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Riding the Radical Road to Alternative Cancer Treatments

You Can Say No to Chemo: Know Your Options, Choose for Yourself - Laura Bond

When Laura Bond’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian and uterine cancer, the doctors offered the standard treatments: radiation and chemotherapy. Bond and her mother, Gemma, had lots of questions, but the doctors provided few answers. Determined to ferret out the truth about the safety and effectiveness of cancer treatments, mother and daughter embarked on the worldwide search for medical alternatives, which Bond chronicles here. Her optimism speaks from every page of You Can Say No to Chemo and offers hope to other cancer patients and their families.


Bond writes in a friendly, accessible style, making everything from vitamin C injections to ozone therapy sound approachable. Although techniques like coffee enemas and hyperthermia don’t sound like the most comfortable options, Bond supports even the more unusual alternatives with quotations and citations from a wide range of experts. Some are instantly recognizable, like vitamin C proponent Linus Pauling and Love, Medicine, and Miracles author, Dr. Bernie Siegel. Others, like Dr. Thomas Lodi, who treats cancer patients with a combination of detoxification and low-dose chemotherapy, will be new to many. A thick reference section at the end offers an opportunity to learn more about all of the options Bond covers.


Each chapter addresses a different healing modality, and many include Gemma’s personal experience with the techniques. This is a boon to anyone who has ever read a medical report about a new treatment and wondered what it would actually be like to experience it firsthand. Bond supplements her mother’s stories with those of other cancer survivors who have successfully treated their breast, pancreatic, skin, and bladder cancers with alternative medicine.


Bond doesn’t provide much criticism of alternative treatments, but her goal here is not to provide a debate forum but to champion the efforts of those thinking outside the conventional medicine box. What You Can Say No to Chemo provides is information patients might never get without it, a unique resource to consult on their journey to healing.


For Foreword Reviews, Feb. 27, 2015


Shock and Awe

Healing the Traumatized Mind and Heart Overcoming Shock (Paperback) - Common - Diane Zimberoff and David Hartman

Unresolved shock reactions can affect every part of our lives, according to experienced therapists Diane Zimberoff and David Hartman. Their eye-opening book, Overcoming Shock: Healing the Traumatized Mind and Heart, explains that while going into shock can help individuals regroup after a crisis, it can also lead them to shut down emotionally, physically, and spiritually over time. Through a unique combination of psychodynamic theory, regressive hypnotherapy, and intensive group work, Zimberoff and Hartman have helped many clients resolve their shock responses and go on to lead happier lives.


Zimberoff and Hartman explore the complex world of Carl Jung’s archetypes, the use of psychodramas to uncover psychic wounds, and their own Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy, which takes clients back in time to identify and reframe shocks that could originate as far back as the womb. Age regression through hypnotherapy, especially to the fetal stage, is not without its controversies.


The refreshing thing about Zimberoff and Hartman’s approach, though, is that they do not appear to be defending their process so much as explaining it in the most accessible way possible. Even if you’re not sure if recovered memories are factual or symbolic, the compassionate case studies offered here clearly show how helpful the process can be for many people.


Overcoming Shock is more than just a series of case studies, however. The authors make a well-informed survey of psychological thought on trauma, and give clear, detailed explanations of the physiology of stress reactions. The role of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems in handling shock has rarely been elucidated so clearly. Some of the vocabulary—shock pool, toxic nourishment—may be unfamiliar, but in addition to contextual clues, the authors also provide a helpful glossary.


The audience for Overcoming Shock is twofold: individuals seeking new solutions to stress-related problems, and counselors wanting to develop new tools for working with their trauma clients. Both groups may find that looking to the past can in fact be a way to transform the future.


For Forward Reviews, Feb. 27, 2015.


