Tuesday, July 20, 2010

July 2010 Book Reviews from WITS Team

How Did She Get There?
Author: Ann Dowd
ISBN: 978-0-615-33530-8
Publisher: White Ink Press 2010
Reviewed by Vonnie Faroqui for WITS

How Did She Get There? is what I almost want to call a modern day cautionary tale. The heroine however does not turn anyone into a golden statue out of greed; or laze all day in the sun, thinking the world owes her a living while others labor. She is as human and self absorbed as we come, with all the classic confused notions found in a folk tale character. The author, Ann Karen Dowd, has certainly written a story that leads her heroine and the reader through a maze of challenges; attitudes to be overcome, confused perceptions about right and wrong, pitfalls of human nature, even exploring the motivational fears and desires which often hide beneath well-meaning intentions.

The story’s thread takes its heroine, poet Caro Barrone, to the very edge of reason, when she becomes obsessed with Livia, a thirteen-year old poet prodigy. How Did She Get There? looks at Caro’s inner turmoil as she struggles to rediscover a sense of identity and deal with the decaying pieces of her changing life; motherhood, the empty nest, fears of growing old, expectations, abandonment, and misdirected desires. She is not the typical heroine and this is not the typical feel-good tale. Instead the author has dug deeply into the places we fear to look, excavating aspects of a woman’s inner experience in ways and situations that are far too near our hearts for comfort. Ann does this with such compassion and understanding that she manages to guide us to the far side of the hedges healthier than we were before entering the labyrinth.

This is a deeply provocative read that will challenge as well as please the reader on many levels. The book offers a well-developed story line and believable characters that feel like people you know and care about. The poetry is exquisite. Ann has, with skill and grace, allowed the reader to travel the winding path of one woman’s second coming of age from beginning to end and turned Caro’s story into one of triumph.

My Dog Tim and Other Stories
Author: Garasamo Maccagnone
ISBN: 978-1-4327-5562-1
Publisher: Outskirts Press, Inc. (2010)
Link to purchase: http://amzn.to/MyDogTim
Reviewer: Vonnie Faroqui

In spite of its seemingly innocuous title, My Dog Tim and Other Stories is a raw, gritty, poignantly honest, and often humorous collection of short stories that will appeal to an adult audience. Author Garasamo Maccagnone wastes no time in immediately engaging his audience with the longest story in the collection, “St. John of the Midfield.” The author continues, with each narrative taking the reader on a rollercoaster ride touching a variety of themes including: sports, family, relationships, crime, race, religion, faith, and the beloved childhood pet. As a storyteller, Garasamo’s writing talent exhibits a wide range and depth of perspective.

“Goalie Boy” is my favorite story among the nine. The image of an overzealous, underachieving parent, attempting to live life through their child, as seen from the kid’s perspective, makes for a very interesting read. Perhaps everyone will be able to identify with his sexual awkwardness as Goalie Boy comes of age, a comic highpoint. This story ends with an unexpected and disturbing turn as the reader lives through an entire childhood, experiencing both triumph and despair.

The tale of “White Fang” will remind readers of their childhood experiences, when revenge and vendettas among siblings were a source of limitless fun and often painful consequences that become priceless memories.

Regardless of one’s religion, “The Note Giver” illustrates that common figures, personalities, and failings can be found in any belief system. When confronted with uninvited truths, reactions are universal in nature.

From first to last, Garasamo Maccagnone demonstrates a flexibility of wit and realism that makes My Dog Tim and Other Stories a refreshing and captivating read. When one story ends, he leaves you eager for the next.

Memoirs from the Asylum

Author: Kenneth Weene

ISBN: 978-0-9844219-5-4
Publisher: All Things that Matter Press, 2010
Link to purchase: http://amzn.to/atHrlu
Reviewer Byline: Vonnie Faroqui for WITS

Memoirs from the Asylum author Kenneth Weene has, with many twists and phobic turns, succeeded in writing a moving and fascinating exploration of the inner workings of the insane mind. Memoirs is set within the confines of a mental health institution and weaves its way through the lives and memories of the asylum’s patients, narrated from the internal perspective of two patients and their psychiatrist. The vision of life depicted within and around these three main characters makes a case for a larger societal madness as the author explores the bureaucracy surrounding and encapsulating the insane and their caregivers. As uncomfortable as some aspects of the book may be, these same passages hold illuminating power.

Well crafted, Memoirs from the Asylum has a developed plot line and believable story progression. The best aspect of the book is how the author has written from the perspective or inner thoughts of the characters. This is done with such realism, understanding and truth that it is easy to relate with the patient’s fears, frustrations, joys and triumphs. It is obvious that the author is writing from a deeper understanding of human motivation and psychosis. His treatment of his characters is compassionate and without judgment allowing the reader to formulate their own opinions and confront their own preconceptions and prejudices. Unlike so many other novels these days, Weene’s writing is not preachy or deliberately educational in tone, with well developed characters and originality that make for compelling reading.

