Returning to Center

A Collection of Stories, Vignettes and Thoughts

Fiction - Anthology
271 Pages
Reviewed on 08/20/2023
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    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

Returning to Center: A Collection of Stories, Vignettes, and Thoughts is a work of fiction in the anthology, martial arts, and spirituality subgenres. It is best suited to the general adult reading audience and was penned by author Billy Ironcrane. In this collection of intricately penned and thought-provoking tales, the author seeks to bring a sense of harmony and balance to his readership. Set largely in the world of martial arts, the different tales explore how people shift and change, molded by the experiences that the wider world gives them and the lessons they learn along the way. Different “master” and “student” figures come forward in each episodic tale as they make sense of their purpose and challenges in life.

Author Billy Ironcrane has crafted a collection of interesting tales that, once you really settle in and think about them, offer a kind of meditative escape from the hubbub of the busy world around us. There’s much to learn about the physical practice of martial arts in the details of some of the tales, but beyond this is the strong focus on philosophy, thought processes, and spirituality to be found in discovering who we are and being at peace with ourselves. Every reader will find something that speaks to them in this volume, and for me, I especially enjoyed “The Riddle of Okano,” which was very short but powerfully impacting, almost fairytale-like in its approach. Overall, I would recommend Returning to Center for short story fans seeking a unique approach to an anthology and martial arts enthusiasts looking to make a deeper connection with the sport and themselves.

Amy Raines

Returning to Center: A Collection of Stories, Vignettes, and Thoughts by Billy Ironcrane provides some thought-provoking material. Mason McKenzie has a lot to offer in the way of understanding how the world works as he learns from the guidance of others and through experiences of his own. A martial artist with a black belt learns that there is much more to discover than his own experiences and achievements have taught him. Is it fair for higher-ranking officers to leave little more than scraps for the soldiers they command? Solving a riddle that seems to have no answer is like figuring out what sound a one-handed clap makes. Serving poisonous plants to a tribe is humiliating and shows a lack of understanding. Learning from the experience of elders and the wisdom in their words is essential to finding the awakening.

The stories in this collection are smooth and entertaining. What I especially enjoyed is the wealth of knowledge and experience that went into each story. It is easy to find inspiration in these tales as Mason McKenzie and the rest of the characters navigate each unique plot searching for understanding and peace. Even though I enjoyed every one of the stories in this volume, The Water Principal gives an amazing level of insight. I love the parallels drawn between water and human nature. I recommend Returning to Center by Billy Ironcrane to anyone that enjoys a variety of stories and ideas that are not only fun to read but also lend some life perspective as part of the story. I hope this talented writer creates more volumes of stories like this one.

Asher Syed

Returning to Center by Billy Ironcrane is a compilation of the author's original work in 'A Collection of Stories, Vignettes and Thoughts.' The book is broken down into three distinct and interconnected parts. These are Emergence, Evolution, and Actualization. Within these parts are thematic pieces that range in length, tone, tenor, and format. These include Emergence's Waiting in Line, where the disparity in food distribution is witnessed and the higher-ups receive more as those lower down begin to suffer, resulting in a formidable action and lesson on taking a stand and leading where others can or will not. In Evolution's The Riddle of Okano, a duel reveals the superior skill of its victor only to see it undermined by a surprising loss. Actualization's Two Masters, where both Masters transcend conventional notions of life and death, reveals the eternal nature of existence.

It's interesting how there is a connection between Returning to Center by Billy Ironcane in the individual pieces of work, but only by a thread of one who transitions through them. The philosophical elements are very strong and there is no possibility of a reader walking away from the collection without a bag full of thoughtful nuggets to ponder later. The standout work to me is found in Evolution's story Challenges, where a martial arts master has a simple challenge: knock him down and keep him down. If accomplished, he would give up his belt and call them "Master." The challengers try and fail, and it proves to be another lesson by Sensei. True mastery requires wisdom, strategy, and a deep understanding of oneself and others, accomplished only with humility, self-awareness, and a focus on inner growth as essential qualities in any discipline. A wonderful read and very highly recommended.

Courtnee Turner Hoyle

In a collection of stories that mostly revolve around his sensei, Billy Ironcrane writes about the martial arts experiences that shaped him and others in Returning to Center: A Collection of Stories, Vignettes and Thoughts. Some of the writings include great advice from a seasoned teacher, inspire wholeness with natural elements, and contain meaningful impressions that impart wisdom. Readers will learn the meaning of “one hand clapping” and understand the author’s gratitude for the times he shared with his exhausted, hard-working parents over their bakery at Christmas. The pieces convey honor and the value of perception, and some of them have roots in Asian lore.

In reading Billy Ironcrane’s words, we get to know his mentor intimately, especially while learning about the recurring way he handled challenges in martial arts. The stories are told in the first and third person, but it always feels as though the author is personally narrating the events as they unfold. During these experiences, the protagonist usually uses inner power and strength to find an awareness that left him more balanced. Some of the writings seem completely fictional, but they have truth at the core and teach readers a lesson, like how to overcome a bully. “Crap Eaters” provides some whimsical moments, but a discerning reader will see more in the story. Although the subject matter is the same, the experiences have transformed the individual, and the lessons may help mold the reader, too. People who study martial arts and value the teachings will enjoy reading Returning to Center.

Rabia Tanveer

Returning to Center: A Collection of Stories, Vignettes, and Thoughts by Billy Ironcrane is a collection of stories and mindful narratives that reflect on different aspects of human life. Some stories may feel like a continuation of others, but the characters always have a new story to tell and share something unique with readers. The author adds a sprinkle of humor, suspense, action, and self-reflection while the main focus remains singular. Some stories have illustrations to add more depth. This collection has everything you need. From heroes to your typical human being, you can find someone you can relate to in this collection.

These stories are different, the characters seem tangible, and it appears they were taken from real life. These stories have lessons, and readers are free to come to their own conclusions. My favorite stories were "Christmas in Port Richmond," "The Riddle of Okano," "Challenges," and "Crap Eaters." There are 16 stories in three parts. Part 2 Evolution is my favorite because I related to it the most and loved it. The narrative was exciting, full of life, and made me want to read on. I took my time with Returning to Center and savored each story. "Crap Eaters" is my favorite, and Old Laughing Jou has all the credit for it. I like that one because he is mysterious and an enigma to the others. I highly recommend this collection.