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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Men with Red Ties: Diary of an Emigre - Nastya Polikarpova

It just proves that every person, no matter their job, has a story.

Men with Red Ties: Diary of an Emigre follows the story of Alina, a stripper in a high-class New York strip club. While that fact alone isn't enough to create a grasping story, the specifics of her life leading to that job, as relayed by former fellow employee Alexa, are. Even so, though, the story seems like a small taste of a much larger dish.

Following Alina through her doomed-to-fail tumultuous relationship with married Pater would've made a compelling story with a little more elaboration, even though the majority of the book is focused on Alina's past. Still, the 183 pages aren't enough to truly immerse the reader, and being taken out every other chapter for some idle chit-chit between Alexa and newcomer Lena doesn't help. But Polikarpova is on the right track and did craft a fascinating story, even if it's a little lacking in areas.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Smart But Feeling Dumb: New Understanding and Dramatic Treatment for Dyslexia - Harold N. Levinson, M.D.

For those concerned with or wondering about the inner workings of dyslexia and its many indicative symptoms, you can find no better book.

For someone like me, who has little familiarity or experience with the disease, neither through family or friends, nor otherwise, I had the conception going into it that I was going to, as the title implies, 'feel dumb', since most medical texts are over my head with their thesaurus-drowned wordings. Levinson doesn't do that, though. He wrote this book for the every-man: the concerned parent, the questioning teacher, the confused adult. Though its 488-page length is alone intimidating, the easy-to-understand phrasing and frequently used supporting case studies should make this a relatively easy read for those looking further in this disease and its inner workings.
And in no small way does he elaborate on his advancements in the field, only one of which is his 3D Auditory and Tactile Scanners, which have helped in monitoring the progress and development of a person's basic motor functions. Mind you, even this much is over my head, but I have little doubt that this hefty, informative guide will aid those seeking help and guidance in identifying and maintaining dyslexia.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Chin and the Magic Stones - L. J. Salazar

If you've ever wondered what your dog is thinking, this may give you a glimpse into your pooch's mind...and an alternate universe. But that's neither here nor there.

Kirkland, Washington resident Chin and his lovable dog Eagle latch onto every adventure they can get in the small city. But when Chin happens upon a glowing stone, his life (and Eagle's) changes. For the better or worse is only Chin's guess, since the stone magically enables Eagle to talk. But there is so much more to it than a dog's chattering about food and...well, more food.

The pair happen upon a world of magic and mayhem, assuming the roles of spirit hunters in this energetic tale. As Chin and Eagle battle dark influences and draw ever closer to defeating the Shadow Lord, the team's tasks become wilder and wilder, extending the realms of their imaginations (which is a difficult task for a ten-year-old). Though short, this first book of the series sets up Chin and Eagle for their next few discoveries, equipped with silver- and gold-tipped arrows and the ability to walk through walls.

And, of course, a talking dog.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dreamer - Phillip Davidson

Let's just say there's a whole new meaning to the word 'haunting'.

Phillip Davidson crafts an interesting tale revolving around former Green Beret David and his wife Sunny, who, following a disruptive bout of recollective dreams and nightmares her husband experiences, is taken hostage in Argentina. It is this that brings together David and his former Vietnam teammates together one more time - along with the encouragement of an assumed dead comrade, of course. The reluctant allies, using a stolen helicopter, traverse across the world to save Sunny, and one of the men along for the ride has other ideas for their adventure...

Though slow to start, the story grasps the reader later on, when David advances beyond having just strange delusions recalling a failed hit on a close target and begins to bring his associates, both allied and rivaled, into the mix. The story stays strong throughout, but maintains a lot of unresolved issues towards the end once it begins completely focusing on Sunny's rescue. But, much of the tale is very realistic and draws off of Davidson's own experiences as an infantry captain. An interesting tale to be appreciated not for the end, but for the journey to it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Messy Tessy - Leah Orr

Who says you can't both wreck the house and stay out of trouble? Messy Tessy does!

