Fountain of Hope: Dimensions

Review by Joey Madia

Although this is his first work of fiction, Baylus C. Brooks is no stranger to maritime-themed research and writing. He is an acknowledged expert on the life and death of Edward “Blackbeard” Thache (pronounced Teach), having come closer to tracing Thache’s origins in his three books on the subject than any other scholar before him. His research has been crucial to my work in historical education and entertainment related to the Golden Age of Piracy.

Never one to be afraid of controversy or putting himself out there as a scholar, it is no surprise that Brooks does not ease his way into fiction writing, but throws himself instead into the deep end of the ocean by giving us a novel that not only deals with Time Travel, but does so in a compelling, cutting-edge way.

If you are a fan of other time-jumping historical fiction like the Outlander series, or even such nonhistorical entertainment as Avengers: Endgame or the Terminator series and the multiple timelines of Westworld, then this is a novel for you. Continue reading

The Magdalene Gates

Review by Joey Madia

Over the years I have reviewed many books from Larson Publications, including those they publish on behalf of the Paul Brunton Foundation. I have never been disappointed. This publisher has an eye for quality narratives grounded in scholarship and a crucial spiritual insight, and their books are a balm for a sorely troubled world.

Having long been a student of the Gnostic Gospels (e.g., Thomas, Phillip, and Mary), the gospels of the Essenes, and other esoteric documents from the early centuries of Christianity, as well as the true nature of Jesus and those who knew him best, The Magdalene Gates was a book I was keen to read. It takes as its central plot device the uncovering of scrolls from a dig site in Turkey—scrolls that put Mary Magdalene center stage in Jesus’s life and offer spiritual guidance to both the book’s characters and well as the reader.

Mary Magdalene is one of the most contested, misrepresented, and misunderstood characters in the Bible. Many know her only through what they’ve learned from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar and the song “Alabaster Box” sung by CeCe Winans. In the Church’s schema of Jesus’s life, Mary Magdalene is the whore side of the Madonna/whore dichotomy completed by Mary Mater.

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How to Live to 100: Secrets from the World’s Happiest Centenarians

Review by Joey Madia

Longevity is a topic under much discussion in the twenty-first century, although humans have always been fascinated by those who live to the triple digits. But it is not just a matter of quantity—at least not to me—but of quality, and that is the draw and value of this important book by Dr. Elizabeth Lopez.

A trained psychologist, Lopez focuses on the Nicoya region of Costa Rica, known for a high percentage of centenarians, despite the economic struggles and lack of adequate food and water that have also led to a high infant mortality rate. Through face to face interviews with numerous centenarians, Lopez teases out the overlapping elements that create the physical and psychological conditions conducive to a long life.

Some are not surprising, while others truly do make you stop and assess the way you live your life.

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Jackson: The Iron Willed Commander

“Old Hickory”

Review by Joey Madia

If all you know about the seventh president of the United States is his long, chiseled face and mass of white hair on the twenty-dollar bill, you’ve been missing out.

This excellent biography begins with a prologue covering the rabble-rousing ruckus that was Jackson’s inauguration on March 4, 1829. Jackson was a new kind of candidate—unlike his six predecessors in this still-new nation, he was a “man of the people.” In no way an insider, this rugged frontiersman who broke the mold of presidents coming from Massachusetts or Virginia had strong beliefs and was never afraid to defend or act on them. John Quincy Adams, the outgoing president, refused to attend.

Not unlike Alexander Hamilton, Jackson was a “willful boy with a chip on his shoulder” (6) and a mess of contradictions—a daily lifelong reader of scripture, he was also known for his ability to swear with the best of them. He and his brothers fought in the American Revolution, starting Jackson’s complex relationship with death and loss and his ability to carry on despite being wounded. Also like Hamilton, he had a penchant for duels. He had at least three, the second of which resulted in his being wounded in the torso and his killing his opponent, and the third resulting in his carrying a bullet in his body for years after. While taking his law degree, Jackson solidified his reputation as a “roaring, rollicking, game-cocking, horse-racing, card-playing, mischievous fellow” (15).

A great deal of Jackson’s controversy stems from an innocent clerical error. The love of his life, Rachel, had been in a terrible marriage. Leaving her abusive husband she fell in love with and married Jackson, although she was technically not divorced. Jackson’s enemies—and they were considerable—would use this against him, raising his ire as they portrayed the innocent Rachel as a bigamist and unwholesome woman. Continue reading

Witness in the Convex Mirror

“An Innovator, Always”

Review by Joey Madia

It is always a special day when a new work by this innovative and energetic writer arrives in my mailbox. Over the past 10 years, I’ve reviewed about 20 percent of Tabios’ over fifty published works, at times being inspired to be as innovative as the poet and the particular work in how I did so.

Part of her ability to be so prolific is the way she reworks, recycles, and reimagines her own writings and the writings of others—in this case, as the Author’s Note indicates: “Each poem begins with 1 or 1–2 lines from ‘Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror’ by John Ashbery.” In many of my previous Tabios reviews I talk at length about her various means of working with existing pieces to create something new, so I won’t belabor it here. Instead, I’ll say that ALL work a writer or other artist produces is linked to and derivative of something—many things—that have come before.

Tabios simply has the self-awareness to be up front about it, even when it is more ephemeral than repurposing lines from another poet’s already existing poem.

Although Tabios has always been to some extent political, be it the Filipino diaspora, 9/11 and the world ever since, or the complexities of gender or adoption for adopter and adoptee, I found Witness in the Convex Mirror to take it to a new level. And the clue is in the substitution of Witness for Self-Portrait. As many a wise and wizened soul has told us, to Witness is to be responsible to Speak. And speak Tabios does, on a variety of pressing subjects in a hurting and hurtful world. So this review will be less about the technical achievement and more about the content of the poems and the responses they evoke. Continue reading