Making a Splash

Dash in the Blue Pacific - Cole Alpaugh

Surely Dash’s run of bad luck must be winding down. He’s lost his job and fiancée and finds himself alone on what should have been his honeymoon flight from Vermont to Australia. What else could possibly go wrong? Lots of things, as it turns out. In Cole Alpaugh’s darkly comic and richly layered Dash in the Blue Pacific, the defeated Dash never makes it to Sydney but instead crashes in the South Pacific. What seems like a near-death experience at first is actually the beginning of a mind-bending, life-changing journey for a man at the end of his rope.


Dash’s adventures begin with a familiar trope: a man washes up on a remote island’s beach, worries that the natives will eat him, and plots his escape. In Alpaugh’s hands, however, the story is anything but stale. Instead of building signal fires and rafts (though these will come), Dash is preoccupied with a tribal chief who wants to feed him to a volcano, women who want his help to make the island’s first white baby, and a young girl who hopes to escape the island with the “soldiers” who sometimes come to her shores looking for the prettiest among them.


And then there’s the former god Dash spends many hours consulting with, a half-fish, half-man mind reader named Weeleekonawahulahoopa—Willy for short—who has resigned his godly role after failing to save his people from drowning. It gets weirder after that.


The weird parts work because Alpaugh integrates them into a story that is physically raw and wickedly funny. Dash is as incredulous about all that is happening as anyone, and his self-conscious skepticism keeps the magical elements from seeming off-the-wall. Little by little, Dash’s conversations with Willy reveal Dash’s deeper emotional wounds, and offer another interpretation for his dreamlike visions.


Taken simply as a comic adventure story, Dash in the Blue Pacific is thoroughly entertaining. When you consider the other elements—racial tensions, human grief, and spiritual redemption—it takes on new levels of meaning. Book clubs will be talking about this one.


For Foreword Reviews Feb. 27, 2015.


Changing Your Mind

Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience - Michael S. Gazzaniga The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity - Norman Doidge

“I’m of two minds,” we say. Or, “I changed my mind.” These phrases roll casually off the tongue, but we don’t mean them literally. Maybe we should, according to two new books that explore the fascinating history and tantalizing future of neuroscience.


Are you primarily right-brained or left-brained? You might think you know, but Michael S. Gazzaniga is here to tell you it’s not that simple. Gazzaniga pioneered split-brain research with his colleagues at the California Institute of Technology in the 1960s. In Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience, he details the experiments that led us to talk about the brain’s two hemispheres in the first place. Filled with scientific luminaries like psychobiologist Roger W. Sperry and theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, Tales from Both Sides of the Brain takes us back to the intellectually energetic laboratories of Caltech. In scenes that read like episodes of “The Big Bang Theory”—intellectual energy abounds—we sit in on experiments done with split-brain patients, whose brains’ hemispheres had been surgically separated to treat epilepsy.


More at BookPage:



The Shape of Things

The Wonderful World Of Genie Geometry Story Book - Carlos Fuentes, Carl Hiaasen

Admit it, you thought math was boring in school, didn't you?


Here to prove it doesn't have to be that way is Carl Lupton, with a multimodal story- and work-book that engagingly presents basic geometry ideas to an elementary school audience.


It's a clever book on many levels. First, the story itself: Genie Geometry tells her family's story, which quite literally is about how geometry concepts relate to one another. There's Grandpa Pythagoras, Grandma Trulia Right Angle, Great Uncle Linus and Great Grandpa Segy, and a family tree of triangles right, isosceles, and equilateral. The puns in the names are great fun for the adult reader and help make the characters memorable, along with the delightfully quirky illustrations by Philip Godenschwager.


Second is the format. Lupton has arranged the book to read in both directions. Read it from the front and you get Genie's story itself, but if you flip the book over, you get prompts to draw the characters doing various things--and thus practice drawing the shapes themselves. In the middle is a useful glossary, containing not only mathematical terms, but also definitions of words that crop in the story, like "confidence" and "reservation," which might be new to some kids. In this way, Lupton engages the students on many levels at once. There's math, drawing, and vocabulary development all embedded in one entertaining story.