This adorably-illustrated tale of a rather...well...messy kid using an afternoon with her sleepy aunt to have unlimited amounts of fun should hit home with every child and parent...which can be both good or bad, depending on how much havoc the little squirt likes to cause. Even still, everything Tessy does, from getting peas stuck in her curly hair to painting her Aunt Fran's hair with red streaks, are meant in good fun...and can hopefully be cleaned up in time before Mom gets home from the gym!

The illustrations are particularly fun and vibrant with color, beautifully crafted to the story by author Orr's mother, Josephine Lepore. They paint the perfect portrait of a girly girl finding enjoyment in trying on her mother's makeup (and doing it quite well, I might add) and giving her dolls - and herself! - new haircuts. A cute, vivacious tale of adventure and light-hearted mischief...but let's just hope the red paint in Aunt Fran's hair will wash out.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Blue Jean Baby - Sally Palmer

If, at any point, you've believed today's rock stars and starlets to be the pioneers of sexual promiscuity among themselves and their fans, all you have to do is look back to the 60s' to be proven wrong.

Sally Palmer takes the reader on a wild ride through the music scene of the era, dominated by the Beatles and the Stones. No detail is spared as she, in efforts to escape her mother's heavy drinking and find her own identity in her early teens, follows her first love Ringo Starr from performance to performance, looking into new and creative ways to get ever closer to the music-makers that inspire her. Through these seemingly innocent adventures with her 'network' of groupies come unexpected firsts and evaded encounters with the law, every one of which would make a devout Jonas Brothers fan seem like a sedate hermit.

Through every bad relationship, unexpected pregnancy (and abortion to follow), wild night of sex, and drinking game comes a lesson few others can say they've learned firsthand - the 60s were an era like no other in the existence of music and set the standard for today's Coldplays and every single detail.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Turkey's Treat - Marie Sanderlin Metroke

I do believe this is the mother of all cliff-hangers.

The Turkey's Treat follows excited kid Jeff Watson on his short quest to get a Christmas tree and turkey right before Christmas. His parents apparently do things last minute, but they're finally convinced to hunt down a beautiful fir - a rather large one - to adorn their living room during the holidays. On the way home, they stop by the store to purchase a holiday turkey when Jeff spots the live display turkey the store has housed for its giveaway. Despite a warning from his parents and the useful little things on his face called glasses, Jeff ignores the 'DO NOT TOUCH' warning on the sign above the turkey and pets the turkey...resulting in a nastily-bit pinky finger. The turkey climbs hastily over its victim and escapes the wire fencing imprisoning him, resulting in a wild goose...I mean around the store.

The concept is adorable, straight-forward and surely will be an instant love for both kids and their kin. It has several humorous moments, including the ending, which may leave open a spot for a Turkey's Treat 2. It depends on how hungry Jeff gets...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Cookie - Lisa Woomer

You know, my parents always told me for all the macaroni and cheese I ate, I'd eventually turn into one big noodle. Well, take that concept to heart here...

Little Catherine Jenkins loves cookies. Actually, 'love' is too subtle an adjective. 'Worships' probably works better in this case. Cookies are what Catherine, nicknamed Cookie (I'll give you three guesses why), eats for every single meal, as well as dessert and snacks. Her parents are worried, of course, that she's not eating the healthy foods they would prefer her diet consist of, and have even resorted to coating broccoli in icing and sprinkles to tempt her. (An unsuccessful attempt, to note.)

But Catherine begins to get worried when she notices a trail of cookie crumbs constantly marking her trail behind her. She begins to wonder even more when a myriad of animals begin to follow her everywhere she goes. Enough becomes enough when a dog takes a nice big bite out of her leg...which has turned into a cookie! With her parents' help, can Catherine return to normal again?

An adorably written and illustrated story, Cookie can be useful in teaching kids to eat healthier foods...though putting forth the ultimatium that they do that or become a walking cookie is a little strange, in my opinion. But hey, whatever works.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sorrow Wood - Raymond L. Atkins

Who said small-town life couldn't be exciting?

