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Intriguing sci-fi mystery begins in Copan Temple
This book caught my eye because of the Chamber of the White-Eyed Star God deep inside a major temple at Copan. With this Maya connection, I was drawn to read it, although slated genre was YA. I’m really glad I did! It’s the most enjoyable science-adventure-thriller that I’ve read in a long time. Below is my review.
The Coordinate 12-15-19
By Marc Jacobs 5*
High school seniors Logan and Emma are assigned a history project to explore the “how and why” of one of the great archeological mysteries of the world. Other student teams are assigned to Stonehenge, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and the Gate of the Sun in Tiwanaku, but Logan and Emma get the obscure Chamber of the White-Eyed Star God in Copan, Honduras. Immediately drawn in by the sequestering of data about the site, they launch on the adventure of a lifetime that takes them to Italy, The Vatican, Europe, and the Norwegian fjords. Unraveling the cues and threads of Columbus’ connections with the Copan temple and its astrological mysteries places them squarely in danger’s path, as other agents are also seeking these answers. The teenagers become entangled with U.S. Intelligence agents, international espionage information dealers, and two hapless professors who initially discovered the Star God’s chamber. Their efforts to solve the mysteries propel them into the highest levels of U.S. government and military secrets.
This is the best scifi thriller that I’ve read in a long time. It grabs you and immerses you in the teenager’s brilliant detective work to sort out connections and meanings between astrological clues, ancient sites, and historical figures. Some of the happenings may be far-fetched, but the author provides enough science to make them plausible. There are captivating descriptions of the ancient sites and contemporary places visited during the teen’s quest, along with background material that adds perspective. Just when things are getting obvious, totally unforeseen twists take place setting up more layers of intrigue. With exciting action and mind-bending theories, the plot engages our inner sleuth and challenges our problem-solving abilities.
The main characters are engaging and well-developed, the bad guys well-portrayed and hard to figure out at times. There is a sweet budding romance between Logan and Emma, though we are left with mysteries at the end, especially regarding Emma. Though given the genre of YA, this complex story will be enjoyed by most adults. A sequel is coming soon, and I’m getting it as soon as it’s released.
I’m delighted to host Amanda Jayne, intrepid author of Close Encounters of the Traveling Kind, stories of her near-death travel adventures in some of the world’s most exotic and unusual places. Jayne was inspired during her youth by a teacher, and always yearned for far-away places. She began these travels in the late teens-early twenties, and had much to learn about staying safe and well in foreign lands. In this humorous and gripping book, Jayne gives vivid descriptions of hair-raising escapades and provides wit and wisdom through “lessons learned” and”tips on how not to die” should other travelers be brave enough to follow her steps.
Below are Jayne’s thoughts about why she sought travel around the world and what traveling means to her. My review of her book follows. —Leonide Martin
I’ve been fascinated by other cultures and countries since I was young. I’m not sure what it is inside me that draws me to them but it’s some kind of magnetic power that pulls at me. I remember pouring over the atlas we had on the bookshelves in my home. It was bigger than I was at the time, at least that’s how I remember it. I would follow the lines and contours of the countries wondering what and who they held inside them. One Christmas I received a large book of mysterious places of the world. Inside were photos of places like Machu Picchu, the Nazca lines and Easter Island. I traveled the world in the pages of this book, from England to Australia, Peru, Mexico, China and beyond. I could feel the energy of each place as I pored over the pictures and read about the countries and I knew that one day I would travel and see them. At school, some of the kids laughed at my idea of traveling and told me I was going to be the first to marry, settle down with 2.4 kids and abandon my travel plans. “Anyway,” they said, “There’s no way you could do it, it’s too difficult.” Then I met Mrs. Joseph.
In my book I have written about Mrs. Joseph in the introduction. She was my English teacher, originally from Myanmar and had lived in several countries that seemed so exotic to me as a teenager. She taught me that travel was not only possible, but that experiencing other countries and cultures was an essential part of life. The stories she shared with me were of strange animals in India making impossible leaps across wide roads in the dead of night, or of her friend who was cursed by an Indian man and told he would die at 22 – and he did (“this was simply because he believed her, the man was not magic”, Mrs. Joseph would say, “your mind is strong, you can use it to help yourself or hurt yourself.”) She spoke casually of her countless miraculous escapes from death, mostly at the hands of cars that ran her over in different ways but also of other strange co-incidences in which her life was saved.
