Monday, September 26, 2011

Five Dances with Death: Dance One

Austin Briggs
Helvetic House (2011)
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views



The first book in this series begins in 1516, during the time of the Aztec Empire and the Spanish conquest.  Lord Angry Wasp, a prince of Tlaxcala is playing a deadly ballgame against his nemesis Talon. Talon had captured Wasp's precious daughter Dew. Desperate to find her, Wasp agreed to the ballgame, hoping to reclaim her.  When this does not happen, Wasp refuses to give up on his search for her.  Much of his future decisions and actions are based upon this goal.

Wasp has two wives, one is his beloved Otomi witch Broken Plume, who is also Dew's mother. The other is a Toltec princess named Rainbow Obsidian. Her role as his wife is to give status based upon her Toltec heritage.  Broken Plume has taught Wasp to use sorcery to make a spiritual double of himself, so that he can travel to other places, including the underworld and also enter into other's bodies and see things through their eyes.

Desperate for the return of his captured daughter Dew, Wasp takes journeys to gather information about her whereabouts.  He also obtains information about his enemies, and the newly arriving outlanders who come from the sea. During one of these outer body quests, Wasp is somehow captured by the Moonwalk people and forced to play games truly based upon life and death. Dying is considered an honor and Lord Wasp holds a strong belief that his death will not be the end, but rather a continuation of his journey.  However honorable this may be, he is still not ready to die yet.

The people of Tlaxcala are facing difficult times because blockades by the Mexica are preventing food and supplies from being brought to them.  As Wasp endures great physical and spiritual battles, he does not always act honorably with his decisions. His easiness to anger also gets him into some sticky situations.  As he discovers more about what is happening in the lands around him, and the incoming outlanders, he has to figure out who he can best ally his people to and then convince his people about what is best. This is not an easy task.

"Five Dances with Death: Dance One" tells an amazing story of a leader who faces incredible trials while trying to keep his people safe from both the Aztecs and the incoming Spanish Conquistadors.  Using sorcery, strength and his wits, the hero has a daunting task set in front of him, especially since major decisions can affect whether or not he sees his enslaved daughter again. Austin Briggs does an excellent job of bringing this period to life and as I read I found myself totally captured by the story. Readers will truly appreciate both the story and the amount of historical research that went into bringing this novel to existence.

Hurrah’s Nest: Memoirs of a Money Trader

Barbara Kennedy
iUniverse (2011)
ISBN 9781462011230
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views

"Hurrah's Nest: Memoirs of a Money Trader" is the first book in "The Baby Boomer Memoirs." Not being familiar with this phrase, out of curiosity I looked it up in The Webster's Dictionary which defines "Hurrah's Nest" as the "state of utmost confusion."  That definitely applies to the characters in this novel; however, it takes them some time to figure this out for themselves.

The story is mainly based upon two women, Meg and Becky.  Best of friends and sometimes the worst of enemies, Meg and Becky were both born in the same bed a week apart.  Meg's mother does not survive the birthing, so her father takes her away from the family, to Florida, where he raises her.   Meg and Becky were able to overcome the distance that kept them physically apart by writing to each other.  Through their letters, they shared intimacies like they were sisters.

The circumstances surrounding Meg's loss of her mother and having to move away from family that could have helped raise her left Meg feeling abandoned and out of place.  She was also betrayed and horribly taken advantage of by an older male neighbor.  It seems like Becky got the life that Meg wanted.

As Meg approaches adulthood she decides to pursue an acting career which will eventually take her back to New York and she will be able to be closer to Becky.  Meg is married to Dick and they have to live frugally while he is pursuing a career in directing.  Becky, on the other hand, is married to Kevin, who works on Wall Street as a money market broker.  She appears to live the good life, yet like Meg, neither woman is very happy with her life or her relationship.  Unbeknownst to Meg, Becky feels that Kevin only married her to fulfill a role that will help him achieve his goals.  It isn't until much later that she discovers how his use of his relationship with her has a profound effect on the global market.  And, in the long run it will seriously affect decisions that she has to make for her future.

