Here, There and Everywhere

Extreme Confrontations

City Lights & Side Streets by Patrick Brown.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51guT-D0OYLPatrick Brown has put together an interesting collection of short stories (and one novelette) that focus on family, friends, and lovers, and pushes ordinary life events to extreme confrontations with self or others. City Lights & Side Streets has a story about teens in the eighties, who take an unstable young man to a niece’s birthday party; a busy family of four who hire a scheduler; a young woman coming to terms with the loss of her father; a group of marginalized individuals and their misfortunes; and an extension of a previous series about a private investigator named Salem Reid.

Here’s a slice from The Scheduler, when Leo, the person Lesley convinced her husband to hire (and move in with them), to help make sure everything got done on time, is speaking to ten-year-old Jenny. “Your science project is due Friday. Spend an hour on it tonight, so you are not rushing on Thursday to get it all done. If there are any other supplies you need, tonight is the night to inform your parents, as I have allowed for thirty minutes of variable time. The weather looks clear for Thursday so your dad will be doing yard work and your mom has a tennis match at 6:30. Asking for supplies tomorrow will throw them off schedule! We don’t want that, do we? Jenny stared at our guest like he was from outer space, but Leo remained unfazed by the reaction our daughter had given him.”

All of the tales in this collection has some unexpected, or surprise, turn of events, which will catch you off guard… in a good way. Mr. Brown is very skilled at capturing moments, events, and describing people and places. All of his characters are well rounded and believable. The novelette (Lab Rat: A Salem Reid Novella) could be taken straight out of a detective film from the forties and fifties. Hard-boiled, but loyal, clever, and honest detective, has a private love interest and works with colleagues and friends to solve the crime. Some of the dialogue sounds like it could come straight out of Humphrey Bogart’s mouth in The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon. When all is said and done, City Lights & Side Streets is well worth the ride.

Marked by The Goddess

Intrigue In The Summer Court by Mistral Dawn.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51YeDoxp13LI never thought I’d find myself intrigued by an erotic fantasy that takes place in a land called Fairie ( which is populated by fairies, fae, humans, brownies, goblins, magic, spells, etc.), and whose royal couples (Princess Roni and Prince Uaine, The Huntsman and Cassie) enjoy intense, graphic BDSM lovemaking that will make your nerve-ends tingle (along with other parts of your body). Neither fantasy or BDSM is high on my “to read” list, but somehow Intrigue In The Summer Court pulled me in and kept me bound throughout.

There is a plethora of characters, and terminology, in the tale that took me a while to figure out and keep straight. Little did I know, until the final page, that there is a literal Who’s Who at the end of the book, with character descriptions, and a section on terminology, flora, and fauna in the land of Fairie. Nice to know it was there, but not knowing everything at the beginning didn’t take anything away from the story. Most of the actresses, actors, and nongendered beings are introduced in the first chapter.

Here is a sample. A Fae named Angelica is trying to convince Jillian (who serves Queen Briallen) that there is a plot to kill Roni and Uaine on their honeymoon (who have been ordained by The Goddess to rule the land). “The small Fae sat on the tabletop and crossed her legs over each other. Taking a deep breath, she said, ‘I’m old enough to remember Fairie before the Courts were formed. While I haven’t been happy with the way things have been in The Summer Kingdom for quite some time, ‘ she threw a less than friendly look at Briallen, ‘I’m not willing to allow things to go back to the way they were.’ She gestured at Roni’s left wrist where the goddess had marked her. ‘Besides, you seem to have the goddess’s approval, which she doesn’t bestow lightly. If something were to happen to you, there’s no guarantee that another as qualified would be found to fill your position.'”

Perceptions of good, bad, right, wrong, justice, intuition, and forgiveness are observed throughout, as well as truth-telling, protection, pain, and revenge. There is a sense of freedom, and fluidity with the love scenes, and an honoring of differences and similarities between sexual desire and expectations. Sex is presented as a mutually satisfying activity, with partners honoring, and respecting one another’s wishes. Oh yeah, there is also a pixie (Ciane), who has love and lust magic, which can cause intense uncontrollable orgasms with her touch. You’d think that would be wonderful, but she uses it to control and enslave others against their will.

Intrigue In The Summer Court has many familiar beings of historical magical kingdoms, but they do not always act as they do in those well-known tales from the past, yet they feel just as authentic, perhaps more so. Ms. Dawn has established herself as a talented writer who I see has a number of other adult stories (which come before and after this one), which include further flights of fancy, domination, love, and spells. If erotic fantasy isn’t your usual cup of tea, I’d invite you to take a sip. You might be tantalizingly surprised, and find yourself submitting to its magic.

The Nature of Being

51cq5sixWzL._SY346_The Mystery: Zen Stories by Dan Glover.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Unlike my book of satirical stories (Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire), which was a take-off on the insightful wisdom stories in the classic collection Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, Mr. Glover has put together a serious, and in-depth look, at the nature of our being, by presenting eighty-one stories in eleven sections. Here is a glimpse from the introduction, of what The Mystery: Zen Stories lays bare.

