The Leveling: A Book Review

I had the opportunity to read and review Dan Mayland’s The Colonel’s Mistake last year and enjoyed his debut work. I was looking forward to its follow-up, and lo and behold, Dan himself contacted me directly (so surely that puts us on a first name basis?) to offer an advanced reader copy–signed–as a way of saying thank you. He asked only that I read it if I so chose–and writing a review was optional. After I swooned a little, I immediately said YES, I received said copy of The Leveling in the mail soon after. I have to apologize to Dan, since it was no longer an advanced copy by the time I got to read it and now write this review. I’m pleased to report that The Leveling is available for your reading pleasure.

The Leveling is a follow-up to The Colonel’s Mistake–primarily in that the lead characters, Mark Sava and Daria Buckingham, were the leads in that book. Although there are references to events in the previous book, the plot here is self-contained enough to where you don’t have to have read the first one. Mayland once again takes us to the fringes of the Middle East with which we are more familiar, setting this novel primarily in Turkmenistan and Iran. Mark Sava has left the spy game behind and become a professor in Azerbaijan. However, after becoming persona non grata by the government (and asked to return to the U.S. by the CIA) and then learning of the kidnapping of his friend John Decker, Sava heads for a different border. He teams up with Daria, crossing the border between Turkmenistan and Iran, looking for Decker and being chased by members of Chinese intelligence. Meanwhile, Iran and the US are on the brink of war brought about by a secret conflict over oil.

This book surpassed its predecessor in so many ways. The characters were deeper. The plot was tighter. The suspense was built well. The ride was a bigger thrill. (In fact, all I wanted to do was read this book. Unfortunately, I had to keep putting it down to be a responsible adult for a few minutes here and there.) Well done, Dan Mayland. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Mark Sava and company.

 

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Answering the Contemplative Call: A Book Review

Being an introvert, I’m often drawn to quiet and solitude. When I was in divinity school, it’s a large part of the reason I was drawn to mysticism and contemplative spirituality–and there I found somewhat of a home. Sadly, it’s not a home I have tended for much of the past decade. My faith has become more cerebral and, in many ways, more active than contemplative. So when the opportunity came along to read and review Carl McColman’s Answering the Contemplative Call: First Steps on the Mystical Path, I was happy to do so.

This book provides an excellent introduction to a contemplative life in a way that is accessible and practical. McColman pulls from an interfaith, but largely ecumenical base, citing well known mystics of old–and not so old. He provides an invitation to join the contemplative journey, and uses journey as the extended metaphor for the book as a whole. McColman provides a road map with suggested resources (travel agents, if you will), practical steps, and advice from those who have walked before. He boils it down to two core practices: meditation and contemplative (i.e., silent) prayer.

Embedded among the suggestions for cultivating the space, silence, and simplicity for a contemplative life, what I appreciated most about this book was the reminder that there is a rhythm to the contemplative life just as there is a rhythm to the everyday life, and we should be patient–and gracious–with ourselves as the process, or journey, unfolds. Although much of this book was a review for me, it truly is a beautiful and well done introduction of the contemplative life for those who are unfamiliar with such practices.

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Note: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.