Monday, April 26, 2010

LIVE Ringer

Lynda Fitzgerald
Crystal Dreams Publishing
ISBN 9781591463276
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (03/10)

Lynda Fitzgerald's "Live Ringer" is one of those books that can not be put down once you've started on it. I picked the book up in late afternoon after a long day at work, planning to read for an hour to relax. At midnight I was still up, turning the last pages of the book and holding my breath. I wanted to find out who was the villain. I also did not want it to end quite yet. But end it did, with one last, very final twist. Sleep did not come for many more hours that night. Part of my mind was churning around all of the twists and turns of this delightful read; part of it was revisiting Florida, so fascinatingly described by Ms. Fitzgerald. Even today, several days after turning that last page, I would be hard pressed to decide what I liked best – the plot, the characters, the vivid descriptions of Florida, the twisted and intertwined relationships between the characters or something else…

Allie, newly divorced and still very much unsure of herself, returns to Florida, where she used to spend some of the best times of her early life with her now deceased aunt. Having inherited her aunt's home (and – as she will soon discover– quite a few other "things"), she decides to settle down there. On the first morning after her return she stumbles upon a body of a woman on a beach not far from her home. Soon she is entangled into a very complex web of deceit, old friendships, fear, new love and much more. Fearing for her own life, she decides to fight back and discover the truth. Will that truth set her free? Or will it destroy more lives?

There is nothing boring and predictable about this book. It has enough twists and turns to keep you holding your breath for hours. The characters are believable, complex and immensely human. The situations they face, the decisions they have to make, the people they love and hate will probably make it quite easy for you to identify with at least a couple of them. Then there are the paragraphs – and pages – devoted to Florida. Ms. Fitzgerald writes about the pre-condo, non-touristy Florida, the Florida that is fast disappearing and is already missed by many. Her Florida has everyday people who actually walk their dogs, garden and talk to their neighbors; people who live in houses and not in the concrete behemoths devouring so much of Florida nowadays. Slightly nostalgic and so charming, those were some of my favorite pages in the book.

I found Lynda Fitzgerald's "Live Ringer" an altogether great read, which I would wholeheartedly recommend to anybody who enjoys a good book. A delightful mix of romance, thriller and mystery will keep most readers riveted for hours. So get a cold drink that will make you think of Florida and enjoy your journey.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Goddess Shift: Women Leading for a Change

Edited by Stephanie Marohn
Elite Books (2010)
ISBN 9781600700675
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (03/10) 

Women are supposed to be the weaker sex, or so I remember being taught in school many years ago. Having grown up some, I've often been either amused or exasperated by that description. While it is true that throughout history women were oftentimes pushed into the background, their presence nevertheless was always vital for the success of just about any endeavor their male counterparts decided to take part in. Furthermore, it does seem to me that the present times have brought a real change in that particular equation and nowadays women are found in key leadership roles in every field imaginable, whether it is arts, 

politics, science, sports, industry or anything else you could think of. While I've often heard young women complain that they do not have any real female roles models, I've tended to disagree with that and it really pleased me when I discovered "Goddess Shift," an anthology devoted to strong, wise and powerful women of today, represented by forty-three fascinating and extremely diverse ladies who are shaping and changing the world we live in.

The essays in this brilliant collection range from inspirational to sentimental, from rather reserved, deeply personal to visionary and daring. Reading through them my mood shifted from moved to amused, from astonished and bewildered to admiring and feeling really empowered. I've met a lot of old "friends" - women who made me rethink what was possible for a female to achieve back when I was growing up, women whom I've admired and respected for decades now. Through reading "Goddess Shift" edited by Stephanie Marohn, I've met a number of voices new to me, who made me decide to look deeper into what the ladies whom those voices belong to are doing to change the world.

