Monday, July 25, 2011

Sherman’s Chaplain

David Bellin
Epigraph Publishing (2011)
ISBN 9781936940028
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views

I started on the "Sherman's Chaplain" on a bright and very warm sunny afternoon, and for a moment I hesitated over my selection. Was I really going to read about something as depressing as the war on such a sparklingly beautiful day? A quick look at the cover made me hesitate even more… a huge cross, cavalry dashing in action, destruction... An undoubtedly beautifully executed cover, but… war and religion might just not be the best choice on a day like that. So I made a bargain with myself, one that I thought would be very easy to keep. I'll read the first chapter, and after that I will pick up something lighter for the rest of the day. Such a bargain should be very easy to keep, right?
When I looked up next, it was time to turn the lights on, and the book was finished. True, at 122 pages it was not a long one, but very seldom do I find myself so immersed in a book that I do not stop even for a cup of coffee. "Sherman's Chaplain," against my expectations, was one of the rare exceptions. It is difficult to put in words what was so completely magical about it, particularly in view of the aforementioned fact that I do not find war especially fascinating, at least not in a good way. But this was a gem of a book – compact, hard, but utterly beautiful, sparkly and "cut" with great precision. The tale of a young chaplain, freshly graduated from a seminary, who is quickly promoted from the post of a regimental chaplain to the post of a senior chaplain at the headquarters of General William Tecumseh Sherman, had so many elements of a great story! Where do I begin?
I absolutely loved the format of the book, written as a series of personal letters of the young chaplain, Ellis Brantley, to his "dearest Elaine." The tone of those letters was so genuine and so believable that it was extremely hard to accept the fact that this book, although based on the true history of Sherman's march from Atlanta to Savannah, was pure fiction. The letters described the daily events as well as the chaplain's musings and inner struggles in great detail, managing to bring to life the enormity of the task that Sherman's army was facing, the great disparity between the North and the South, the inhumanity (as well as great humanity!) of some of the people involved in the war, the daily struggle of staying true to oneself and true to one's religious beliefs and so much more. They were passages so lyrical that one nearly forgot one was reading about the war, and others so brutal that it was hard to keep reading. There were heroes and villains, but most importantly, there were extremely complex human beings. There was plenty of vivid dialogue, and possibly even more of quiet, contemplative passages. And time and again, there was this all-encompassing and overriding theme of humanity, in all its glory and with a plentiful dose of guts, spilled and otherwise.
You can read "Sherman's Chaplain" for its great story, for the beautiful language, as a religious rumination or as an exercise in history. Whatever you are looking to find in it, is most probably there.


The Sixth Coming

Richard Donahue
AuthorHouse (2010)
ISBN 9781452047966
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views

"The Sixth Coming" takes us to another time and place where magic exists and science has not been created yet. Vibrantly written, we follow along on the journey of a young woman of royalty who goes through the process of discovering her gifts as a Shield Maiden. This was not an easy journey for her because it involved having to suffer through the loss of her loved ones as she has battles to triumph over a powerful and evil king.
The Shield Maiden's story begins with the reader being introduced to her loved ones. Each character is well developed and had distinctive characteristics. When bad things happen to them, we also feel her loss. We also learn more about how she came to be, and how important loyalty is to her survival. The places that this story takes us to are either incredibly beautiful, or eerily foreboding. The creatures in it are also very uniquely described and incredibly different from the mundane realm that we currently inhabit.
As I read this story, I felt like I was envisioning a movie rather than reading words typed onto a formerly blank page. "The Sixth Coming" is the first book in a trilogy. I think it will be interesting to follow along and see what the author has planned next for this incredible place and people.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Eliza’s Forever Trees