As you might imagine, packing all of this into under 80 pages is a challenge. Lupton tells Genie's story in one fairly breathless take that fills each page to the margin. Elementary readers might find it difficult to read this for themselves, but it's clear that the intention is for a classroom teacher to read this aloud. Given more space, the notes to the teachers and notes to the students could be separated out more clearly to make it easier for the reader to pause at the appropriate spots.


A useful, and entertaining, addition to the classroom or the homeschool curriculum.






Teen Tensions

Perfectly Good White Boy - Carrie Mesrobian

Pitch-perfect dialogue and narrative prose reveal teen culture and the journey of self-discovery.


Few adults have the spot-on sense of teenage culture that novelist Carrie Mesrobian has. Critically acclaimed for her candid young-adult novel, Sex & Violence, Mesrobian continues to study the late adolescent’s mind in Perfectly Good White Boy, another frank and unflinching book that looks inside the cars, bedrooms, and hallways where high-school seniors make some of their most important decisions.


The senior in question is Sean Norwhalt, stuck in the only wreck of a rental his post-divorce mother can afford and plagued by puzzles about girls, his family, his future, and, oh yeah, girls.


Sex is front and center in Mesrobian’s world, and Sean’s encounters are relayed in the authentically blunt voice of a boy who will suffer any indignity to satisfy the needs of what he calls “The Horn.” Much of the book is sexually explicit but never needlessly so. One of Mesrobian’s strengths is her clear understanding of teenage hookup culture, its excesses, and its limits.


For Foreword Magazine, November 27, 2014


Teen culture comes through most clearly in the pitch-perfect dialogue—including texting—that infuses everything from setting to character to plot. Teens talk, even when they don’t want to.


For instance, while Sean is feeling smug about seeing his ex-girlfriend on the sly, he finds himself telling a possible new love interest, Neecie, all about it. “I was dying to say something. Do my blurting thing … To explain why I jumped up and left her house like I had. To write it off like a booty call. Which it had been. Only I hadn’t known it, I guess. God.”


Sean’s story doesn’t follow a conventional dramatic story arc. While there are moving scenes, like when Sean reveals a buried memory to Neecie and she comforts him all night, no sex involved, most of the big growth moments—Sean’s decision to join the Marines, for instance—feel distant from the day-to-day world of text messages and beer parties. No doubt the effect is intentional in a story devoted to the disconnected feeling many teens have about the changes in their lives.


Perfectly Good White Boy does contain a few fairly violent scenes and emotionally mature discussions that might not be appropriate for young teens, but older high-school students won’t be shocked by anything that comes up here.


Rock and Rollercoaster

High Notes: A Rock Memoir - Richard Loren, Stephen Abney

With an understanding of the nature of rock and roll, Loren shows tumultuous musicians as humans, not idols with moral failings.


Many bands started out on the “long, strange trip” toward rock-and-roll stardom in the 1960s, but few could keep the bus on the road for long. For a handful of groundbreaking musicians, Richard Loren was the guy with the map. In High Notes: A Rock Memoir, the agent-turned-manager respectfully shares what it was like to be part of the behind-the-scenes machine that helped artists like Grace Slick, Jim Morrison, and Jerry Garcia make their indelible marks on music.


Loren’s frank memoir directly relates his memories of working with larger-than-life personalities, beginning with Liberace in 1966. The flamboyant performer made an impression on the twenty-three-year-old Loren, who paid as much attention to the pianist’s stagecraft as his music. Early on, Loren understood the connection between an artist and an audience, and he brought this perspective to his work with bands as dissimilar as the Doors and the Grateful Dead.


