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Not even a relatively new release, Snatam Kaur's "To Heaven and Beyond" is the one that, no matter how many times I've played it, still takes my breath away.

Kirtan (pronounced KEER-tahn), part of 2,500 year old sacred yoga practice integrating devotion, wisdom; and sound, is the repetitive singing or chanting of mantras as a form of meditation. The ancient Sanskrit mantras are very powerful, high-vibrational recitations of the names of God and bring the practitioner closer to the Divine when spoken with intention.

With the beautiful tonal quality one comes to expect from the "Peace Princess," Snatam Kaur makes accessible old-world ritual chanting by the ecstatic interweaving of the names of God from Buddhism, Navajo, Sikhism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity and Judaism traditions.

Orthodoxy dissolves, and in its stead, illumination.

GOD

in
every
heart.
 
 
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Kombucha Revolution: 75 Recipes for Homemade Brews, Fixers, Elixirs, and Mixers by Stephen Lee, Ken Koopman Hardcover, 160 pages Expected publication: June 3rd 2014 by Ten Speed Press
Kombucha Revolution: 75 Recipes for Homemade Brews, Fixers, Elixirs, and Mixers goes beyond the basics of home-fermenting kombucha tea. Written by the founder of the popular “Kombucha Wonder Drink” found in grocery stores everywhere, Stephen Lee knows his Kombucha. 

Lee shares his journey of probiotic discovery beginning in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he experienced his first glass of “mushroom tea” made from a Scoby started in 1939. Written in a style that is both anecdotal and informative, Kombucha Revolution provides an easy to understand, systematic explanation of the culturing process the fizzy, effervescent drink, as well as the proper care and feeding of the mother culture.



 
 
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431 Superior by D.M. Pratt, Paperback, 180 pages. Published September 25th, 2013 by Dog Ear Publishing. ISBN 1457523213
From start to finish. this book cracked me up! The dynamic between 431 Superior's main characters, forty-ish newlyweds, Lucy and Nate Fair, is endearingly believable; I fell in love with their intimate, sexy relationship, filled with quickies, thwarted attempts at sex, bad puns, and high-fives celebrating their own awesomeness. I could practically hear the skeezy porn music spontaneously filling the background of each (foiled) attempt at coupling, followed by the inevitable screeching to an immediate halt as something goes terribly, terribly wrong. 

 
 

A Troubling Tale of One Woman Behind Iraqi Lines and Her Journey Home 

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Enemy Combatant by Ron Albury Published November 25th 2013 by Createspace ISBN 1494201887
I tend to be attracted to beauty and all things feminine, and the titles I read reflect that. I read poetry, vegan cookbooks, and women's fiction; never in a million years would I ever imagine myself gravitating towards political fiction, and certainly not books pertaining to military life and combat in Iraq.  The violence, strategic missions and men's comradery existing between soldiers that have experienced combat together are lost on me. I see them as irrelevant in my own life, and frankly, boring. 

I received a review copy of Enemy Combatant, and was attracted to it immediately because of its stunning cover art. I briefly skimmed the back face of the oversized paperback I held in my hand, looking for clues as to its content, but none were forthcoming. I was intrigued by more artful photography and the question, "Is she saving our country or destroying it?" I began to read.

Ron Albury's newly self-published novel, Enemy Combatant, begins in the unwinding of anti-terrorist agent, Samantha's, past self. As one of two siblings of a single mother, Samantha and her sister, Chris, live in shadows and silence, young girls whittled down into one, invisible presence trying to stay out of striking range of their drunken mother. One month to the day after 9/11, Chris is removed from the home and placed in state care following a brutal beating, and Samantha is left on her own, spending her days aimlessly wandering and contemplating suicide.

Samantha joins the military not to begin a new life, but to bring meaning to her death. What she discovers in basic training, however, is a level playing field with the other recruits, in which she was no longer identified as "the daughter of a drunken whore" or assigned temporary value based on her skills under the bleachers and on her knees..  Her former identity is stripped of her, and along with it, the inhibitions that kept her a prisoner of her low birth. She gives herself, willingly and in entirety, to the army, and is formed into a human weapon of worth and authentic, earned value.


 
 

by Sonja Condit 
Published December 31st 2013 by William Morrow & Co.  

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Starter House, by Sonja Condit. Paperback, 400 pages Published December 31st 2013 by William Morrow & Company
Intelligently written throughout, Sonja Condit's Starter House is everything a psychological thriller should be; both tense and suspenseful while maintaining a natural believability that sucks you in despite yourself; makes you believe all is safe and well, while somewhere, deep in the dark recesses of your mind, your prefrontal cortex is frantically trying to puzzle through and dissect the horror that you know is lurking behind a corner. Starter House's storyline somehow manages to be forthright while at the same time, its edges blur into something shifty and unconscionable; duplicitous. An urban legend that knows you by name.

