Monday, May 25, 2009

The Light, the Dark, and Ember Between

J. W.  Nicklaus
Bedside Books (2009)
ISBN 9781589825055
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (4/09)

Short stories usually leave me cold. I guess I am one of those readers that loves to really get into a big, thick book and who enjoys getting to know the characters through their gradual development and situations that they find themselves in. This kind of a development and depth tend to be lacking in most short stories, therefore I usually do not pick them up. In the case of "The Light, the Dark, and Ember Between" by J.W. Nicklaus I am certainly glad that I went against my self-imposed rule.

"The Light, the Dark, and Ember Between" contains fifteen stories, fifteen perfectly drawn worlds, although we get to see most of them only during a short glimpse. Most of them bittersweet, but filled with light, hope and love, they lead the readers into a series of worlds both alike and very different from their own. J. W. Nicklaus has a gift of making the ordinary appear exquisitely extraordinary, and to make us take the second and oftentimes the third look at something small and seemingly insignificant. His characters come alive, their actions and reactions are well grounded and believable, yet still astonishing. His writing is precise, yet playful and sparkly.

"The Light, the Dark, and Ember Between" is the kind of a book one should keep by the bedside or maybe in the car for those moments when we need a little lifting of our spirits, or just a slight boost to our day. Each of the stories is precious, and each is different. And every single one will remind you of the universal truth, taught in my favorite of those fifteen, "The Paper Doll" – 'Love is the reason you'll never be alone.'

Billy Had To Move

Theresa Ann Fraser, CYW, B.A.
Loving Healing Press (2009)
ISBN 9781932690873
Reviewed by Ben Weldon (age 11) for Reader Views (3/09):

"Billy Had To Move" by Theresa Ann Fraser is the story of seven-year-old Billy who lives with his grandmother because his mother can't care for him and now cannot be found.  When his grandmother dies, Billy is heartbroken, and there is no one to care for him.  Mr. Murphy, the social worker from Child Protection Services, places him in a foster home.  Even though Billy likes his foster family, he misses his cat and his grandma and lots of things from his old life.  All the sadness and anxiety are causing him to have stomachaches and headaches.  Will Billy be able to become a happy child again?
It's a pretty short book, twenty-five pages including several full-page pictures, but it does give some insight into what it might be like to be a foster child.  It also lets kids know what play therapy is.  When Mr. Murphy the social worker first introduces Billy to Mrs. Woods, the "feelings doctor," Billy is afraid that he is going to get a shot.  He comes to realize that the play therapist is very nice and that she has all kinds of neat things to play with in her office.  When Billy left Mrs. Woods' office he felt a lot better and more relaxed.  He even thought that the play therapist might be able to help him get rid of his sick feelings.

I think this book would be useful to foster kids, so they don't feel so alone and so they know there are people like social workers and foster parents and play therapists who want to help them.  This book would also help other kids to understand the hard things that foster children have to endure.

Note from Mother: The preceding review was written by my eleven-year-old son.  As a mother, I wanted to add a few additional comments about the book.  "Billy Had To Move" is a very thoughtfully-written book that has an uplifting message for children in sad situations.  I enjoyed how the author was able to share the genuinely child-like thoughts that were zipping through Billy's mind.  When the social worker pulled Billy out of class to tell him something "really sad," Billy wonders if he is in trouble because "you never knew what grown ups would think is wrong."  He looks at the social workers shoes, wonders when he learned to tie his shoes, and compares them to the shiny red shoes of his previous social worker.  The book is valuable in reminding adults that a child's response and questions to a death or a move may be very different from that of an adult.

I also read "Billy Had To Move" to my four- and seven-year-old sons.  They thought that Billy had a sad life but were happy at the end of the book because they thought Billy would get better.   I suspect they would have been even more attentive to the book had there been a few more illustrations.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A World of His Own: In the Land of the Creoles

Arlette Gaffrey
Outskirts Press (2008)
ISBN 9780978889104
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (4/09)

André de Javon, a young man who was whisked out of France before the French Revolution claimed the lives of his parents, has decided to seek his fortune in the New World. A chance encounter with Charles du Fray on the ship crossing the ocean makes him pick New Orleans as his new home. Once there, he's warmly welcomed by Charles' family and introduced to people who matter, among them two who will greatly change his life. One of them is Jean-Claude Charlevoix, a smart, successful and rich planter with a young daughter, Julie. M. Charlevoix will become instrumental in André's choice of career and in his successful introduction to the life of planters. The second person is Gabrielle Ste. Claire, a very charming and very spoiled young lady, who immediately sets her sight on marrying André. Although it becomes clear rather early that Gabrielle is of the "pretty is as pretty does" kind, and what she does is not pretty, André succumbs to her charms – or maybe simply to his lust – and ends up marrying her. In so doing, he breaks the heart of Julie Charlevoix, who "was hurrying to grow up to be able to marry him," but was not quick enough.