My Invisible World: Life with My Brother, His Disability and His Service Dog

Morasha R. Winokur
Better Endings New Beginnings (2009)
ISBN 9780984200702
Reviewed by Evan Weldon (age 7) for Reader Views (11/09)

"My Invisible World: Life with My Brother, His Disability and His Service Dog" by eleven-year-old Morasha R. Winokur is an excellent book about what it is like for the author to live with her disabled brother and his service dog.

Morasha and her brother Iyal are both the same age.  They were adopted from Russia.  When Iyal was still in his mother's womb, his birth mother drank some alcohol.  What the mother eats and drinks is what the baby eats and drinks, too.  Alcohol damages the developing brain in the baby, destroying some of the brain cells that help control behavior, thinking, learning and remembering things.  This kind of disability is called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

Life is hard for Iyal.  Sometimes, if he is even thinking of Morasha, he will scream out her name for a really long time.  Iyal needs a lot of attention from his parents, so sometimes Morasha feels like she doesn't get any attention.  Sometimes Iyal embarrasses her in front of her friends, and sometimes keeps her from being able to do things she wants to do.  Iyal can be really annoying, but Morasha still loves him a lot.

When they finally get a service dog named Chancer, it helps the whole family immensely.  Chancer gives Iyal (and everybody else, too) lots of love.  When Iyal is having a tantrum, Chancer will lie on him to calm him down.  Chancer can keep Iyal from wandering away with strangers or running into the street. 

The book has fifteen pages of photos of Morasha, Iyal, Chancer and their family.  They are extremely good and help you to get to know the family.

If I could give "My Invisible World: Life with My Brother, His Disability and His Service Dog" by Morasha R. Winokur more than five stars, I would!  It is probably the best book I have ever reviewed.  Everybody should read this book.  I think that there are three things that everyone should learn from this book.  First, women should never drink any alcohol if they could possibly be pregnant.  Second, everyone should treat people with disabilities and their families nicely.  Finally, everyone should respect working dogs.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Six Toes

B.E. Schafer
Cordon Publications (2009)
ISBN 9780982208380  (Amazon)
Reviewed by Ron Standerfer for Reader Views (03/10)

It's another ho-hum day in the small Midwest town of Solitude.  The list of missing people continues to grow and now includes the town's only "lady of pleasure," plus a group of Japanese businessmen in town to inspect an old factory; a dog is found in a back alley horribly mutilated and apparently eaten by a pack of vicious animals; and residents are beginning to pack up and leave with fear in their eyes, muttering that "those people at Lost Island" were the cause of all this.  Oh, and let us not forget the town's latest arrivals: two men horribly scarred and mutilated; one a former resident who is returning to practice medicine; and the other, a hairy, one-eyed man who prefers to skulk and slither around in the night and whose hands strongly resemble a pair of sharpened claws.

How do all these things fit together?  The clue, of course, is Lost Island, a former military facility that was engaged in a super secret research project involving genetics and gene splicing until it was destroyed by a fire eight years before.  There were two researchers on duty when the fire broke out and they were presumed dead, along with a population of cats and other research animals.  Oddly enough, the list of research subjects also included five sub-teen children who mysteriously disappeared just before the fire.  As it turns out, the five children, now teenagers are living in Solitude, facing excruciating mental and physical challenges that more than likely can be attributed to their experience at Lost Island---a time in their lives they cannot remember.   As you probably already guess, the town of Solitude's latest arrivals are the two researchers presumed to be lost in the fire.  When it is revealed that the two men are mortal enemies, that's when the pace of the story picks up; and when it is apparent that the one-eyed man displays distinctly animal characteristics and quite possibly is not from this world, that's when the plot thickens.

"Six Toes" is B.E. Schafer's first novel and in it he spins a fine yarn that moves along at a fast pace and keeps the reader on the edge of his seat.  In fact, the way he seamlessly combined the two genres of horror and science fiction into one story line reminds me of some of Stephen King's early works---and that's not a bad place to start.  Book II of Six Toes, "The Legacy" is scheduled to be published in the spring of 2010.

