Monday, November 30, 2009

Will & Dena: Love and Life in World War II

Bob Rogers
Booklocker (2009)
ISBN 9780615310350
Reviewed by Richard R. Blake for Reader Views (11/09)


"Will & Dena: Love and Life in World War II" is a work of fiction based on the heroism of real people. Although the names of the primary characters have been changed, with the exception of Oakton and Cardinal County the references to historic men and women, the organizations, events, and places, are real.
During the years of the economic tyranny of the great depression, of lynching, and of the growth of Fascism, Lil' Will struggles as a lumberjack working with his father.  He falls in love with Dena, the local pastor's daughter. Early conflict reflects the prevalence of class distinction even within families when Dena's mother aspires to link her daughter with a more affluent young man in the community.
Young Will excels as an amateur baseball player.  A group of influential white businessmen have a devised plan to exploit Will's incredible intuitive baseball skills for financial profit by breaking "unwritten laws" of no black athletes on white teams. Their plan is foiled when the Ku Klux Klan counters with extreme measures of scare tactics and murder.
Will is forced to flee for his life, is aided by the local judge to change his identity and to enlist in the army. Will and Dena are secretly married. They are representative of millions of other young couples caught in the depredation of World War II. Will is assigned to the US Army's 366th Infantry Regiment and the 92nd Infantry Division fighting Hitler s Wehrmacht in Tuscany, Italy. 
Will becomes bonded with three members of his infantry platoon. They become friends, like a tight-knit family. Together they experience the hateful use of court-martial and the war crimes of Wehrmacht.  Facing the hardships of ongoing prejudice and both physical and verbal abuse, the four friends try to make the best of army life.  They have an ongoing debate among themselves, defending their own unique reasons why they should fight the Germans and the fight to over turn the injustice and hatred behind the Jim Crow laws.
Rogers, a former army captain, Vietnam War veteran, and a charter member of Baltimore, MD's 9th and 10th (Horse) Cavalry Association is an avid baseball fan. He is well qualified to author this timely and thought-provoking novel.
Rogers' careful attention to dialog consistent with the time, culture, and geographical setting, his strong word choices, and excellent characterizations, and story transitions give life to his complex plot.
"Will & Dena: Love and Life in World War II" is historical fiction at its best. Bob Rogers skillfully conveys the irony of a country that combats racism abroad while simultaneously promoting a most menacing form of racism within its own borders. Rogers uses the platform of fiction to communicate a valuable message relevant to today's reader.

The Divine Theory of Everything: Book 1 Wanderer

Robert D. Berger
Llumina Press (2009)
ISBN 9781605942841
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (10/09) 

Fantasy can be a very tricky genre. Take it too far into the "unknown" and you risk being incomprehensible. Stay too close to the "reality," whatever that might really be, and your reader will quickly lose interest. Finding a balance between those two is never easy, and sustaining it throughout a book even less so. Robert D. Berger's  "The Divine Theory of Everything" succeeds remarkably well in doing just this, mostly by using many known elements, yet combining them  in a new and oftentimes slightly challenging way.
Of the many perplexing questions that humankind has faced throughout generations, the one of evolution versus creation is surely at the very top of the list. When one combines this with the other impenetrable dilemma, that of the obvious duality of the world surrounding us, a raging battle has to ensue, be it inside the hero or in the world surrounding him. When the hero battles an internal battle while fighting tangible enemies in extremely hostile environment, you can be assured of a wild and hair-rising tale.
Steve Morgan is snatched from his safe, if somewhat stagnant life, and thrown in the midst of an epic battle between the forces of the evil and those of good. The balance in the world has been upset, and without restoring the proper order, the world is surely going to end. The existence of two worlds, one of science and one of magic, is revealed to Steve and he is rigorously trained for a journey that does not seem to have a clear destination and a known path. While he can choose some of the elements himself, the rest is in the hands of divine destiny. He is thrust into the world of magic, and begins his wandering that ultimately should alter the course of the raging battle fought between the evil and the good.
While I detected many influences and echoes from books and other diverse sources, ranging anywhere from the world of Tolkien over Battleship Galactica and back to Plato, "The Divine Theory of Everything" by Robert D. Berger remained fresh and engaging. Although moving slightly too slowly at times, and with an ending that disappointed in its abruptness and "middle of the action" termination,  I have to admit I am eagerly waiting for the sequel. With an ending of this nature, one must surely be coming soon.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ferdinand Uses the Potty: An Empowering Toilet Training Tale

