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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Song of Rama - Devi Vanamali

The Song of Rama: Visions of the Ramayana is a gorgeous and sensitive retelling of the original by Valmiki.

The Ramayana tells the story of the seventh incarnation of Vishnu as Rama on Earth. Rama is a born a prince of 4 sons. Throughout his life he encounters many hardships. He is banished, his wife is abducted, he must fight against hordes of demons, and in the end he must lose his wife and many others dear to him to satisfy dharma.

Rama's behavior is often confusing to those who are not familiar with the Hindu religion, so the author explains a few things in the introduction as well as when things happen to help readers along. At the beginning and end of each chapter are sayings and verses to aid readers in further understanding of the text. Devi Vanamali is an adept storyteller who knows how to draw the reader in.

More books by this author:
The Play of God: Visions of the Life of Krishna
Hanuman: The Devotion and Power of the Monkey God
Shakti: Realm of the Divine Mother

Recommended Reads:
The Odyssey - Homer

Recommended Viewing:
Jai Hanuman

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Childless Revolution - Madelyn Cain

The Childless Revolution: What It Means to Be Childless Today by Madelyn Cain contains perspectives from the childfree, the childless, and those who don't quite into either of these categories.

Childfree people are those who do not have children by choice. The majority of these women are happy in their choice. Some are content stay-at-home spouses, while others are career-oriented individuals. For some it is because they realize a child would make it impossible to pursue their career goals, while others realize they couldn't give the care they would want to give a child because of their careers. Some love the children in their lives, such as nieces and nephews, while others don't like kids at all. Each woman interviewed does a wonderful job of expressing her point of view and the author accents it well with her own explanations.

Childless people are those who do not have children due to medical issues. Cain does an excellent job of staying sensitive to the topic, while explaining the situations of these women. Some of these women were unable to conceive due to not finding the right partner. Others found the right partner, but they or their partner had a malady that made it impossible for them to conceive. Some just didn't find a partner until much later. And, tragically, some have exhausted their options including the intervention of medicine.

More and more people seem to be foregoing parenthood and this book provides insightful revelations on the various reasons why.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Cult of the Black Virgin - Ean Begg

Ean Begg's Cult of the Black Virgin explores the mystery of the iconic black-faced statues found all around the world.

In the introduction one of the things Begg's decides to ask is "Why are these icons black?" Many theories have been provided over the years and Begg's provides his own opinions on these theories and presents one of his own.

In "Influences of the East", Begg surveys female characters and goddesses from mythology, like Lilith, Inanna, Kali, and Sekhmet. The Classical Tradition majorly focuses on Artemis and Isis, but also covers other gods and goddesses in less detail. "The Natural Religions" covers Celtic and Teutonic/Norse deities, such as Brigit, Rhiannon, Frigg, and Freya. "The Whore Wisdom in the Christian Era" goes into the tradition of the templars, the Holy Grail, Saint Anne, Mary Magdalene, and Mother Mary. In "The Meaning of the Black Virgin", the final chapter, the author brings all of this information together and provides his own conclusions. At the end is a Gazetteer containing maps and information on the locations of Black Virgin figures.

Although this book provides a lot of great information, the author often seems to lose focus. There are several tidbits on various gods who don't seem to have anything to do with the topic scattered in various sections that seem to have been used for filler. Although the author sometimes chooses information that goes against typical research on the topic, it provides a contrasting opinion that's worth consideration. This book combines the findings of many secondary sources, so this may be a good choice for those who want to read it all in one place. If the reader has read a few books on the topic, this probably will not provide anything new, though, with it's short length of 150 text pages.

Recommended Reading:
Holy Blood, Holy Grail - Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, Henry Lincoln
Pistis Sophia: The Gnostic Tradition of Mary Magdalene, Jesus, and His Disciples - G.R.S. Mead

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Flow of Grace - Krishna Das

Krishna Das reveals his personal experience in Flow of Grace: Chanting the Hanuman Chalisa.

Hanuman is the monkey god of the Hindu religion, a devotee of Rama. His curiosity, courage, loyalty, and strength are admired throughout the world. In this short book Krishna Das tells the story of Hanuman and why the Hanuman Chalisa is so important. He also tells the story of Maharaj-ji, an incarnation of Hanuman, and his lessons to others as a guru. He goes on to discuss the practice and how to go about learning to chant the Hanuman Chalisa.

The end contains both a transliteration and a translation of the Chalisa, along with two CDs. Disc one contains several versions of the Chalisa and the second contains a pronunciation guide for those who wish to learn to chant it themselves. Krishna Das himself admits that he still does not quite pronounce things right, but he continues to do his best and encourages anybody learning it to do the same.

