Monday, March 30, 2009

Keoni’s Big Question

Patti B. Ogden
Capstone Productions (2008)
ISBN 9780981678368
Reviewed by Madeline McElroy (age 7.75) for Reader Views (2/09)

This story is about a little boy named Keoni and his friend 'Old Fisherman.' They spend a lot of time fishing together. His friend taught him a lot about fishing and being quiet and patient waiting for the fish to bite. One day a big storm came while they were fishing on the Ohio River. Keoni was really scared of storms, but his friend made him feel safe.

Keoni has a really big question he keeps asking people but nobody gives him the answer he is looking for. After many years of being friends with Old Fisherman he never thought of asking him his big question, until the day of the storm when he saw the rainbow. Keoni couldn't understand why his friend was looking at the rainbow and crying.

Keoni's question was a really good one about God. I learned something about God that I didn't think about before. When Keoni got the answer to his big question from Old Fisherman he was happier than happy! I didn't really think about seeing God until I go to Heaven. I think other Christian children would enjoy learning about God in this way too. Even some kids that don't know about God should read this book to understand God more.

My favorite part of "Keoni's Big Question" by Patti B. Ogden was when Keoni told Old Fisherman he could see God inside of him. This was so sweet. If you can see God in someone they must really be a good person.

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The Last Paradise: A Novel

Michael Kasenow
iUniverse (2009)
ISBN 9781440120015
Reviewed by Richard R. Blake for Reader Views (3/09)

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 - 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 editors choice book, is destined to establish Michael Kasenow as a serious historical fiction author.

Read interview with Michael Kasenow  

Monday, March 23, 2009

Breakaway: How I Survived Abuse

Nadia Sahari
Pink Butterfly Press (2009)
ISBN 9780982041307
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (2/09)


In "Breakaway: How I Survived Abuse" the author Nadia Sahari tells us the story of her life.  Unfortunately, many of the events that she experienced in her early years were heart-wrenching because they involved sexual and physical abuse.  She bares her soul to us as she describes horrific events that she experienced.  I think that it was important for her to do this, so that if the reader is going through the same experiences, they will know that they are not alone and that there is hope.  For a person who is not experiencing abuse, Nadia's story will give them an understanding, and answer many of the "why" questions that run through the heads of people that have not had these experiences, such as, "Why didn't she tell anybody?" 

In addition to dealing with the abuse, Nadia also had issues regarding being from a different culture.  Being of Lebanese descent, her family was not receptive to her mixing with the Americans.  She endured a great deal of abuse from her father, for going against him on this issue.  Her family also tried to keep her very na├»ve about life, which set her up for being in situations where she did not know how to handle herself.  The fact that she was a good person at heart, really shined through the pages, and made my heart go out to her.  She endured abuse and betrayal by family members, then a spouse.  In the end though, Nadia came out on top.  This will give women who are in similar situations much hope.  She also offers a list of resources to access for more information and help.

I loved reading "Breakaway: How I Survived Abuse" because it taught me how strong someone can be, and also to never give up hope.  Others will see this message as well.  I hated that it had to be a true story, because of the amount of pain and suffering Nadia was forced to endure.  This is not something that a person could wish on anybody.  By sharing her story with the world, Nadia Sahari has made her life story one that will inspire others.  I admire her for being willing to do this.  I think that everyone should read this book.

Read interview with Nadia Sahari

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.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Like a Good Neighbor

Dwayne Murray, Sr.
Madbo Enterprises (2009)
ISBN 9780976985525
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (2/09) 

A word of warning – unless you enjoy violence to the max, this book is not for you. If you are anything like me, you won't be able to finish it in one sitting; and unless you are really determined, you won't finish it at all. If, on the other hand, brutal murders, suicides, mutilations, rape of juveniles, death of babies, burn marks on bodies, and other assorted kinds of violence rock your boat, this is the one book you've been waiting for.

I find it difficult to assess this book fairly, since the world in it is so far removed from the one I choose to live in and was blessed enough to be born into as well. Let me make one thing very clear – I do not condemn anybody for living a life different from mine. Life is all about making choices, and we are free to make the any way we want. But such utter wickedness and unlimited capacity for violence make my head hurt, to say the least. They also make me be thankful for being who I am and where I am in my life right now. Yet I have to admit that in its own way, this is a brilliant book. The author has a very distinctive voice, and his descriptions of urban life of a significant percentage of the United States' population are priceless. His characters are three-dimensional and so fantastically twisted that one has to be fascinated by them. To keep matters more interesting, the one that should be the good one, the beautiful and seductive Raven, is anything but good; and the other that should be the bad one, the drug addict Crystal, will surprise everybody with her platinum character. The tale of the beautiful Raven, blowing into the lives of the tenants at 666 Cypress Avenue in Bronx like a welcome fresh breath of air; and then doing her best to blow them apart like a tornado, will make anybody think twice about moving into any building carrying the unlucky number 666…

Dwayne Murray's "Like a Good Neighbor" is not a pretty book, but it is decidedly a powerful one. Keeping it real is an important attribute, and they do not come much more real than this.