At times the book is disturbing as it addresses and reveals many destructive societal attitudes and inhumanities. The author has skillfully lifted the veil of willful disinterest surrounding the mentally ill and shone a spot light on the role played by the greater culture in perpetuating and growing madness.
Full of memorable characters that are as tragic as they are comedic, this book proves itself in the great tradition of writing. Disturbingly honest and often graphic in nature Memoirs from the Asylum is an entertaining and enlightening read for adults.

Fade from Blue
Author: P. J. Thomas
ISBN: 1-4241-6939-9
Publisher: Publish America
Genre and Target Market: fiction; thriller; crime
Publication Date: 2007
Book Length in Pages: 210
Reviewer: Sarah Moore for WITS

In my professional work as part of the publishing world, I usually have one encounter with an author’s work. While most books that I am asked to read are good and are obviously created with the genuine passion of the author, they quickly became another addition to my bookshelf and I move onto the next novel. In some instances, however, I am given the opportunity to really examine the breadth of an author’s work through multiple publications. In the case of P. J. Thomas, the pleasure I have had to read three of his novels have served to increase my respect for his work and make me a bigger fan of the stories he creates. Each book that Thomas writes offers unique characters, formatting, and even writing styles, as every work shares a story different from the others. One aspect of Thomas’ work that does not change, however, is the quality of the writing. His latest novel, Fade from Blue, is a powerful thriller that will grip readers from beginning to end.

Fade from Blue tells the story of Frankie Rizzo, a police officer who must ask for help from some unsavory connections after he is accused in the murders of his wife and her lover. Frankie spends decades living under a false identity and building an entirely new life for himself in Mexico. In all of those years, however, he never stops thinking about the infant son he left behind. Frankie is eventually reunited with his now-grown child through a series of amazing circumstances and the climax which then unfolds is one not to be missed.

As he has so wonderfully done in his other novels, Thomas crafts a set of characters that are believable and honest in their portrayals. Whether the readers are following a high-ranking member of the mob, a corrupt police officer, a wisecracking older woman, or a scared girl with a history of abuse, they will find dialogue and emotion that fits perfectly and comes together to form a captivating storyline. I was particularly drawn to the women in Fade from Blue, each of whom showed both amazing strength and vulnerability. There were no one-dimensional stereotypes of women in the book, which I appreciated and which allowed me to become even more invested in the book’s outcome.

Thomas manages to avoid the predictable “gotcha” moments that are always found in lesser thrillers. He does not need to shock his readers with a ridiculous plot twist in order to grab your attention. (Don’t get me wrong . . . effectively executed plot twists are breathtaking, but I find that they are often forced into a book in an awkward or forced way.) Instead, Thomas slowly develops in Fade from Blue a tightly constructed novel that unfolds naturally. There are surprises, to be sure, but they are presented in a way that shocks but also integrates into the other events of the novel seamlessly.
If you are looking for a quality novel that will keep you turning pages but yet not wanting to reach the back cover, I strongly recommend Fade from Blue. And, once you become a fan of P. J. Thomas, I hope you will seek out his previous books and enjoy all that this author has offered to the literary world. I believe that, like me, you will enjoy the opportunity to explore Thomas’ work thoroughly and await the time you can hold the next work and begin what is certain to be another great reading experience.

Lost Angel Walkabout—One Traveler’s Tales
Author: Linda Ballou
ISBN #978-1449971526
Price $14.95
Pages: 200
Publisher: Winddancer, 2010
Reviewed by Yvonne Perry for WITS

With each story I read in Linda Ballou’s book, Lost Angel Walkabout, I thought, “This is the best story in the book.” Then, I would turn the page and find that the next adventure was even more interesting.

I love the way the author weaves accurate and little known native history into each story. This information isn’t what your typical tour guide might spout from a memorized script. This book and its information comes from roughing it in the wilderness in some remote sites where most of us would not go with a group much less alone, which is Linda’s favorite way to travel. The aloneness is rejuvenating for her as she listens to nature and the spirits that dwell in each mesmerizing place speak to her.

As for aloneness, Linda says, “Much is said of the virtues of connecting with local cultures, but in aloneness you can connect with the forces that shaped them.” Profound wisdom!

Not all of the trips were taken alone, however. I was especially touched by the story titled “Water Dogs” because of the tender way Linda showed grace and understanding to her 75-year-old mother who was along on a snorkeling trip. Linda was so creative in bringing the fish to her mom since Mom couldn’t dive under and hold her breath long enough to see them near the cave entrance below the water. But this story is also a favorite because of the humorous way Ballou depicts the cast of characters. In fact, her sense of humor in telling the story not only made me feel like I was on location with her, it gave me a sense of her lively personality.

What I didn’t expect, but found pleasantly refreshing was the spiritual aspect Linda brought into each tale. Her trips are inspired by her spirit guides, of whom she says, “Guides are simply that—guides. They try to direct you on an ever-changing path to soul-stirring moments, but the responsibility for the journey is ultimately yours.”