It’s the nuts and bolts of that work—from bailing Jim Morrison out of jail to arranging for the Grateful Dead to play at the Great Pyramid of Giza—that Loren focuses on in his memoir. There are reflective moments, as when Loren experiences a career-changing epiphany by way of LSD, but the emphasis is on business, not his personal life. Loren’s tone is fairly restrained throughout, and though he drops a lot of names, from John Belushi to Bobby Kennedy, he seems to strive to shed the most positive light possible on these complex personalities. His respect for Garcia is unshakable; even as he mourns Jerry’s unstoppable withdrawal into heroin addiction, Loren continually credits the Grateful Dead leader’s creativity and generosity.


Loosely chronological, Loren’s story jumps kaleidoscopically from scene to scene. One moment he’s navigating the closed circuit of the roadies’ subculture, then he’s on the Schuyler Hotel roof with Jefferson Airplane, and before you know it, he’s making deals with Clive Davis. Loren doesn’t deny that the negative side of the scene exists, or even pretend that he himself was above the fray, but things like the escalating drug scene are treated as part of the overall picture and never as a personal or moral failing. Perhaps it’s this nonjudgmental attitude that allows Loren to offer such a clear-eyed chronicle of some of the most tumultuous times in music history.


For Foreword Magazine, November 27, 2014


For the Animals

For the Love of Lemurs: My Life in the Wilds of Madagascar - Patricia Chapple Wright

A natural storyteller, Wright brings the geography and culture of the island of Madagascar to life, through anecdotes.


Celebrated primatologist Dr. Patricia Chapple Wright returns with part 2 of her heartening memoirs. The owl monkeys that changed her life’s direction in High Moon over the Amazon: My Quest to Understand the Monkeys of the Night have been succeeded by leaping lemurs of all stripes. With For the Love of Lemurs: My Life in the Wilds of Madagascar, Wright takes us on the mother of all field trips, deep into the Madagascar rain forests, where she starts out looking for evidence of a possibly extinct species and ends up advocating for the protection of an entire ecosystem.


Wright’s initial mission, at the behest of her employers at the Duke University Primate Center, is to find evidence of the greater bamboo lemur, which hasn’t been spotted in decades. She wastes no time in getting started and sets the lively tone of her journey in the first few pages by quickly whisking us off to Madagascar. Finding the elusive lemur becomes only a small part of Wright’s activities on behalf of the animals, the land, and the people of the island.


Though organized chronologically, covering Wright’s work from 1981 to 2008, this is not a dry history of the region but a first-person account of trials and triumphs. When Wright accepts the choice meal offered to her as an honorary elder, for instance—zebu liver, heart, hump, and testes—we learn about the community and Wright’s boundless respect for the culture. When Wright’s daughter, Amanda, interacts with a lemur called Pale Male at an intimate distance of only one meter, we witness the exhilaration that can follow the hours of mind-numbing tracking and watching that the scientific team endures.


Wright’s work ultimately led to the establishment of the Madagascar Ranomafama National Park, which spared 160 square miles of rain forest from being cut. For the Love of Lemurs offers an honest and hopeful example of how scientists, governments, and regular people can join together to make a real difference for the planet and all of its inhabitants.


For Foreword Reviews, November 27, 2014


Mood Swings

Swing State: A Novel - Michael T. Fournier

Unembellished prose details the bleak nature of PTSD in this character-driven novel.

Pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps is the American way. But what if you can’t? What if those straps fall too short, or fall off completely? Michael T. Fournier takes a singularly unflinching look at just this situation in Swing State, a brisk yet bleak novel that gets into the heads of three distinct characters facing the grim realities of an economic recession in rural New England. Fournier presents each with a startlingly unique voice yet succeeds in showing that they face the same challenges in trying to get out of a town that seems determined to hold them down.


The town is Armbrister, New Hampshire, home of the Spartans football team and not much else. It’s to this run-down town that PTSD-plagued Afghanistan veteran Roy Eggleston returns, from which high-school bully and thief Dixon Dove plans to escape, and where abused, overweight middle-schooler Zachariah Tietz copes by inhabiting an elaborate fantasy world. By showing us the shuttered storefronts and drunk, unemployed fathers of Armbrister through his characters’ eyes, Fournier makes the setting feel exceptionally real, without ever stepping away from the story to provide elaborate descriptions.