The marriage to Gabrielle proves to be a nightmare, and after a series of horrific events Gabrielle ends up dead, leaving André with the child she conceived with another man and also with the realization that he has never loved her and was in fact in love with the sweet Julie from the start. Does he still stand a chance with Julie or is all lost?

"A World of His Own" is a sweet and in many ways a very touching story, made even more so with the great amount of references to New Orleans and Louisiana - their history, culture and people. Opening the book at random, here are just a few of them: the Ursuline convent, quadroon balls, sugar cane, cotton, plantations, galleries, lagniappe, pralines, Congo Square, voodoo, Jean Lafitte, General Andrew Jackson, coffee shops… If any of them are unfamiliar to you, you need a refresher in New Orleans living, so come on over and visit as soon as possible!

I found "A World of His Own" by Arlette Gaffrey a pleasant and enjoyable book, and one that fans of romances in historic settings will enjoy for sure.

Sailing on an Ocean of Tears

Donna Kendall
Crystal Dreams Publishing (2009)
ISBN 9781591460879
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (4/09)

Donna Kendall's "Sailing on an Ocean of Tears" is one of those books that truly makes you stop and think of the consequences of little acts we perform every day, sometimes quite mindlessly and unaware of a potential chain of effects we might have set in motion with one of them.  It is a book that effortlessly shows us how very much intertwined our lives are and a book that makes one think there are no coincidences in life. Morethan anything, it is a book that reinforces my belief in the beauty and wisdom of "paying it forward" and just plain living right. If you do that, there is unfortunately no guarantee that all of your wishes and heart desires might be granted, but at least you'll know you've made a difference in some other person's life.

Isabella, an Italian restaurateur who has led her life caring for others, is about to close for the night, when she discovers a homeless woman behind the restaurant's dumpster. It is pouring rain; the woman is clearly in a bad shape, so Ruth takes her in, feeds her and offers her shelter. The homeless woman, Ruth, at first refuses what she perceives as charity, but slowly opens up to Isabella and the two become friends, sharing their life stories and memories with each other. Through one of those stories they discover that they have an acquaintance in common, an unfortunate Irish woman, Bridget, whose brutally abusive husband took her children away from her. Bridget has since returned to Ireland, but is about to come visit the United States again, and the three women meet again, setting in motion an incredible chain of events, righting a good few past wrongs and easing several minds.

While at first I wished for a more conventional "happy ending" for Isabella, I have to admit that nobody knows what would make somebody else truly happy and maybe what she ended up with was exactly what she wished for. I've greatly enjoyed "meeting" all three main characters and reading about their life experiences and the ways that have deal with their challenges.

This beautifully written, deeply compassionate book with exquisitely crafted characters and a compelling story would make a good gift for a friend whose soul is troubled or for one who has helped you through some bad times.  Donna Kendall's "Sailing on an Ocean of Tears" is meant to be shared.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

At Home Abroad

Nancy Henderson-James
Plain View Press (2009)
ISBN 9780911051674
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (01/09)

Nancy Henderson-James had a childhood most of us could only imagine. Growing up in Portugal, Angola and Rhodesia as a child of missionaries, she moved back to USA during her teenage years. Having considered Africa her home as a child, the adjustment was not an easy one. What complicated the matters further was the fact that Angola, the country she seems to have felt the closest to, went through a protracted war, which lasted some 40 years, and as such was out of bounds and impossible to return to. Living in a country different from the one that you grew up in is always a challenge, as I'll readily admit myself any day. Not having the choice or a possibility to return there is just too heartbreaking to think about.

I've greatly enjoyed Nancy Henderson-James's "At Home Abroad" and I found it to be a deeply wise and courageous book. Written many decades after any and all of the described events have happened – we are talking a period during 40s to 60s here – the author used the distance to the best advantage. While it's easy to be judgmental about people whose values and upbringing differ from our own, Nancy Henderson-James learned a valuable lesson and she does not mind sharing it with the reader. If we think the people in the "new" country are different and strange, that does not make them better or worse. And as scared we might be of them, and as unsure we feel around them, they probably look at us the same way. Being different is never easy, and finding the way to fit in is and will remain a challenge.

The author's love of Africa shines in all the little scenes of everyday life she writes about. She truly brings the land and its people to life, and make one yearn for simpler, if not always gentler times. Without preaching she brings to the surface the harsh realities of a struggling continent, all the big and little inequalities and injustices we like to pretend we know nothing about. And she's not shy about admitting her own, very personal struggles – not only being transplanted at an age which tends to be difficult for every young person, but also growing up with emotionally quite distant parents, some of whose values she no longer shared as a teenager and a young adult. Seeing America and her American relatives through the eyes of a child who grew up in a very different culture was a great discovery. As for Caldo Verde and the rest of the recipes, they are sure to find their way on my menu shortly.
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Alphabet Meditations for Teachers: Everyday Wisdom for Educators

Nancy Oelklaus, EdD
Loving Healing Press (2009)
ISBN 9781932690880
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (3/09)

"Alphabet Meditations for Teachers," contains twenty-six poems that cover topics, from A through Z, which teachers will relate to. Each meaningful poem has a colorful photograph to accompany it.  The author did an awesome job of finding topics which every educator will find meaningful.  As a community college instructor of students with disabilities, I found myself totally understanding the topics that were covered.  I feel that they reach beyond the K-12 level.

