Review: ‘Newberry Sin’ by C. Hope Clark

Newberry SinNewberry Sin by C. Hope Clark
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Readers of C. Hope Clark’s Carolina Slade Mystery Series (“Low Country Bribe,” “Tidewater Murder,” and “Palmetto Poison”) didn’t see Ms. Slade for several years while the author was working on her Edisto Island Mysteries. It’s a pleasure meeting Slade again in “Newberry Sin.”

Newberry has a potential murder, a truckload of motives and prospective suspects, and, of course, enough sin to require the use of oven mitts while reading this mystery. Slade and her petty boss are in town for a radio show when a local man dies under suspicious circumstances. Even though USDA investigator Slade befriends a potential confidential informant, her boss–who has a grudge against her–assigns a less-experienced investigator to the case and orders Slade to stay away from Newberry.

Slade is a somewhat less self-assured investigator in this book than in earlier stories. She has good reason to be. Her boss assigns her nothing but administrative assistant duties, there are emotional issues at home and conflicts with her boyfriend, and the looming reality that she will probably be fired if she follows up on her informant’s constant pleas for help. This mix results in a somewhat muddled approach to the case at the outset, and she makes a few mistakes that don’t help.

However, readers of “Newberry Sin” will discover a deeper, more complex Slade in this novel as she wrestles with personal and chain-of-command issues while trying to sort out who might have killed whom and why. The book starts out at a high pitch and never slows down. Every page brings a new revelation or incident that clearly shows Newberry will get worse before it gets better.

Slade doesn’t want to become one of the casualties or let the bad guys get away with whatever they’re trying to do to a nice town (except for its contagious gossip).

I wanted to savor this novel for a week or so, but I couldn’t because the plot made me feel like I was riding a bat out of hell with no brakes. Slade seems to have a similar opinion.

I received a free ARC (advance readers copy) of “Newberry Sin” in exchange for an honest review.

My 2012 review of “Low Country Bribe” is here.

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Malcolm

We have been speaking of magic

It’s almost impossible to make a list of magical techniques that could possibly serve as a recipe or a how-to manual for those wanting to learn. The techniques are varied, usually arise out of one’s belief system and/or life’s path, and depend upon the seriousness of those approaching the art and craft of the methods that resonate with them.

Personally, I think we can produce “magical results” without the need of rituals, candles, wands, athames, Tarot cards, and other paraphernalia. The power is within us, not the equipment. If the equipment, crutches as I view them, helps, then there is not need to avoid it. We all use what facilitates our intentions.

For many, the “equipment” helps because society in general tends to discount magic, so it’s often difficult to practice it in a negative environment of science and logic. I have found Tarot cards to be helpful as well as readings from the I Ching.  When I have used candles, it was for focusing my gaze more than for their color or for the herbs that hoodoo uses to “dress” them.

If spells and paraphernalia help you achieve results. there’s no need to get rid of them.  Altars and herbs and candles don’t fit my lifestyle, so I don’t use them. However, they may work for you.

Your mind’s focus is the important thing whether your embrace traditional witchcraft, Wicca, Transcendental Mediation, the Seth Materials, Rosicrucian techniques, various Lightworker approaches, or a mystic attunement based on your religion or spiritual outlook.

In the final analysis, we create our own realities whether we use spells, meditation, various forms of biofeedback and self-hypnosis, dreams, or a positive-thinking approach to life. Such things seem more important to our success than the spells and rituals of one system or another.

It takes courage and perseverance, I think, to approach the world from a mystic’s or psychic’s point of view, and to suggest to family and friends that there’s more to reality than logic or the inputs produced by the five senses. Perhaps it’s best to remain quiet about such thing rather than to be labeled by society as a crazy person.

An author can hide behind his stories by using magic in them that s/he doesn’t mention in every day life. What one says about one’s beliefs is a difficult choice to make,

–Malcolm

 

Of Calendars and Deadlines

Image

“Know what direction you are going instead of waking each day without defined purpose. Of course you have days off. Of course you build in a day of rest. But having missions and goals give more substance to your dreams. And the more organized you are, the more you accomplish, and the more efficient you become at reaching more dreams. The planning makes you seem oh so shrewd and wise.”

Source: Indie Spotlight on Mystery Writer C. Hope Clark – Anita Rodgers Mystery Writer

Sound advice from author Hope Clark as part of her current blog tour in support of her latest novel Newberry Sin. I’m the worst person to advise anyone about planning because I seldom do it. That’s my loss. But I see that those who keep their priorities straight tend to get more done. That certainly applies to writers. If everything else comes first, then a person really doesn’t want to be a writer.

–Malcolm

P.S. I’m currently reading and enjoying “Newberry Sin” and plan to post a review of it here soon.