Meg tires of having to struggle for what she wants. Her husband spends most of his time at work.  She doesn't give the impression that she trusts him. Becky puts up a good front of appearing to enjoy her high class social status as the wife of a man of wealth, who also comes from good breeding.  While she appears happy, deep down she really wants to be with someone who she feelstruly loves her.  Meeting Alex, an older, unfaithful book store owner with a sports car and a wife, Becky begins to feel alive.  But obviously the circumstances are not the best for her.  As her husband's career takes him to other countries, Alex is just a distraction for her.  This is also when Becky begins to see the repercussions of her husband's schemes.

In time, Meg also finds a relationship with a married man. He has wealth and enjoys spending it on her. When Dick's job takes him to California, she stays behind.  Both she and Becky have lives, but they aren't really living. Even as Meg's finances improve, neither woman has the emotional security that she desperately desires.  Meg realizes that Becky's loyalty is to herself first, and that she will take what she needs from others to get what she wants.   Becky and Meg also discover that their pasts are more convoluted and intertwined then they could have ever possibly imagined. Their futures will be as well. Deception is a key theme throughout both of their lives based upon acts done to them, and acts that they do to others. 

I found "Hurrah's Nest" to be a fascinating and compelling novel.  I felt linked to the characters because the story appeared to be so realistic.  The twists and turns that the author takes the plot along provide for many shocking revelations. As I read, I kept thinking, "It is true, money does not buy you happiness; but then neither does poverty." This story also made me realize that true loyalty is more important than anything.  I highly recommend this novel!

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Fighting CPS: Guilty Until Proven Innocent of Child Protective Services Charges

Deborah K. Frontiera

Bluebonnets, Boots and Books (2011)
ISBN 9780980006162
Reviewed by Joseph Yurt for Reader Views


The back cover notes of "Fighting CPS" by Deborah K. Frontiera state that the book "chronicles thirteen months of agony and frustration suffered by the innocent Bonilla and Frontiera families as a result of Children's Protective Services removal of young James Bonilla from his parents." But the significance of the story this book tells reverberates far beyond the Child Protective Services Division of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services on which the book focuses. This book is relevant for all fifty states with similar agencies charged with responsibility for investigating reports of abuse and neglect of children.

Few Americans take exception to the mission of child protective services and their primary goal of protecting children. But a mounting body of evidence, like that presented in "Fighting CPS," has made it clear that an alarming number of state agencies and family court systems are broken. This reality has resulted in a growing grassroots movement demanding change and reform in numerous states. Based on Frontiera's book, it's hard to imagine a state in greater disrepair than Texas!

On the other hand, once the reader uncoils from their own initial reaction of disbelief, made possible by the detailed documentation drawn from the author's own copious journal notes, no imagination is required to comprehend the ordeal of young James Bonilla, his parents Rufina and Julio and grandparents  Deborah and Jasper Frontiera. I wonder, however, if those individuals from Texas CPS who were involved with this case understand, or even care, about the ramifications of their ineptitude.  I was not, in the case of James Bonilla. Many reform advocates believe that the investigative component of the process would best be executed by trained law enforcement agencies. And, to make a difficult process even more daunting, the Bonilla case was handed off to thirteen different case workers over thirteen months. Nearly all of them failed to even find time to read the case file.

In "Fighting CPS," Deborah Frontiera shares her story in an honest, open and endearing manner.  I felt her agony and frustrations and sometimes intense anger throughout the book. I was eager to keep reading so that I could celebrate the victory that I wished for this family to achieve. While Frontiera follows-up on her own story with ten other case studies in answerer to the question of whether or not her case was typical, it is her own story that undoubtedly will compel others to engage with this issue or become involved with a movement. At least that was the case for me. Before penning my final draft of this review, I began researching the current condition of CPS in my own county and state. I hope the author will tell James and his parents that the sharing of his story has already had an impact on someone who read the book.

