Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Book with a View April 2009!

Across The Pond
Author: Storyheart
ISBN: 978-1-4363-7176-6
Publisher: Xlibris Press
Genre and Target Market: young adult; romance; fiction
Publication Date: 2008
Pages: 114
Reviewer: Sarah Moore for WITS (01/2009)

There have been a number of books that have been published over the past decade that are primarily geared towards teenagers but have come to enjoy great appeal with their parents as well. Both the Harry Potter and Twilight series of novels come to mind when I consider works that would fit into such a category. Mothers can claim they waited in long lines at the bookstore for the sake of their young daughters, but I know the truth is they could not wait to get their own hands on the next installment of these popular young adult novels. I think it is wonderful when reading a common book can create conversation and a shared interest between generations. Author Storyheart, who is already an accomplished writer of online romance stories and a previous book for adults, has just published a novel about teenagers that I believe will become one of those special books that can bridge age gaps in a home. Across The Pond is an innocent love story that I thoroughly enjoyed even as a mother in her thirties. It reminded me of the young adult romances I used to swoon over when I was in junior high. A charming boy from a foreign land protects you from bullies, is adored by your friends but completely loyal to you, and meets complete parental approval after proving himself to be an upstanding young man? What could be better?

Storyheart is a native of England who left his country almost a decade ago to be with the woman who would become his wife. He uses his own upbringing to bring to life Fred Squire, the main character in Across the Pond. Fred is sent by his parents, who do not have room for him in their travel plans to Australia, to vacation with family friends in the United States. He is initially unhappy with being cast away to spend a couple of weeks with strangers, but his attitude quickly changes when he is introduced to the teenage daughter of the house, Brittany. The author of Across the Pond perfectly captures the overwhelming series of emotions that only occur during that first blush of young love. Every brush that a hand makes against your crush’s leg, the sideways glances that are given to see what your new boyfriend is doing, and the endless self-doubt over every word spoken are fundamentals of any young romance, and this book has them all. The two adolescents quickly become confidants and what then transpires is a touching, modern … and refreshingly age-appropriate … love story.

The author has a lot of fun throughout the novel playing up the unique cultural features on each side of the Atlantic. Most notable is his inclusion of Fred’s school project, in which the British student must keep a journal of how the Americans and the English use different words for the same object (nappy vs. diapers, trolley vs. cart, etc.). These shorts lists are posted throughout across the pond and should make for a fun point of discussion among readers. The author also creates an entire secondary plot around the sacred American pastime of baseball. After Fred catches the ball which marked the 500th run of a star player, the media and fan chaos that ensues proves utterly confusing for a young man who just minutes before had been discussing the rules of cricket. These storyline components, along with subtle comments made about the large portions of food that Americans eat and the mega malls with every store imaginable, provide interesting insight into how visitors to our country may view their surroundings. Across the pond takes the common tactic of introducing a charming stranger with a romantic accent and goes a step further by creating a smart integration of cultural awareness.

Across the Pond is a new novel for young adults that celebrates the innocence and very real nature of first loves. The author Storyheart shows his obvious background as a writer of romance stories and does a masterful job of adapting the genre to a juvenile audience. However, despite the target age group, I believe that readers of all ages will be drawn to the characters in this book and the strength that they show through a wide range of emotional situations. This is the first effort by Storyheart to join the already crowded offering of teen romance novels that can be found at your neighborhood and online bookstores. The compelling story created by the author will quickly separate across the pond from the pack. If Storyheart chooses to publish more novels that bring back sweet memories from my youth, he can know that I will be reading them.