The author refers to three of his favorite translations of the Ramayana, which is where the story of Hanuman comes from. He also includes a brief bibliography for his quotes and a section further reading.

Recommended Reading:
The Song of Rama: Visions of the Ramayana - Devi Vanamali

Recommended Listening:
Shri Hanuman Chalisa - Hari Om Sharan
Breath of the Heart - Krishna Das

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hanuman - Erik Jendresen, Joshua M. Greene

Hanuman, based on Valmiki's Ramayana adapted by Erik Jendresen and Joshua M. Greene retells the story of Hanuman from the Ramayana.

Hanuman, a young monkey is a troublesome fellow who bothers his elders. After seeking to eat the most beautiful fruit in the sky, the bright sun, he plummets to earth. As he gets older he becomes a great warrior and it called upon by the great Prince Rama to find his wife Sita. Hanuman leaps the ocean and braves the unknown to find Sita. During the great battle against the monsters, Hanuman is sent to retrieve medicine for two of his companions. Can Hanuman retrieve the medicine and save Sita?

With the vibrant paintings by talented artist Li Ming, this retelling brings life to this treasured tale of the great monkey god Hanuman.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Bone Doll's Twin - Lynn Flewelling

Lynn Flewelling's The Bone Doll's Twin is an immersing fantasy horror novel.

The prophecy of Skala has kept the land protected for three centuries by the leadership of Warrior Queens. But now a man has taken the throne, leaving the kingdom in a waste. Even worse, no end is in sight as all of the new baby girl's of the lineage are dying in mysterious manners.

With deep magic, a group disguises a baby girl as a boy, but not without a price. The mother goes insane and her child is now haunted by a poltergeist who terrorizes the household. Both are moved off to an outpost along with their servants. Away from society, Tobin has no chance to learn the ways of court. With a strange upbringing, it seems Tobin will never be ready for court. With his caretakers and the help of a new friend, maybe he can learn before it's time to be sent to court for his formal training.

Everything about this book was great. Flewelling's writing flows, making the pages go by fast. The characters are interesting, many with a bit of mystery to their origin or motivations. There appears to be multiple schools of magic, which are, as of yet, not yet made clear in this first novel. Aside from the child herself discovering her true identity (this is revealed to the reader at the beginning), the end of this novel is completely open-ended. I look forward to continuing this series.

Books in the Series:
Hidden Warrior
The Oracle's Queen

Recommended Reading:
The Black Jewels Trilogy
The Dark Mirror - Juliet Marillier
Singer from the Sea - Sheri Tepper

Friday, July 19, 2013

Why Sh*t Happens - Peter J. Bentley Ph.D

Why Sh*t Happens: The Science of A Really Bad Day by Peter J. Bentley Ph.D is an intriguing dive into how so many things around us work.

The creative/narrative nonfiction format Bentley uses keeps the unrelated scientific topics relevant to the reader as it follows 'you' throughout the day as everything that can go wrong does go wrong. It starts with you missing your alarm and sleeping in, which leads into the author explaining how sleep works and how you probably slept through your alarm. It continues on with your coffee blowing up, you narrowly avoiding an accident, missing that big meeting, stubbing your toe, and a number of other mishaps until you finally make it home. The author does a great job in explaining in scientific terms, while using similes of scenarios and events that many people may be more likely to understand.

I think that many people will find this book accessible and interesting even as they are learning. If you were a fan of science during High School, you most likely won't come across any new material in this book, but it might be a good choice if you just want to brush up on your knowledge.

Recommended Reading:
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything - Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner
The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives - Leonard Mlodinow
When a Gene Makes You Smell Like a Fish: ...and Other Amazing Tales about the Genes in Your Body - Lisa Seachrist Chiu

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sacred Pregnancy - Anni Daulter

Anni Daulter's Sacred Pregnancy: A Loving Guide and Journal for Expectant Moms is an accurately titled book with extensive resources to assist mothers and their partners.

The introduction suggests that the mother-to-be analyze her anticipated choices for when it comes time for birthing and to seek out a doctor or midwife whose own decisions will align with her own. From there it moves on to the typical organization of a pregnancy to a week-by-week from 1 to 40. Each week has a title page along with gorgeous photographs to inspire. The sections are broken up into 8 sections: Your Body, Your Baby, Your Spirit, Week #, Reflections, Ideas, "Pairings", and Journal. Your Body and Your Baby are typical offerings, which simply describe the things the mother will be experiencing and what is happening with the baby's development. Your Spirit and Week # can vary greatly in content from mindfulness, physical advice, or ideas on how to celebrate the pregnancy. Reflections and Ideas contain personal considerations and activities to do. I am particularly keen on the "Pairings" section as it offers a variety of resources for mothers and their partners to investigate, including music, movies, books, websites, recipes, and more; however, at some points in the book they seem to be little more than advertising for the author's favorite things. The Journal section contains a prompt or question.