Reading this book reminded me that we are here for our students, not vice versa.  Being from a variety of backgrounds it is important for us to accept them no matter what their socio-economic status is.  As educators we have to love them and believe in them no matter what.  Dr. Oelklaus's words really touched my heart.   Reminding me to replace fear with love and to accept change as it appears, makes the education world a more exciting, adventuresome place. 

"Alphabet Meditations for Teachers: Everyday Wisdom for Educators" by Nancy Oelklaus would make the perfect gift for any teacher, especially if they might be feeling burnout.  It will inspire them to remember why they chose to teach.  It also would make a perfect gift for a brand new teacher.  As they begin to experience the good and bad things that come with the profession, it will let them know that others have had the same thoughts and feelings.

Listen to interview with Nancy Oelklaus on Inside Scoop Live
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Monday, May 4, 2009

Railroad 1869: Along the Historic Union Pacific

Eugene Arundel Miller
Antelope-Press (2009)
ISBN 9780972851138
Reviewed by Ron Standerfer for Reader Views (4/09)

As a rule, I try to avoid using the term "coffee table book" when describing a book I am reviewing.  To me, this is a pejorative term denoting a common place appendage to the living room that lies mostly unnoticed and almost always unread. "Railroad 1869," by Eugene Arundel Miller has the look and feel of a coffee table book, but that's where the similarities end. Open the covers of this delightful book and you'll find yourself spending hours poring over fascinating anecdotes and historical photographs.  I guarantee it!

Those of us who stayed awake during history classes probably remember that it was not until the transcontinental railroad was built that America's western expansion truly got under way. Miller's book describes in detail the Union Pacific railroad's contribution to this monumental task. The first spike was driven by Union Pacific in Omaha, Nebraska on December 2, 1863.  Five-and-a-half years and 1094 miles later, its tracks were secured to those built by the Central Pacific railroad with a golden spike at Promontory, Utah.

The laying of Union Pacific tracks was a monumental accomplishment involving the efforts of thousands of surveyors, graders, and track layers, plus those who transported railroad ties and other supplies to the crews. During their work, the track workers faced dangers from all sides.  There were Indian raids; sudden and violent storms; snakes and other poisonous creatures; industrial accidents; floods; and some of the most forbidding terrain imaginable for such an undertaking.

While the stories of the track workers are interesting in themselves, there is another cast of characters who provide color and richness to the book.  These are the hangers-on who followed the workers throughout their journey hoping to profit from the workers vices and excesses; especially during the winter months when they were unable to work.  They were a seedy and lawless lot, that included gamblers, card sharks, swindlers, thieves, murderers and of course, the ubiquitous derringer packing women of pleasure, euphemistically call "soiled doves."

Miller writes his prose with the careful eye of a historian, relying at times on diary entries written by those that worked on the crews.  That's what makes the book so readable.  But if his text is the cake, the icing is the photographs; usually at least one per page.  Many were taken by his maternal grandfather, Arundel C. Hull as well as by notable western photographer William H Jackson and Civil War photographer Andrew J. Russell. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words; and the sight of "Big Ned," "Con" Wagner, and "Ace" Moore dangling lifelessly from a pole speaks volumes about the attitude of the good citizens of Laramie toward some of the more undesirable residents of their fair city!

"Railroad 1869" by Eugene Arundel Miller is a great read, especially for those who love history and are fascinated by trains; and it is suitable reading for both young and old.  I'm pretty sure that if you pick it up and start reading it, it will be a long time before you put it back on the coffee table; if ever!

2009 Writer Watchdog Self-Publishing Directory

Deana Riddle
New Vision Media (2009)
ISBN 9780982267493
Reviewed by Irene Watson for Reader Views (4/09)

"Find Resources – Save Money – Get Advice From The Experts" is printed on the top of the cover and that is exactly what "2009 Writer Watchdog Self-Publishing Directory" provides the potential self-publisher.  Divided into sections, the directory offers resource listings, resource information, and articles. 

The resource listings include book printers, book designers, writer organizations, book reviewers and many others to help the newbie set out on the right direction. The article list is extensive and covers all aspects of the publishing industry from the beginning to the end.

I commend Deana Riddle in creating a much needed resource book for a growing industry.  Although the book is geared toward self-publishers, this directory is also a great source for established publishers.  "2009 Writer Watchdog Self-Publishing Directory" is well designed, concise, easy to use, and most of all, useful.  It is a must-have addition to the resource shelf.

Listen to interview with Deana Riddle