Tell Me Something About Buddhism, by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel [first published in Shelf Awareness for Readers, 10/25/11]

Tell Me Something About Buddhism

by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

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Zenju Earthlyn Manuel is an African-American artist, writer, Congolese drummer–and Soto Zen priest. Tell Me Something About Buddhismapproaches Zen from her own singular point of view, addressing the basics of Buddhism (suffering, the Four Noble Truths, meditation, karma, etc.), allowing the reader to see how Manuel lives her Zen and synthesizes it with other spiritual/cultural aspects of her background. Because she explains the deviations well, Manuel can be forgiven for seeming, at times, to reconstruct Buddhism to align with some of her more disparate life experiences. Buddha’s meditating under the Bodhi tree, after all, can be seen as a vision quest; he did have near-death experiences; and honoring the ancestors can have a place in Buddhist life.

Manuel touches on some important topics, such as the place of women in a historically patriarchal tradition, and provides a reading list for further exploration. However, it is Manuel’s hard-won internalization of Zen in her life that is most touching, and her emphasis on compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation as key to spiritual development can benefit adherents of any spiritual path. Seeing with the heart as a mirror of external life, free from preconceptions and prejudices, is another key concept of the Buddhist path. Manuel is very clear that she is still learning “how to express [herself] with love”; this one task alone can provide anyone with profound life lessons. This slender book is an excellent introduction to Buddhism. —Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, proprietress, Wyrdhoard Books, and blogger at Still Working for Books

Discover: A Buddhist perspective on how approaching even life’s most mundane experiences with an open mind and heart can lead to a depth of spiritual growth.

Hampton Roads, $16.95 hardcover, 9781571746580

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Troubled Bones: A Medieval Noir, by Jeri Westerton [first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers, 10/25/11]

Troubled Bones: A Medieval Noir

by Jeri Westerson

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Troubled Bones is the fourth offering in Jeri Westerson’s Medieval Noir series featuring degraded knight Crispin Guest. Years ago, Crispin was snared in a false treason plot contrived by his lord, the Duke of Lancaster, to out the religious heterodox; Crispin made the mistake of staying loyal to the Duke and was subsequently stripped of his title and holdings, forced to make his living as a Tracker, a finder of things and people. Joining him in this work is his adolescent apprentice, Jack Tucker, whom Crispin saved from Newgate Prison (back in The Demon’s Parchment).

A Pardoner, a Miller, a Prioress, a Summoner, a Manciple and a Wife of Bath make a pilgrimage to Canterbury: sound familiar? Westerson has taken Chaucer’s characters–and the poet himself, cast as an old friend of Crispin’s–and seamlessly woven her own mystery around them. The Prioress and Sir Philip Bonefey are feuding over 10 disputed acres, formerly Bonefey’s but recently ceded to the Prioress’s House by an ecclesiastical court headed by Archbishop Courtenay of Canterbury. There’s a murder, then a second, and soon readers are pulled into a tangle of heretical movements, court intrigue, crooked master stonemasons and the missing bones of the blessed martyr Thomas à Becket (if they’re really missing, that is). Aficionados of medieval murder mysteries will delight in Westerson’s accurate period details and an intriguing plot guaranteed to keep the reader guessing into the night. —Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, proprietress, Wyrdhoard Books, and blogger at Still Working for Books

Discover: An intriguing mystery involving a disgraced knight, Chaucer, assorted pilgrims and missing bones.

Minotaur, $25.99 hardcover, 9780312621636

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Pirate King, by Laurie R. King [first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers, Sept 23 2011]

Pirate King

by Laurie R. King

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Pirate King is Laurie R. King’s 13th entry in her Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. The two are well-suited to each other, have been married three years. Mary has been inveigled, through a combination of Mycroft, Sherlock, and Lestrade, into investigating Fflytte Films as it gears up to filmThe Pirate King in Portugal. Allegations of financial fraud and drugs have pursued the company, and Mary is hired to replace their missing secretary, Lonnie Johns. The Pirate King is to be a film about the filming of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, or as Mr. Pessoa, the poet/translator hired in Portugal, remarks, “Pirates, both fantasy and authentic…. A picture with two layers of dream. A picture which is itself a dream? Artifice upon artifice….”

