Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Book with a View March 2009

Divine Intervention
Patricia Milner
Nightengale Press (2008)
U.S. $15.95
ISBN 1933449705
Reviewed by Yvonne Perry for WITS

I’m Thankful for Divine Intervention!

How would you like to be able to see, hear, and feel the spirit world and have no one believe you when you tell them? What if your own mother rejects you when, as a child, you mention your invisible playmates? Your friends make fun of you behind your back You might think you are a misfit. Such was the case with Patricia Milner whose psychic gifts began to manifest at a very young age.

Feeling like an outsider who didn’t belong with her family or schoolmates, Patricia sought refuge in the fields, gardens, and woods where she would be greeted by angels, guardians, animal spirits, and other light beings who encouraged and directed her through difficult times. Unable to turn off the divine voices that seemed to be everywhere, she finally became rebellious—especially toward those who picked on her for being different.

She faced many physical and emotional tragedies. If not for her daughter, born when she was only eighteen years old, life might have been too much to bear. It was this precious soul that kept Patricia moving to the next level of her spiritual development. Protecting little Angela led Patricia to escape her abusive marriage. One would think that all this trouble would have made Patricia crazy or bitter. She’s neither. Instead, she now uses her experience and her spiritual gifts to help others who are going through similar hardships.

All in all, I found the book a very interesting read. While my spiritual gifts are not nearly as developed as Patricia’s, I can relate to her experience and have no problem believing that what she experienced was real. We all have spirit guides that provide divine intervention. Some people just seem to acknowledge it more than others.

Savory Secrets of Dodi’s Home Cooking
Author: Howida (Dodi) Elhalogy
ISBN: 978-1-4327-2557-0
Publisher: Outskirts Press, Inc.
Genre and Target Market: cooking, food, culture
Publication Date: 2008
Book Length in Pages: 84
Reviewer: Sarah Moore for WITS (01/2009)

I always take a little time to skim through cookbooks while at my local bookstore. I like discovering new ingredients, or perhaps just new ways to use already familiar ingredients. I enjoy taking a moment to envision the great dinner parties I will host and the compliments I will receive on the unique and delicious menu I prepared. Above all, I love to stare at the beautiful pictures of the final product as created by the author. While my limited culinary skills may never allow for an exact visual replica of the dish as it’s intended, the colorful presentations provide something to which I can aspire. The new cookbook The Savory Secrets of Dodi’s Home Cooking by Howida “Dodi” Elhalogy exceeds all of my prerequisites for a great addition to anyone’s kitchen collection.

Mrs. Elhalogy grew up in an Egyptian village as the daughter of the province’s mayor. Since her family did a lot of entertaining on their large estate, Mrs. Elhalogy learned at a young age to prepare meals for special events and eventually mastered the art of Middle Eastern cooking. She decided to pull together her family’s recipes into this beautiful cookbook as a way of preserving a cultural tradition and of introducing a new audience to the amazing flavors and textures found in the dishes of the Middle East.

I was first struck by the beauty of the book. Mrs. Elhalogy uses rich colors of yellow and orange on the cover, along with a photo of garlic, onion and cilantro (I’m already sold … you cannot do better than those ingredients for a great-smelling kitchen!) to draw her readers into the culinary treasures inside. Once I turned the pages, I found page after page of beautiful pictures highlighting the table presentations that can be created with her recipes. When necessary, there were even “action photos” showing how to proceed correctly with certain steps in the recipe. I am a cook who hesitates to try a new recipe unless I can see the intended end product, so the pictures that accompanied each recipe were much appreciated.