Raymond L. Atkins paints a vivid landscape with expansive, yet small Sand Valley, Alabama, a town monitored by policeman Wendell Blackmon and his wife, probate judge Reva. Together, the pair maintain the town's order, keeping animal-fighting rednecks Otter and Deadhand in line and the extramarital issues of many a townsperson behind closed doors. However, when Sorrow Wood, a nearby farm, catches ablaze and leaves behind a charred body, Sand Valley is turned upside down, making even the unlikeliest of folks a suspect.

What's most interesting about the story is the way in which it is told; using alternating chapters to jump from the present time to the past and back, the reader gradually becomes more and more well-acquainted with the Blackmons and their history together, opening the door for the shocking and unexpected ending. Beautifully written with bouts of hilarity only a small-town native could truly appreciate (and perhaps relate to), Sorrow Wood is another ballpark home run for Atkins.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Elemental Shaman - Omar. S. Rosales

Well, this just brings a whole new meaning to "chasing your dreams".

Traveler Omar Rosales writes of his adventures into the countless facets of shamanism in "Elemental Shaman", following his explorations from Guatemala to Bhutan to seek answers and spiritual guidance. Rosales' experiences with various beliefs and shamans within those beliefs take the essence of spirituality to a whole new level.

To note, shamans are healers that utilize Altered States of Consciousness (ASCs) to basically manipulate the energy in or around their patient. Kind of weird to think about, but the many instances Rosales experiences with these ASCs are quite fascinating and can make the reader curious about them. But these guys are only a small part of what Rosales experiences in his travels. Any skeptic of the supernatural will have a heyday with this book, as Rosales talks about a time shift he went through coming down a dirt trail (the time differentiation between going up the trail and coming down it borders on impossible, unless you're Lance Armstrong with a jet-fueled bicycle); the many healers and religious temple keepers who pretty much foresaw Rosales' arrival even before he hopped on a plane; and the retrieval of several pieces of his soul lost from times past.

Like many others, I too saw some of the things recorded in the book to have been a little bit on the odd side, but it is an enthralling read nonetheless. Just keep an open mind...and if some creepy guy in your dreams asks you to wear a mask, don't take it. You'll know what I mean.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

End of Grace - K. Thomas Murphy

Of all the letters the Post Office could, and often does, lose, it couldn't be these multiple thousands, now could it?

Assistant Kay Summers works for the Mormon Church...even if her belief is a little wary. Hey, it's a job, and a relatively easy one until an influx of letters spouting religious conversions of deceased Mormons drives her to Portland, the locale from which the letters are mailed. Oddly enough, little is found, except the name of a publishing company that maintains the website of the church in question, dubbed the Disciples of Moroni.

The two guys behind the company, computer-happy Rick Macey and pal Clay Adams, are the only connections available between the Church of the Latter-Day Saints and the Disciples of Moroni, and negotiations between the churches to stop the conversions seem to be working well (in the latter's favor)...until the assassination attempts start. It then becomes a race against time to find a civil solution to the matter before Kay, Rick, Clay, or even the Mormon higher-ups are placed before the crosshairs.

Thrilling and riveting, End of Grace presents a series of tribulations intertwined well into a heavily religious, but non-preachy, read. The deep motive behind Rick and Clay's actions give the story a multi-faceted perspective on overall religion and beliefs. A fascinating tale with twists and turns to satisfy almost every group of reader.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Inconvenient Adventures of Uncle Chestnut - Paul Nowak

Who said ending up in the wrong city was a mistake?

Every place gives millions of opportunities to learn something new, according to 20th centry writer G. K. Chesterton, a. k. a. "Uncle Chestnut". Many short stories possessing nuggets of common sense and good advice decorate this story in the forms of unintended adventure and subtle humor. Tales such as the boy seeking the giant in the mountains and Uncle Chestnut and young lad Jack's misguided adventures to the seaside are both adorable and clever, providing snippets of insight that even adults should consider closely.