My Choice—My Life: Realizing Your Ability to Create Balance in Life
Author: Jay Greenfeld
ISBN: 978-1-4327-3331-5
Publisher: OutskirtsPress.com (2009)
Genre and Target Market: health; stress management; young adult
Pages: 205 (including appendices and references)
Reviewer: Sarah Moore for WITS (01/2009)

I went through a period in my life when I opened self-help books just looking for an answer. Whatever my current challenge might have been, I just wanted a professional to give me the exact steps to fix it. Somehow, the guaranteed solutions never seemed to provide a perfect remedy to my unique circumstances. How could one single approach ever work for the millions of different personalities that exist in this world? I have since come to appreciate the books that, instead of asserting the only possible answer, provide guidance to the readers as they take control of their own progress and improvement. Jay Greenfeld provides just such a book with his new release My Choice – My Life: Realizing Your Ability to Create Balance in Life. In his first offering as an author, readers will learn concrete steps of action involving all areas of life and the questions to ask when determining appropriate choices.

While any reader can benefit from the self-reflection that is prompted by Greenfeld in his book, his writing and situational examples apply primarily to a teenage and twenty-something crowd. He addresses issues such as choosing healthy relationships, dealing with the pressure of drugs and alcohol use, and handling the stress that comes with a major change in one’s life situation, such as preparing for college or being organized at that first real job. I worked for many years as first a high school teacher and then as a college advisor. While reading My Choice – My Life, I kept thinking about what an important resource this would have been for my students. I can easily see this book finding its place on the syllabus for a health course or perhaps even given to students to read as part of an orientation program. By valuing the personal responses each reader may have to the text and not talking down to his readers like an unreachable authority figure, Greenfeld can be very effective at capturing the attention of an age group that is often difficult to reach.

Greenfeld opens the book with a detailed analogy in which he compares life to a game of Monopoly. Each side of the board is one of the four critical aspects of every person’s life – physical, mental and emotional, social, and academic or professional. We all must decide on the aspect that deserves our time and focus at any particular moment. What about those Chance cards which always make us nervous? These are the uncertainties that get thrown into every person’s life once in a while. Greenfeld also shares his developed symbolism for many other aspects of the popular board game, with the result being a great visual that sticks with the reader as chapters unfold to discuss each piece of the analogy in detail.
Greenfeld uses important reference tools in each section of the book that involve the reader. Each chapter ends with a bulleted list of “Quick Points” which highlight the key pieces of information. If a reader feels drawn to work on an area discussed in a particular chapter, these summary notes can be a good list to copy and keep somewhere nearby. The author also draws in his readers by questioning them about what they are learning. He leaves a notes page to write down thoughts and intended actions. I always appreciate such an inclusion in this genre of books, as I believe that readers must take the material while fresh and apply it to their personal situations. Also, whenever Greenfeld shares a to-do list concerning a particular area in life, he asks the readers to add to the ideas. With all of these pieces, Greenfeld stimulates his readers to brainstorm and take ownership for their own goals.

With the new book My Choice – My Life: Realizing Your Ability to Create Balance in Life, author Jay Greenfeld has created a wonderful reference tool for anyone who is feeling overwhelmed by the many directions and choices we are given in life. Greenfeld does not pretend that all of us fit into the same cookie-cutter mold when it comes to our handling of stress and daily responsibilities. Therefore, he provides general hints and suggestions that can apply to every reader and then encourages us to adapt the ideas to our own situations. With its primary focus on younger generations, I believe that Mr. Greenfeld has taken his great experience as a lecturer and published a work that will be tremendously helpful to those who are encountering some of life’s major changes for the first time. Any young adult, or parent of someone in this age group, will benefit from reading and then discussing the lessons that Greenfeld has to offer.
Little Stories
Author: Jeff Roberts
ISBN: 978-1-4327-2727-7
Publisher: OutskirtsPress.com
Genre and Target Market: short stories; fiction; relationships
Publication Date: 2008
Book Length in Pages: 101