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Padman: A Dad’s Guide to Buying...Those and Other Tales

Mark Elswick

Modern History Press (2011)
ISBN 9781615991150
Reviewed by Joseph Yurt for Reader Views

As a young man just out of high school, author Mark Elswick experienced a devastating traumatic brain injury (TBI) in a car accident. Although doctors wrote him off, he beat the odds, and not only regained his life, he discovered a single act that is critical to the recovery process for both patients and caregivers. This is a giving back book for Elswick on more than one level. He is donating a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of each book to support TBI research. But, his kindest gift, given to all who will read "Padman: A Dad's Guide to Buying...Those and Other Tales" is the book's collection of humorous short stories. Elswick writes in his preface that he hopes to "...entertain you with humorous stories taken from my life, but also to sprinkle in some more serious stories about my traumatic brain injury incident and other survivor stories." His aim is true; he hits the mark!

While the book targets multiple audiences, the short stories will especially entertain the diverse reader population that can relate to a single parent, in this case the author, living the challenges of raising his daughter. Elswick also hopes his personal stories will provide much needed stress relief and an emotional pit stop for daily caregivers. There are many amusing books, blogs and articles out there chronicling the "Dad raises daughter" scenario. What creates point of difference for this book is Elswick himself and his stream of consciousness writing style. Elswick is quaintly macho - a source of humor in itself, and his story telling is based almost entirely on a streaming dialog in his mind, in which he encourages the reader to join. Among the stories included just for amusement and laughs, I laughed out loud at "Red Flags of Age, Frogger Shopping, Newborn to Dad: No Multi-Tasking and In Front of Me? ('Listen punk! If you ever kiss my daughter again, there will be consequences that you won't like.')" 

The stories which explore various aspects of TBI are sprinkled in, as directed by Elswick. The design is seamless, a result of the author's clearly established persona, giving the reader a feeling that they are having a relaxed, informal conversation with the author. Among the best examples of these stories is "Little Brooke: A TBI Story ALL Parents Need to Read." In fact, Brooke's story will be compelling for anyone who reads it because it awakens the realization that on any given day, anyone could be affected by TBI. This is the story that is most likely to stimulate a greater interest learning more about the brain and the buzz around TBI. And it that regard, Elswick hits the bull's eye again.
I like Mark Elswick's book a lot. My own personal commitment to being of good humor every day is buoyed by these stories. And, I understand that we are not likely to care deeply about a problem like TBI unless we are familiar with it.  Elswick's book compels me to care; to contemplate how I would cope if TBI affected me or someone I loved some day; how I can help those affected now? As Elswick notes, "Learning about traumatic brain injuries can, and does, have that big an influence on one's thinking."

So, as of this writing, I am officially announcing my own support for Mark Elswick, the writer who won his own battle with TBI and is now giving back of himself to those who are continuing or just beginning theirs. "Padman: A Dad's Guide to Buying...Those and Other Tales"offers an "edutaining" read on a subject that is anything but humorous. And it underscores the importance of embracing now the devastation of TBI among the general public, as well as in the face of our affected troops returning home. In the opening paragraph of this review, I mentioned that during his own experience, the author discovered a single act that is critical to the recovery process in general. As the patients and caregivers echo in their stories, that act is support. I highly recommend you begin giving yours by reading the book. 

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Monday, September 12, 2011

What Do You Use to Help Your Body?

Jewel Kats
Loving Healing Press (2011)
ISBN 9781615990832
Reviewed by Cayden Aures (age 6.5) for Reader Views Kids

In "What Do You Use to Help Your Body?" a girl whose name is Maggie and her mom go on a walk.  Her mom made it so that they would see different people who use different things to help them.  Sometimes people need help with things if they got hurt or something.  Sometimes people are born that way too and need extra help.

