Monday, August 30, 2010

Burgher and the Woebegone

Kim Chatel
Guardian Angel Publishing (2010)
ISBN 9781616330613
Reviewed by Evan Weldon (age 8) for Reader Views Kids

"Burgher and the Woebegone" by Kim Chatel is a choose-your-own-adventure book about an ugly, fat gnome named Burgher who wants to destroy spring because it reminds him of a friend he once lost.  His friend was an inchworm named Katy.  One day she made a chrysalis.  When she hatched out as a butterfly she heard Johnny Gold's magical flute and flew away toward it.  Burgher was upset that he would never see Katy again and blamed his unhappiness on Johnny Gold.  Johnny Gold, also known as the Apple Tree Man, magically brought life to the forest.  

Burgher had been able to get rid of Johnny Gold once by tricking the fairies into thinking that Johnny Gold's treasure was gold.  The fairies were very tempted by gold and dug around all the trees in search of the treasure.  They dug until the trees fell over.  But even the fairies knew that it would be too tragic to dig up the Queen Tree, the base of all the forest life.  So, except for the Queen Tree, the forest was left in ruins - tree's fallen and birds flying from their trees, all was in distress.  There was no green.   The forest was just how Burgher thought he wanted it.

Has Johnny Gold played the last tune on his flute?  Is spring gone for good?  Will Johnny Gold come back?  Will Burgher find happiness again?  The fate of Burgher and Johnny Gold is your hands!  There are lots of different choices to make.  Some lead to somewhat unhappy endings and some lead to happy endings.  It is all up to you.

I think lots of people would enjoy "Burgher and the Woebegone."  It might be an especially good book for kids who miss a friend.  I kept reading it until I had read all the different parts and endings.  It was a very fun book.  There were a handful of black and white sketches that added a good feel to the book.

If I Were a Farmer: Field Work

Gordon W. Fredrickson
Beaver's Pond Press (2010)
ISBN 9781592983407
Reviewed by Sophia (age 7) and Madeline (age 9) McElroy for Reader Views Kids

Sophia:  I loved this book because the pictures were nice, and also I liked what the book talked about - kid farmers! My favorite part of the book was when they all worked together as a team. I also liked the part when they were riding the tractors. I would choose to use the new tractors for my farm because they have air-conditioning! My favorite picture in the book was when the neighbors were talking about old and new tractors because they both had their pets on the tractors with them. I think it would be nice to live on a farm.

Madeline:  This is a funny book about farming from a kid's point of view. I learned that tractors can be very expensive and that farming takes a lot of work! The drawings are good and they are fun too. My favorite picture is the little girl driving the hay tractor. My favorite part is when the little boy and his dog ride on the small tractor and the dog is riding on the back off it! This is a really nice book; it's very fun to read. I have read the first book by this author and I think they're both really good books. I think I would rather work on the farm with the animals than in the field. The "If I Were a Farmer" series has really fun books to read. If you liked this book you might like the others too! 

Sophia and Madeline:  We both highly recommend this fun book, "If I Were a Farmer: Field Work."

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Monday, August 23, 2010

It Simply Must Be Said: A View of American Public Education from the Trenches of Teaching

Hank Warren
iUniverse (2009)
ISBN 9781440134005
Reviewed by Christine Watson for Reader Views

I simply couldn't put this book down once I started reading.  Hank Warren delivers an incredibly accurate depiction of public school, particularly from the perspective of a high quality teacher.  I couldn't have been more enlightened or entertained while reading this book.  As a former teacher, and new administrator, I found myself relating with many of his stories and experiences as a teacher. 

Mr. Warren states many issues in public education clearly and concisely, with plenty of humor thrown in the mix.  I laughed out loud often, starting with the first page.  He mentions the troubles with teacher shortages, and how the current evaluation system is utterly useless.  He accurately portrays the struggles that arise when policy that "looks and sounds good" on paper are so horrendously executed in reality.  Merit pay for teachers is one particular plan that sounds good, but is nearly impossible to implement fairly.  Mr. Warren writes about the problems associated with special education and simply states that all children are worthy to receive the attention that a few are afforded currently.  As a former special education teacher, I cannot agree more with his stand.  All students require special attention, and it looks different for each individual. 