At times I found this title terrifying to the point that I had to consciously relax my body and unfurl my tightly clenched fists. Her characters, from the protagonist, to antagonist and everyone in between each showed unique tenderness and depth of character with a complexity that evolved as the story progressed; they were strangely captivating and singularly deceptive in their seeming straightforwardness. 

Full of subtleties that twist the plot, events maintain a level of truthfulness that is disarming, making it easy to doubt the existence of the monsters that most certainly are hiding under the bed, until, too late, you realize they've swallowed you whole.

A lovely story; a touching, terrifying read.


 
 
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Forever Friday: A Novel by Timothy Lewis Published September 3rd 2013 by WaterBrook Press
In a gripping love story that  transcends time, author Timothy Lewis new title, Forever Fridays,  is the narrative of the intense fire between a man and wife, and the fervent devotion crucial to fanning its flames. 

Set within duel timelines, smooth transitions take us from present day Texas, where estate-sale specialist, Adam Coby, unearths a collection of sixty years of postcards hidden inside several photo albums. Not having recovered from the devastating heartbreak of a divorce two years ago, his brokenness stems not only from the loss of his future with his wife, but in what he sees as the staggering futility of love.  As he casually reads through them, he experiences a flicker of hope that hidden in these postcards is the secret to maintaining a rich and long lasting love. 

Falling into easy nostalgia with imperceptible seams and a graceful entry into a bygone era we learn the story of Gabe and Pearl Alexander beginning at the genesis and the birthplace of their love, 1920's Texas Coastal Bend. Tenderly chronicled within each missive is the story of a lifetime of a love not taken for granted, but nurtured and cultivated with the meticulousness that can only come from mutual devotion, unchanging and reaffirmed throughout the decades. Forever Friday is truly a beautiful and inspiring read,  and resplendent in its telling, making this title one you'll want to read and re-read as you invest in your own love story. 

A physical copy of this book was provided by the publisher or author for purposes of review.
 
 
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Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement Expected publication: February 11th 2014 by Hogarth
Having access to pre-release books for review, I often find myself in the untenable position of having to force myself through tortuous, mediocre, crudely written books. There's a lot of appallingly bad writing out there, cleverly disguised by misleading cover art; their publication based largely on overused cliches. I feel resentful for the time I spend choking down uninspired, poorly researched titles, when there are authors who invest themselves, literally for years, in the development of a well-written book. Jennifer Clement;s new title, Prayers for the Stolen, falls into the second category of higher achievement.


 
 
PictureThe Girl in the Road, by Monica Byrne.

Ho-LY Sh*t. 

I LOVE it. 
I love it I love it I love it.

Reading The Girl in the Road, I had not yet made it halfway through, its fast became one of my favorite books. Truthfully, just after reading the first few lines, I was hooked, with no possible way of escape. This title's publication date isn't set until May 2014, and even though I'm reading it in ebook format, I'm desperate to get my hands on a physical copy. I could EAT this book.

The Girl in the Road is a book about death and dying, giving birth and new life.

The story begins with subtle themes of spirituality born of a traumatic event. A snake bite. Blood, pumping from the shallow between Meena's breasts. White bandaging applied in the shape of a cross. All the foundational elements required for the building of a religion are accounted for. 


 
 
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Swingland: Between the Sheets of the Secretive, Sometimes Messy, but Always Adventurous Swinging Lifestyle by Daniel Stern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a former mystical Golden Unicorn, I am mildly disappointed that Swingland was not written for me (an embarrassing product of my Unicorn entitlement), but for an audience of men who may be interested in the Lifestyle. The writer's tone, though, is accessible to all and user-friendly, making it easy to overstep societal boundaries to safely experiment as a voyeur in the realm of the taboo.

In his book, Daniel Stern offers up his own unabashed experiences and practical insights as to the private counter-culture of the swinger's lifestyle. Filled with etiquette cues needful for avoiding swingers' faux pas, Swingland can accurately be described as a manual for no-strings-attached, group sexual activity. Filled with practical advice built from anecdotal evidence, Stern puts potential newbies in the know regarding situation specific topics such as setting up profiles on swinger's websites that get noticed, the Photoshop conundrum, and Lifestyle lingo that will have you talking the talk like a pro. After contacts are made, Stern offers guidance regarding meet-and-greets, courteous and successful house party hosting, and respecting both hard and soft-limit boundaries of new playmates. Particularly impressive is his ability to create a clear dialog explaining common snares and pitfalls for the single man to avoid when seeking playpartners, be they single women, married couples, or groups.

Swingland opens the door to a growing society previously hidden to mainstream America, filled with warmth, humor, and the ever present, neatly folded stack of hand-towels. Condoms not optional.