Review: Dan Brown’s “Origin”

Origin is another Dan Brown novel featuring Robert Langdon. Brown really hit a home run with the creation of this great character. Langdon is everyone’s favorite professor (which gives Brown the opportunity to pontificate), the voice of reason in situations that are usually very unreasonable, and even as he ages (Brown doesn’t tell us how old Langdon is), he’s a bit of a babe magnet. He’s also the kind of physically fit even young guys dream about.

In Origin, Langdon’s former student and friend Edmond Kirsch has announced to the world a new scientific discover that will produce a paradigm shift. But, of course, unexpected events intervene (I can’t tell you without giving an important plot point away), leaving Langdon and the beautiful Ambra Vidal, director of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the fiancé of the Spanish heir to the crown, in a race against time to find Edmond’s secret and release it to the world. Langdon and Vidal are aided by Kirsch’s associate, Winston, whom readers will no doubt love.

The entire release of Kirsch’s spectacular announcement is made on the Internet stage—millions of viewers around the world are watching. As Landon and Vidal urgently seek the password to Kirsch’s specially designed phone in order to release his discovery to the world, they are plagued by a constant stream of information leaks posted on a conspiracy network. The leaks endanger their lives by leading the press, police, and protesters to follow them, but which multiply viewership across multipole platforms.

There are Brown’s trademark switcheroos—bad guys are good guys, and good guys are bad guys, a bit more clumsily handled than usual. There is also a conspiracy that is a little much to swallow, but if you’re reading Dan Brown, you’re probably willing to overlook this.

Brown is often at his best when his characters are arguing for or against religion—or both—and Langdon is occupying the middle ground. This, too, in this novel, were a bit ponderous, slowing the story down, but fascinating in and of themselves.

But what I found most intriguing about this story is Brown’s examination of the way humans now live their lives in public and online, how fake news rivets our attention, how we have become more willing to accept those stories—and the outrage they often provoke—rather than wait for—and weigh–all the facts. Brown also reminds us to ask ourselves where are we going with artificial intelligence, and urges us to bear in mind that computers are amoral. He asks readers to consider the place of religion in developing or instilling a moral compass in humans, how science and religion can coexist and why they should.

My favorite line in the book comes near the end. Ambra Vidal, has had her trust in her fiancé shattered. She doubts she can regain that trust. But Langdon in his clear headed way, urges her to wait until she has talked to him, and has his side of the story. When she is skeptical, Langdon in the gravel of a garden walk, scrapes out between them the Roman numeral equation: I + XI = X. He asks if it’s true or false. She says it’s absolutely false. He asks if there is anyway it could be made true. She says no. He gently tugs her to his side so that she is looking at the equation from the opposite direction: X =  IX + I. “Sometimes, all you have to do is shift your perspective to see someone else’s truth,” he tells her.

Something we all should remember.

The Enduring Allure of Gemstone Crystals

The color of this amethyst is extraordinary. 18k yellow and white gold pendant design by Deborah Spencer, Trios Studio, Lake Oswego, Oregon.

As I work on the revision of The Listening Heart–thank you Beta readers for such excellent feedback–I was tickled to find an article in the Ma

As I work on the revision of The Listening Heart–thank you Beta readers for such excellent feedback!–I was tickled to find an article in the March/April 2019 edition of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine entitled “Crystal Hues Persuasion.” It was by Deborah Yonick, whose specialty is jewelry style, and who writes a monthly column on jewelry trends for LJ. The piece describes how the “mystic beauty” of crystals has become a trend—or perhaps we should say has returned as a trend–in the making and marketing of jewelry.

Crystals in jewelry made their debut in the 1970s, as Yonick writes, and remained popular into the early 1990s. Today, of course, they are popularized by their visibility on the Internet and by a number of celebrities. Yonick quotes The Guardian as regarding crystals as “one of the breakout stars of the everyday wellness movement.” As crystals come back into the public awareness, many of the myths long associated with gemstones and crystals—that they can ward off negative emotions or energy, or promote harmony—are coming back, too.

Yet while marketers may take advantage of the legends of metaphysical properties associated with gemstone and crystals to improve sales, more often it is the crystal’s beauty and mysterious perfection that makes them irresistible. Crystal jewelry lets people express their own personality. It lets them be different. It also means that jewelry containing a natural crystal (as opposed to gem material—such as malachite which doesn’t form like that—simply cut into a “crystal” shape) is as unique as the person wearing it. It

Crystals also allow the wearer to keep in touch with the natural world, to strike a blow against an ever-more-mass-manufactured world.