Read interview with Dwayne Murray
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Thor Polson
Athena Press (2007)
ISBN 9781844017317
Reviewed by Danelle Drake for Reader Views (11/08)

Inside the plain, grey, non-descript cover of "Childsong" is, in my opinion, a work of literary genius.  Sometimes the most difficult book to read can be the most rewarding, and, as you read becomes more and more interesting.

Examining and putting forward the turbulent environment of college students anywhere and  at any time makes any specification of place and time necessary, thus the writer does not give an exact location or an exact date  For those that focus on detail this may be hard to overcome but this dismissal of information lends to the universal relevance of the characters.

I could see myself, as you will be able to see yourself, among the group of self-centered, free-wheeling, fun-loving college students.  We are not always proud of who-we-were during those years of discovery but every experience you go through makes you grow stronger.  With characters that are not all good or all bad, we read of a group that is loveable and dislikeable all in one.  Sometimes, and definitely in this case, extraordinary things transpire in the most ordinary of circumstances.

With "Childsong," Thor Polson uses his talent with words to create a piece of work that was definitely worth the twenty-year wait.  This is not meant to be an easy read, but once you become engrossed in the story, and you will, you will not put this book down.  When you are reading the final sentence ("They sat silently in the park and listened to the wind in the trees.") you will realize life is what you make of it.

Read interview with Thor Polson

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Tethered Goat

Nicholas Winer
YouWriteOn (2008)
ISBN 9781849231268
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (2/09) 

Africa… the mysterious continent… jungles, wild animals, great kingdoms… exotic beauties, majestic cities, bright colors… genocide, famine, diamond mines… Let's face it; most of us have some preconceived notions of Africa. And a good few of us are utterly fascinated by it, maybe even ventured as far as traveling there a time or two. I'll gladly admit to being one of those people. As the luck would have it, I managed to spend several months in Africa, yet there is so much I do not know about it. Nicholas Winer's "The Tethered Goat" introduced me to a part of Africa that was new to me, and totally different from the one I know. His Africa is slightly desperate, totally corrupt and immensely intriguing, and I'll remain forever grateful to Mr. Winer for the reminder that one should not romanticize anything too much.

Mark Delama is a young, very idealistic aid worker, stationed in Ethiopia during the Mengistu's rule. His idealistic viewpoint is slowly, but surely being shattered the more he deals with a variety of corrupt politicians, policemen and assorted thugs posing as the good guys. In a short period of time he's been arrested, threatened by a variety of officials and also made aware of the dangerous games some of the highly placed locals are playing for personal gain. There are several moving side-plots, involving the local people, most notably a young Sudanese freedom fighter, Gatwech, who becomes a pawn in a dirty game of power; and Mr. Belai, an old man who wants to do the right thing for his family, but pays dearly for that desire. Those two are loosely connected by Lucy, whose character is not my favorite in the book; and I dare to say most readers will agree with me after having read the book. There are plenty other villains in it, some more likeable than others, and some of them utterly intriguing, Tesfaye probably being the most unexpected one. This heady mix of international intrigue (my favorite being the games Americans and British play with each other), oppressive local brand of Communism, exploitation of locals, sparkly emeralds, the heady scents and flavors of Africa as well as some breathtakingly beautiful descriptions of Africa is cleverly intermingled with scenes from Mark's private life and his developing love story with a young American journalist, Val. Author's love and knowledge of Africa are very much evident, and his descriptions are powerful and make a real impact.

I would recommend "The Tethered Goat" by Nicholas Winer to anybody interested in the politics of the 80s, the real Africa or anybody who enjoys a fast-moving, thrilling and hard-hitting story. I am looking forward for more illuminating reading from this talented author.

The Legend of Moon Mountain: Ruwenzori A Fable for Every Age

AuthorHouse (2008)
ISBN 9781434341570
Reviewed by Brenna Bales (age 11) for Reader Views Kids (2/09)


In this wonderful, historically-based narrative by PapaGino, the main character, Shani, creates an entire new world while also finding her own. Overall, the book was fantastic, but I feel that it jumped around a lot, and at times, went a little too fast. Although the book's storyline was excellent, it seemed to have a lot of grammatical errors.

Shani is a very outgoing young girl whose personality will inspire many young readers. In the book, the people of the Kush realize that wherever Shani's descendants are living that their great ancestors will be found there as well. Shani's experiences show us that we are always surrounded by the people we love, and the people who love us. I learned that you can accomplish your goals and dreams if you really put your mind to it.