Mr. Warren has several suggestions for improving public education, including doubling teacher salaries, reducing class size to ten students, having all administrators continue to teach in the classroom, and many other ideas.  He states that most often, within one year of being removed from the classroom, administrators "forget" what it's like to teach.  After just finishing my first year as an assistant principal, I can testify that this is true.  I taught summer school for our middle school students this year so I could reconnect with students in the classroom.  It was a powerful wake up call and I highly recommend continuing the teaching experience. 

"It Simply Must Be Said" needs to be distributed to everyone remotely involved in education, from teachers, to administrators, policy makers, parents, and tax payers who wonder where their money is going.  Education is such a critical piece of our future and it is handled so poorly.  Mr. Warren does a fantastic job of bring that to light along with powerful considerations for improving education for everyone.  Well done!

Da Vinci and the 40 Answers: A Playbook for Creativity and Fresh Ideas

Mark L. Fox
Wizard Academy Press (2008)
ISBN 9781932226638
Reviewed by Irene Watson for Reader Views

My first exposure to "Da Vinci and the 40 Answers" was through a 2-day workshop under the same name facilitated by the author, Mark L. Fox.  The premise is based on the principles of TRIZ (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving) created by a Russian engineer/scientist Genrikh Altshuller. Altshuller's findings showed that, after studying hundreds of thousands of patents, "there are only about 1,500 basic problems."  Fox further states "Every answer to every problem is found within the 40 principles of TRIZ..."

For the purpose of this review, I will cover two "lenses" (principles) of TRIZ and the relationship to a business.  One is "Peel the Onion."  This particular lens made me stop in my tracks when I read Fox's sub-title of "Everything You Know is Wrong."  Further reading explained that if we rely on conventional wisdom as the key source for making decisions failure is imminent.  If we aren't willing to look at other options we stifle our own creativity.  Challenging ourselves is of utmost importance if our goal is growth in our business and our personal lives.

Another lens is "Brainstorming."  To me, this is one of the most important aspects of managing a business.  However, as Fox explains in "Da Vinci and the 40 Answers," on many occasions the brainstorming sessions don't produce effective results.  According to Fox the ineffectiveness is a result of not setting rules for the brainstorming session.  One rule is "Generate as many ideas as possible. Go for quantity, not quality."  I've been in many sessions when the brainstorming stops when everyone agrees on one idea but this always isn't the best result.  On a personal note, when in Fox's class, I was chosen to have my goal for the business brainstormed.  I acquired twenty-seven new ideas that can be implemented and this was as a result of the rule "Encourage Wild and Exaggerated Ideas, No Matter How Crazy, Ridiculous, or Far-fetched the Idea Might Be."

Fox comes from an engineering background with accomplishments such as Chief Engineer on the Space Shuttle program and Chairman of the "orbital debris" committee. With that comes his creative side from which he draws extensively in his book and business consulting. "Da Vinci and the 40 Answers" is concise, written in lay language, and provides a diverse list of lenses that can be used in any business or personal advancement.  The examples and ideas can transform or update a business to become the forerunner in the industry. And, I can personally attest to that.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

The True Nature of Tarot: Your Path to Personal Empowerment

Diane Wing, MA
Marvelous Spirit Press (2010)
ISBN 9781615990214
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views

"The True Nature of Tarot" is the revised and expanded version of the 2003 "The Nature of Tarot." Diane Wing, the author has an extensive background in psychology and metaphysics. She has been reading tarot cards for over twenty-five years.  There is a common belief that tarot cards are to be used for reading a person's future.  Wing dispels this idea and recommends that they be used as a tool for enlightenment.  She states, "A tarot deck provides a pictorial journey of the self to foster connections with the Universal Energy and Higher Self."  This allows the person being read for to gain insight into what they are experiencing.  It can also help them to direct their psychic abilities.