When I was growing up, my favorite location in the public library was the Biography section. I enjoyed the experience of diving into another person’s life and viewing relationships and world events using a stranger’s unique lens. Always of particular fascination would be diaries through which readers can witness an evolution in thought or perspective from one stage in life to another. Even in writing that is not as bare and personal as a journal, good writers still let us into their worlds through their chosen subjects and expression of emotion. In his new book Little Stories, Jeff Roberts shares a collection of short stories that he wrote during his undergraduate studies at the University of Iowa. Each piece offers a look into the fragile human psyche and, at least for this reader, provides an intensely personal reaction to situations of social dynamics that are painfully honest. Roberts offers a glimpse into the worlds of his characters at a specific moment in their lives and does so through such engaging prose that his readers will undoubtedly remember a time when they found themselves in such a situation, or at least would have reacted the same way given the circumstances. When you open up Little Stories, be prepared for an emotional connection with the words on the page.
Roberts shares in some of his marketing material for Little Stories that reviewing the stories to compile for the book caused him both moments in which he cringed and others that brought great pride. I can understand the author’s wide range of emotions, as he reveals so much of himself in each story. Some of the pieces he admits are actual moments from his life, like the miracles of birth and death coming together at a local hospital or the feeling of being “dead inside” immediately following his divorce. Other stories appear to be comprised of fictional characters but who still evoke such emotion that the author seems to pull from a very real and personal place. Regardless of the inspiration for each story, Roberts is magnificent at developing a rich storyline and three-dimensional characters over the span of just a few short pages. He also gives us the opportunity to relive similar episodes from a place in our lives that is hopefully now wiser and more mature. To know that we have survived some of the heart-wrenching moments that Roberts details in his stories is quite gratifying.

One of the most powerful features of Roberts’ writing is the way that he examines the loneliness and insecurity that we often experience even in the most intimate of relationships. This study ranges from a young boy who feels desperately alone as he ponders the consequences of a failing mark on his report card to a husband determined to make his marriage work but instead returns home to a wife who is utterly distant and finding her romantic fulfillment through a computer screen. Whether literally through the text (such as “I never felt so alone” or “alone in this world”) or through the feelings he evokes by more subtle means, Roberts brings us to the conclusion of each story with a reminder that we really are individual entities who may be left alone at any moment. This feeling of isolation is most often not caused by a physical separation, but instead an emotional, sexual, or other manifested divide.
Often times, I will keep a collection of short stories on my nightstand with the intention of reading one selection each evening and therefore progressing slowly through the author’s work. In the case of Little Stories by Jeff Roberts, I ended up reading the entire book in one sitting. Since then, I have reopened the book many times to read certain stories that really spoke to me and I experienced a new detail each time. Little Stories contains raw emotions that never seem contrived or melodramatic, which can often occur in books through which the author is hoping to evoke a certain reaction from the reader. Instead, Roberts displays a great talent for capturing a real sense of human weakness and longing with the respect that these emotions deserve. I know that I am not done reading Little Stories, as it is a collection that can be read again and again. But, I also hope that Jeff Roberts chooses to publish another work that lets us into another stage in his life’s journey. I have no doubt that the result will be just as fascinating.

More Than Meets the Eye, True Stories About Death, Dying, and Afterlife
Author: Yvonne Perry
ISBN: 0-9753870-6-5
Price $13.99 US
Publisher: Booksurge (2005)
Pages: 166 pgs.
Genre: Spirituality/Metaphysics
Reviewer: Andrea Mai (a student in WITS newbie mentoring class)

When I first got the book, I was under the impression that More Than Meets the Eye by author Yvonne Perry was going to be primarily about near-death experiences (NDE) and the spiritual aspects involved with such an experience. While there are certainly chapters devoted to the NDE, I am happy to report the book is about so much more than that. It was an intriguing combination of analysis, personal experience, collected and collective stories. Perry graduated from the American Institute of Holistic Theology with a degree in Metaphysics which allowed her a solid background to explore the subject. This book is filled with well-researched details about everything you might want to know about death, dying, and afterlife.
One of the chapters I especially enjoyed was called Souls and Ceremonies. It was filled with information about burial, embalming, and cremation with historical and modern citations about laws surrounding each of these processes. I’ve often thought a funeral pyre would be a great way to say goodbye if our society could handle it. Instead, I’ll probably just be cremated behind closed doors and handed over to my loved ones in a tidy little urn. My grandmother always wanted to be buried in a plain pine box but apparently, in Minnesota, there are laws for how well the box must be constructed. After reading this chapter, I want to find out more for her.