As I look back now, her strongest influence on me was her causing me to begin to see the world around me differently. She wasn’t sharing her strange stories for the drama or to provoke a reaction, she was genuinely concerned that I see that there was more to life than the school walls and learning facts. Mrs. Joseph was a strict teacher, not impressed by nonsense and prone to giving out detentions to those who used the words, nice and a lot in essays (“they are not real words; they don’t say anything to me. Use a word that means something!”). Outside the classroom though, she taught me there is more to life than meets the eye, that the things you need in life will turn up at the exact moment you need them (if they don’t, you didn’t need them) and that the magic and mystery is all around us, right here, in the natural world and in the way we can interact with it, if only we are willing to see. I say ‘she taught me’ but really she told me and encouraged me because these are things you can only learn from experience, and travel is one of the best ways to learn because it tends to put you in unusual places and situations that make you look more clearly and deeply into the world.
Armed with all I’d learned from my favourite teacher and all I’d dreamed of from my books (pre-Google days!) I started traveling. The first thing I noticed was that it is easier than it looks – like anything in life, the thoughts and fears about doing something are most often the toughest part. Once you commit and start, the way opens up for you. I didn’t intend for anything to be ‘adventurous’ travel, I simply wanted to see and explore the world. I’m not an adrenalin junkie and even refused to bungee jump when I was already in the queue at the famous bridge in New Zealand where it all began – I am afraid of heights, can’t swim and when I saw people returning with burst blood vessels in their eyes I felt ok with backing out. However, I am happy to take risks when there is an encounter I really want, a place I long to see or I know I will grow and learn from the experience.
Any travel outside of resorts and hotels is going to bring strange circumstances and adventure primarily because we are in an alien environment. I find that being in foreign cultures where I don’t have a clue what people are saying and I have no idea what is going on makes me feel alive. It stirs something within that wakes me up and causes me to look differently at the world and the people around me. I am more in the present moment during those times, I have the kind of wonder a child must feel when she sees a flower for the first time and is in awe of it. I love that, and I adore the feeling of expansion that comes over me when I am in the presence of a place or creation that has enormous energy.
Mostly, the experiences I write about in the book simply come from exploring places that were fascinating to me. I have worked in an orphanage and an English school in Bolivia, lived in Japan for five years and walked 1,200km alone around the 88 temple pilgrimage on Shikoku. In India I’ve been stalked by a man who shouted at me wherever I went for several days (“You are crap madam, crap!”) and given a bunch of grapes by a Sadhu (wandering holy man) when I had my pack stolen. It was his only possession in the world and his selfless compassion reached out to me as I cried over the loss of my backpack and helped me see clearly again. I’ve nearly come a cropper in Peru, Bolivia, Japan, Thailand, Nepal and South Africa. All of these experiences have taught me valuable lessons about who I am, how I want to be and how I can live more fully and peacefully in this wonderful world.
Now I understand that just living each day, no matter where you are, can be an adventure if you approach life with wonder and awe. It’s true I’m not being attacked by snakes in my bedroom in Kent or chased out of a makeshift drinking tavern by several angry tribesmen, but there is magic and adventure to be found in life wherever you are. And there are always more countries and cultures to explore… I’d better start packing. — Amanda Jayne
Review by Leonide Martin
Hair-raising travel adventures told with wit and brevity.
For those who love traveling, Close Encounters of the Traveling Kind will provide both uproarious amusement and cautionary tales. Inspired by a teacher, Jayne seeks out some of the world’s most exotic and unusual places for adventurous travels. She narrowly escapes death from altitude sickness on Mt. Fuji, getting lost in the Amazon, a vengeful snake in Thailand, freezing on the way to Machu Picchu, typhoid and salmonella in La Paz, and falling down a ravine bicycling the Death Road in Bolivia. From each near mishap, she culls wisdom and humor, leaving lessons learned for those daring enough to follow her steps.
Her mishaps in South Africa while taking local native buses to Lesotho to ride mountain ponies are downright terrifying. Only a naive 20-something would attempt such dangerous travel alone. A solo white woman in a sea of black faces during the upheaval following the fall of Apartheid, Jayne is nearly kidnapped, assaulted, and threatened with death. From these she learned to listen to her gut, mistrust local advice, take food and water, and watch for the “guardian angel,” a large native woman who took her under a wing to safety.
The last adventure proved to be truly numinous. Rafting the Bhote Kosi River in Nepal, Jayne is thrown from her raft into Class 5 rapids and sucked into a whirlpool. In the near-death experience, she entered a divine calm, her mind stilled and everything crystal clear. But the whirlpool released her to live for yet another adventure. Her lesson learned there perhaps sums up Jayne’s approach to travel close encounters: “Let go, life has got me.” Written with brevity, wit, and gripping description, any adventurous traveler will enjoy—though probably not emulate—these travel stories.
Enter this Giveaway for a chance to win a print copy (U.S. only) or ebook (worldwide) of Close Encounters of the Traveling Kind.