This economy of words characterizes Fournier’s writing style, and Roy’s voice, in particular. The shell-shocked vet thinks in quick bursts, which Fournier reports unembellished. Here’s Roy on a job interview, for instance: “The lights buzzed. Crackled. White walls. Paneled ceiling.” Verbs and pronouns are few in Roy’s disconnected world; he doesn’t know what to do, or even who he really is. The clipped style takes a little getting used to, but once readers catch the cadence of Roy’s thoughts, they’ll feel like they know him.


Dixon and Zachariah have their own voices, too, but neither is as eccentric. Fournier dispenses with punctuation in Dixon’s case, omitting quotation marks when she tells her tale into a stolen tape recorder, for instance. Zachariah’s entries are the most conventional, but he too has his quirks: he lives a parallel life inside an invented television game show.


Fournier pulls no punches with Swing State—it’s a world where every step forward means two steps back. Few readers will expect a happy ending, though many may be surprised by the way the three stories ultimately merge. By making his characters simultaneously distinctive and authentic, Fournier ensures that readers carry on until the end and that they walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to get there.


Written for Foreword Reviews, November 27, 2014


Finding A Home in the Hills

Cabin Songs

Spencer Lewis

Woodstone Mountain Press, 2013


As a native Vermonter, I approach back-to-the land stories with some trepidation. I come from a long line of hill farmers, carpenters, and schoolteachers who have made a hardscrabble home in these hills, so I know it’s not all maple sugar and covered bridges. So I’m wary when someone “from away” discovers small town culture and claims it for their own. Some romanticize it, others belittle it, and few get it right. I’m happy to report that with his coming-of-age memoir, Cabin Songs, musician Spencer Lewis gets it right.


Lewis takes us from his days as a fifteen-year-old New York runaway in 1968, chasing the Woody Guthrie mythology down the highway with nothing but a guitar on his back and $15 in his pocket, to the first hints of a lifelong musical career that was incubated in the solitary cabins, makeshift sugarhouse apartments, barns, hayfields, and woods of Vermont. Through a young man’s eyes, we meet a series of “Old Vermonters” whom Lewis describes with equal parts affection and respect. I recognized these folks. Lewis ably captures the cadence of a culture where people don’t have to say much to mean a lot.


Excerpts from Lewis’s songs and poems are scattered throughout the text, and remind us of what was going on behind the scenes, though more of those actual scenes would be a welcome addition. As much detail as Lewis shares about the harnesses needed to move logs with Tony the horse, for instance, he doesn’t take us very far into his songwriting process, or onto the stage when he starts performing in Uncle Wallace’s barn. Similarly, we get only occasional glimpses of Lewis’s more intimate relationships in these early years. While his discretion when writing about other people is admirable, nosy memoir readers will want to know more about things like the birth of his first child, for instance.


The scope of Cabin Songs is deliberately limited: Lewis focuses on his early adulthood only. Readers may wish for a neater, wrapped-up ending, or an update on Lewis’s later career for context. On the other hand, this may be the larger point Lewis is making with his reluctance to draw conclusions. For him, it’s all about the moment, and that’s what he shares in these pages.




Are You My Mother?

Not the Mother I Remember - Amber Lea Starfire

Not The Mother I Remember
by Amber Lea Starfire


"Try to see it my way
Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong."
—John Lennon & Paul McCartney

While the Beatles may have been singing about romantic relationships in their 1965 hit, "We Can Work It Out," the lyrics could easily be about the generation gap that became so apparent in that tumultuous decade. Expectations were shifting, especially for women, and Amber Lea Starfire's detailed memoir poignantly captures this moment in time through the parallel perspectives of her own childhood stories and her mother's meticulous—and startling—personal journals.