Reviewed by Sydney Clark (age 13) for Reader Views Kids

"Eliza's Forever Trees," by Stephanie Lisa Tara, is the story of Eliza, a 10-year-old girl who has a "wrong-beating heart" that keeps her from running and jumping like other children. Her mother reads Eliza stories every day, and takes her on walks in the redwood forest. But one day, Eliza's mother disappears and Eliza has to live at her strange grandfather's house. Her grandfather owns a million books and is always thinking of some way of using them, including burning them for firewood.
Where did Eliza's mother go? Why did she leave Eliza? Will she come back?
One day, a butterfly lands on the windowsill and talks to Eliza in the simple universal language that every creature can understand and speak. He and Eliza become friends while he waits for the other butterflies to fly down from the north, with Eliza reading to him from her books. One afternoon while they're reading together, Eliza's heart starts its "wrong beat," reducing her to a helpless heap and the butterfly resolves to help her find her mother. The next day they venture into the redwood forest, following the path they hope will lead to Mother Redwood, the first redwood ever, who will be able to tell them what happened to Eliza's mother.
As Eliza journeys on, she meets more friends, including a wise owl and a French squirrel that makes tiny sculptures. She stops feeling the wrong-beats in her heart. She learns the ways of the forest, the way every creature is part of a big family and how they all work together to help the forest thrive. But along the way she meets creatures that may -- or may not -- contribute to the forest family. Will they help the other creatures of the forest when the need arises? Or will they ignore them as they always have? Will Eliza ever find Great Mother Redwood and her own mother?
"Eliza's Forever Trees" is a sweet story filled with friendship, talking animals, the importance of families, stories, and the bonds between mothers and their children. I would suggest this book to anyone who would like to read a heart-warming tale about a small girl who defeated all the odds to find her mother and, along the way, made life-long friends.



A Farm in the South Pacific Sea

Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views
In 1967, American June Sandusky decided to uproot herself from the states and go to the Kingdom of Tonga to start a spiny lobster farm. At forty-years of age, she had been divorced three times, and lost the love of her life in WWII. Looking to enrich her life, by making a difference for others, June sold off her possessions and relocated to an island in the South Pacific Sea.
When she arrived, the natives were displeased to see that she was a woman. While women's rights in the United States were limited at this time, in the Kingdom of Tonga, they were virtually non-existent. June had to overcome the opposition she received from the males and prove herself. In accomplishing this task, she also set a great example for the women of this place.
While June worked hard to overcome barriers placed in her way, she also met a very special man who unfortunately was settled in an arranged marriage. Her relationship with him played a huge role in her life during her time on the islands. In addition to falling for this man, June also found herself developing close relationships with many of the natives. Unfortunately, she encountered a few people who tried to ensure that she not only would fail, but she would also be demeaned in the process. This opposition seemed to make June even more determined to succeed.
When I started reading "A Farm in the South Pacific Sea," I found myself totally wrapped up in June's story. The author Jan Walker made me feel like I was walking on the beach alongside June. She also did an outstanding job of taking us into her heart and soul so that we could understand and relate to everything that was happening to her in the story. When I reached the end of the book and discovered that it was based upon the life of her cousin, I was both surprised and grateful that she had the chance to share her cousin's amazing adventure with us.
"A Farm in the South Pacific Sea" will make a very strong impression on those who read it. The feelings and thoughts that I experienced, while reading about the incredible journey that a real woman took, stayed with me for a long time after I finished reading the book. I highly recommend reading this amazing story.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

A Dad’s Point-of-View: We ARE Half the Equation

Bruce Sallan
JuneDavid Publishing (2011)
ISBN 9780983316602
Reviewed by Joseph Yurt for Reader Views

Bruce Sallan is a popular commentator on parenting issues from a dad's point-of view, although most of what he has to say is appropriate for either gender. In his new book, "A Dad's Point-of-View: We ARE Half the Equation," S allan weaves some of his best columns, written under the same title, into a book that is a witty and wise commentary on the current state of the American family. It will surely connect with the vast majority of parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles to whom it speaks. Perhaps he is so wired into his audience because they perceive him as a layman expert to parenting issues who "writes about topics such as marriage, faith and giving, men and women, teenagers, and anything else that comes to my mind. I am not a therapist and have only on-the-job immersion training."
Sallan's parenting immersion didn't begin until age 40 with the birth of his first son by his first wife. A second son followed three years later. When the boys were only six and nine, he divorced, became a single stay-at-home parent raising two sons, and the sole caregiver for his aging parents. "I still look back at those days with bemusement. I was frequently asked the same questions by both moms and dads…" 'What do you do all day?' 'When are you going back to work?'" No one seemed to understand that I was doing 'work.'" Sallan added his current wife to the mix a few years later and at the time of the books' writing, the boys had become fourteen and seventeen-year-olds.
Like his articles, columns and radio shows, the book journeys throughout today's marriage, parenting and personal growth landscapes. The selected columns are clustered under clearly titled thematic chapters like: Teenagers, Family Life and School, Holidays, and Friends. While chapters are neatly connected, each is also an effective stand-alone piece. And three chapters – Big Ideas, More Big Ideas, and Ten Things to Learn From This Book – could easily serve as a quick reference guide for young couples contemplating parenthood. The author has done an excellent job of documenting his own parenting experiences, which seemingly, based upon his popularity, mirror those of many other parents. It is important to note, however, that Sallan's experiences have fortunately not included some of the more serious addiction, teen sex and extreme bullying issues confronting some parents today. These less fortunate parents will need to look elsewhere for support.
"A Dad's Point-of-View" is a quick, easy read about some of the typical, sometimes serious problems facing today's often overwhelmed and ill-prepared parents and their children. "We ARE Half the Equation," a reference to a father's and mother's differing perspectives, is the book's subtitle. But Sallan makes it clear that kids are an important part of the equation too. This is a book the entire family should share.