This burgeoning—or rather resurging—interest in crystals is very lucky for me! In The Listening Heart, Stacie Capella, owner of The Bell, Book and Crystal in Eden Beach, California, is very aware of the pull of certain stones. Pure quartz augments her natural gift of second sight—a gift she’d rather not have—and an irreplaceable amethyst crystal, a centuries-old family heirloom, is said to foretell true love. Yet Stacie firmly believes that crystals and gemstones cannot heal, as she is at pains to explain to the fraud detectives who respond to a complaint against her.

“[Mir] got it into her head that it was the touchstone I once gave her that healed her acne.”

 “Why would she think that?” asked Cruz. Her tone said the idea must have gotten into Mir’s head because Stacie put it there.

“Who knows why anyone believes anything?” said Stacie, an edge to her voice. She was getting a bit angry now that the terror of federal prison had passed. “Someone buys a touchstone because it gives them something to hold onto during chemo treatment. When their cancer goes away, why do they credit the stone and not the treatment?” Stacie had had a customer who believed just that, though she wasn’t going to say that to the detective. “Why do placebos work? Doctors still don’t understand that.”

She glanced at Ben. His face was closed.

She remembered the odd sense of confusion she’d sensed at South Coast Heritage Park.

Not confusion. Imbalance. Uncertainty. As if his tether to the ground had been cut.

As if he were torn between desires. Feeling guilty.

Stacie turned and walked to the case where she kept exquisitely formed quartz crystals—smoky, amethyst, colorless–under glass to protect them from damage as well as from too much handling.

“Personally?” she said, as she unlocked and opened the case, and pulled out the drawer holding the crystals. “I think that, for most people, the crystals, the wind chimes, the music–beautiful things, beautiful sounds–just make them feel better, more connected, calmer.” Her hand went unhesitatingly to a smoky quartz the size of her thumb. The specimen was cloudy and dark at the base, but gradually cleared to a lovely gray brown at the terminus which was finely pointed.

She went back to Ben and held it out to him. Startled, he reached for it and she laid it in his hand. Stacie saw Colin’s puzzled look as she turned back toward Cruz.

“The tarot, the runes, simply give people a way to acknowledge what they already know. That it’s time to change jobs. That their boyfriend is no good for them.” From the corner of her eye, she saw Ben watching her, listening to her. She saw his thumb stroking the crystal.

“Just because I sell these things doesn’t mean I’m a healer. Nor does it mean I endorse them as a method of healing. In fact, I always tell people—like your Mrs. Byers—to see a health professional if they have health concerns.”

“But you let your employee continue to tell customers something different,” said Cruz doggedly.

“Yes, well.” Stacie sighed. “I’ve tried to tell her the stones don’t heal, but she’s convinced they’ve helped her.” Stacie spread her hands. “I can’t help what she believes. I have asked her not to say things like that to customers. The shop alone creates enough trouble by itself.”

Stacie does not really believe that the amethyst crystal she wears can identify her heart’s true love, either. But….

Ah. That would be telling.

 

 

 

 

rch/April 2019 edition of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine, by Deborah Yonick, entitled “Crystal Hues Persuasion.”

Birthstone Friday: Amethysts and Crystal Power

John Dyer is one of several gemstones artists who have taken cutting to another level. This 68.49 carat amethyst is one of his Dreamscape™ series. Photo courtesy John Dyer & Co.

Perfect crystals, such a the breathtaking amethyst below, are the jewels of the mineral world. Because of the metaphysical powers attributed to crystals, as well as the real power of quartz crystals, I thought we’d look at that juxtaposition for today’s Birthstone Friday. (Okay, technically today is Thursday. But it’s the last day of February when amethyst reigns as the birthstone. Though, you can still celebrate amethyst until March 20th, since amethyst is also associated with the zodiac sign of Pisces.)

Gemstones are best known in their cut form. You see them in every window in every jewelry store and all over the Internet. (Check out Etsy!) If you go to gem shows, you’ll see thousands more. There are lots of good reasons gemstones are cut. Good cutting directs light into, around, and back out of a gemstone in such a way that light becomes an inseparable part of their beauty. Cutting gives stones their sparkle, can intensify the color, and make them objects of intense desire. Some gemstone carvers not only do all this but create miniature works of art. If you doubt that, simply look at gemstones cut by innovators like John Dyer.