Jay Tucker
Loving Healing Press (2009)
ISBN 9781932690828
Reviewed by Cayden (age 5) and Max (age 3) Aures and Mom for Reader Views (10/09)


"Ferdinand Uses the Potty" by Jay Tucker is a book about a frog who is potty training.  The opening page reads: "T'was the middle of the night some time ago, and our friend Ferdinand was in slumber.  While dreaming of race cars and candied bugs, he felt a leak that required a plumber!"  Ferdinand is confused as he can't figure out what the problem is and thinks that he might have a leaky ceiling.  When he wakes up in the morning he told his friend what had happened and his friend told him that it was because he had wet the bed.  His friend reassures Ferdinand that it had happened to him to when he was little too.  The friend tells Ferdinand to use the potty and then his bed won't be wet anymore, but Ferdinand is afraid of the sound that the toilet makes when it flushes.  Ferdinand tries to get around using the potty, but finds out that the only way that it is going to work is if he actually does it.
Here are comments from my two boys:
Cayden:  "I thought it was funny that the frog didn't know that he wet the bed in the beginning and he thought it was the roof leaking and he needed an umbrella!  I liked the rhymes in the book and the end when the frog goes potty."
Max:  "This was a funny book!  I liked when the frog wasn't scared of the potty anymore, but it said he won't wet the bed anymore because he uses the potty now.  But I use the potty now too and sometime I wet the bed still, how come?"
As you can see, my children really enjoyed the story although Max, who has been using the potty for about six months, still has a bed-wetting accident here and there and couldn't figure out why the frog wouldn't have accidents sometimes too. 
Overall though, I thought that "Ferdinand Uses the Potty" by Jay Tucker was a very creative book and really enjoyed the rhyming text throughout the book.  The writing was humorous and delivered a positive message.  I really think that this would be a fun book to use when potty-training your child.


Amber Lehman
Closet Case Press (2009)
ISBN 9780979593369
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (11/09) 


Let's face it - growing up is a terribly confusing process. One day you are playing with dolls or cars, and then all of a sudden you start noticing boys or girls, and maybe both. Finding out who one is and what one really wants can be a long and oftentimes painful process and more often than not, the adolescent has few, if any people, who can really help with the ensuing confusion. Amber Lehman's "Torn" is a brave and candid book about a group of teenagers searching for their identities and dealing with everyday school and family issues.
When she transfers from a Catholic school in Ohio to a public school in California, fourteen-year-old Krista McKinley's life changes rapidly Very quickly she is befriended by Carrie and Brandon, who in turn introduce her to a bunch of other teens and Krista's life suddenly does not look so bleak. But teens will be teens and a simple game of truth or dare threatens to shake Krista's life and her beliefs to the core. Is she gay? Is she straight? Does she love Carrie? Or maybe Daemon? Or is it somebody else who has really captured her heart?
"Torn" frankly and openly speaks about the realities of life faced by today's teens. It touches upon the subjects of homosexuality, drugs, underage drinking, date rape, statutory rape, STDs, dysfunctional families, absent parents and more. Ms. Lehman's writing is very fluid and vivid, and her characters colorful, believable and likeable. I particularly enjoyed learning more about Brandon, and I found him the best developed and most thoroughly explained character in the story. Although some of the dilemmas the teens in the book faced did not really resonate with me personally, I definitely see the value of speaking about those matters in the straightforward way that Ms. Lehman used. There was one slightly jarring note in the book for me, namely the way the adults in the book dealt with the issues of underage sex, use of drugs, alcohol and the borderline improper sexual conduct with the minor. I would have liked it better if the book made it clearer that none of those is a good idea and that they are all both illegal and highly dangerous. While I am definitely not closing my eyes against the reality, and I do realize all of those things do and will happen, I would have really liked the book better if the consequences of such behavior would have been more emphasized and the instances of it shown in a less permissive way.
Having said that, I would like to commend Ms. Lehman on a courageous and well written book; "Torn" could certainly help any teenager who feels alone, abandoned and confused.  And I am quite certain that would be quite a large percentage.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Jamie and the Angel: Meeting Her Guardian Angel