An American in Vienna

Chip Wagar
iUniverse (2011)
ISBN 9781450267687
Reviewed by Vicki Landes for ReaderViews
What would you do if you suddenly found out that your ancestors were of European nobility yet left their life of wealth and privilege to live as commoners in America? And, that despite all attempts to find answers you came up with only more questions? Could you live with not knowing or would the call of secrets from a faraway land be too difficult to resist?
"An American in Vienna" begins by introducing protagonist Andy Bishop, a young man from Ohio with mysterious roots in Austria. Although fresh out of college, he's ready to jump into a new research project – answer the question of why his aristocrat ancestors left their homeland. The investigation starts innocently enough but quickly takes a backseat when Austria is thrust into the First World War. Instead, he begins to put his journalistic training to work as he begins writing on the war and local attitudes under the byline 'An American in Vienna.' With his Viennese family assisting his efforts and a beautiful Austrian countess distracting him from other matters, Andy's trip has turned into a life-changing explosion of events. Will he escape the turmoil unharmed? Can he keep his family and new friends safe? Will he ever discover why his family left their life of privilege for America?
Author Chip Wagar includes quite a bit of historical information as he weaves his plot in and out of the real world events; he's exceptionally thorough. I also loved his vivid descriptions of the places he sets his story – both the true-to-life details as well as the fictional additions. As a 'seven year resident' of Europe I've visited most of the places Wagar describes, to include Vienna and the spot in Sarajevo where Franz Ferdinand was killed, and found the novel to be simply delightful. It really took me back to the enthralling sights and sounds of Europe, even if the book was set almost one-hundred years ago. The story was a little on the predictable side but that may also come from knowing the history of this time period. Wagar tells his story in the first person, from Andy Bishop's point of view. With that in mind, the language and its tone was what I'd consider 'proper' – the perfect way a nice young man from the early 1900s would think and speak. This made his characters convincing within the real world time period and events.
I think my only disappointment with the plot was that uncovering the family secret seemed to come as an afterthought. The very premise of his trip based on this secret but it seemed like it was treated as 'no big deal' upon its discovery. We don't even get to know what Andy's parents' reactions were to the news and his mother had been searching diligently for this information for so long. Perhaps this was done intentionally to leave the door open for a sequel? I'm hoping so!
"An American in Vienna" would be an enjoyable read for those interested in historical fiction, World War I, and Europe. Its content is suitable for almost all ages and if anything, I'd rate it as 'PG'. Altogether, "An American in Vienna" is an extremely pleasant novel – easy going and perfect for lazy summer days.

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Hope[less]: A Novel

Grey Line Press (2010)
ISBN 9780983002802
Reviewed by April Sullivan for Reader Views

Two teenagers, almost 18, find love, excel at music and have their whole life ahead of them. That would be what is expected, the hope. But not for Lorraine and KJ, the main characters in the novel "Hope[less]." Their life takes a turn toward hopeless when a tragedy occurs that sends the two out onto the streets of Philadelphia.