It’s my pleasure to host a guest blogpost by J. Mitchel Baker as part of his blog tour. He is featuring his book A Journey Within, a lyrical mix of memoir, adventure, and philosophy as he follows his soul’s call to search for the higher design in his life. He embarks on a personal journey into the wilderness, encountering raw nature with its survival challenges and potential for spiritual revelation. This is the true story of a man whose career involves nature and animals, yet whose inner voice called him into the wilderness. After years of postponement, he embarked on his personal quest into the unknown. In raw nature, he encounters unexpected challenges and finds courage through his animals to forge onward. The book highlights “the duality between both the physical and the spiritual. It carries a message of courage and inspiration to connect with life and the inner self, taking the road less traveled, and living authentically.”
Below are Baker’s reflections on the mystical powers inherent in nature. My review of his book follows. — Leonide Martin
The mystique of the wild
I rage over the discourtesies shown by other drivers on an overfilled urban stretch of road. I stress over the relentless looming of debt. I obsess with the needs of my children. My hypertension rises with the vagaries of office politics and oppressive timelines. This is an ordinary day, played over yet again and again. But is this the life we were truly meant to live? Oh how I wish I were back in the wilds. The wild is often in my dreams; memories acute with wisdom learned.
Find a place in nature: the ocean, the forest, a river, or a mountain top. Sit and simply listen.
It begins with absolute silence. An ear accustomed to too much input will resist the auditory vacuum. A body learned in the ways of constant motion and a full agenda will fight for purpose. But be utterly still. Do not speak. Breathe deeply. Allow the ego to quiet itself. And be mindful of all things internal and external. There you can find your true self. There you can hear your true inner voice. There, in that setting devoid of space and time, is where you find awareness.
The listless flapping of leaves and the slow sway of the trees in the breeze naturally aligns our rhythms to the earth. The colorful grandeur of a mountain range as the sun settles demands we feel small and insignificant, yet happy to be alive. The vastness and brilliance of the stars on a cloudless night remind us we are part of something greater than ourselves. Sacred moments such as these give us pause to reflect on what is truly important in our lives.
The mysticism of these singular moments is the self-realization that the separation between each of us and nature is an illusion. Everything in nature is connected. Her millions of component parts contribute to create a perfect whole. We are part of that whole. She guides us toward something larger than ourselves, forces us to exist in the moment. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Now.
“There came to me a delicate, but at the same time a deep, strong and sensuous enjoyment of the beautiful green earth, the beautiful sky and sun; I felt them, they gave me inexpressible delight, as if they embraced and poured out their love upon me. It was I who loved them, for my heart was broader than the earth; it is broader now than even then, more thirsty and desirous. After the sensuous enjoyment always come the thought, the desire: That I might be like this; that I might have the inner meaning of the sun, the light, the earth, the trees and grass, translated into some growth of excellence in myself, both of the body and of mind; greater perfection of physique, greater perfection of mind and soul; that I might be higher in myself.”
– Richard Jefferies, The Story of My Heart
The mystique of nature is neither measurable nor empirical but rather a deep experience that heals and inspires; an understanding all indigenous people across the globe have acknowledged for thousands of years; each embracing the earth as their mother. The emotional connection is there if you sit and simply listen. But perhaps we have travelled too far into our urban sprawls.
A Journey Within by J. Mitchel Baker
Review by Leonide Martin
This first person account of the author’s quest for his destiny and personal truth is both lyrical and intensely vivid. Driven by an inner vision to seek the fullness of who he is, Baker plans an adventure on horseback into the wild country of New Mexico. With his dog and three companions, he braves uncharted mountain terrain along the Continental Divide, taking few supplies and depending on nature to provide most needs. The congenial group of men, horses and dog faces unforeseen obstacles and must use wits and instinct to surmount flooded rivers, steep craggy paths, and disappearing trails.
Weaving through scary accounts of close calls with disaster are Baker’s inner reflections, revealing a profound philosophy and dedication to following his spiritual path. These deeply felt considerations are infused with an appreciation and honoring of nature that borders on the mystical. His love for animals and the natural world shines through. He is a man capable of enduring heart rending loss and yet remaining open to the richness of life’s experiences. Quotes at the beginning of each chapter frame the issues he grapples with, or provide inspirations drawn from a surprising range of teachers, from Jung and Freud to Mark Twain and Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Yogi Bera and modern mystic Caroline Myss.
Baker must make choices toward the journey’s end about following his own goals or keeping solidarity with his companions and ensuring safety. His selfless decision truncates the quest and he ponders what more might have been forthcoming had he continued. Feeling that the journey is incomplete and spiritual revelations remain, Baker ends the story setting off on another nature encounter with his horse, dog and one friend. The journey continues as he seeks to discover a greater design for his life.
Preconceptions commonly held about “cowboys” and outdoorsmen in the southwest are dismantled by this sensitive, eloquent memoir.