I was intrigued by the chapters discussing the afterlife and NDEs. The author, Yvonne Perry, grew up in a fundamentalist Christian church and that’s where she spent her time until she was forty years old. Then she began to explore other spiritualities. I found it interesting because my history is almost the opposite of hers. I spent years studying Taoism, Buddhism, and Paganism then spent time in Christianity, then left for more Buddhism and have returned fully to a liberal Christianity but not in order to follow by rote what others tell me to believe. I believe in the Christ. I also believe whole-heartedly in reincarnation. As a student of Christian theology, my beliefs about God are wider than the little box many to which many ascribe for the Divine, starting with my Christian brothers and sisters. And, Perry does a fine job of exploring the afterlife from both her own understanding of metaphysics and religion as well as the understanding within different spiritual/faith communities.
The only real problem I had with the book was the personal stories that were in italics. Some only had a brief mention of the storyteller which made it hard to keep up with who was telling the story. This was primarily an issue of how it was formatted for these sequences. The stories were good, just a little vague about who was telling them. Of course, I read quickly with a tendency to skim until something jumps out at me. So, it may be my own method of reading that triggered the problem.

With chapters on Hospice care, suicide, euthanasia as well as ceremonies, near-death and out of body experiences this 166-page book lives up to its title. I think the book works because Perry takes a thoughtful approach to these subjects, neither forcing her views onto the reader but also not shying away from subjects that many readers might not know about or understand. I had never heard of walk-in souls as she described in Chapter Seven: I Don’t Like it Here (Dealing With Suicide). It was a completely new idea to me and one I’ll read more about.
The book didn’t have time to get dull with the very approachable blend of statistics, facts, other people’s stories and Perry’s own story. It was a quick-read but one you can go back to again and again to go a little deeper. There were some helpful items found at the end of the book. A copy of a Living Will and Warning Signs of Suicide were included as well as a Bibliography listing her many resources.

Overall, I would recommend this book to any person who is either curious or struggling with any of these issues. It was enjoyable, thought-provoking, and I know I will return to it when I meditate on these topics.
My Dirty Little Secrets - Steroids, Alcohol and God: The Tony Mandarich Story
Tony Mandarich and Sharon Shaw Elrod
Modern History Press (2009)
ISBN 9781932690781
Reviewed by Olivera Jackson-Baumgartner for Reader Views
Tony Mandarich’s book My Dirty Little Secrets – Steroids, Alcohol and God is heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. The reader gets to follow Tony through the best and the worst of college football and his NFL career, as well as his “career” as husband and a father. Everything that readers love is there: humble beginnings, working-class parents, older brother to look up to, promising start to a brilliant career, dedication and hard work, grueling workouts, drugs, invitation to NFL and… a big crash. What follows this first, promise-filled part is heart-wrenching. Tony’s descent into the addiction hell is surprising on one hand and all too understandable on the other. Readers can’t help but be astonished that somebody, who on one hand has trained so hard and turned his body into such a temple to strength, can so viciously destroy it with drugs and alcohol on the other hand. We have to give it to Mr. Mandarich— he is nothing but brutally candid and honest, and he never blames anybody else for his troubles, not even in the cases where some blame could have been shared, if not clearly laid on others. Tony Mandarich’s shoulders are wide, and he bravely decided to take the full load of guilt on himself.

Even if you are not a sports fan, I am convinced that you will find Tony Mandarich’s account of his two NFL careers fascinating. The crystal clear difference in his attitude during his days with the Green Bay Packers and sharply contrasting days with the Indianapolis Colts is elucidating. What a difference an attitude adjustment can – and does! – make. This should be required reading for anybody in the public eye, but most importantly for many athletes who have trouble understanding that they are responsible for their actions on and off the athletic fields. As illuminating as I found the chapters of Tony Mandarich’s years on the football field, they pale in comparison with his insight into his own addiction and his path to recovery and healing, both his own and healing of those around him. Some of my favorite pages are those where he describes his newly rediscovered joy of playing football, and playing it well. And the romantic in me rejoiced when Tony met and reconnected with his college sweetheart, Char. By the looks of it, Tony really learned his hard lessons, and both his second NFL career and his second marriage to Char were and are so much more successful than either of his first attempts.

