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
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.
Jenkins’ Curioddity is a wonderful romp on the flip side. It’s learning to see the world through a shaman’s eyes, a contrary-man looking at the world from different angles. It’s all about waking up to–or reawakening to–the magic that surrounds us on a daily basis.
Private investigator Wil Morgan lives a dreary life in a rundown apartment, working out of a rundown office. Every day at work, Wil is assaulted by the off-kilter clanging of the monstrous clock tower next door. Every day is trudging drudgery. Until the day it’s not.
Mr. Dinsdale, curator of the Museum of Curioddity, hires Wil to find a box gone missing from the museum. At first Wil plays along with what he thinks is naught more than a grand joke. Despite his skepticism, Wil begins to follow Dinsdale’s advice and un-looks at the world around him. What he finds in pursuit of the box is nothing short of amazing.
I loved the writing style of this book. It is the wry humor I’ve come to love from British writers. I really liked Wil. I could relate to his curmudgeonly grumbling. Yet it was amazing (to me) to see him rediscover the joys of magic that he had been forced to lock away when his mother passed. In Wil I see the journey of the fledgling shaman, the novice alchemist.
Lucy is a nice contrast to his brooding. Very little fazes the chipper young woman. I’d love to read more books set in this world, for sure. I loved the cover, too, by the way. The silhouette on the front actually reminds me of Mycroft from the BBC’s Sherlock.
Highly recommended if you like fantasy and/or tongue-in-cheek humor.
Lockwood & Co.: The Creeping Shadow
I am sad to admit that Lockwood and Co: The Creeping Shadow was my first foray into Stroud’s Lockwood books. I absolutely adore his Bartimaeus series. Stroud has a true gift for weaving tales of gritty magic and stringent societies, complete with strong females and witty (if enslaved) sidekicks.
Lucy Carlyle is a freelancer agent in a world where only children have the psychic sight to see spirits. Lucy, and child agents like her, respond to calls of hauntings armed with the tools to fight against them. They must find and dispose of the hauntings’ Sources, and a whole industry has sprung up to support agents in dealing with the ever-growing threat of ghostly invasion. There are the agencies, run by adult supervisors, a vast furnace complex to burn the Sources, and entities such as the Orpheus Society that are working on new weapons and tools to stay the tide.
When Lucy teams up with Lockwood and Co, her old agency and the only one fully run by youths, to tackle the haunting of the Ealing Cannibal, she gets far more than she bargained for. In the aftermath of the case, Lucy’s prize ghost-jar, containing a Type Three spirit that only she can speak with, is stolen. Attempts to retrieve her erstwhile companion lead to the discovery of a black market for powerful Sources and, beyond that, a plot so sinister Lockwood and Co can scarce countenance it. By the time they are done, one agency will be in shambles, and they will have earned some fearsome enemies.
After reading this book, I went out and snagged the others in the series. I love British writers in general, and Stroud in particular. This book can certainly be read as a stand-alone, though. Enough backstory is given via dialogue and mental processing. So delicately is it woven in that you won’t even realize you’ve missed other books before it, if you didn’t know ahead of time.
The tone of this book was a little different from Stroud’s Bartimaeus series. It was a little less formal. I must admit, I do believe I like this series more than Bartimaeus, though I still love that one, too. The pacing seems quicker. There’s always some action going on. My only puzzlement is in regards to the occasional swapping of American words with British ones. If you don’t know “chips” and “fries” or “biscuits” and “cookies” refer to the same thing, this could be confusing. It does not happen often, and I only noticed it with foods.
Perfect for fans of Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy, Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy, Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and books such as Susanne Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell.
Symphony for the Devil
Storythreads spanning generations, and eras, come together in this neo-gothic work by Marcus James. Symphony for the Devil is a novel of the mysterious, the supernatural, and the wondrous, both magickal and mundane. It is a tale of lasting legacy and a cursed family. At present, the Blackmoore family curse is held at bay, but proper homage must be paid. This is the second book in the Blackmoore Legacy series, and I would recommend reading them in order!