The recipes themselves provided explicit step-by-step instructions. I have tried to work from other cookbooks that take certain steps in the process for granted, inevitably leading me to make a critical error. Not so with the recipes written by Dodi. The recipes develop methodically from the initial washing of ingredients to the necessary garnishes. I feel confident that, even though I would be working with some food that is unfamiliar to me, Dodi has provided enough instruction to ensure my success. And, just in case aspiring cooks of Middle Eastern cuisine still have some concern when working through her recipes, Dodi includes a glossary of some of the more unusual ingredients, along with their alternate names and descriptions. This component of the Helpful Hints section, along with the recipes’ Arabic translations on each page, provide an opportunity to learn about the individual foods while you are bringing them together for a meal.

As I read through each recipe, I was struck by an even greater opportunity that this book provides than just creating amazing food. A primary way of learning about a culture is through its traditional foods. I think back to “Culture Days” as a young child at school, when we would bring in a meal from the country of our choice. Learning about food opens the doors to other conversations, and this truth continues into adulthood. Why is a particular ingredient a staple of the diet in certain cultures? What are the most common cooking methods and why are they used? What are the standard customs practiced when eating a meal? I believe that by discussing these questions and other topics that may evolve from the conversation, we can gain greater appreciation and understanding for individuals from around the world. The recipes in The Savory Secrets of Dodi’s Home Cooking provide an excellent catalyst for just this purpose.

My husband and I have long considered Middle Eastern cuisine to be among our favorites. I already have tried several of the recipes, including the Tabula Salad and Koshary, to rave reviews around my dinner table. I look forward to wearing out the pages of The Savory Secrets of Dodi’s Home Cooking as I teach my own children the great Egyptian traditions that Dodi learned in her own youth and now, thankfully, shares with all of us. For those who are interested in expanding their culinary horizons, or perhaps simply want to enjoy the beauty of a well-planned cookbook, this offering by Howida “Dodi” Elhalogy is a must-have addition to your home library.

Author: Jennifer Chase
ISBN: 978-1-4327-3416-9
Publisher: OutskirtsPress.com (2009)
Genre and Target Market: thriller; fiction; criminal psychology
Pages: 301
Reviewer: Sarah Moore for WITS (01/2009)

There are certain types of books that are almost guaranteed to keep me turning the pages into the late hours of the night. The first is any novel that develops a compelling story of the complexities found in human relationships. Second, I love a great piece of historical fiction that places me in a previous moment in time. And, finally, I gravitate towards thrilling mysteries that are filled with breath-taking action and plot twists. For literary satisfaction on the last count, I am so excited to have discovered new author Jennifer Chase. Her first book, Compulsion, is a fascinating story of serial murderers, pedophiles, and the one amazing woman who is able to bring them all to justice. When a book contains these elements and is well-written, which Compulsion most certainly is, you have the recipe for an amazing read.

Author Jennifer Chase introduces us to the great character of Emily Stone. Working anonymously with her camera, computer, and trusted weapon at her constant disposal, Stone goes on the hunt for some of the most violent and deplorable criminals one can imagine. She uses her police background and natural ability to get inside the criminal mind to gather detailed, on-the-scene evidence. Then, she sends her information to the police and another villain is taken off the streets. When Stone’s identity is revealed to the latest killer on her radar screen, the fast-paced action that unfolds becomes the heart of the story and takes the reader on an amazing journey of heightened adrenaline and fear.

One of the greatest strengths in Chase’s writing is the careful unfolding of her characters’ personalities. The man known to the readers for most of Compulsion’s pages only as The Killer is first revealed through the gruesome crimes he commits. We learn of his brutal style of murder through the description of police on the scene. Further into the book, we are let into the mind of The Killer and the motivation behind his violent spree. Chase’s portrayal of a man sitting alone with his twisted thoughts brings the character into a more frightening focus. When the name and full story behind The Killer is finally revealed, the weight provided by the complete picture of this terrifying man is felt. The author employs this same development technique for her other characters, which adds an important element to the tension and sense of uncertainty. But don’t think that you are necessarily on the right track when learning more about a person in this novel. I found myself fooled by Chase’s convincing efforts to lead us down a path of assuming the guilt of an innocent person on more than one occasion.