Once docked in Lisbon, locals are hired to portray pirates, notably La Rocha of the terrifying scar and his first mate, Samuel. Just as the film is to convey layers of stories, the plot of the novel Pirate King has more layers than a well-made strudel and is just as delectable. There’s even Rosie, the Marxist parrot, whose shrieked exhortations to the masses enlivens an already febrile situation.

Our narrator, Mary, has an ironic voice, and her wit is dry and penetrating (“however, knowing the House of Lords and its fondness for meddling in the lives of those who actually worked for a living…”); it is only the brilliance and bravery of her and her husband, Sherlock, that save the cast from a fate worse than, and also solve the mystery of why the subject of each Fflytte film is on conclusion replicated in reality. —Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, proprietress, Wyrdhoard Books, and blogger at Still Working for Books

Discover: Laurie R. King’s 13th entry in her delightful Russell/Holmes series, with pirates, damsels in distress, a Marxist parrot and heroic, adroit feats by Mary Russell.

Bantam, $25 hardcover, 9780553807981

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A Single Shot, by Matthew F. Jones [originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers, 9/20/2011]

A Single Shot

by Matthew F. Jones

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John Moon is a likable, “good-looking guy… gentle and with a good sense of humor” whose late father owned, and lost to the bank, a large farm. John managed to buy enough of it back to house his trailer, in full view of his lost inheritance. This is not all John has lost: his beloved wife, Moira, has taken their son and left him to forge her own future, training as a teacher. John–for all his good qualities–is perhaps not the sharpest knife in the block, but he does manage to eke out a living pouring tarmac and hunting for his meat. A Single Shot chronicles one week in John’s life, starting with tracking a 12-point buck in the woods near his cabin. He hears a twig snap, sees a flash of brown-and-white behind a bush, fires a shot–and then sees the buck leaping away in another direction. He has killed a teenage girl.

The reader is led from one harrowing choice John makes to the next, as predetermined, John realizes, as a row of falling dominoes–and as impossible to stop. In geometry, the most crucial part of a drawing is the initial line; any error here, even the smallest, and the end result is a hideous deformity of the original shape. This is what happens with John’s life. A Single Shot is a welcome reissue, with Reading Club notes, of the original 1996 edition by Matthew F. Jones (Deepwater). The author’s skillful plotting and writing, reminiscent of Hemingway, make the book impossible to put down; it’s a classic in modern suspense writing. —Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, proprietress, Wyrdhoard books, and blogger at Still Working for Books

Discover: The inevitable unwinding of a life from one critical mistake in judgment to its shocking conclusion.

Mulholland Books, $14.99 trade paper, 9780316196703

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Tom Waits on Tom Waits [originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers, 8/26/2011]


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Tom Waits on Tom Waits is a collection of lesser-known interviews with Waits over the course of his long career. When tantalizing hints of the artist’s ferociously guarded private life begin to emerge, Waits lobs a smoke bomb into the interview in the guise of a fact from his unequalled library of miscellanea–such as a decapitated cockroach’s ability to live for weeks.

From his first artistic age, Closing Time (1973), through One from the Heart(1982), we see the young artist re-creating a boho life he came to love from reading Kerouac, chronicling the “underbelly of the American dream.” Coincident with meeting his future wife, Waits realized that he “had nailed one foot to the floor and kept… making the same record”; the collaboration between Waits and Kathleen Brennan birthed the breakthrough albumSwordfishtrombones (1983). He also credits her with saving his life: with her encouragement, he quit drinking and smoking, ending his self-destructive caricature of a life and freeing him from the closed loop that had hobbled his artistry.