She has a very interesting discussion on how the use of tarot cards has been associated with evil.  Personally, I was raised with this idea, however, my experience with tarot card readers who had integrity taught me otherwise.  The intent of the card reader determines whether or not the use of the cards is good or bad. If the reader wants to try to control or manipulate the person being read for, then their intent is bad.  This idea also applies to other areas of our lives where we place our trust in someone to give us guidance.  Wing offers ideas on to how to tell if a card reader is legitimate. She makes it very clear that if the reader predicts something bad will happen, that they can fix for a price, they do not have the right intent.  As spiritual beings, if we do learn something that we are not comfortable with, we can use that knowledge to make choices to change this.

Having had some incredible experience with Tarot card readings, I have been very interested in how the process works.  "The True Nature of Tarot," lays everything out for both the card reader and the person being read for.  From beginning to end, Wing offers advice in how to prepare for the reading, do the reading, and gain insight into interpreting the cards.  She also does an extensive review of the meaning of each card.  From my experience, "The True Nature of Tarot" provides the most extensive, yet easy to understand review of the tarot card reading experience.  I also feel that the author's explanation of how the cards should be used will help the reader gain understanding into how they can empower their lives by using the cards.  Whether you are a novice or an experienced card reader, "The True Nature of Tarot" is a must read for people who have an interest in tarot cards.

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The Empty Lot Next Door

Arthur M. Mills, Jr.
Xlibris Corporation (2010)
ISBN 9781450072229
Reviewed by Lisa McCurley for Reader Views

"The Empty Lot Next Door" is a tale of a haunting based on the actual experiences of the author, Arthur M. Mills, Jr., at about age eleven.  After a move out of the projects and into a regular house in a better neighborhood, Ray (Arthur's nickname) has great expectations for a normal life.  The youngest of four brothers in a family faced with financial trouble and emotional distress, Ray instead endures an ordeal so terrifying, so confusing, that years went by before he could tell a soul about it.  This is the story of his visits from Candle Face, the girl rumored to have died in the house fire next door, and who relentlessly tormented him. 

But this story is much more than a ghost story.  It is also a story of the desperation, the pain and the helplessness experienced by children whose parents work long hours away from home, necessarily leaving them to fend for themselves against both real and imagined evils.  It's about sibling abuse, and the scars that such abuse leaves on the victim as well as the abuser.  And this is the story of the intense struggle of a child to make sense of the world without communicating his fears and thoughts to the adults in his life since he doesn't want to add to the family's problems. 

I began to read this book at my usual reading time, right before bed.  After the first night of sleeping with the light on, I ended up taking off two afternoons from work to finish it which is all it took because I couldn't put this book down.  The story is related in such a way that I could truly felt the author's fear, pain and anxiety.  As a mother of two teenage boys, I could so hear the eleven-year-old heart and mind in these pages.  There are some places where the information is a little jumbled but it even furthers the style to that of a story told by an eleven-year-old.   "The Empty Lot Next Door" is gripping, frightening and well-paced.  After the last page I cried; not only because the book was over, but because I was so moved by the emotional experience this little boy had to go through.

I would so like to see "The Empty Lot Next Door" become a movie.  It's a thrilling ghost story, but it is also so much more.  Since I live in Austin, I have decided to make a trip to the setting to see it for myself, and wonder if I will see Candle Face.  I'm taking a friend, just in case.

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Monday, August 9, 2010

How to UnBreak Your Health: Your Map to the World of Complementary and Alternative Therapies, Second Edition

Alan E. Smith
Loving Healing Press (2010)
ISBN 9781615990429
Reviewed by Vicki Landes for Reader Views

Today more than ever, we are bombarded with stories of horrible drug side effects and greedy medical insurance companies.  While we pay out the nose for health insurance, we spend hours in a waiting room and only get to talk to a doctor for a few minutes before he or she slaps you with a prescription and sends you out the door.  Modern medicine, in all of its advances and breakthroughs, serves to treat the symptoms more so than the actual cause.  As the system gets worse, more and more people are turning to alternatives; "How to UnBreak Your Health: Your Map to the World of Complementary and Alternative Therapies" hopes to guide those lost in today's medical maze towards hope and recovery.