Both the language and overall format of this book are evidence of Chase’s genuine talent in the genre of thrillers. For example, the tension and terror of the book escalates as The Killer and The Accomplice become more voracious in their need for prey. As they drive across the country with the intention of murdering Emily Stone, their need to commit violence at every step is overpowering. Readers can envision these men clenching their fists and tapping their feet with nervous energy and Chase reminds us at the close of every chapter in this climactic series of events that, “The Killers are coming.” It is a taunt that helps to create a sense of terrified anticipation. Each chapter is also quite short, often not more than three or four pages in length. This purposefully abrupt , snapshot approach jostles the reader from one event to the next, and is wonderful at generating the way that Emily Stone must feel when moving from one case to the next and not knowing who or what may be around the corner.

The new novel Compulsion by Jennifer Chase is a captivating thriller that will keep you guessing until the last page is read. The careful character development results in real, three-dimensional men and women, even if some of them are almost unimaginably horrifying. The plot, with its slowly revealed layers, is one that engages the readers immediately and takes them on quite an adventure. I was excited to read on Chase’s back cover that she is currently at work on the next book in the series. She can be certain that this new fan will be among the first to read the next installment. I believe that you, too, will find that Compulsion will leave you excited for more.

Poetry Unplugged
Author: Irene Brodsky
ISBN: 978-1-4327-3650-7
Publisher: OutskirtsPress.com (2009)
Genre and Target Market: poetry; women; education
Pages: 55
Reviewer: Sarah Moore for WITS (01/2009)

I am always eager to discover the expression that is shared by an artist through a chosen craft. Whether he is a composer who brought notes together to form a symphony centuries ago or a young poet who thoughtfully constructs her word patterns even before she knows how to tie her shoes, I love to get lost in such honest emotion. As a musician and a writer, I know that any moment or any object can inspire an outpouring of self. I have recently found a new poet named Irene Brodsky who shares much of her personal story in her just published collection of freestyle poetry entitled Poetry Unplugged. I have not had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Brodsky and have only had the opportunity for one phone conversation, but I feel that I have some sense of her background and what she holds so dear through her wonderful use of words.

Irene Brodsky, like most Americans across the country, felt a powerful need to express herself after the tragedy of September 11. As a resident of New York City, she had a front-seat perspective on that horrible day and found herself drawn to poetry has her chosen means of releasing her overwhelming emotions. She wrote a compelling piece of poetry entitled “The Tallest Twins” in which she portrays the World Trade towers as her close friends. This personification served as a less painful way of coping with the grief she was experiencing for her friends who worked in those buildings. The poem became the opening selection in Poetry Unplugged and serves as an appropriate and compelling introduction to the rest of her work.

Throughout the poems found in Brodsky’s Poetry Unplugged, one clear characteristic of the author becomes pleasantly apparent. She is a woman who does not have to search to find points of beauty and astonishment in her everyday surroundings, and she never takes this precious realization for granted. There are several poems that recall childhood memories from places like Howard Street or Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Her words in these selections create a nostalgic visual of a New York that, for the most part, exists only in the memory of those who lived through the era. What wonderful pieces these will be for her readers who look back at their own childhoods in New York with fondness. Ms. Brodsky also shows a love for the natural environment, with poems detailing her day spent with a doe, vacations to the Catskill Mountains, and even the simple appreciation for the beautiful color of an apple. When someone’s writing encourages me to take a second look at the ordinary grandeur that surrounds me, I am truly thankful.

Ms. Brodsky’s work also should serve as a source of encouragement for women who are considering a significant change in their life’s path. She chose to return to college at the age of fifty-five and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy. There are several poems in Poetry Unplugged that share Ms. Brodsky’s sense of pride at this great accomplishment. Her poem “Graduation Day” encapsulates all of the strong emotions that anyone feels when achieving one of their life goals, from a sense of disbelief to new confidence to just a bit of sadness at saying goodbye to friends. I felt a particular connection to “Spring Has Sprung on the Quad,” with lines such as “Pictures have been taken, The Quad is all aflutter, A special day awaits!” I read this poem several times, and recalled wonderful visuals of my own graduation nearly fifteen years ago. Perhaps some of Ms. Brodsky’s readers will be inspired to create such memories for themselves!