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A Child’s Grief: Surviving the Death of a Parent

Judy Strong
Beaver's Pond Press (2010)
ISBN 9781592983087
Reviewed by Carol Hoyer, PhD, for Reader Views (03/10)

As a psychologist I have read many books on grief and children. What I like best about "A Child's Grief"  was it was honest, full of passion and advice. Judy Strong didn't criticize but gave her own personal experience of her husband dying suddenly and the experiences of her children.

In each chapter she gives reasons why we don't look at children and their thoughts, even adult children. Strong offers sound advice on what we, as families, can do to recognize children's experiences. This not only applies to a death of the parent, but parents who are deployed, or loss of relationships, pets and friendships.

The author states "Young children respond to role models in front of them."  This is all children have regardless of their age.  Sometimes as adults we think that our kids don't have the opportunity to say goodbye due to hospital rules or families not letting them attend funerals. We don't discuss truthfully what happened but say things in general "Dad has gone to heaven, God needed him there." We are doing a disservice to our kids - they have many questions about what happened and why.  I remember this week my granddaughter asked about the killer whale and the lady who was killed. She saw the videos on TV and was very distraught. We talked about death, why it might have happened and what she thought should be done. I was very amazed at her insight at the age of five.

In recent months, my dad died unexpectedly. We talked about it some but only from the doctor's point of view; my family doesn't talk about it. As Ms. Strong states "death is largely ignored. We don't plan ahead, ask wishes and just go on."  This has a great impact on children. It creates fear that another person in our lives will leave; it's a feeling of abandonment for kids of all ages.  If anything is left undone, those kids, even as adults, will feel loss and won't be able to handle what they didn't get to do. All readers need to learn to say goodbye and learn about death. All of us need to know what happened in our own level of understanding.

Many children are then left to be the "adult" and have no idea what that means. It is a big responsibility, in addition to possibly moving, dealing with financial issues and the lack of  communication with those around them.

In each chapter Strong gives psychological issues that might occur as well as tips on what to do to help children of all ages. I found her straightforward, passionate thoughts to be inspiring to all families.

Strong's honesty, without saying what readers might have done wrong, was excellent.  I appreciated the stories she shared from people who had written her expressing their feelings. In the back of the book she gave numerous resources to help families. We all will deal with death at some time in our lives.  How will we handle it?  Why don't we talk about death in general?  How should we handle hospital visitations?  What are our plans for burial?  What do we do in the case of sudden death?

As a psychologist and online Psychology Instructor, this is a topic that I will address with my students and will recommend this book to all of them. This is a short, fast read that is easy to understand. Mark what you read and then discuss it with your family. None of us want to see a loved one pass, but it happens every day and we need to prepare for it. Author Judy Strong has done a very remarkable job in "A Child's Grief: Surviving the Death of a Parent."

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Choking on the Silver Spoon: Keeping Your Kids Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise in a Land of Plenty

Gary W. Buffone, PhD
Simplon Press (2003)
ISBN 9780974653501
Reviewed by Marcy Blesy for Reader Views (03/10)


"Choking on the Silver Spoon: Keeping Your Kids Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise in a Land of Plenty" by Gary W. Buffone, PhD, is a very well-thought out book full of sound advice for parents who want to raise their children to appreciate money, use it wisely, and avoid feeling entitled to it.  Clearly organized, the book consists of three parts.  "Positive Parenting in the Age of Abundance" highlights how to identify children that have developed the silver spoon syndrome, or "affluenza," and how to remedy the effects.  He defines the silver spoon syndrome as "a specific set of attitudinal and behavioral symptoms, resulting from an inappropriate relationship with money and material wealth that significantly interferes with an individual's ability to function socially, occupationally, and in several other important areas of their lives."
Part two, "The Five Immutable Laws of Financial Parenting," gives sound advice to parents to avoid raising spoiled, unmotivated children.  Such advice includes counseling parents to practice what they preach in their handling of money and their attitudes of entitlement.
Part three, "Living the Laws from Cradle to Grave," gives suggestions for raising children to have a positive relationship with money at different stages of their life, from age three to adulthood.  This part also stresses the importance of proper estate planning.
I enjoyed this book greatly.  Dr. Buffone does an excellent job characterizing the negative behaviors and attitudes of "spoiled rich kids" while stressing that not all children fall into the traps that can be created by their parents' wealth.  Some wealthy parents understand the pitfalls that can be caused by instant windfalls for their children and take steps to teach responsibility and accountability, while other parents give their children everything they want only to create unmotivated, thankless children who claim a degree of privilege. 