Tom Waits, even in his earliest stage, has never been what could be called “easy listening”; he’s the philosopher as artist, never a popular choice, and if that’s not daunting enough, his voice ranges from a ragged “been drinking cleaning products all night” to a seductive purr. His lyrics always demand attention, thoughtful listening and an open mind. In these 40-odd pieces, we get a glimpse of an artist honing his craft. —Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, proprietress, Wyrdhoard Books, and blogger at Still Working for Books

Discover: The development of the artistic anomaly that is Tom Waits.

Chicago Review Press, $19.95 trade paper, 9781569763124

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One Minute Mindfulness, by Donald Altman [first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers August 23, 1022]

One Minute Mindfulness

by Donald Altman

Share This Donald Altman, a former Buddhist monk and now a practicing psychotherapist, has written such books as The Mindfulness Code and Living Kindness; he also leads workshops in mindfulness training (e.g., “Mindful Eating,” to help people overcome eating disorders). Here Altman encourages his readers to take the least scary, most feasible, baby step of all in mindfulness: for just 60 seconds commit to being present. “You may not be able to remedy the situation in one minute,” he writes, “but you can face it and vow to do something about it.”

For a person feeling irritable, for example, Altman recommends relaxing for 60 seconds without an agenda, without projections, simply “being with” the irritability–all of which should lead the person to recognize the roots of the irritability. The practice applies just as well to someone who has unexpressed expectations of another person that were unfulfilled or who feels uncomfortable about his or her body. The practice of One Minute Mindfulness aims to give people the space they need, free from pressures. This ancient awareness technique has been tested by modern neuroscience, demonstrating the adaptability of the brain and its ability to rewire established neural patterns.

Altman clearly delineates this gentle, liberating approach through the five parts of his book: “One Minute Mindfulness for Home and Play,” for “Work and Creativity,” for “Relationships and Love,” for “Health and Wellbeing” and for “Nature, Spirituality, and Contemplation.” Each short chapter concludes with a simple exercise, practice or meditation to allow the reader to experience mindfulness within the area explored. This calm and compassionate book offers tremendous help for every area of our lives. —Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, proprietress, Wyrdhoard Books, and blogger at Still Working for Books

Discover: How to unhitch yourself from the crippling reins of habit, and learn how to open to the spacious, peace-filled freedom that exists within.

New World Library, $14.95 trade paper, 9781608680306

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The Hangman’s Daughter [first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers, August 9 2011]

The Hangman’s Daughter

by Oliver Potzsch, trans. by Lee Chadeayne

Share This This book takes readers to a grim time in history–16th-century Germany, where ignorance and fear led to many witch burnings. Hangman Jacob Kuisl is one of the few who doesn’t believe in witches; however, his job–an inherited position–requires a keen knowledge of herbs and techniques to cause as well as relieve pain, because he’s also the town torturer and executioner. A man of contemporary sensibilities, he has taught his daughter, Magdalena, to read, and drinks himself comatose several days before every execution.

Three boys of an orphan gang are found murdered, each with a crude tattoo of what must be a witch’s mark on their backs. The boys used to visit kind Martha Stechlin, the town midwife. Martha is jailed and will be tortured to make her confess to evil and name her confederates, because witches always work with other witches. In fact, some 70 years earlier, a local witch craze brought some 60 women to their deaths. Other disturbing events–the burning of a warehouse and the destruction of a new leper house–are attributed to the incarcerated Martha.

Martha’s immediate burning would be more than a convenient political expediency for the town’s aldermen–it would solve everything. That they know she is innocent is beside the point.

This work seamlessly merges brutality and compassion, and its elegant plot, appealing characters and satisfying conclusion will keep the reader wide awake and turning pages well into the night. —Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, proprietress, Wyrdhoard Books, and blogger at Still Working for Books

Discover: Sympathetic characters and elegant plotting will draw the reader into the world of this novel set in 16th-century Germany and keep the pages turning well into the night.

Mariner , $18 trade paper, 9780547745015

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