The overall tone of the book is inviting, companionable, and optimistic. There are certain portions that troubled me, though, such as the author's overbearing opinions on circumcision, doctors versus midwives, and natural childbirth versus assisted. All of these are very personal choices and the author should have been more careful to keep these topics neutral. The photographs of various women are beautiful; however, I only saw one dark-skinned woman of the approximately 28 photographs and only one interracial couple. While I'm sure this was inadvertent, I think it may cause some women to feel uncomfortable or alienated while reading the book since they will not see their own ethnicity represented.

There are sections that include the father titled Romance, Partner Energy, and Sexy Mama, which are great for women who are in relationships. Unfortunately, the author gives no alternatives for those who may be single mothers, which is a very big deal since these are the topics for those weeks. The author could just as easily have suggested including the woman's birthing partner instead along with alternative activities. I feel the author should have been more sensitive to the varying situations of women who would want to use this book.

The "sacred" portions take on a variety of forms in this book. Mindfulness, meditation, exercise, art activities, and more give mothers a variety of ways to stay aware and experience their pregnancy. Many of these activities may be objectionable to those in some organized religions, though. One of the very first activities is to create a "pregnancy altar". While this is simply a way to create a safe and fun place to keep various objects and art pieces created during the duration of the pregnancy, I think some women may view it as competing with their religion. Some women can easily pass portions they dislike or object to, but others may find it difficult to utilize the book due to the differences in belief.

Overall, it's a decent journaling tool for pregnancy, but it is certainly not for every woman.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Kitchen Knight - Margaret Hodges

Margaret Hodges teams up with illustrator Trina Schart Hyman to bring the beginning of the Tale of Sir Gareth of Orkney in The Kitchen Knight: A Tale of King Arthur.

A young boy comes to King Arthur's court one day asking for three favors. The first is food and drink. He then requests that his remaining favors may be postponed until he is ready. Arthur concedes to the agreement and allows the boy to stay in the castle while helping in the kitchen. When a young maiden comes to ask for the King's help a year later, the young man asks for his remaining favors and sets out. After facing many dangers, he is left to fight the red knight.

The full page colored detailed illustrations bring this story to life. The portrait boxes featuring various characters throughout the book lend extra expression to the scenes.

Recommended Reads:
Merlin and the Making of a King - Margaret Hodges
Le Morte D'Arthur - Sir Thomas Malory
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - Anonymous

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sacred Geometry: Deciphering the Code - Stephen Skinner

Sacred Geometry: Deciphering the Code
Stephen Skinner is an excellent survey of sacred geometry throughout the ages.

Part 1: The Hidden Order covers both arithmetic and geometry. The various ways to measure throughout the ages, the circumference of the earth, and even music. This first part is important as it creates a knowledge base for the reader before reading the rest of the book. There are some errors in calculations, such as the interval of Minor Seventh being listed as 9:16 when it's actually 16:9.

Part 2: Geometry in Nature is filled with examples of how these incredible math patterns are found in nature. Crystals, flower petals, horns on animals, and even snowflakes reflect amazing math hidden if we only know what to look for.

Part 3: The Geometry of the Manmade World is probably a topic that most people are best familiar with. From the pyramids in Egypt to the tallest building in Dubai.

Each topic is covered within 2-3 pages, which means they are not covered in detail. However, the full-color illustrations make the author's examples easy to visualize and the tutorials on how to recreate the arithmetic and geometry give this book a hands-on approach that many books on this subject lack. I think most readers will find Skinner's approach inviting and easy to understand.

Recommended Reading:
The Secret Teachings of All Ages - Manly P. Hall
The Tree of Life - Israel Regardie

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Warrior Women - Jeannine Davis-Kimball, Mona Behan

It seems that history is void of heroines. So many of them are vaguely remembered or completely forgotten. Jeannine Davis-Kimball brings some of these fantastic people to the forefront in Warrior Women: An Archaeologist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines.

By combining her own experiences at archaeological digs and cultural observation, Davis-Kimball creates a fascinating narrative of what may well have been. The nomad people of the Steppes may be able to reveal the secrets to the long lost people with their longstanding oral tradition. Their costumes and accessories of the current leave clues to many excavated grave sites; in fact, it challenges long-standing assumptions.