In addition to that, most gemstones simply need help to look their best. Gemstone crystals go through tremendous stresses on their journey to the Earth’s surface. Most don’t make it, or make it in such a damaged shape that they are worthless for jewelry. Once on the surface, they can be dragged down mountainsides and tumbled for years in rivers. But sometimes whole, unsullied crystals do make it to the surface. When they are removed carefully from the pockets where they’ve lived protected for countless millions of years, and when they are of a glorious color, well. Then they’re worth admiring just for themselves.

Gorgeous amethyst crystals with small quartz crystals, from the Jackson Crossroads Mine, Wilkes County, Georgia. USA. Easy to see why people believe in crystal magic. Photo Mia Dixon, courtesy Pala International.

Many jewelry makers are acknowledging that. It’s not all that hard to find gemstone crystals set into earrings or pendants. (Some of those are actually gem material or synthetic material cut into the shapes of crystals, which shows you how popular crystal shapes have become.) But it’s not only the shape but the metaphysical properties associated with the gemstone–and especially the crystal form of the gemstone–that has contributed to the popularity of crystals.

A lot of crystal myth and legend is just that. But quartz (amethyst is a type of quartz) is an unusual stone. It’s piezoelectric. That means that applying pressure to the stone generates electricity and vice versa–applying electricity makes the stone vibrate. The thickness of the stone affects the frequency at which it vibrates. In fact, during WWII, quartz crystals were an integral part of radios. Tons of crystals were cut into slices to enable communication. (If you want to learn more, check out this 42 minute video.) Quartz is used today in watches and clocks to ensure precision timing. Today, most of the material used for this is man-made, or synthetic quartz, not natural quartz cut from mined quartz crystals.

When writing The Listening Heart, I had fun tying this ability of quartz crystals to Stacie’s use of a quartz crystal to augment her second sight abilities. I also took the liberty of including amethyst under the blanket of quartz’s “radio capabilities.” However, to my knowledge, the impurities in amethyst that give the stones their color would make amethyst useless for radio communication. That’s the fun of writing fiction.

 

 

 

Draft of The Listening Heart Done!

Finally! The second book in my Eden Beach birthstone series, The Listening Heart, is done and out to beta readers. It’s taken a lot longer than I thought. From some of the comments coming in, it will take a bit longer yet as I make it stronger. I’ve added a suspense element to this one, and that has made the pacing trickier.

This one has a stalker/serial killer who is shadowing my main female character, Stacie Capella. I’ve already had one friend tell me she won’t read it and that’s fine. But I wanted to try something darker. Not sure I’ll try it again, but I’ll have to wait and see.

Now, on to book three as I wait for the rest of the comments from beta readers. I’m determined this one will get done faster.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Bananas. I’m ready when you are! Photo Stuart Robertson/Dreamstime.

Happy Valentine’s Day! A day for hearts, flowers, chocolate, and, of course, love.

It’s Stacie Capella’s 29th birthday. Her wonderful friends have surprised her with a small celebration in her shop, The Bell, Book and Crystal, before opening. Eileen has brought a beautiful cake, which pleases the ever-hungry Colin, and a couple of Milk Bones, which is awarded much tail-wagging by Bananas, the labradoodle on steroids. Stacie is surprised and touched by the exquisite card Colin, a graphic designer, has created for them all to sign, and delighted with the lovely brooch Mir has made from repurposed costume jewelry. It is a wonderful surprise and Stacie enjoys it completely. Colin enjoys the cake.

Only later does Stacie allow herself a touch of melancholy. She lingers that evening by a window that overlooks the coast of Eden Beach, gently rolling her amethyst crystal pendant in her hand. Family legend has it that, when she find true love, the crystal will turn warm and pulse, like a second heart. She smile ruefully, half wishing the legend were true.

But Stacie has resigned herself to a life alone, there is another gift that she inherited from her great aunt, Amelia, in addition to the amethyst crystal. Stacie has the gift of second sight. It has cost her friends, it has cost her jobs. It has cost her love. She fights to hide and deny it. She only wants to be normal.

Her gift, however, seems to be getting stronger. In the end, she may find, she needs it to save her life.

For more, read The Listening Heart. Coming this spring.

Tucson! The World’s Gem Market

One tiny section of the vast Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in Tucson, Arizona. This is the Tucson Convention Center. Where do you even start? Photo Derrick Neill, Dreamstime.