This tale revolves around several of the Blackmoore clan. There are Trevor and Braxton, far-distant cousins and lovers. There is Mary-Margaret, another distant cousin, come from Ireland to go to university in the States. She is staying with Mabel, another of the clan, in a grand old home. Mary-Margaret is quite out of touch with her extended family’s views on their gifts. She is blindly religious and steps on many toes by condemning the gift and Trevor and Braxton’s relationship. There is Kathryn and Francesca, working to improve the family standing and fortunes. And there is Michael Donovan, the spectral violinist.
This is a long novel, with lots going on. I particularly liked Donovan’s storythread. Violins enchant me, as do those who play them. I admit, it was the cover that drew my attention to this work, precisely because of the violin. But the cover works well for the story as a whole.
James does a masterful job of keeping the threads together with complex storyweaving. I loved the themes of tolerance throughout and the not-so-subtle chastisement of organised religion’s persecution of things “different.” Kathryn had a great point with the quote, “God is not the church, and you cannot find him in there. God is in each and every single one of us, and if you believe that God is perfect, and that God doesn’t make mistakes, then you have to believe that each and every single person on this planet is exactly how God planned them to be.” I love that quote and feel its truth.
Another proofing would not be amiss, and a bit more showing versus telling is recommended. There is a lot of narrative versus dialogue here, and a lot of description, which is good, though sometimes it felt stifling to the story. Great amounts of narrative make sense from a book descended from the same lineage that gave us such classics as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Also, there’s a lotta use of pronouns, though I was able to suss out who was speaking/being referred to, etc. I look forward to seeing James continue to grow as an author!
Recommended. It so reminded me of Grimm and Sleepy Hollow. The shows, that is. And Supernatural.
Béla’s Letters, by Jeff Ingber, is a hauntingly beautiful tour through history, leading us through the lives of one family via the precious artifact of letters, one of the historian’s best friends. They are stitched together with narrative from Béla’s point of view, the author’s conjecture for it was written after Béla’s passing. This was a very personal book for the author, for it is his gift honoring family. He is the son of Béla Ingber.
Spanning eight decades, we follow Béla through seemingly carefree times as an youth, through the terrible killing time that was the Holocaust, through the aftermath and an arrival to America, where his fledgling family can finally put down roots again. Decades drift by, separating him from those terrible times. Children turn adult, granting grandchildren in turn. Siblings and close friends succumb to the inevitable march of time.
There is nostalgia for a childhood long gone, for the past of one’s youngest years almost always seems a better time than the present, right? There is profound sadness and unmitigated fear at the horror of one of humanity’s darkest moments, when an entire people felt the twinned weights of hatred and abandonment descend upon them. A time of slaughter, claiming millions of lives. There is hope in the aftermath, and worry as well, as shattered lives and broken families begin the long, slow mending process. Scattered throughout the book are pictures of Béla and other family and friends.
That’s so hard for me to comprehend, the sheer numbers involved. I was reminded of my visits to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, of the pictures magnified to cover entire walls, making truth hard to deny, of the near suffocating weight of fear and sadness still clinging to recovered artifacts, filling the rooms that held them — piles of shoes, piles of clothes, a railcar, most horrific of all, a clear pillar filled with expended zyklon-B cannisters.
Books like Béla’s Letters, like The Diary of Anne Frank, Schindler’s List, Irena’s Children, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, they call to us to never forget. They honor the past with remembrance. They are our collective Othala, the bitter part of our inheritance, the inheritance of us all, for the children of those who suffered, those who fought, those who stood by, those who actively took part. None of us must ever forget.
I have seen reviews of this book in other places that criticize the length, saying it should be cut down. At 500 plus pages, it is a long novel. However, I strongly disagree that it is too long. For a book following decades of a person’s life, which were hardly decades that were boring, a book of this length is warranted. I was never once concerned with ‘how long it was’. No, I found it to be a deeply engrossing read that flowed quick and easy.
Highly recommended. Perfect for those who enjoy historical fiction, especially regarding World War II. I am loathe to say ‘’if you like books about the Holocaust’, because, frankly, I would think something quite wrong with you if you liked them. However, to say ‘if books about the Holocaust fascinate you’ you’ll enjoy this book.