Brutally honest at times, and always straightforward, Tony Mandarich’s My Dirty Little Secrets is in my opinion first and foremost a great book about the power we all hold within ourselves and everything we can achieve if we only decide to do the right thing. Unfailingly optimistic, but never preachy, this book should find a wide audience of those who are curious enough to reserve judgment until they learn all of the facts. I am not qualified to say how good of a football player Tony Mandarich ever was, but he is certainly a brave man and one who can walk with his head held high anywhere in this world.

The Last Paradise: A Novel
Michael Kasenow
iUniverse (2009)
ISBN 9781440120015
Reviewed by Richard R. Blake for Reader Views

Michael Kasenow resourcefully tracks the plight of the oppressed and exploited “alley people” of Galveston, Texas in the post Civil War era. The Last Paradise is a stirring story of the strength and endurance of these unwavering men and women fighting to keep their dignity through the trials of injustice and bigotry in the age of Jim Crow.

In an environment where hypocrisy and corporate corruption are intent on spawning racism, prejudice, and poverty, Michael Kasenow weaves a powerful story of the courage, strength and survival of downtrodden men and their families. The alley people reflect an inner strength of character lacking in the affluent, town “bullies,” the bigoted police officers, and the unscrupulous civic leaders in an atmosphere of political tension.

The story moves forward with well-chosen words that begin at a lazy pace, casual, yet compelling a nonchalance in keeping with the era and locale, which is Galveston in the early 1900s. Kasenow uses friendly, moving banter among friends mixed with cutting barbs, sarcasm, and prejudice to develop his characters. His descriptive word pictures draw the reader into his narrative as he describes the “crooked ambiance of Tin Can Alley” or how “the docks bustled with organized chaos.”

Vivid and detailed descriptions bring to life the architecture and commerce of downtown Galveston, the harbor, St. Mary’s Orphanage, the salt marshes, and the wetlands.

A master at character development, Kasenow’s colorful cast include the regulars a Bleach’s Bar, the “working girls” upstairs, Boss Conner and his wharf crew, the nuns and children at St. Mary’s orphanage, Bishop and his family, Jenny and Sara Conner, Newt, and Maxwell and young Cody.

Kasenow writes with such realism I felt the shame and humiliation of Bishop and his family as they were intimidated and harassed brutally before their friends by representatives of the law. In his account of the after effects of the Great Hurricane of 1900, Kasenow engaged the reader in all five senses: the stench of fear and death, the tenderness of touch in providing comfort, and the seeing of loved ones – thought dead. I felt the cooling water on a parched throat, heard the thrashing of hurricane force winds, and was left with the haunting memory of devastation left behind after the storm.

The Last Paradise contrasts the emptiness of greed and the lust for power with the hopefulness and moral fiber of the alley people of the Galveston wharf. The novel is brutally forthright as it portrays an honest look at the brutality of evil men. On a lighter note, Kasenow includes both rollicking and subtle humor and a thread of romance throughout the story.

As in his poetic writings, Kasenow reveals the strength and triumph over despair, which produces healing through kindness with the reward of hope during harsh and chaotic times. The Last Paradise, an editor’s choice book, is destined to establish Michael Kasenow as a serious historical fiction author.