Carol Guy
Marvelous Spirit Press (2009)
ISBN 9781615990023
Reviewed by Grace (age 5) and Ella (age 4) Gleichner and Mom for ReaderViewsKids
"Jamie and the Angel" is the story of a very shy, young girl and the amazing revelation that changes her life.
Jamie felt different from other children but wasn't able to understand why she felt sad inside.  She longed to have friends but she was teased and made fun of so this wasn't a possibility.  Add to this a home life with an older brother who didn't want to be bothered, a military father who was gone a lot, and a mother who was very busy, and it's easy to understand how Jamie would feel sad.
Grace:  "I felt bad that the other kids made fun of her.  It's not like that at my school."
Ella: "The other kids should be nice.  I would play with her and share my toys."
Jamie could see things that others couldn't.  Things like people standing over children in school trying to help.  When Jamie tried to explain what she was seeing, her parents told her it was just her imagination.  She felt very alone.
One night, Jamie had a long conversation with God and asked for help in understanding what was happening to her.   Soon after, she meets her Guardian Angel who reveals to Jamie that what she has experienced is a gift and that it's okay.
Grace: "The Angels wings are really pretty.  She seems nice; I'd like to meet my Guardian Angel."
Ella: "She is pretty but I think I would be scared if I saw an Angel." 
Grace: "I'm glad that the Angel made her feel better and made her happy."
The author did an admirable job of explaining the concept of a special gift in the case of clairvoyance through the eyes of a young girl and showing how it impacted her life.  While this book took a decidedly spiritual look at clairvoyance, I believe that anyone could read this book and find a way for them to deal with their own special gift.  I enjoyed the part where Jamie's parents dismissed her concerns as an overactive imagination. This may seem like a curious choice as a favorite part but it was this particular exchange that reminded me as a parent to listen to my children and always try to be sure of the difference between imagination and genuine concern. For children, everything is new and different, and sometimes that can be scary. Helping our children understand all the new and different things they experience is one of our most important jobs as parents.

The illustrations by Richa Kinra brought the book to life and helped explain the story to children as young as mine.

I was impressed at the author's ability to take such a complex subject and put it in a story that young children such as mine could enjoy as well as children in elementary or middle school. Maybe that's really my favorite part of "Jamie and the Angel" by Carol Guy, the fact that there's something everyone can take away from the story. That is this book's special gift.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Black Road 2012

Jeffrey A. Friedberg
INDI Publishing Group (2009)
ISBN 9780978924720
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views