Some of the different things that the girl Maggie learns about are hearing aids, wheelchairs, canes, and walkers.  I have seen people with wheelchairs, and canes, and walkers before. 

Some of the things in the book I didn't know about.  I haven't ever seen anyone who had an artificial leg before.  I also thought that the communication board was kind of neat.  It is good that the lady had one so that she could talk to people. She talked by pointing to pictures and letters on the board so people knew what she wanted to say.  If she didn't have one of those, I don't think anyone would know what she needed and that wouldn't be very good.

I liked learning about all of the different things that help people.  It says in the book that they are called "assistive devices."  I liked the pictures of the things in the book too.  I thought the walker was a wheelchair though because the lady was sitting on it.  But, it says that she sits on it when she needs to rest. "What Do You Use to Help Your Body?" is a good book; it helps kids learn about these things that some people need.

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Less Blah Blah More Ah Ha: How Social Savvy Real Estate Agents Become Trusted, Preferred, Referred -- and Rewarded

Ken Brand
CreateSpace (2011)
ISBN 9780615462424
Reviewed by Irene Watson for Reader Views 

With the downturn of the economy in the past few years real estate sales have been down and many of the agents have been at a standstill; many changing careers or supplementing their income with part-time work.  Those that are on top of their market are still successful because they know the ins-and-outs of being a good agent.  Ken Brand's book, "Less Blah Blah More Ah Ha" is geared for those that are struggling in the market because they haven't learned what it takes to be an agent or for those breaking into the industry.  But, the book is also for those that aspire to learn new information and for those that have been in the business for a long time but are relentless in learning new techniques and strategies.

Written in a conversational style, Brand provides a book full of proven approaches and tactics that have helped him and his team succeed.  Chapter Two is titled "Surprise! We're not in the Real Estate Business."  If nothing else, that should grab your attention.  According to Brand, "Selling a house is the end result of a transaction, but client delight and our long-term success happen only when we focus on the total client experience...;the total client shaped by the quality of our communication, presentation, sharing, problem solving, and service."   He continues to tell the reader that the total client experience is "a reflection of our values: what we believe in, what we stand for, and where we choose to draw the line between common and uncommon."  At the end of the chapter Brand encourages the reader to jot down the answer to "What business are you really in?" as a personal mini Values Statement.  By the time you get to the end of chapter two, or in fact, any other chapter, I can guarantee you will want to proceed to the next because there is always a hook and bait to keep you engaged.

I am a former licensed agent and also have purchased and sold properties through other agents.  From my experience there are just agents, and then there those that are truly good agents; those that put the seller or buyer in the forefront and give total attention to their needs and wants. They are the ones that listen to the client and actually hear what is being said, and they are the ones that establish credibility in the beginning through their words and actions.  Brand gives the step-by-step formula to be what it takes to be a truly good agent.  (He also gives tips on how to adopt abandoned buyers - something many agents inherit.)

Although "Less Blah Blah More Ah Ha" is geared toward real estate agents, I can assure you anyone that is selling any item will find the strategies would work for him or her. The bottom line ends up being awareness, on-purpose direction, and attentiveness; those three will provide the person with communication skills that are beyond the run-of-mill seller. Brand teaches the skills with humor and directness.

Brand's writing style is captivating as he draws the reader to the next page or next topic.  Like a well-written novel, the cliff hangers at the end of each chapter don't allow you to put the book down. "Less Blah Blah More Ah Ha" by Ken Brand is a must-have for all real estate agents, especially those starting out in the highly competitive industry, as a resource/workbook.  But, the techniques only work if worked.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Why China Will Never Rule the World: Travels in the Two Chinas

Troy Parfitt
Western Hemisphere Press (2011)
ISBN 9780986803505
Reviewed by Richard R. Blake for Reader Views

Troy Parfitt introduces an analysis of China's culture, history, government, and citizens exploring them within a cultural context in a time relationship exploring the past, the present, and the future in his book "Why China Will Never Rule the World: Travels in Two Chinas."