Zoe Lucky and the Green Gables’ Mystery
Author: M. Carol Coffey
ISBN Number: 978-1-4327-3190-8
Publisher: OutskirtsPress.com
Genre and Target Market: fiction; mystery; teen
Publication Date: 2009
Book Length in Pages: 148

When I was in elementary school, I formed a kids’ detective agency with a couple of close friends. After the other students had gone home, we would revisit the ground on which we had all enjoyed recess just a few hours before. We searched through the sand for artifacts, read the graffiti on the brick walls, and created probing questions that only we could answer. When I took to my room in the evening, the Nancy Drew mysteries and “choose your own adventure” books were always among my favorite reading choices. I supposed I enjoyed the idea of a young hero, particularly a female one, solving a crime that had stumped even the most experienced adults. Therefore, I am excited to have discovered a young modern-day heroine by the name of Zoe Lucky. She is the creation of author M. Carol Coffey and in her new book, Zoe Lucky and the Green Gables’ Mystery, she carries on the tradition of Nancy Drew fans and playground sleuths everywhere. Except, in Zoe’s case, the crimes and the consequences are much more serious.

Zoe is a thirteen-year-old girl who recently moved to a new apartment with her mom following the tragic death of her father, a police officer who was shot in the line of duty. Zoe doesn’t even have time to adjust to her surroundings before she finds herself amongst a cast of fascinating characters, some of whom with motives more sinister than they first seem. As the story unfolds, Zoe befriends a wise neighbor, draws close in puppy love to the cute boy from the pet shop, and finds herself in a position to uncover crimes ranging from burglary to arson to murder. Although the mystery that develops is frightening and quite serious, the author always manages to keep the perspective of a young teenage girl in her writing. Zoe is a girl who pieces together her clues through skilled work on her Blackberry and by the art of instant messaging … she is smart and prepared to unlock criminal mysteries with a uniquely adolescent and 21st century style.

One of the most engaging aspects of this new novel is the great importance of birds to the development of Coffey’s storyline. Zoe’s pet African Gray parrot, Paki, specifically and all feathered friends in general play pivotal roles in ways that the humans involved in the situation could never manage. Paki is able to sense the true character of people who walk into the Luckys’ apartment and tries to warn his young friend through less-than-subtle name calling. The crows that congregate outside of Zoe’s apartment building maintain a long memory concerning those who have harmed them, and use their great abilities as guides to lead authorities to the man who had been the sources of so many wide-awake nightmares for Zoe and her family. With this aspect of the book, the author beautifully incorporates her love for birds and other animals. Coffey is a member of the Audubon Society and the National Wildlife Federation, and her knowledge of animals and their capabilities adds a unique dynamic that readers will not find in other books of this genre.

The fast-paced format and starring cast of characters in Zoe Lucky and the Green Gables Mystery come together to create a book that will be a popular choice in the Young Adult section of the bookstore. M. Carol Coffey does a magnificent job in appealing to an age group of readers who we all know can be difficult to please, but who are the most loyal fans once a relationship is established. I certainly can see Zoe Lucky emerging as a favorite heroine of young girls everywhere. However, I think this book will rightfully find an audience in readers of all ages. Coffey’s writing is smart and complex without being painfully obvious about the process. She slowly reveals details about her characters that will keep readers turning the page to discover more. Also a talented illustrator, Coffey adds sketches throughout the book which add a great visual element. Her ability to create suspense will have readers guessing and perhaps sitting with their mouths dropped open in shock (as mine did) as the story reaches its climax and reveals some amazing twists. M. Carol Coffey has promised that more adventures are in store for Zoe Lucky, and I am looking forward to reading them with my daughter. Perhaps she will be inspired by Zoe to set upon her own mystery adventure, just as I was prompted by Nancy Drew!

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

Captivating Conservation: Animals at the EDGE (Saving the World’s Rarest Creatures) Fabulous photos of scarce, strange and, often, sweet-looking animals and intimate glimpses of the young scientists who are working to save them make this exciting look at work of the Zoological Society of London’s EDGE of Existence Program an engaging introduction to the science of conservation.

An Adorable Adventure: Duck Tents Sweet and spunky with a tingling hint of backyard camp-out scariness, this irresistibly upbeat rhyming adventure breathes a long-awaited summer breeze.

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