This book seeks to illuminate the subtle relationship between the unknowable world and what we know by experiencing the world. It is based in part upon ancient texts written down some two thousand five hundred years ago brought up to date so as to be more applicable to the present day Western culture. In many respects, these tales sound autobiographical, though no one person has “likely” experienced everything within.

The different sections, which are titled as a season (Breath of Spring, Autumn Giving Way, etc.) each begin with a beautiful haiku, then dive into topics such as acceptance, loss, water, stillness, perception, and non-attachment, but in the context of stories and experiences. Mr. Glover has a delicious way with words and is able to see things from many perspectives, and not what may always be expected.

“I once heard of a man who was said to be in possession of a great understanding far surpassing any other. Making many inquiries I discovered where this man lived. The journey was long; the way very difficult and arduous. After months of travails, I reached this man’s abode. He seemed to have been expecting me; looking delighted to see me standing at his door he waved a hand for me to enter.

Without saying a word he brought refreshments. Sitting silently together we ate and we drank. When the meal was finished I got up and I left. When I arrived back home my wife inquired if I had found the man who I had been seeking for so long. I nodded my head. She asked if he had shared his great understanding with me. I smiled at her and looking into her eyes I could see she knew without being told.”

There is so much to be said about this book, yet I am hesitant to say anymore, as my words seem insufficient to describe the breadth and depth of its spirit. I think it best, at this moment, to let The Mystery: Zen Stories speak for itself.

“I hold that we come forth without roots. We enter the world by no aperture. We have real existence but this has nothing to do with place, such as our relation to space; we have continuance but it has nothing to do with beginnings or ends, such as our relation to time. The door of the mystery is non-existence. All things come from non-existence; non-existence is the same as not existing. This is the secret of the ages.”

Romeo, Juliet, Petie & Me by Melinda Matthews.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

61zgBqTDlxL._SY346_The narrator tells the tale of her dog Petie and she, as they move from Georgia to Hurley Mississippi in 1961. She’s a young girl, and Petie is a young collie. She has two older sisters, and parents who let her roam free on their property in the countryside. Romeo, Juliet, Petie & Me called forth my childhood and swept me into its bosom. It is very well written. Whether taken from real life or completely fictional, becomes irrelevant.

She imagines being a cowgirl and having a horse. It’s almost like being in the kitchen and watching her act out her dreams. “I thought it a very useful and productive thing, my walking them. A real cowgirl must do what a real cowgirl must do, right? I’d spent HOURS in our big kitchen riding the broomstick astride like a horse around the kitchen table, dark ponytail flying like a flag, making little clucking sounds for an even more realistic ambiance, and the occasional nay or snort added reality to my virtual, as appropriate.  AND I practiced my cattle calls, gleaned straight off Bonanza and Rawhide, so I was qualified to steer cattle, I was sure.”

It turns out that Petie isn’t any ordinary dog. He saves the storyteller from a Brahman bull, walking into the street when a toddler, and growls accordingly when there is danger present. As both ages, Petie begins to slow down and inevitably comes to the end of his dog days. The day it happens is the same day the girl’s older sisters, and Mother, are going to see the film, Romeo and Juliet. The grief and family reactions are palpable.

With Romeo, Julie, Petie & Me the author has shared a part of life that feels so real, vivid, and emotional, that readers’ will feel like part of the family, and as attached to Petie as much as anyone. Though a lot of years pass in the narrator’s first-person account of her relationship with Petie, the story feels complete and significant. Someday, when Ms. Matthews goes to heaven, I’m sure Petie will be at her side once again (imagined or not).

 

The Benefits of Yoga for Seniors: A Guide On Getting Started.
Guest Post by Harry Cline.

image1Photo via Pixabay by Brenkee

Of all the different types of exercises out there, yoga has become one of the most popular in recent years, partly because of its inherent flexibility. It can be done just about anywhere, by people of many different ages and abilities, and can be adapted for those who have mobility issues. For seniors, yoga is one of the best workouts around for those very reasons, but there are other benefits, as well, including a boost to mental health that can help ease the symptoms of depression and prevent stress and anxiety.

Fortunately, there are several simple ways you can get started with a yoga routine of your own, but it’s important to start slowly to avoid injury and to get adjusted to the movements. It’s also a good idea to make sure you adapt the poses to meet your specific needs, especially if you have a disability or limited mobility.

Keep reading for some great tips on how to get started with yoga and to learn more about the benefits.

Improve your overall health

The many benefits of yoga are evident in the way they help seniors improve balance and coordination–which helps prevent falls and other injuries–and builds up muscle tone, aids in joint health, and reduces stress and anxiety for better mental health. By combining physical exercise with a mental health boost, you can ensure that your overall health is well taken care of.

