A strong response to encounters with the extraordinary!

The LightAfter reading Cheeking My Meds and The Lady on the Rooftops by this same author, I did my utmost to connect for the simple reason that Francis Coco has the strongest literary voice I have come across in a long, long time. I would go so far as to say that the strength of her literary voice for me equals favorites discovered in the course of reviewing books put out by Virago, Faber & Faber and Farrar, Straus & Giroux for newspapers in the Saudi press while I lived in Saudi Arabia (almost 20 years).

To find an independently published author with such clear, strong messages and such an individual (engaging & entertaining) manner of narrating her stories has marked a happy moment in my literary life. I find her diligence in believing in herself and putting out her amazing books remarkable and admirable, an inspiration to other committed writers. She stands as a symbol of meaning in this new age of independent publishing–proof that talent will not stay silent.

Having spoken with the author several times, I am aware that the story presented in this book is based on a real occurrence. Coco (her pen name–she is in real life also a painter named Penni Goode Evans whose work can be found at artpickle dot com) has done a fine job of fashioning three characters with their own fictitious backgrounds and grafting what happened to her own family onto them.

The Light falls under “true encounters with UFOs” although the author at no time in her story nor in her conversations with me has ever implied that she believes the light was an alien. Even today she cannot say for sure what it was, but one thing is for sure: it stays with her.

The effect of the paranormal on human beings is strong, for when we get some sort of physical proof that there is a world of the unseen, it throws us, particularly as Western civilization takes the unseen so little into account on a day-to-day basis. I personally have no trouble at all believing in the author’s encounter because of my own life in Saudi Arabia (Muslims believe in angels and jinn, the latter which may be good or evil, just like humans). I do not think I would want to experience what the character Max does, and what those with him also have the unnerving opportunities to encounter.

Coco’s voice is every bit as strong in The Light as it is in the stunning Cheeking My Meds or The Lady on the Rooftops (also based on real encounters), the first, a memoir and the second, a book for older children (and inquisitive adults). The difference in The Light is pages spent on metaphysical musing, of making the connection between the experience of a phenomenon in relation to everything one has known and lived through before. If we are put here on Earth by a Creator, and if most of us never encounter someone or something from another dimension, then what does it mean when someone does have that experience? That he or she will be laughed at and disbelieved goes without saying. That such blessed or unfortunate individuals would seek out each others’ company is as natural as joining a book club because you like to read.

The narrator, Paige, hangs out with Max and Angela. It is Max who seems to specifically have the gift of seeing what others don’t, but Angela and Paige, who are with him, see the Light as he does. Paige even sees the black dog. They, however, do not have the dreams. The impact on all three is major, but as varied as the individuals.

Anyone who has ever experienced something inexplicable will want to read this book, if only to rest assured that he or she is not alone.

Footprints in Time by Fahim Munshi

footprints in timeHow can we be happy and know our purpose? Fahim Munshi has here assembled a collection of anecdotes and discoveries that offer nourishment to the spirit and inspiration to do good on earth. Footprints in Time offers anecdotes from the Islamic past and present, some of which I was familiar with, and others which I had never read before. The stories range from tales of the prophet Moses, Solomon, David and Muhammad, upon whom be peace, as well as “guided” caliphs, to 18th century Tipu Sultan, the sultan of Mysore, who ordered a 21-round gun salute to celebrate the United States’ 7th anniversary of independence. Particularly delightful is the retold story of Hana Ali, daughter of prizefighter Muhammad Ali as well as of the strange friendship between killer Mark Stroman and Rais Bhulyan.  On a shooting rampage of Muslims right after 9-11, Stroman shot Rais Bhulyan and blinded him in one eye. Many of these stories left me in tears. Fahim Munshi is clearly a contemplative writer and has read widely; I would venture to guess he is at times a mystic who cares so much about his fellow man that he has created this gift to the world. Shorts verses from the Quran, quotes from the likes of Malcolm X and bits of knowledge, like the discovery of an ancient city, weave together a book that will help the curious understand why Westerners have been attracted to Sufism and will help fellow Muslims remember the road to true and lasting happiness. Hint: forgiveness and doing good to others, no matter the creed, gender or ethnicity, offer the widest door. If one were to seek out a simple book offering the gems of Islamic wisdom, one would need to look no further than Footprints in Time.fahim munshi (Fahim Munshi is a four-time recipient of the ABCI award presented by the Association of Business Communicators of India. He also won the American Graphic Design GD-USA Magazine Award in 2013 for his portfolio “My Work is My Signature.”)