Images of battling women have been preserved on pots and they're featured in great epics. By analyzing the evidence, Davis-Kimball reveals the truth about the great warrior-women known as the Amazons.

Celtic and Viking women had many more rights in their society than women in other cultures of the time. There are many examples preserved in both legend and history of strong women, such as Queen Boudica who led her people against the might of Rome.

Scattered throughout the narrative are gray scale images and photos to assist readers in viewing the same things this adventurous archaeologist has seen. Tidbits that don't quite fit into the narrative are separated into their own section throughout the book. Davis-Kimball sometimes challenges readers to try looking at things from a different perspective than the conventional, yet she never seems to overstretch past the available evidence. This balanced book will reveal many secrets to the curious.

Recommended Reading:
The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman - Nancy Marie Brown
Spartan Women - Sarah B. Pomeroy
Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity - Sarah Pomeroy

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Hands-On Healing for Pets - Margrit Coates

Hands-On Healing for Pets: The Animal Lover's Essential Guide to Using Healing Energy by Margrit Coates is a simple book for learning how to do energy healing with several types of animals.

The copy I have opens with testimonials of clients that the author helped and the introduction adds to this explaining the popularity of this alternative healing technique. In the first chapter the author explains her own life experience that led her to the art of healing, which lends a personal touch to the rest of the book.

It then goes on to explain what hands-on healing is, why it's useful, how to do it, and how crystals and gemstones can be used to enhance it. Like many healing books, this one hinges on chakras. Coates adds an additional chakra she has found in animals herself. The chakra information is detailed and includes the location, color, element, planet, and several other elements that readers will find useful. I especially liked the fact that there are illustrations for individual animals, including dogs, rabbits, birds, and cats. Since birds and fish tend to be difficult to make physical contact, she explains how to do the healing through a small distance.

The tone throughout this piece is friendly, inviting, and encouraging. Spaced throughout the chapters are personal stories of the author helping animals with various medical problems. I liked how the author was especially careful throughout this piece to point out that energy healing is not a substitute for physical healing, which may need the assistance of a veterinarian or other professional. The author states that energy healing can have physical effects, but it is best used to help heal mental and emotional health.

I had one major gripe with this book and it has to do with citation. The author sometimes provides studies or examples and will only provide where the study came from. She does not provide the year or any other information that would assist the reader in doing more research. More often than not, though, she provides no citation at all when speaking of studies or examples. When I normally read a book like this, I like to actually look at the citation to see if the data agrees with the author's conclusions (sometimes it doesn't). And I also like to be able to read more on the topic.

Aside from its friendly tone and beginner-friendly instructions, there's nothing particularly special about this book. I don't think this will provide much information to anybody who is past the beginner stage.

Recommended Reading:
The Healer's Manual: A Beginner's Guide to Energy Therapies - Ted Andrews
Animal-Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small - Ted Andrews

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Merlin and the Making of a King - Margaret Hodges

Margaret Hodges adapts the classic Le Morte D'Arthur for children in Merlin and the Making of a King.

With vibrant colorful illuminated pictures by Tina Schart Hyman, this piece will be sure to catch the imagination. The text in the first section, "The Sword in the Stone", is bordered by green vines and lovely blue flowers and tells the story of how Arthur was born, raised, and how he came to possess the amazing sword. It also tells the story of how by Merlin's advice he came to gain Excalibur. The text in "Excalibur", the second story, is surrounded by strawberry vines, white flowers and moths. This section contains a minimal story of his marriage to Guinevere and his battle against the witch Morgan le Fay. The final section, "The Lady of the Lake", tells of Arthur's death and the borders are holly vines, birds, and deer. Throughout the book are full page and half page full color illustrations that capture the events.

Both parents and children will delight in the fanciful illustrations and the simple retelling of these favorite stories.

Recommended Reading:
Le Morte D'Arthur - Sir Thomas Malory
The Fall of Arthur - J.R.R. Tolkien
The Mists of Avalon - Marion Zimmer Bradley

Recommended Viewing:
Excalibur

Friday, July 5, 2013

Assassin's Apprentice - Robin Hobb

After being abandoned on the doorstep by a man claiming that the boy is the bastard child of a noble, this no name child becomes the Assassin's Apprentice.

There have been plenty enough claims of bastard children and after taking a good look at him, there is no mistaking he is Prince Chivalry's son. He is ordered to stay with the stable master, Burrich, who teaches him how to care for animals. It turns out Fitz doesn't need much help with that, though, as he has a natural talent of tuning to animals.