Lorraine and KJ never believed that they had everything going for them. They did not believe in faith or fate or plans. What was the point when life happened to you despite plans? KJ learned that at the age of 14 when his mother left and didn't take him. Lorraine learned that when her mother was raped and killed in New York. This is why she and her father moved to Philadelphia and why she was starting over in high school, as the last chair in the trumpet section in the school band, even though she was better than all of them. KJ played the saxaphone. He saw her talent and bonded with her instantly. Music was his passion, what he lived for. Lorraine became his second passion. The two live for each other, and music is carried along as a burden and a savior.

The author of "Hope[less],"C.O.B., has written a dark, intense novel. The front and back cover charcoal drawings by O. Tycho Baker set the tone for the novel. On the front is a lone bench with a saxaphone case on the seat and a backpack on the ground with a trumpet sticking out. A single beam of light illuminates the backpack. The image is sad and lonely, but hints at brightness.

The opening chapter is strong and overwhelming in its pain. Each section of the book, Atonal I, II, and III starts with a chapter about a strange encounter between a man and his two young daughters. It seems to make no sense to the rest of the novel at first, but becomes resolved to some level by the end.

C.O.B. writes as if he or she has experienced some of the scenarios the characters experience. The passages about the high school band experience are intriguing to me because I have never been a part of that world and the author portrays it much differently than I would have expected. The hurt and homelessness the characters go through are written with a level of understanding that I can only imagine someone who has been there could describe as well as C.O.B. does.

"Hope[less]" is a sincere novel about two young people trying to make their way in a world that makes no sense to them. In the end they find a glimpse of meaning, but it is done in a realistic manner, not in a fairy tale ending. The novel is a good reminder of the hopelessness we all experience at some time in our lives and the power of love to turn that around.

Remnant: An Anthology

Roland Allnach
All Things That Matter Press (2010)
ISBN 9780984629701
Reviewed by Richard R. Blake for Reader Views 

Roland Allnach's "Remnant: An Anthology" consists of three stories within the science fiction genre. The stories are linked in theme by characters seeking self-truth and redemption through finding their true moral center.

The first of the three novellas, "All the Fallen Angels," is the story of Stohko, a convicted war criminal and his attempt to make peace with his past. He is filled with paranoia, guilt, confusion, self-deception, hostility and hate.

In the second novella, "Enemy, I Know You Not," a military officer, Lieutenant Hovland, is assigned a group of recruits for simulated training exercises. He is tortured with corruptive thoughts of rebellion, order, and the illusion of control while he tries to find his loyalty in paranoia of suspicion and mistrust.
The final novella, titled "Remnant." continues with the theme of behavioral research and centers around the conflicted emotions of Peter Lowry, the survivor of a global pandemic. Peter is confronted with the prospect of making peace with past memories when, Jim MacPherson and Emily Lewis, two other survivors attempt to bring him back from self-imposed isolation.

Influenced by the writing of mythology and classical literature, Allnach follows a pattern in his writing using character driven themes. Although he writes primarily in the Science Fiction genre he develops depth and substance to his characters in situations outside of the realm of our "common world."

Each of the three novellas in the anthology follows a pattern of a nightmare of "tangled, convoluted confusion." Stohko experienced Hermium euphoria, chaotic eruptions of jumbled moments in time in "All the Fallen Angels."  He was plagued by a trance-like weaving in an out of a delirious dream moving from guilt of the past, the realities of the present, and the hopelessness of the future.

Lieutenant Hovland lost his sense of purpose in "Enemy, I Know You Not." When a malfunction at the simulator turned a training level exercise into an actual lethal fight for survival, Hovland found himself suspected of subversion. This created a feeling of paranoia, suspicion, exhaustion, futility, betrayal and retribution. In "Remnant" Peter Lowry becomes a prime example of traumatic stress syndrome as he works through the negative characteristics of blind obsession, mistrust, suspicion, guilt, and the positive qualities of genuine empathy, concern, discipline and loyalty.

I especially appreciated Roland's literary style:

  • His vivid word pictures
  • His insights demonstrated through character driven dialog
  • His creative imagination
  • His use of foreshadowing

Allnach's writing in "Remnant: An Anthology" is haunting, begging for an interactive response from the reader in an honest self appraisal; asking the "what if" questions created by identifying with the protagonist in well written literature. Roland Allnach is destined to become recognized for his contributions in whatever genre of writing he may choose.

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