"How to UnBreak Your Health" is a comprehensive collection of the various complementary and alternative therapies available to the ailing.  From well known practices such as massage, yoga, chiropractic, and acupuncture to lesser-known yet rather surprisingly effective techniques like Applied Kinesiology and Cold Laser Therapy.  Author Alan E. Smith breaks down each and every method and gives just enough information to explain the concept without getting 'bogged down in the weeds.'  The information he gives includes the background of each therapy, what they involve, who came up with the theory and technique, and what type of health issues they seem to work on best.  Websites and other reference information are also presented for further research. 
"How to UnBreak Your Health" is a fantastic resource for anyone looking to take more control of their health.  Since Smith gives only a short synopsis of each method, he maintains a manageable-sized book for the non-professional while including over 330 different complementary and alternative therapies in 150 categories.  Further, he doesn't dissuade his readers from utilizing traditional medical avenues; instead he encourages using both traditional and alternative practices in tandem as to complement each other.  In concluding his work, Smith gives some advice on questions to ask an insurance company regarding coverage of complementary and alternative therapies. 

As a self-labeled 'doubter,' I began reading "How to UnBreak Your Health" with plenty of skepticism.  While I found just a few of the mind and spirit/energy therapies to be a bit 'hokey,' the majority of the methods presented made complete sense.  Alan E. Smith speaks with intelligence while imparting enough enthusiasm on his readers to get them energized without going overboard.  "How to UnBreak Your Health" has changed my opinion of complementary and alternative therapies!

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Renee Wiggins
Results By Renee (2009)
ISBN 9780982561300
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views

This inspiring book is written by Renee Wiggins, a woman who really knows how to motivate people to change their lives.  Each page of "Transformations" has something empowering written on it to motivate us to change our lives for the better.  Using very few but meaningful words, she manages to initiate some very deep contemplative thoughts within myself.  She really touched the core of who I am.  I am amazed at how well she managed to do this!   Renee writes that this book "is about choosing the right words to inspire, encourage, and heal-and to help our own or another person's dreams soar." 

Written with artistic touches added to the pages, it is really pleasing to both my eyes and my soul.  The first time I read "Transformations" was in one sitting. I now plan on reading it one page a day at a time and journaling my thoughts. I do not want to forget the gems of wisdom that are found in these pages!  By taking them one day at a time, I can apply them to my life. 

Anybody who does not have time to read a book will find time to read this one.   "Transformations" by Renee Wiggins would also make a perfect gift for a friend who is ready to transform his or her life.  It would definitely be well received with gratitude.  I highly recommend it!

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Joshua and Aaron: ITP Book Two

David Gelber
Ruffian Press (2010)
ISBN 9780982076347
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (07/10) 

Joshua Smith seems to be quite and quietly happy with his very mundane life, betting on horses at the local racetrack, hanging out at the Bar #23, and enjoying the company of various resident misfits, helping them whenever he gets a chance. It is one such act of goodwill that gets him in serious trouble and his life is at stake. He has, albeit unwittingly, seriously upset the plans of the evil industrial magnate by the name of Aaron Diblonski. Joshua is rescued by Geoffrey O'Donnel, who helps him establish a new life, one in which he will have to confront the ultimate forces of good and evil. The future of the entire humankind is in peril and Joshua is the man who could save the planet.