It’s February. And while most people are thinking groundhogs, Valentines, or simply not freezing in a polar vortex, in the gem and jewelry world, the movement of dealers, jewelers, designers, and suppliers–not to mention TONS of rock–to Tucson is shifting the Earth on its axis.

If you love gemstones, you owe it to yourself to try to get to Tucson once in your life. (Plan early. Hotels and other types of lodging sell out early. I expect that goes for RV space, too.)

It starts at the convention center but every hotel, every parking lot, every side walk, is filled with vendors. From the tiniest rubies to mammoth-sized geodes, it’s all here. You just have to find it. And if this isn’t enough, you can head down the road to Quartzite where things are quirkier.

The Tucson show, so called, is actually a number of overlapping shows, with varying start and end dates. The original is the Tucson Gem & Mineral Society show. They’re still buried in there.

Bring sturdy shoes, determination, and have some kind of idea of what you’re looking for, though you’ll want to be open to surprises, too. Oh, and be prepared to spend more than you thought you would. That’s a guarantee.

By the way, book three in the Eden Beach birthstone series, Sing Me the Rain, starts at the Tucson Show.

 

 

Birthstone Friday – A Little Emerald Lore

Gemstone crystals can connect us to the earth. But can they heal? Photo Somakram @ Dreamstime.com

If you need a reason to own your emerald birthstone, besides the beautiful color and rich history, you might think about its self-improvement properties.

Cramming for exams? Preparing for a big sales presentation? Dating a new love interest? Wearing an emerald might help boost your memory, give you the gift of gab, or let you know if that new someone is telling you the truth or not. Continue reading

Spectacular Spinels

Hope Spinel. 50.13 carats. Photo courtesy Bonhams.

Practically everyone has heard of the Hope Diamond, the large, blue, supposedly accursed diamond now in the Smithsonian Institution. But a couple years ago, the London office of the auction house Bonhams sold the 50.13 ct. Hope Spinel, presumably un-cursed.

Spinels have been largely unknown among mainstream gemstone customers. Even those who had heard of the stones thought of them as lesser versions of rubies and sapphires, two gemstones that share colors with spinels. Part of the problem in the past was that spinel supply was often spotty and undependable. Many historical stones came from Tajikistan, at the border of Afghanistan, geographically difficult and often politically dangerous to get to. But in 2007, there was a find of red spinel in Tanzania that flooded the market with top quality stones and people started to notice.

3.78 carat red Burmese (Myanmar) spinel. Photo courtesy Gemcal.

Rising popularity led to rising prices. Then when the costs of sapphires and rubies went through the roof, everyone “discovered” spinels. Unfortunately, that means the costs of fine red or deep blue spinels have also gone up–significantly–but you can still find the less intensely colored spinels that may not break the bank. (Colors other than reds are can range from $25 per carat to $500 per carat; commercial grade red stones may be as low as $700 per carat.)

Spinel-producing regions tend to have their own peculiar color range, according to Hemi Englisher owner of Gemcal Co. Ltd, in Bangkok. Burma (Myanmar) produces “the best reds in the world,” pink, purple, Sienna orange, brown, blue, gray, and colorless stones, he says. From Vietnam: orangey red, blue, cobalt blue, baby pink, “the best lavenders in the world,” and purple. From Tanzania: pink, pinkish red, and red stones that “tend to be slightly foggy or silky.” Small gray and silver material comes from Madagascar. Blue, lavender, change color, and purple stones, “most with a dark shade to them,” are produced by Sri Lanka.

4.68 carat cobalt blue Ceylon (Sri Lanka) spinel. Photo courtesy Gemcal.

Who’s buying spinels? Says Englisher: “Non-traditional buyers, rich hipsters, ex- hippies, and designers.”

A New August Birthstone–Spinel

5.48 carat Burmese Spinel, cinnamon color. Photo courtesy Gemcal.

There is a lot to love about peridot, but because color is such a personal thing, I can imagine there are people who don’t love its yellow-green color. But you can still have a birthstone to love! Because last year, the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) and Jewelers of America (JA) announced the inclusion of spinel as an official birthstone for the month of August.

Red spinel crystals. Photo courtesy ThaiLanka.

 

Okay. My bias is going to show here. But when it comes to spinel, I think it’s one of the most under-rated and under-used stones in the jewelry industry. Part of the reason for that is because it’s not as common as, say, garnet or tourmaline. But to have a stone that is beautiful, is rarely treated, is extremely durable (it’s an 8 in hardness and has little to no cleavage risk), that comes in a luscious range of reds, pinks, purples, oranges, and blues, and to make little use of it is, well, spine(l)less! (Sorry.) Just a few of the gorgeous possibilities are pictured here.