 

 

Review: ‘Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance’ by Ruth Emmie Lang

Beasts of Extraordinary CircumstanceBeasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first sentence of the publisher’s description sounds like a writing prompt: “Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people.” Going back to the Romulus and Remus myth and wolves appearances in fairy tales, the notion about a young boy growing up amongst wolves is old and filled with so much symbolism that it’s almost archetypal.

As a writer, I like playing “what if?” So, it would be interesting to hear that Lang stumbled across such a writing prompt and wondered what would happen if she made a serious attempt to create an engaging story out of it. “Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance” is definitely engaging. It’s also beautifully written. However, in a recent interview with “Library Journal,” Lang said the story arose out of an idea about an adept beekeeper, and I don’t see it as a spoiler to say that Weylyn knows a lot about bees.

This is a nearly wonderful debut novel. It’s been praised in reader and editorial reviews that are well deserved. Lang has great promise as a successful author, but I hope that in subsequent novels, she develops a stronger focus. The story is told through multiple points of view, some more relevant than others. While this approach serves to make Weylyn more mysterious, it also introduces us to some characters that don’t have recurring or important roles to play. This dilutes the book’s focus because, in spite of the truths the weaker of these characters have to offer, we have no reason to care about these people or to appreciate their intrusion into the story.

The book is billed as magical realism. That’s probably the “proper” genre for it. However, the book is more of a mythic story or fairy tale because the its realism is weak–and it shouldn’t be. While Lang’s wont for Weylyn to drift in and out of other people’s lives is realistic and well handled, the wolves–and to some extent, the bees and other critters–are unrealistic. Weylyn knows what he knows about wolves and bees from his own unique talents and experiences. Yet, the wolves and bees are present in the story when Weylyn isn’t involved and their actions need a stronger basis in fact-based truths about how they would interact “in real life” with people who aren’t magical.

The lack of realism reduces the impact of the novel’s magic. The extraneous characters muddy the novel’s focus and keep readers forever at an arm’s length from Weylyn. I liked reading “Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance,” but was distracted by the missing components that could have made it a much stronger story.

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Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy, paranormal, and magical realism novels and short stories. His most recent magical realism novels are “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”

Magic: The Rosicrucians

“In the end mysticism isn’t a belief. It is simply an art of knowing. The mystical experience transcends nature. Often the person will receive a feeling that far surpasses anything which could be conveyed by words. Furthermore, this insight, devoid of ego, is thoroughly comprehended as truthful.” – The Rosicrucian Order (AMORC)

Strictly speaking, mysticism isn’t magic any more than the self-improvement techniques taught by The Silva Method are considered magic. However, I am considering them in this series of blogs about magic because some of the skills/techniques/results of some mystics and some personal growth practitioners appear to be magic to those outside the teachings of either group.

Wikipedia graphic

The Rosicrucians are secular mystics with a strong emphasis on ritual who focus on hermetic teachings, alchemy, the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, the so-called greater and lesser mysteries, and the development of knowledge that is often referred to as western mysticism. The Silva Method was created by Rosicrucian Jose Silva and focuses more on the development of an individual’s latent mental abilities including intuition than on a direct connection with nature and/or the Creator (referred to generically by Rosicrucians as “the Cosmic”).

The Rosicrucians’ Rosy Cross, which predates the Christian use of the cross, refers to the unfolding consciousness (the rose) in physical matter, that is, the body, which is represented by the cross. Rosicrucian studies are a lifelong process of transformation. The information is presented in monthly monographs in a logical fashion and includes experiments students can use to develop the techniques in the lessons. Students/members who live near the group’s lodges in major cities will benefit from the fellowship as well as the rituals available there.

You can see from this that Rosicrucian teachings have a basis in long-time concepts. Wikipedia illustration.

I have been a Rosicrucian, as well as a Silva Method graduate, for almost a half a century. The teachings, in my view, complement each other. Typical students probably develop their psychic and healing abilities must faster through the Silva Method, while the Rosicrucian teachings provide, over time, a solid grounding in esoteric traditions and principles. Neither group has the high-profile approach and publicity associated with such books as The Secret or such approaches as the Law of Attraction or the newer approaches/terminologies such as “Twin Flames” and “Lightworkers.”

As always, I look for consensus and wish the newer approaches to magic, self-development, and mysticism would state how their beliefs and techniques compare and contrast to methods that have been around for years. My personal belief system–which is probably neither “bad” nor “good”–is that mysticism and magic are primarily for serving others and transforming oneself rather than for attracting power and wealth.

I’m including these ideas as an example of a “world view” that serves as the basis for what one accepts or does not accept when it comes to magic. One starts with a world view, I think, and then adds or subtracts other ideas and philosophies from it. When I read about something new, I tend to see how it meshes with what I have already found to be true for myself.  Personally, I like the idea of foundation beliefs. Mine are Silva and Rosicrucian, with strong influences from the Seth materials (written by Jane Roberts) and from Hawai’ian mysticism (Huna). I am comfortable with this. You may need or want something completely different.