So, I guess that’s why Linda doesn’t blame her guides for forgetting to take her silk underwear with her on the trip to Dorothy Lake. She nearly froze to death when the zipper of her sleeping bag broke and exposed her backside to the elements. What’s an adventure without risk, right? And a little aroma from being wrapped in damp horse blankets to survive that night.

Tim Cahill’s interview was a very special treat and served as an interlude to gear the reader up for more action and adventure. Having taken the time to chat with one of her favorite travel writers shows that this author had credibility in both the writing and traveling world.

Another thing that makes this book intriguing and sets it apart from other travel/adventure books is the eco alert at the end of many chapters. It’s sad to know that many of the places Linda recounts in her stories are no longer the quaint, rural, peaceful spiritual nests they were at the time of her visit. They have been ruined by greedy deforestation, over-fishing, and toxic waste. This was an unexpected call to action in our effort to care for the beauty of our Mother Earth.

Throughout the book, the author’s storytelling style is a great blend of travel journalism and real life experiences and spiritual insight that entertain and inform. Highly recommended reading.

Kids Who See Ghosts, Guide Them Through Their Fear
Dr. Caron Goode
Weiser Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-57863-472-9
Reviewed by Yvonne Perry

This book was a very enlightening read. I learned a lot—not only about kids who see ghosts, but about how and why it is possible to see spirits in another dimension. The electromagnetic spectrum of wavelengths of radiation is huge, but the narrow band (between 380 and 760 nanometers) that we call light and that most humans can see is a very small fraction of what actually exists. Typically, what we humans can’t see with our naked eye or what our brains can’t understand is thought to be nonexistent, but other species can see these wavelengths. For example, a rattlesnake can see the whole infrared spectrum and ultraviolet ranges. A microscope reveals a world within our world. A telescope shows us things in space that 100 years ago we would never thought existed. You can’t see radio waves, gamma rays, X-rays, or microwaves, but they are very real. Just because you can’t see something, does not mean it doesn’t exist. It is possible that the eyes of a child have the ability to see in more ranges and spectrums than an adult.

The fact that children see things adults don’t is also explained by brain development and whether or not the culture in which the child lives accepts seeing spirit walkers as the norm. Children have not been conditioned like adults have and therefore do not know that they are not “supposed” to see spirit walkers.

Through reading this book I also learned that many things can trigger a ghostly experience by activating the temporal lobe, the part of the brain associated with psychic activity. When in a meditative, altered, or dissociated state of awareness, it is possible to see into these “hidden” spectrums even if only momentarily. Any person under stress or trauma can phase in and out of the brain states that are open to seeing apparitions. Younger children’s brain waves tend to linger in the dreamy states. Psychiatrist Carl Jung believed that ghosts and hauntings were universal occurrences. I believe that as society begins to accept paranormal experiences as scientifically and physically possible and more people are free to talk about their psychic vision, these gifts will be used in a positive and productive manner.

Caron affirms that children (and adults) who see ghosts are not crazy. Children should be allowed to talk about seeing spirit walkers without fear of being judged or reprimanded. Therefore, traditional parenting and teaching styles do not work with intuitive kids who see ghosts. Regardless of whether they believe in ghosts, parents of these psychic kids can learn to integrate spirit communication as a matter-of-fact part of life. When a child speaks about seeing a ghost, casually remind the child that he or she can set boundaries and is in control. Since the intention of some ghosts is not the best or of the light, it is wise for a parent to be discerning about whether to allow a ghost to remain. Kids can exert their power over spirits in much the same way they would if a bully was bothering them. It is fine to tell a spirit to “Go to the light” or “Leave me alone.” Teach the child to call upon his or her guardian angels for protection.

My next paragraph is excerpted from the book because I feel it is important for readers to know that you or your child are not at the mercy of intruding ghosts. Children can defend themselves spiritually.

“Any child can insist on and demand to experience only that which is for his or her highest good and the highest good of all concerned. And learning how to tell the difference in the voices is very easy to do. Learning those differences puts you on the high road to work with, study from, and expose yourself to only those beings, voices, and energies that are truly for your highest good. You don’t have to put up with the other stuff.”

In Section 6, Dr. Goode gives useful tips for parents with various thinking styles to help children according to their individual temperaments cope with fear and incorporate an empowered approach to life—not just for managing their fear of ghosts, but for dealing with anything they may be afraid of. This chapter is worth the read even if your child doesn’t report seeing ghosts. Healthy interaction with the invisible worlds can give us the information, support, and caring we need to become healthy human beings.

The only thing I did not like about the book was the section in which Joe Nickell suggested telling children that ghosts do not exist except in our minds. This entire chapter seems to contradict and undo the comfort and encouragement provided by the other experts in the book.

As the author states, it’s much easier to give a child a pill than to educate yourself and adopt a new parenting method. It takes courage to teach or raise intuitive children. I’m thankful for Dr. Goode’s book because it gives parents the information they need to feel more confident in helping a child overcome fear and put any event into perspective. I think it is about time we begin to let go of our preconceived ideas about what is “normal” and begin to use the wisdom and principles in this book to help guide kids who see ghosts through their fear. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about this topic--especially those who work with children in any capacity.

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