In a scene reminiscent of Terry Tempest Williams' recent memoir, When We Were Birds, Starfire discovers boxes of journals while cleaning the apartment her mother, Jackie, must leave because her Alzheimer's disease is too advanced for her to live alone. While Williams' journey grows from the enigmatically empty pages she finds on her mother's shelf, Starfire is faced with volume upon volume of detailed writings that cover year after year of adventures, flirtations, affairs, and most of all, longings. This is not the fragile woman Starfire felt she had to protect as a child, but a woman struggling to blossom beyond the expectations of her role as wife and mother.


Starfire alternates between her own childhood stories and excerpts from her mother's writings. Both voices are strong, and though they share the same experiences—an ambitious "world tour" in 1962 and cross-country flights with Jackie as a new pilot—mother and daughter come away with very different lessons. Jackie is spreading her wings, while young Linda (Starfire's given name) often feels neglected. Starfire's gift as a writer is that she shows both perspectives, and while her hurt is palpable, she doesn't condemn her mother's actions, but instead seeks to understand them.


One particularly poignant scene chronicles a visit to Planned Parenthood for birth control. It's a powerful moment, personally and politically. While Jackie is acknowledging the teenage Linda's maturity and independence in a way many mothers of the time would have been unable to do, she's so ashamed of the whole affair that she waits outside the clinic, as though this is a crime and she's the driver of the getaway car. Scenes like this capture the conflicted messages Jackie was giving, and Linda receiving, as they both tried to figure out their roles in the world.


While they never completely "worked it out"—Starfire didn't read her mother's journals until after her death—this mother-daughter memoir brings the two closer together than ever. Anyone who grew up in the 1960s will appreciate Starfire's unflinchingly honest look at a confusing, if ultimately liberating, era for women.


Sheila M. Trask for Story Circle Network Book Reviews April 2014


An Inside Job

Distorted Mind: Mental Illness Revealed - Michael Fortnam

In this brief but brave memoir, Michael Fortnam strives to share what serious mental illness feels like from inside the patient’s head. Distorted Mind: Mental Illness Revealed addresses a prevalent memoir topic—the difficult journey from receiving a diagnosis to making a recovery—in a refreshingly honest way. Instead of simply chronicling the events that led to his hospitalization and eventual return to a regular life, Fortnam records his complex thoughts and feelings and effectively communicates his overwhelming sense of bewilderment when he must come to terms with the fact that he cannot trust his own mind.


Although his disoriented and at times desperate voice is unique, Fortnam corrals the chaos in a conventional memoir structure. Chapters devoted to the initial inklings of trouble in his early twenties, his battles with depression and mania, the downward spiral that led to his hospitalization, and the rocky road back to a meaningful life come one upon the other in the expected order. There’s a clear progression to his illness. Fortnam, however, doesn’t always see what’s happening until much later. This book is as much an effort to make sense of it all for himself as it is an attempt to communicate his struggle to others.


Not surprisingly, then, Fortnam’s focus on his own confusion can make it difficult to understand the way certain events unfold. For example, he writes about being arrested after a reclusive period when he had holed up in his home and embarked on all manner of esoteric projects—some of them potentially dangerous—but what comes through is not so much the chaos inside his apartment but the astonishment inside his head. He genuinely wonders: Why were the police there? What did they think he was doing with the rag-filled jar of kerosene? Couldn’t they see it was a cancer-healing formula God had instructed him to create? Fortnam really didn’t understand what was going on in his own life, and while he captures his radical separation from reality by sharing these thoughts, he often leaves the reader almost as bewildered as he was.


The book moves rapidly from one event to another, describing a few in detail but many more in generic terms. It’s never explained, for instance, exactly what Fortnam’s manic spending frenzies looked like, only that they resulted in an apartment full of “musical instruments” and “tools.” There is plenty of room in this slim volume for greater detail and a more particular picture of his life. Interviews with his parents, his psychiatrist, and even the arresting officer would be valuable additions, providing a useful counterpoint to Fortnam’s frequently detached perspective.