I enjoyed Troy's descriptions of the often lush, sometime arid, flora and fauna of China's ever-changing landscape. Whether traveling by train, bus, or following a "scenic walking tour" (suggested in one of his tour books), his descriptions paint picturesque, colorful, and detailed word pictures. In contrast, at times I was disturbed by the exposure to the blind acceptance of the Chinese citizenry to the dismal drab reality of existing circumstances as their destiny.

My perceptions of China's culture and history have been formed through early exposure to missionary biographies, high school curriculum, anti-Communist propaganda, and a number of home visits by Chinese students in our home.

It should come as no surprise to the reader that Troy's own bias, personal philosophy and sometimes cynical outlook come through loud and clear in his writing. His conclusion that China's modernization is largely superficial will meet with criticism and controversy by many. His investigative observations, however, bring out in the open the lack of progress in areas of human rights, educational reform, or freedom of expression in the political arena. I want to think that I will be more objective in my personal understanding and analysis of future news reports regarding China. As an aside, I found it interesting to consider the impact of foreign aggression and of the Opium Wars on China's anti-foreign sentiment.

Although intimidating at first (over 400 pages), I found Troy's writing compelling as well as enlightening. I enjoyed his subtle humor and his entertaining and informative writing style. It is rare to find an author who combines such insight into current affairs and travel. I found the book to be an important learning experience. Troy's impressions, observations, and intimate anecdotes, are engaging, well formulated, and superbly articulated.

The background information, historical anecdotes, travel narrative, and geographical descriptions added immensely to my enjoyment of "Why China Will Never Rule the World."

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Hell Hounds of High School

Patricia Marie Budd

iUniverse (2011)
ISBN 9781450242660
Reviewed by Richard R. Blake for Reader Views

High School English teacher and writer Patricia Marie Budd collaborates with illustrator Tara Nakano to create this unique book "Hell Hounds of High School." The story provides glimpses behind the doors and typical scenes which occur in the English classroom, the principal's office, the counselor's desk, and the teacher's lounge at a fictional parochial school.

Her protagonist Mrs. Pricilla Bird began her teaching career with the ideal that "there is something good in every student." As the reality of disruptive students, out-of-control classrooms, and non-supportive school administrators and parents is seen, Mrs. Bird struggles to maintain this belief. However, she unexpectedly becomes a student advocate, as she attempts to defend her students' actions with the other teachers.

"Hell Hounds of High School" demonstrates the extremes found in individual personalities, the bravado, the insecurity, the determination.  Bird discovers the magnitude of the impact environment; family life, drugs, and abuse have in molding the personalities of her students.

Although the book is fiction, many of the episodes and characters represent a composite of Budd's experiences of nearly twenty years of teaching.  Students Greg, Mary, Frank, and Damien make up this cast of characters as well as Mrs. Bird's peers, Miss Payne and Mr. Wood.

These students and teachers become caricatures and reveal Mrs. Bird's cynical viewpoint of the educational system. Each chapter contains animated pen and ink drawings which add additional humor and another dimension to the narrative.

I enjoyed the segment where Mrs. Bird exchanges a hilarious series of e-mails to express her woes to a friend, Livy. Livy's responses soothe Bird's panic and provide her with needed encouragement and confidence.

Budd uses a writing style that combines comedic satire, a character driven plot with "cheeky" fast moving dialog, (letters and dashes allow the reader to use their imagination to fill in the blanks). Her humor is clever and colorful, sometimes demeaning, often exaggerated, not always politically correct, but admittedly funny. Budd's earlier writing includes script writing and a historical novel. Although "Hell Hounds of High School" is a diversion from these works, elements from both genres are incorporated in this project.

Budd continues to maintain that working with students is an energizing experience. "Hell Hounds of High School" will add school administrators, teachers, and educators to her growing base of fans.

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