Reviewer: Sarah Moore for WITS (01/2009)
My Choice—My Life: Realizing Your Ability to Create Balance in Life
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.
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.
More Than Meets the Eye, True Stories About Death, Dying, and Afterlife
Author: Yvonne Perry
Pages: 166 pgs.
My Dirty Little Secrets - Steroids, Alcohol and God: The Tony Mandarich Story
Tony Mandarich and Sharon Shaw Elrod
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
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
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.