If I had to classify David Gelber's "Joshua and Aaron," I would venture to say that it probably fit best in the category of religious sci-fi, if such a category does indeed exist.  While I have to admit that the story does not get overly preachy, the constant undercurrent of religious righteousness permeates the book thoroughly. This was one of my least favorite components of the book, as were the very fragmented plot, the profusion of choppy chapters (well over a hundred, and if the author wants to know how well I paid attention to that, he should take a look at the wrong Roman numeral in the last-but-one chapter…), the two-dimensional characters and slightly stilted narrative. Also, while I definitely understand that this is a work of fiction, for me the best fiction stays close enough to reality to make it even more scarily believable, and Little Bit channeling Laika was a bit much to take. I remain intentionally vague here, so as not to give away the plot too much…

On the positive side, the story itself was intriguing and it moved quickly enough to keep my attention. I have also greatly enjoyed the author's imagination, as displayed in the descriptions of the world in the 22nd century. My absolutely most favorite was chapter 13, talking about "modern mental health," which left me chuckling for a good long while. In general, I found the author's observations on medicine, food and human interactions very insightful and quite memorable.

Overall, I believe that "Joshua and Aaron" shows promise, and I do hope that Mr. Gelber keeps on writing. Getting some professional advice and streamlining his stories a bit more would definitely be beneficial for his future work, but even as is, "Joshua and Aaron" is an interesting read and a good way to spend a couple of afternoons or evenings.

The Normal Side of Insanity

Marynell Lund
Infinity Publishing (2010)
ISBN 9780741458964 
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (07/10)

Before I even started reading "The Normal Side of Insanity," the drawing of a child crying on the cover caught my eye.  Illustrated by Kathy Bassett, the face of this child drew me in.  This little girl's face conveyed to me that she was dealing with a horribly painful situation.  I think that many survivors of abuse will find themselves being drawn to this picture, because they will relate to her picture.  As I started reading, I knew that this illustration represented the author, Marynell Lund, when she was growing up.

Unfortunately, she had to grow up way too fast.  Being raised in poverty, by a mother who suffered from insanity and a father who put his sexual needs before the needs of his daughter, she had no choice.  Ms. Lund's story is very painful to read.  In addition to the abuse by her mother and father, she also had to deal with a perverted uncle, an incestuous cousin and an abusive husband.   She holds nothing back as she tells her story.

Ms. Lund grew up on a farm that her father barely was able to hold on to.  At school, she was ridiculed for being poor.  During daylight hours, she helped her father out and was able to enjoy being close to him.  At night time, he would become a different person and sexually abuse her.  Having a teenage brother that was an alcoholic and a mentally ill mother who verbally abused her left her with no one to turn to for help. 

In addition to the incest, as she progressed into adulthood, Ms. Lund found herself dealing with some very painful issues, especially with regards to her mother.  Things worsened when she fell in love with a man who was horribly abusive.  Not having a way to live on her own and not being helped by the authorities forced her to stay on in the relationship longer than she should have. This tore her down both physically and mentally.  As I read, I felt so frustrated that when she finally did ask for help, no one would help her. 

After finally getting out, she ended up in other relationships that were not good for her as well, but somewhere along the way, she had three children and she got a college degree.  Maintaining a positive attitude about her faith in God and her ability to overcome what she went through, Ms. Lund left me with the feeling that readers who are dealing with abuse will be given hope that they can overcome their circumstance and also learn not to continue to destroy their lives by hanging on to the anger and bitterness of what they went through.  I appreciate her need to convey the importance of letting go and moving on to her readers. By hanging on to the anger, the victimizer still holds control over the victim's life.  

There is a child abuse prevention group that has a saying that, "Children should be seen and heard."  However, what is a child supposed to do when there is no one there to listen?  I think that "The Normal Side of Insanity" should be read not only by victims of abuse, but also by mental health professionals, medical professionals and people who are in law enforcement.  It will give them a better understanding of what the abused person is experiencing.  It will also make them think twice about not doing anything to help them, because they sure will not want to be mentioned in a book like this!

This book would benefit from tighter editing.  However, I truly appreciate the author for sharing her story with us.  By writing about her experiences in "The Normal Side of Insanity" and sharing the incredible amount of wisdom that she gained from them, Marynell will help and inspire so many people to get help and move on with their lives.

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