At its center, this memoir is an honest, heartfelt look at what it really feels like to find that your mind is unraveling, although not everything Fortnam goes through is understood. Family and friends of those dealing with mental illness can gain a new perspective by reading Distorted Mind.


Sheila M. Trask for Foreword Reviews
April 17, 2014



Fill Up on these Cozy Mysteries!

Death on Eat Street - J.J. Cook Doing It at the Dixie Dew: A Mystery - Ruth Moose Murder at Honeychurch Hall: A Mystery - Hannah Dennison Bloom and Doom - Beverly  Allen

May 2014

Sweet treats with a side of murder

BookPage® Feature by Sheila M. Trask



Fresh settings, quirky characters and original twists abound in our favorite new cozies. Whether you prefer to sample exotic recipes, explore antique-filled English mansions, take a little break at a charming B&B or create a custom floral bouquet, a delightful adventure awaits in these books—oh, and murders, too. But don’t worry: The strong, determined and often hilarious women at the center of the action are sure to figure things out before it’s too late—if only just.


Read more here.


Out of the Frying Pan, Into The Fire

Redeployment - Phil Klay

If you ever wanted proof that war doesn't make sense, here it is.


Phil Klay's short stories from the trenches of the Iraq war show that no matter how you look at it, war is hell.


He's been there, so he knows, but this isn't only Klay's story. Drawn from his own experience and interviews with others, these stories take a variety of perspectives. We hear from new recruits, eager boot camp graduates, stunned soldiers in their first firefight, old hands numb to the violence, chaplains trying to make a difference, and many more. Klay shows us what a soldier sees, both in combat and after the unsettling return to "normal" at home.


Strongest when transcribing straight from a soldier's mind, Klay captures the combination of heightened awareness and psychological numbing that gets the men through the day. I was especially struck by the endless stream of acronyms that let the men talk about people, places, and actions without ever using a specific name or description. It's all initials. I heard shades of Orwell in this language that serves to distance men from their actions.


Klay uses the first person throughout, and his own voice permeates most of the stories, making some of them less distinctive than they might be. A few stories run together in such a way that you may not immediately realize that the perspectives have changed. It's a surreal effect, and while confusing at times, also captures the underlying message that all of these stories are, at heart, about the same thing: disillusionment and the attempt to make sense of some of the most powerful experiences a human being can go through.


Confronting a Conspiracy

Finding Maggie's Bliss - Augustus G Van Slyke

In this follow-up to his psychological thriller, Digging Up Bones, Augustus Van Slyke combines grim realism and supernatural fantasy to illumine difficult themes like pedophilia and child trafficking. Finding Maggie’s Bliss follows the abused children from Van Slyke’s debut novel into middle age, where they confront memories so harsh they’ve been suppressed. Van Slyke lets those memories rise to the surface with a tale that has emotional resonance, even as its plot carries conspiracy theories to some extreme conclusions.


At the heart of things is Maggie Hornsby, the most carefully drawn, consistently voiced, and emotionally engaging character in the book. Estranged from her daughter, Bliss, and struggling with PTSD and an ovarian cancer diagnosis, the cantankerous Maggie goes on a retreat that only brings her closer to the very things she fears. She’s blunt, emotional, sometimes confused, but always open-minded, and her complexity is compelling. Yes, she hears voices, maybe even has imaginary friends—or are they angels?—but Van Slyke convincingly puts us in her head, where everything makes a certain sense.


There is a lot going on in Maggie’s world, and not all of it flows easily. The plot can feel like a grab bag of genres as it switches from Stephen King–like horror scenes to Maggie’s intimate talks with her caretaker, or from uncomfortably explicit memories of child abuse by clergy to underground caves in Hawaii that harbor an unbelievably complex and ruthless secret society. Perspective can shift abruptly, from victims to perpetrators, with little warning, leaving the reader a bit bewildered. The book tries for a sense of urgency, with devices like a running clock and calendar at the head of each chapter, but the constant scene-changing makes it difficult to build tension.