I sat down with Irene Brodsky’s Poetry Unplugged as someone who has great appreciation for the written word, but hardly as a seasoned critic of poetry. I closed the collection of work as a fan of Ms. Brodsky’s use of language and the confident sense of self that gives her poetry both an inviting approach and a real sense of purpose. Her personal story, namely her decision to return to school later in life and now pass on her learned craft to new students, is a wonderful starting point to attract readers before even enjoying her first line of poetry. When readers discover that the quality of her art is such that they want to reread her words to themselves and others, they will hope that another book of poetry is in Ms. Brodsky’s future. Whether or not such a publication is forthcoming, I at least would love to grab a seat in her class one day and experience the contagious excitement she feels for poetry and simply for life.

More Than a Memory: Reflections of Viet Nam
Victor R. Volkman, Editor
Modern History Press (2008)
ISBN 9781932690644
Reviewed by Dr. Michael Philliber for Reader Views (11/08)

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) is the new kid on the block, or is it? Certainly, the diagnostic category may be new, but the emotionally tumultuous concoction behind it seems to have been around since the dawn of human consciousness. Victor Volkman has compiled a bundle of stories and poems from Viet Nam veterans who are struggling with PTSD, for decades now, after their involvement in combat. “More Than a Memory: Reflections of Viet Nam” is part of the Reflections of History series put out by Modern History Press. This short, 221-page paperback dossier places in the reader’s hand a bundle of firsthand accounts on the personally harrowing struggles of over 15 authors, in the form of narrative and verse.

The one major theme that gradually dawns on the reader is that almost every writer in “More Than a Memory” is rehearsing their battle with PTSD. From hyper-vigilance and anger to depression and self-medicating drug abuse, each participant bares their bleeding soul. Many of the accounts are about the gruesome events of combat, loss of friends, violent actions of fellow GIs under constant stress, individual fear, the absurdity of leadership decisions, and numerous regretful events that still feed on the writers’ psyches. These veteran combat soldiers and Marines bring out the grueling and gory death they lived through, in brusque and harsh detail. These are not sissies! These are men who need relief, who want release, and some of whom have finally found reprieve.

If there is any aspect that detracts from the theme of “More Than a Memory” it is the short piece promoting the left-leaning American Servicemen’s Union (ASU). With this article smack in the center of the book it taints the whole work. If the volume has not been pulled together to show the ‘rightness’ of the ASU, then this particular chapter deflects from the real theme of the manuscript. Either way, this section turns “More Than a Memory” in directions probably not intended by the editor or the writers.

Overall, this is an important resource for those professionals or family members trying to help combat veterans struggling with PTSD. It may also be a step closer to healing for those veterans wondering what is happening to them, who worry if they’re normal, and where might they go for help. I highly recommend “More Than a Memory.”


Reviews and podcasts of children's books are available at Just One More Book. We have chosen to recommend these two books this month:

Kate and the Beanstalk is written by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Giselle Potter, and published by Simon & Schuster (ISBN: 0689825501). This refreshing departure from the boy-burglarizes-giant version of the giant beanstalk story has our girls swooning, roaring and cheering each and every time.

Nic Bishop's Frogs
is a Cybils 2008-2009 Non-fiction Picture Book category winner authored and illustrated by Nic Bishop and published in 2008 by Scholastic (ISBN: 0439877555). This gorgeously photographed and casually narrated ramble through the often mind-boggling traits, anatomy, actions, stats, and abilities of the humble frog family will change your view of frogs forever.

1 comment:

Andrea -- Just One More Book!! Podcast said...

Thanks for including us in your informative e-zine!