After Fitz gets into trouble running around with the other children on the streets, it's decided that maybe it's time he was brought to the castle to learn how to become a real noble. Now that he's old enough, King Shrewd puts him to learning war and assassination techniques.

Fitz is soon sent off to his first task and succeeds. His life may be going well for now, but betrayal lies in wait. And Fitz will have to use all his wits and skills in order to solve the mystery and survive.

Having already read one of Robin Hobb's series previously, I was expecting the, what many describe as, an overall depressing story. Hobb has a habit of making her characters suffer. Any good events in the character's life seem to be overshadowed by their overall circumstances. I enjoyed the main character, Burrich, and Chade, but most of the other characters are pretty bland. Fitz's experiences and reactions to those experiences are realistic in most cases, which I really enjoyed. The details of daily life could sometimes be tedious, though.

I enjoyed the first book enough to continue on to the next novel in the series. I'm curious to see where Fitz's circumstances at the end of the book lead him.

Books in the Series:
Royal Assassin
Assassin's Quest

Recommended Reading:
Shaman's Crossing - Robin Hobb
Take A Thief - Mercedes Lackey
Pawn of the Prophecy - David Eddings

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Normal One - Jeanne Safer PhD

When celebrities and other people are invited on talk shows to speak about their relationships with their siblings, especially siblings with disabilities, the overall message is normally positive in nature. While this is their reality, there are many others who do not have this same experience during their childhood with their own siblings. Jeanne Safer PhD has upset a number of people by talking candidly in her book The Normal One: Life with a Difficult or Damaged Sibling about this very topic.

By revealing her own dysfunctional relationship with her estranged (if you can call it that) brother, Safer opens the book with personal experience that is bound to turn some readers immediately off and draw others in by their own relation. Throughout the book Safer utilizes the personal experiences of herself and other "normal ones" who grew up with siblings with various challenges, such as cerebral palsy, autism, bipolar, depression, and many more.

Each has a different story on how they were expected to act. Some state it was a matter-of-fact and they simply came to accept it, while others had difficulty with this concept in practice. In an attempt to make things normal, many parents managed to over-normalize. Such is the case of one sibling who recalls her sibling eating one of her school projects and having to turn it in without any explanation as to what went wrong. With an average family, it probably wouldn't have been a problem to state that a sibling messed up her homework, but with her abnormal one it became an issue. Or perhaps the problem child is ignored or sometimes vice versa. The possibilities of family dynamics are endless and with each interview Safer explores these with honesty.

Everybody's childhood effects them later in life and these siblings are no exception. With alternating entanglement and estrangement many siblings find themselves subconsciously recreating these dysfunctional relationships throughout their lives, until they are finally willing to wrestle with their true feelings about their childhood. Curiously, it is once they are finally willing to confront these negative feelings that many of these siblings find they can create positive relationships.

While many will feel offended by the material, others will find themselves relating to the stories within. Regardless of how one feels about the sometimes volatile emotions contained in this book, it is important to remember that these are the emotions of many. And by understanding these feelings in others, we can learn to relate in a more meaningful way to those around us.

Recommended Reads:
The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are - Dr. Kevin Layman
What Your Childhood Memories Say about You...and What You Can Do about It - Kevin Leman
Broken Toys Broken Dreams: Understanding and Healing Codependency, Compulsive Behaviors and Family - Terry Kellogg

Monday, July 1, 2013

Daily Life of the Pagan Celts - Joan P. Alcock

Daily Life of the Pagan Celts by Joan P. Alcock is an aptly named title detailing the various aspects of this topic.

Alcock wisely begins his book by explaining the expansion of the Celtic people throughout Europe in order for the reader to know the people and areas he is describing. The last chapter is dedicated to the decline of the Celtic peoples with the coming of the Roman Empire. Each chapter is devoted to an individual topic, making finding information easy for readers looking for a particular topic. Readers will learn about many aspects of the every day life including clothing, food, housing, warfare, society, arts, and religion.

The author's use of cross-referencing between Celtic folklore, Roman reports, and archaeological finds give a rich and detailed explanation of each of these topics. At the beginning the author includes several maps to display the span of the Celtic World. Illustrating warfare the author has included gray scale photos of weapons and chariot remains. Photos or stone ruins and reconstructed houses assist the reader in visualizing shelters. There are also photos of remaining stone carvings and statues.

While less than 190 pages in length, this book is an excellent source containing detailed information.

Recommended Reads:
Wars of the Irish Kings: A Thousand Years of Struggle, from the Age of Myth through the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I - David W. McCullough
Heroes of the Dawn - Time-Life