Aid in your recovery

Yoga can be hugely beneficial for individuals who are in recovery because it combines physical activity with meditation. Learning to look inward and connect with your spiritual self can help speed up your recovery and will allow you to learn how to cope with stressors and the effects of depression and other mood disorders in a healthy way.

Adapt

If you’re living with a disability or have limited mobility, it’s important to find a workout that you can adapt to your needs so you can stay safe. Yoga can be done in the water or with the assistance of a chair, so you don’t have to get down on the floor if doing so would be painful or awkward. Consider taking a class with an instructor who understands how to adapt yoga poses for different needs. You can even do yoga and meditation at home. Set up a calm, relaxing space away from noisy areas of your home.

Make sure it feels right

It’s important to make sure that as you’re practicing yoga, you learn to emphasize feeling over the poses. If something doesn’t feel right, move out of the pose immediately and get into a comfortable position. While yoga is a mostly safe exercise for seniors, there are still ways to become injured if you aren’t careful. Take things slowly and consult a doctor immediately if you feel pain.

Start with a class

If you’ve never experienced yoga before, it might be best to start with a class so that you can see how the poses are supposed to be done. There are likely several local classes to choose from, but if you aren’t comfortable with attending one in person–or if you have limited mobility–look for a tutorial online that you can follow at home.

Getting started with your own yoga routine doesn’t have to be stressful or difficult; start slowly and remember that these exercises can be adapted to fit your needs, whatever they may be. If you have existing health issues, consult with your doctor before starting any new routine. Having a good plan and keeping your own safety in mind will help you create an exercise plan that will keep you healthy for a long time.

We Are Not What We Think

Being Present: Cultivate a Peaceful Mind through Spiritual Practice
by Darren Cockburn. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51RSwi0BKVL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_This work is extensive, well-formatted, referenced, nuanced, and easy to understand and put into practice. Being Present explores the ways mindfulness, awareness, yoga, and religious practice, can become the bedrock of our daily lives to create simplicity and insight. Mr. Cockburn says, “Simplifying our life helps us to cultivate Presence and Presence equips us to manage complexity.”

The material provides a close look at “Presence”. What it is, and what it is not? Where it comes from and where it goes, and how to have frequent access to its benefits. The introduction thoroughly outlines all of the areas to be examined within. These include our bodies, people, meditation, hindrances, the ego, simplicity, acceptance, addictions, stillness, nature, work, service, and how to structure one’s practice.

The author’s “three approaches to cultivating Presence” were especially helpful. “The first is through structured practice. This covers activities practiced on a regular basis, including meditation, yoga, and studying spiritual teachings. The second approach is through everyday activities where we are striving to be Present. For example, we may be making a conscious effort to be more Present whilst walking or brushing our teeth. The third approach is to change our conditions so that our life becomes more conducive to being Present. Examples here may include changing our job, letting go of certain relationships, working to release addictions, taking regular exercise, letting go of unhelpful habits and connecting with nature.”

There is an excellent summation at the end of each chapter called Points For Reflection, shared personal experiences in each section, and some well-designed diagrams throughout Being Present. Mr. Cockburn has presented a well-balanced, practical, and insightful book that is applicable for the novice or seasoned practitioner of Presence and mindfulness. I recommend reading it cover to cover, or as a quick reference.

Running Into the Past

Life Happens On The Stairs by Amy J. Markstahler.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

61yvbeR9oJL._SY346_Seventeen-year-old Elsie’s dad is dying, she’s falling for an amazing guy (Tyler), and the divide between rich and poor in Hardin County Tennessee has never been wider. Elsie’s mother (Claire) cleans the house of stuck up and wealthy Mrs. Vaughn, and Tyler is her smart-as-a-whip grandson. Life Happens On The Stairs has hints of the classic The Prince and the Pauper, with an intense love story in the contemporary south. Ms. Markstahler takes us into the mind, heart, and body, of this young teen whose father brought her and her family back from Illinois to his families land.

Here’s a little of what happens when Elsie fills in for her mother at Mrs. Vaughns and meets her in the hallway. “For the next few hours, I vacuumed, dusted, scoured the bathroom and polished the glass on the upper level. Mom always cleaned when she was mad or frustrated. Now I understood why. As the day moved on, I started feeling better. At one-thirty, I walked down the hallway towards Mrs. Vaughn’s bedroom. The passage seemed to narrow as apprehension overwhelmed me. I slowed my steps. Why did I feel like sprinting out of the house? A doorknob clicked. The hair stood up on my arms. That’s why.”

The tension and conflict between Elsie and her mother, and Elsie and her brother (Mark), are spot on and completely relatable. The growing bond between Tyler and Elsie is well developed, with each of them pushing the other to experiences, and memories, they may never have explored, or remembered, left to their own devices, family backgrounds and expectations. Ms. Markstahler also knows how to describe what it’s like when carrying for someone you love who is dying. Life Happens On The Stairs is an excellent story about love and family, for both young and older adults.

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