"Black Road 2012" is book one in a four-part book series called "Empire of the Gods: The God Conspiracy."  After reading the first one, I cannot wait to get my hands on the rest when they become available.  Like a dangerous addictive substance, I was hooked immediately.
Jack Vane is an aging, injured, ex-private eye.  He is head over heels over his much younger, beautiful, pregnant wife.  When she and the twins that she is carrying are brutally murdered, his whole world appears to collapse. But in reality something in him has awakened.  As he discovers that there is much more to her death than meets the eye, he finds himself evolving into something more.  He learns that he is a key player in an ancient prophecy that involves a Sumerian relic.  He also discovers he now has a darkness within that at times threatens to overwhelm him.
As Jack continues to investigate who caused his wife's death, he learns there are three potential groups involved.  Each one is seeking the mysteriously powerful relic for their groups' own means.  Initially, Jack is not quite sure what is happening to him, he just knows that one of the three groups was involved with his wife's murder. He is more interested in seeking revenge than anything else.  As time passes he realizes he could benefit from learning more about the prophecy and how it involves him.  He must do this to stay alive and possibly save the world.
"Black Road 2012" is an incredible book.  The characters are well developed and very interesting. The scenes are vividly detailed, so that you feel like you are watching what is happening instead of reading about it.  Friedberg has done an excellent job with creating a plot that has so many twists and turns, you will feel like you are on a rollercoaster ride -- a really intense one.  As a matter of fact, while I didn't hold my hands up in the air and scream, I did find myself holding my breath, covered in goose bumps, wishing that I could shut my eyes, but of course since I needed to be able to read the print to move on with the story, I had to keep them open. I highly recommend "Black Road 2012" by Jeffrey A. Friedberg.

Murderous Intellectuals: German Elites and the Nazi SS

Jonathan Maxwell
American Book Publishing (2009)
ISBN 9781589825635
Reviewed by Richard R. Blake for Reader Views

"Murderous Intellectuals: German Elites and the Nazi SS" is written as the result of Jonathan Maxwell's keen interest in the history and background of World War II. Extensive reading from the writings of acclaimed authors like William Shirer, Simon Wiesenthal, and Ian Robertson fed his interest and influenced his conclusions regarding the desensitized values and actions of the social and political climate of the days preceding World War II in the world and of the Nazi SS in particular.
Holocaust writers Yehuda Bauer, Wofgang Benz, Deborah Dwork, and Jan Van Pelt alerted him to the dangers of another Holocaust. His book is a wake-up call to world leaders and conscientious citizens to take proactive steps to break the cycle of neo-Nazism, the Ku Klux Klan, and other terrorist groups. His work is unique in that he addresses the corrupt rancorous personalities, and the vicious actions of the German elites and intellectuals, their influence in leadership and their role behind the scenes in the Nazi SS.
I found the chapter dealing with murderous intellectuals throughout history particularly disturbing. Stories of the Spanish conquest depict carnage of horrific sadism, genocide, and atrocities of torture on a parallel with the Nazi SS during in the years leading up to and during World War II. Can we afford another Holocaust?
Theories of the motivation behind the diabolical programs of death, destruction, and the barbaric behavior of these men and women of intellect take into account ten theories for consideration. They include a discussion looking at personal reasons, sadism, genetics, and Nationalism. Other Germans did nothing to combat the Nazi regime because of fear.
Maxwell draws from the writings of Ian Robertson in his discussion of Nazi idealism, and the nature of German society, authoritarian government, and totalitarianism. He concludes: "The Nazi elites were motivated by simple evil, seduced by the desire of stature and as of personal fear." He also maintains that: "Today's Germans thoroughly repudiate both anti-Semitism and Fascism." Maxwell provides an important analysis of the danger of a modern technology, stockpiling weapons, and the influence of the media in an atmosphere fired by hatred, deception and conspiracy. He talks about the conflicted and dual personalities of Nazi military leaders, scientists, lawyers, doctors, and educators of the SS their unsavory reputations, and their vindictiveness.
Maxwell provides a comprehensive list of the resources he used in his research. He documented his quotes, and also provided an extensive index to assist the reader in additional study, reference, or review of the material covered within the book.
"Murderous Intellectuals" by Jonathan Maxwell has a wide-reaching appeal, is convincing, compelling and highly readable. The book is packed with insight into the minds, personalities, and the moral compass of the German elites and the Nazi SS. Maxwell's writing graphically details the results of bigotry, morbid sadism, and the seductive nature of an evil influenced by ethnic hatred, dysfunction, greed, and a hunger for power.