That’s fine. There are numerous approaches to magic, mysticism, personal transformation, and self improvement. I like the idea that there are many paths and that each of us walks along those we like best.

Malcolm

As an author, I base the magic in my contemporary fantasies and magic realism novels on my understanding of actual systems of magic to make the stories as accurate and realistic as possible.

 

 

 

Magic: what should I do first?

“Alpha waves are one type of brain waves detected either by electroencephalography (EEG) or magnetoencephalography(MEG) and predominantly originate from the occipital lobe during wakeful relaxation with closed eyes. Alpha waves are reduced with open eyes, drowsiness and sleep. Historically, they were thought to represent the activity of the visual cortex in an idle state. More recent papers have argued that they inhibit areas of the cortex not in use, or alternatively that they play an active role in network coordination and communication.[2] Occipital alpha waves during periods of eyes closed are the strongest EEG brain signals.” – Wikipedia

I have included a quotation here about alpha waves because they represent the level of relaxed brain activity used for intuition. As the Silva Method teaches, your intuition works best at the alpha level–as opposed to the beta level of our usual waking world functioning. I can’t reproduce their technique here other than to say that when you count down from ten to one (or something similar) and visualize yourself becoming more and more relaxed, you will tend to be producing alpha waves.

So, in many ways, what one does first is enter into a state of relaxation conducive to visualization and intuition. That’s a given. Many people have found that recorded guided visualizations help them reach an alpha level.

Assuming you can relax, take a step away from your worries and goals, and silence the ever-chattering voice inside your head, the first step is belief.

Some people see belief as a catch-22 trick foisted on the rest of us by those who write books about magic. The so-called “trick” is, if you don’t believe, the magic won’t work, though until you’ve seen evidence of it working, you have no basis for belief. I suggest approaching this issue in a spirit of play. Pretend you’re playing with the techniques rather than trying to prove anything one way or another the first time out. In time, you’ll begin to think, “hmm, this seems to be working.”

Some people, especially those whose focus is ancient ritual magic, say will power comes first. This is not altogether wrong, though I shy away from saying that because in today’s world, I think will power suggests a brute-force, logical approach. I’d rather use the term “intention.” For magic–however you define it–to work, your intention cannot be scattered with distracting thoughts about daily concerns. Your intention should also be highly focused, that is, on a specific result rather than a vague, open-ended result.

Those of us who believe in magic also believe that belief and intention play a large role in the reality we experience, and that includes the results that we see from our goals, hopes, and dreams. That is, your are already using intention and belief subconsciously, so why not use it “properly” for better results.

A generic approach to self improvement

“Properly” means not only using relaxation techniques and focusing your process, but avoiding second-guessing it later. A lot of people “undo” their best of intentions by thinking negative thoughts about them the rest of the day. Stop doing that.

Magic also works better when you can imagine the end result. All of us can see things in our mind’s eye. That’s what we do when we remember people we’ve known and places we used to live. We can see all that quite clearly. In the same way, we can imagine what things will be like when our goals–and our magic–come to pass. If you have visualized yourself moving into a better home, think of that place in your idle time: imagine the yard, the gardens, the front door, the entry hall, and the other rooms. Pretend you are there fixing a meal or watching television. What is is like?

Workable magic is usually very dependent on a relaxed level of mind, a belief in what you’re doing, a well-focused intention, and on the ability to imagine what you are creating.

Malcolm

 

 

Birds, stay the hell off my car

Wikipedia Photo

My wife and I have discussed the reality that we own the dirtiest car in the neighborhood. If it were a Jeep covered with mud from our latest off-road adventure, we could feel proud of our badass look. But, alas, it’s an ageing Buick LaCrosse.

The car had collected several years of road dirt, unknown scum, pollen, and bird shit. I finally got tired of it.

So I washed it. My wife will be shocked. Normally, I rely on rain to wash the cars. But today, I used Armorall, a hose, a sponge, and a drying cloth. Most of the appalling dirt came off. I was surprised.

But then, two hours later, some damn bird and landed on the side mirror and used the thing as a toilet. We never had this problem before moving to the country. City birds know better, I guess. So, I trudged back out with the sponge and washed it off. Maybe a shotgun will solve the problem. Or a grenade.

When we had problems at a former house with woodpeckers hammering on the gutters, we got rid of them by tying a helium balloon to the corner of the house. I really don’t want to get that started with the car’s mirror because I’ll have to untie the thing every time I leave the house.

If you know how to keep birds off your car’s side mirrors, let me know.

–Malcolm