Anyone between the ages of 6 and 9 would enjoy this book, even though there are some difficult pronunciations. It would be a really good book to read to a young child or a toddler. My favorite part was when the king explained how the great ancestors were present wherever their descendants were.

When PapaGino writes in the future, I would like to see more detail and explanation as to what happens over the course of the 100 years that were left out in the story. Each chapter in "The Legend of Moon Mountain" was very entertaining, and kept the story moving forward. I could feel the emotions of the characters on every page. The story definitely keeps your attention. The author gets the message of the story across superbly, and I look forward to reading many more of his books.

Read interview with author

Monday, March 2, 2009

Life: An Autobiography as Told by Jack Gunthridge

Jack Gunthridge
CreateSpace (2008)
ISBN 9781434843326
Reviewed by Avni Gupta (age 15) for Reader Views (1/09)

"Life: An Autobiography as Told by Jack Gunthridge" was actually a lot better than I expected it to be. When I got it, I was really disappointed by how small it was. When I started reading it, however, I started liking it. It was pretty graphic though, so if you haven't heard about sex (or haven't learned about it at school), you definitely don't want to read it until you know that stuff. There are sexual innuendos all over the place. It was actually a really good book though.

It starts out with Jack telling that he has to write an autobiography for a project. He starts out telling about himself and Christine. The whole book is told from different people's perspectives, Jack's narrating his part of the story and then Christine and Jack's other friends telling other parts.

My absolute favorite part about the book was the cover. The bear showed that the author is still young at heart even though he isn't a child anymore. The word life written in rainbow font shows that even though life gives you lemons at times, if you look at everything the bright way, nothing will ever seem that bad.

Overall, I would say that this book was good, but kind of confusing. A lot of times, I couldn't tell what was happening so I had to reread passages or even chapters to understand what the author was getting at. When the point of view changes throughout the book, many times you are left wondering as to what has happened in the pages that you have just read.

Confusing parts aside, this was a very cute love story that showed loss and gain and how one girl helped a guy find himself and learn who he should really be. I would recommend "Life: An Autobiography as Told by Jack Gunthridge" to anyone on a voyage to find their self, because once you have seen someone else's insight into their life, your life becomes easier to understand.

The Illustrated History of Hypnotism: From Franz Anton Mesmer to Milton H. Erickson

John C. Hughes
National Guild of Hypnotists, Inc. (2008)
ISBN 9781885846143
Reviewed by Irene Watson for Reader Views (1/09)

Authority on the history of hypnotism, John C. Hughes captures the complete timeline from ancient times to the modern era in "The Illustrated History of Hypnotism."  Although Hughes' in-depth research takes the reader (and student) back when German doctor Franz Anton Mesmer, considered to be the first practitioner of hypnotism, discovered "animal magnetism" he does explain that trance states go back to the beginning of the human race. Since Mesmer's work was more accepted because of the scientific connotations the term "mesmerism" was used until James Braid, a Scottish surgeon, coined the term "hypnosis" over a hundred and fifty years ago. Also, concentrating on the father of hypnotism, Hughes details Mesmer's life and achievements.

Hypnotism, prevalent in Europe, was attempted to be introduced to America by Marquis de Lafayette just after the Revolutionary War. Immediately before sailing to America he wrote a letter to George Washington introducing Mesmer's discovery of animal magnetism and the promise to reveal the secret. However, after Lafayette arrived and was wined and dined by the Thirteen States, he didn't even mention it. At that time the notion of hypnotism dropped until the 1840s when Charles Poyen, a French missionary, brought it up again.  However, erroneous notions surrounded the art and didn't excel in America as proponents has expected.  It wasn't until after the Civil War that Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, a follower of Poyen, became a skillful hypnotist and during the six years (1860-1866) of his practice treated over twelve thousand persons.

From that time on, but not without struggle of acceptance, hypnotism for healing purposes excelled.  In 1976 Milton H. Erickson, well known as the American forerunner of hypnotism, received the newly created Benjamin Franklin Gold Metal Award for the highest level of achievement in the theory and practice of hypnotism. Hypnotism is widely used and accepted today for healing purposes by medical professionals as well as certified hypnotherapists. 

When the opportunity came up for me to review this book, I was elated.  Being a former certified practitioner of hypnotherapy I still have my interests in the modality and was pleased to re-visit the history. John C. Hughes is a master writer of history.  "The Illustrated History of Hypnotism" brings out his skills, not only as a writer of history but also as an authority in the field of hypnotism. Hughes' work is well researched, concise, and educational.   Every student and practitioner of hypnotism must consider adding this book to their library of resources, as well as every school that teaches this modality must add it to their curriculum.  I highly recommend this classic!