Listen to interview with Jonathan Maxwell on Inside Scoop Live

Monday, November 2, 2009

Coming Home to My Heart: For Inner Peace

Donna Solitario
Outskirts Press (2009)
ISBN 9781432734923
Reviewed by William Phenn for Reader Views

In as little as 132 pages, the author has packed an amazing amount of heartfelt emotional verse. From the reminiscence of a child to the wisdom of an adult, Donna has revealed her life and views of life as told in verse and prose.
Her memories begin with the tragedy of knowing she was an unwanted child born into a dysfunctional family. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother a drug abuser, making for a hellish home life. The verse is heart retching to say the least, told with vivid recollection as if it were only yesterday. Ms. Solitario is quite thorough in her descriptions of her mother and father. Comparing herself to Cinderella, she tells of being the scapegoat for the whole family. Picked on in school and at home, she finally breaks out.
"Coming Home to My Heart" has a brighter side too. The brighter side is full of wisdom and moral values. Donna speaks of praying and keeping the faith, how she turned herself over to God and entrusted him with her life. She stresses the importance of a belief in a higher power, whatever that power may be for any individual.
The author is thankful to so many people in her life and expresses it very well in such fine verse as, "Debbie (A Special Strong Woman of God)," "Dawn," "Erica," and even has a special birthday poem for her Mom and Dad. There is so much in the way of encouragement for young people in her book that it makes for good reading for young adults. With passages like "Rise Above and Succeed" where she stresses the need to keep the focus on one's self and "Believe," which tells the reader to "hold on to your dreams, never give up."
I have nothing but praise for Donna Solitario and her book "Coming Home to My Heart." It is written in a moral fashion without having to resort to graphic violence or adult content.  "Coming Home to My Heart" is a wholesome and family-oriented book that will appeal to a general audience and is intended for all. I gave it an A and consider it to be one of the better books I have read so far this year.
Listen to interview with Donna Solitario on Inside Scoop Live
Read interview with Donna Solitario

In and Out of Madness

N. L. Snowden
Sneakaboard Press (2009)
ISBN 9780977476770
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (10/09) 
"In and Out of Madness" is one of the most disturbing, yet also one of the most powerful books I've read in a long time. Carrying an intriguing subtitle of "A fictionalized account of a true experience," it left me wondering what is it that propels some people into madness while others seem to benefit from the harsh experiences life deals them and simply careen into growing stronger and more resilient.
The book's protagonist, Lee Thames, is somebody who seems to attract violence, be it physical or emotional, throughout her life. Having grown up with an abusive grandmother and no less abusive mother, she briefly seems to find solace in the arms of her first husband. That happiness does not last and his actions - as well as his inactions - push Lee into a series of affairs, which, although endorsed by her husband, certainly contribute to the demise of her first marriage. Her second marriage becomes her true undoing. Cursed with an honest desire to please her husband, and almost unbearably willing to trust him, Lee gets entangled in an intricate web woven by her husband Joe, a slick talker who lies, cheats and exploits her in every possible way. The one bright spot of her existence, which luckily remains consistent, is her daughter Jolly.
The book begins with Lee escaping from a mental facility after an unsuccessful suicide attempt. She decides to take revenge on her husband, Joe. Planning a perfect murder, Lee revisits the events that lead to this powerful decision, thus familiarizing the reader with the way her mind works.
N. L. Snowden's writing is sharp, precise and powerful. The story grabs you quickly and most certainly does not let go. I found it strangely fascinating, somewhat akin to picking on a dried scab on one's knee when we were children. Yes, it hurts, but... Reading "In and Out of Madness" was much like that. Parts of me wanted to put it down, feeling like I was intruding on somebody's most private thoughts. My always inquisitive mind was dead set on finding what happens next. And I was not disappointed. This is definitely a book that I would recommend to anybody who loves solid, tight writing and to anybody who's curious about the ways people's minds work, especially in case of multiple personalities disorder coupled with a bi-polar condition. Enlightening, powerful and strangely uplifting, this is one of those books that will haunt you for a long time.