow women a university education, especially in the “hard” sciences of mathematics, physics, and chemistry. Mileva had to fight for her chance, with everything working against her. She was a female of Eastern European descent who walked with a pronounced limp and was subject to open and veiled scorn alike.
Mileva met Albert at university in Zurich. He was the first in her small class to be welcoming, and soon enough he managed to sneak under her guard and into her affections. This proved her undoing, in more ways than one. A pregnancy and birth out of wedlock led to Mileva failing her final work toward her physics degree and never going back to finish. Instead, she married Einstein and had two more children by him. Sadly, only the middle child survived, though by that point, Mileva was separated from the renowned physicist.
This work is one of historical fiction, speculating on the relationship between Mileva and Albert, including the notion that she helped him develop the theory of relativity we know him for today. Of course, we cannot know all of the truth today, but it’s a fascinating look behind the scenes of the famed physicist’s life and an even more fascinating look at this sharp-minded woman determined to go against convention. History is as relative as time; it is the story written by the victor of an engagement, especially in absence of strong compelling evidence to the contrary.
Benedict’s book is astounding. I breezed through it in a few quick hours, secluding myself from family so as to better sink into the story world. There is nothing worse than being abruptly torn from a truly engrossing story, leaving one momentarily dazed and confused by the shift, especially for mere trivialities. The writing was beautiful and always engaging, often drawing tears and melancholy. What could Mileva have accomplished had she stayed her own course? As a bonus, the cover art is quite magnificent.
The Hunger Saint
In The Hunger Saint, Cerrone has opened a window to the past, giving a glimpse of the harsh conditions of yesteryear. For decades, sulfur mining was part and parcel of Sicily’s economy. For much of that time, it was not uncommon to have children as young as ten working in the mines. Ntoni is no exception. In the years following the devastating Second World War, Ntoni’s father is lost in a mine accident. In order to help his poor family, he is contracted to a soccorso morto loan and sent to the nearby Miniera Cozzo Disi to work, the same mine that took his father.
Ntoni is a caruso, one of a number of boys who haul ore back to the surface and to the purification furnaces. It is grueling work that will eventually warp and twist the growing, failed bodies of the boys. Form follows function, after all. Being somewhat religious, Ntoni is mocked for keeping a picture of St. Calogero, the “Hunger Saint.” He hasn’t yet become jaded and cynical.
Ntoni’s only friend is Zui Peppi, the mine’s mechanic. Peppi was friends with Ntoni’s father and had plans to get him to a French mine, where the pay was better. This offer is passed to Ntoni, but before it can be enacted an accident sends Peppi away. Ntoni continues to labor in the harsh conditions until further family tragedy offers him the opportunity to be free of the mine.
Well-researched, The Hunger Saint is a snapshot out of time, a picture of the desperate struggle to survive in a post-war world. It is a gritty world (no pun intended), where young boys are set to work in atrocious conditions, and where the specter of Death is a constant companion. I love historical fiction and history in general. This book was a great read in and of itself, really bringing the truth of the harsh conditions to life. It was also a great bonding read for my SO and I. Jonas has ancestors a few generations back who were Sicilian miners from Lercara Friddi. We enjoy sharing our reading and discussing it. That was enjoyable, even if the topic was decidedly not. A pronunciation guide is suggested. Especially for Ntoni’s name itself! That’s not a typical consonant cluster in English.
Recommended for those who enjoy historical fiction or who have an interest in Sicilian and/or mining history.
Debt Cleanse: How To Settle Your Unaffordable Debts For Pennies On The Dollar (And Not Pay Some At All)
I decided to check this book out because who doesn’t have debt issues? Big or small, from mortgages to student loans, debt affects an astonishingly large percentage of the population. Newbery’s Debt Cleanse is the culmination of one man’s experience with the cruel conqueror of idealistic youth. They get you young today. It’s a popular gig on college campuses, little kiosks, or table-stands scattered around, especially at career fairs and the like, with credit card offers. Then there are the loans to pay for college itself. It’s a shame, ’tis the sheer cost of schooling these days. And it’s not enough to have ‘just’ a bachelor’s degree today. No, you now need a Master’s or a PhD. Want a decent car? Dig that hole deeper. Want a house for your fledgling family? Who needs to eat?
From the individual citizen, to the country itself, debt threatens to consume us in misery, self-recrimination, and despair. It destroys relationships, seeding stress into every little choice. It fosters desperate moves like lying, cheating, theft, or worse. People may turn to extreme measures, such as gambling or dealing with loan sharks that generates even more debt. It’s a truly sickening, hopeless feeling to feel you must forgo necessary medical care or stay in unsafe housing or drive unsafe cars or be unable to get a decent education because you will never have enough money.
Newbery offers solutions, loopholes, and advice for any debt-induced situation. The first few chapters involve introduction, and things to do pre-cleanse, like putting major assets in another’s name or forming an entity to hold the assets. I didn’t much care for the chicken analogy, though it did work well to illustrate the author’s point. These first parts had great information on dealing with harassing phone calls, and if things escalate to court.
The second half of the book covers judgments and how to handle them. My main lesson from this chapter was to keep confidence when dealing with creditors. Don’t act shamed or subservient. I also learned that wages cannot be garnished if you make below a certain amount monthly. Chapters on mortgages and vehicular loans follow. Student loans came next, which was a pertinent chapter for me. Near two decades later and I’m still dealing with them. All of the chapters have useful checklists and worksheets to help guide you.
The sections on secured, unsecured (credit card), payday loans, and collection agencies followed pretty much the same format. I did learn that medical/health bills are one of the leading causes of debt. Even the simplest medical procedure can be atrociously expensive. The final chapter invites you to embrace being debt-free, and to explore the things that would make you happiest. This chapter rang a bit more philosophical than the others, and it was a pleasantly unexpected change. The end of the book has a whole series of ‘action tools’ to help you with your debt cleanse. Most are letters or check sheets to be filled out and mailed to creditors.
With Debt Cleanse, Newbery has provided a beneficial resource for those in need of debt solutions. I found this book to have a veritable gem mine of valuable information. He uses statistics to good effect and provides citations for them all, for the more intrepid to cross-check. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to deal with debt, be it large or small. You’ll find no better resource!