Scenes set in Maggie’s world—a retreat house—carry the most weight. From the creaking floorboards to the bathroom down the hall, Van Slyke draws a detailed picture of Maggie’s surroundings. When we catch up with her daughter, however, we’re entombed in sparsely described lava tubes beneath Hawaiian volcanoes. It’s an exotic locale, but not nearly as palpable as Maggie’s surroundings.


The book maintains an overall tone of menace that begs for resolution, from the dark cathedral towers looming over two altar boys on the cover to the ultimate revelations about a worldwide network of pedophiles and child traffickers. The conspiracy that is woven may be overblown, but Maggie’s role is sympathetic, and this may be enough to keep the pages turning as the plot twists become less and less believable.


An advocate for children’s rights—he’s a member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and PROTECT, a national child protection organization—Van Slyke puts forth a message in his fiction that will resonate with survivors of abuse. Finding Maggie’s Bliss tells readers in no uncertain terms that it’s never the victim’s fault, and that the abusers can be brought to justice.


Sheila M. Trask for Foreword Reviews
March 18, 2014


All Together Now!

Trinitarian Wisdom - The Art of Life - Paul Pi

Paul Pi skips stones across the vast waters of religious and scientific thought in his ambitious first book, Trinitarian Wisdom - The Art of Life. Touching on topics from Hinduism to quantum mechanics, Pi presents an expansive challenge to conventional modes of thinking about how life works. Some of his cast stones travel far into the distance, some dive deep, and others just touch the surface, but Pi follows the path of each in his wide-ranging survey of paradigm-shifting thought. Pi’s extensive studies have led him to develop a new model for living the ideal life—the Trinitarian Principle—which he enthusiastically explores in these densely packed pages.


Pi’s stated thesis is that there is a “commonly shared core value among all domains, especially the ones of philosophy, science and religion,” that can be explained “by means of the trinitarian wisdom.” Pi examines this concept by calling into question the very way we perceive the world, looking for common threads in the work of philosophers, storytellers, scientists, and religious leaders throughout history. It’s complex reading, and Pi warns up front that the material will be very challenging. He calls on readers to put aside conventional, linear thought and instead don new “3-D glasses” to experience all of the dimensions of time and space.


The content of this book is certainly challenging, as Pi covers such complex topics as Einstein’s theory of relativity and Zeno’s paradoxes in thirty dense chapters. Accompanying illustrations, diagrams, quotations, and stories shed intriguing yet limited light on ideas that scholars spend lifetimes studying. There’s simply not enough room here to adequately examine the origins of all of the world’s religions, which is just one of Pi’s topics. Each chapter could easily be the basis of a college seminar, or even a PhD dissertation. Although appendices further address Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist religions, a complete reference list would be a welcome addition.


Pi’s presentation style also offers a challenge, as he frequently employs double negative language—“not head/not not head” or “not tail/not not tail” to describe a coin toss, for instance—that requires absolute attention if one is to comprehend his message. Other passages are not logical in the usual sense—“The seemingly nothingness of absolute is, in fact, the ultimate source of somethingness as well as the whole lot”—but serve a role similar to Zen koans: they make us confront an apparently unresolvable paradox and thus require a whole new way of thinking.


All of the thought experiments can be overwhelming, making it easy to lose track of Pi’s overarching goal, which is to define his conception of trinitarian wisdom. He never sums it up in one neat definition but instead ends the book by recommending several personal practices, like meditation and energy medicine, that readers can use to bring them closer to realizing his integrative ideal.


Unlike the simple cactus flower that blooms on its cover, Trinitarian Wisdom is not a light read. It would be most appropriate for a study group with lots of room for discussion, or as the foundation for an unconventional, college-level philosophy course.


Sheila M. Trask for Foreword Reviews
March 18, 2014