I am not living in the demographic that Dr. Buffone writes about.  I am far from wealthy, but I learned valuable tools that I can implement with my own children to help them develop a healthy relationship with money and understand the cause/effect relationship of working to earn money.  Even from a truly middle-class family, I sense my children do not realize how easy they have it, and I plan on implementing Dr. Buffone's suggestions for allowances.  And doing more charity work, no matter what the demographic, can only be a positive action.  Having never pitied wealthy people, I did take away the realization that sometimes the children of wealthy parents have a difficult time proving themselves for their own talents without people assuming that Mom and Dad's money bought them their success.  I highly recommend "Choking on the Silver Spoon," as the book presents useful information that will turn on the "ah-ha" light bulb in the minds of many readers.     

How to Become Smarter

Nikolai Shevchuk, PhD
CreateSpace (2010)
ISBN 9781449919597
Reviewed by Ron Standerfer for Reader Views (03/10)

"How to Become Smarter" by Nikolai Shevchuk has a lot going for it, starting with the front cover.  Let's face it, who could resist picking up a book like that off the shelf and at least reading the first few pages to see what it is all about?  We all need to become smarter in some way or another, so it is a natural read.

I have to admit that before opening the cover of this book I was a little skeptical.  Who is this guy and what is he selling?  Is he a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a motivational speaker, or perhaps some kind of charlatan?  And what is he selling? As I began to read, I quickly realized that the answer to those two questions is none of the above, and nothing.  Specifically, Dr. Shevchuk has a PhD in molecular and cellular oncology from George Washington University.  He is an author or coauthor of fourteen scientific publications in the field of biomedicine.  The only thing he is selling is this book, in which he makes a strong and credible case for certain dietary and lifestyle changes that in his words, "can help you to: understand complex or dull text; concentrate on reading and writing; get along with people and live without conflicts; sharpen your wit and entertain people; and more."

Dr. Shevchuk's writing style won me over almost immediately with the following statement early on in the book, "Each chapter contains an informative summary and there is also a summary of key points at the end of each section within each chapter.  It may be easier to read the summaries of all chapters once or twice and then key points at the end of each section.  After that you can proceed to read chapters that you find particularly interesting or the whole book from start to finish."  A man after my own heart!  That's just how I like to read books of this type. Armed with this advice, I proceeded to read steadily and with good comprehension through the main chapters of the book which are: Mental clarity or "fluid intelligence;" Attention control or the ability to concentrate; Management of sleep; Emotional intelligence; Reading and writing performance; and Social intelligence.

You may be wondering why a Russian microbiologist would write so knowledgably and persuasively about nonpharmacological approaches to mental fitness.  I don't have an answer to that, but my wife, who was born in Poland and spent most of her life there, tells me that Russians are famous for their home-remedy skills, mainly because there has always been a shortage of doctors in the smaller towns and villages there.  This seems plausible to me.

So what's the bottom line?  Do I recommend this book or not?  Let me put it this way: my review copy is on my desk and it is going to stay there until I get a chance to read it again slowly, highlighter in hand, cover to cover---especially the chapter on reading and writing performance.  Meanwhile, a copy is on its way to my son along with stern admonition to thoroughly read the chapter on social intelligence.  He could use a little help in that department.  In other words, "How to Get Smarter" by Nikolai Shevchuk is an excellent and practical read and I highly recommend it.   Cпасибо, Dr Shevchuk!

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