10.25 carat purple spinel from Burma/Myanmar. Photo courtesy Gemcal.

Neon pink spinel. Photo courtesy ThaiLanka.

You know they’re beautiful when enormous spinels found their way into the Crown Jewels of England and were, for many years, paraded as rubies. (I wrote a little about this last month.) But the range of subtle color is what really makes them great as a birthstone. You could can choose just one luscious spinel from a range of reds, oranges, and blues or create a brooch, bracelet or neckpiece with a lovely sherbet-colored palette of spinels. Thinking about using your birthstone as an engagement stone? This stone will still be around for your 50th anniversary.

Something to celebrate this month for your birthday!

Birthstone Friday–Rubies: Being Fair (Trade)

Three rings set with fair trade rubies from Malawi. Photo courtesy Trios Studio, Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Nothing says romance like gemstones. But the gemstone story is not always a pretty one. At the mining and manufacturing end there is environmental degradation, child labor, death from silicosis, low wages, dangerous working conditions. For wholesalers, retailers, and consumers, an uncontrolled supply chain can allow treated, adulterated, imitation, and synthetic materials to masquerade as naturals, creating distrust among buyers and lawsuits against suppliers.

The good news is that millions of “Millennials,” those socially and environmentally aware consumers born in the final decades of the 20th century, are having a tremendous impact on consumerism by demanding that same level of ethical commitment from retailers. Even though many Millennials have not reached their strongest buying years, they’re already willing to pay a premium for responsibly sourced—often called “fair trade”–products, such as coffee, chocolate, and beauty products.

Pink 1.16 ct. sapphire. Photo courtesy Crown Gems.

Montana green sapphire. Photo courtesy Nodeform.

Responsibly sourced gemstones can also meet the ethical standards of anyone concerned about environmental and social issues, and return to gemstones, such as ruby, the romance they deserve.

Essentially, fair trade means fair wages and treatment for miners and cutters; enforcement of health and safety standards; protecting and/or reducing the impact of mining on the environment; controlling the integrity of the supply chain to prevent fraud and deceptive practices; and giving back to the communities in which mining and cutting take place in the form of help with improved education, health care delivery and sanitation, infrastructure, and job training. (Fair trade is not the same as “conflict free.”)

Washing Pit, Sri Lanka. Photo courtesy Crown Gems.

It’s a tall order to change an entire industry, but gemstone wholesalers and retailers are doing what they can in a variety of ways.

Columbia Gem House, one of the first to promote responsibly sourced colored stones, partners with the Chimwadzulu Nyala ruby mine in Malawi. All rough goes to a top-quality cutting house in China that shares their ethical values. By paying above average wages, CGH decreases turnover, and raises worker skill levels over time and, as a result, the quality of the final product. To give back to the producing communities, CGH participates in projects in nearby Ntcheu, Malawi, that raise the quality of services there.

Well, partially funded by Columbia Gem House, Ntcheu Malawi.

Crown Gems, a British-Sri Lankan joint venture, provides a transparent gemstone channel from their own mines in Sri Lanka, or those they trust to use mining practices with less detrimental effect on the environment. They partner with, and oversee the work of small, independent cutters, ensuring that quality cutting is done in safe, well-maintained environments.

Ethical Jewellery Australia Pty Ltd, offers only Australian and Canadian diamonds to their retail domestic market. They buy colored gemstones only from artisanal Australian gem miners and cutters, or suppliers who have strict, transparent guidelines for sourcing and processing.

Fair trade sapphire and diamond ring. Courtesy Trios Studio, Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Owners of the US-based Trios Studio, in Oregon, educate their clients year round about fair trade gemstones. However, a special, in-store event once a year spotlights the stones and draws enthusiastic customers who appreciate knowing a percentage of the proceeds goes to support community projects in Ntcheu, Malawi. They’ve developed such a name that customer seek them out via the Internet.

The interest in responsibly sourced gemstones extends beyond the mine into the laboratory, making lab-created gems–Moissonite, sapphire, emerald, and ruby—a viable option for consumers, too. Designers, such as Konstanze, of Nodeform, and Tamara McFarland, of McFarland Designs, offer consumers the option of buying lab-created gems even for that time-hallowed purchase, the engagement ring.

Sapphire and diamond ring. Photo courtesy Nodeform.

Romance and responsibility. A match made in heaven.