The end of the short read provides a quick term legend and a hilarious quote dictionary, deriving sayings from Chesterton's myriad of works. The author's note concludes the book and very successful attempt at bringing Chesterton's perceptive work to the people of the 21st century.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Viva Cisco - Patrick Shannon

Who knew a parrot could be such an adventurous sport and...well, a pain?

In three tales of attempted stardom, attempted detective work and successful heroism, Topopootl's own Cisco the Parrot keeps his friends on their toes. In the first, he decides to take up flamenco dancing, wrestling and high-altitude flight - none of which work too well with a parrot's wings. The second story, he finds his calling (sort of) in detective work, helping Topopootl find the mysterious thief nabbing its residents' prized possessions. In the third tale, a Topopootl festival in honor of the town's surrounding skunks peaks Cisco's interest, and he sets out to find the festival's origins, ending up with a task much bigger than he expected.

Cisco and his furry (and not so furry) friends are written with great, human-esque personalities, all with great senses of humor and wit. Cisco is funniest of all, reminding the reader of a friend or colleague who is always going out of their way, no matter how goofy they appear to be, to add some adventure and excitement to their life. A joy to read, Viva Cisco will be a laugh-out-loud funny book for anyone who likes a few crazy animals in their stories.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

No, Never! - Sally O. Lee

An adorable tale with a great lesson, "No, Never!" follows Daisy the dalmatian as she learns the significance of responsibility and how it'll help her achieve her dreams.

Like almost every kid, Daisy is not happy about doing chores and homework, seeing no benefit in it other than to burden their day and distract from playtime. She consistently declares she will not take a bath (I'm sure resulting in some odor issues), not wash the dishes or eat her veggies, believing that all of these things are just obstacles standing in her way from becoming the world's best author and the next Lance Armdog. But her mother clarifies the importance of her current chores, those of which will teach her the skills and responsibility she will need to achieve those things and so much more. Basically, no one wants a stinky bicycle rider.

The story and illustrations are beyond adorable and extremely colorful, providing entertainment for kids and the adults reading to them. The lesson is even better, and something any generation can learn from. A great addition to the kid's bookshelf.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Adventures of Snip in Oregon - Betty S. Moir

This pooch is just dog-gone talkative, he is!

Betty S. Moir creatively and adorably tells the numerous tales of the Moir family pet, Snip, including the regular table meals and comfy belly rubs. Each short story tells of another adventure Snip is involved in, including helping rescue one of the family's children, ridding the farm of a pesky raccoon, and critiquing one of the kid's driving. Yes, Moir even gives Snip a voice, and my! does he have a lot to say!

Not a sad tale one exists in the book, accompanied by family photos and adorable illustrations by Yumi V. Vong, which accurately recreate the story and puts a crystal-clear picture in your mind of what's going on. You can easily picture this lovable, happy-go-lucky canine defensively barking at a ready-to-aim skunk or sneaking around the farm in search of squirrel invaders. Snip is the accurate portrayal of at least one family pet in everyone's childhood, the dog (or cat...or fish, if you prefer) that, in unintentional ways, seemed almost human. Being one of those people who has been lucky enough to have two dogs who have been just that way, I found this story adorable, well-written, and a must for all pet-lovers and their kids.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Dangerously Innocent - Nesrine Joseph

I assure you, the tiger on the cover has nothing to do with the book, plot, or really anything. It's a pretty picture, but this book is not about a tiger. Or even mentions a tiger. But even a tiger-less book can be good.

Dangerously Innocent starts out with the beheading of the husband of Jo-Beth Eaton as they're preparing to head to dinner. This mysterious murder, in which only the husband Mitch's head is left on the scene, is one of many similarly executed incidents, involving a strange variety of body parts. (Tongues, hearts and hands galore!) All victims are male, but little or no connection to one another. Or do they?

A chat with a mouthy neighbor leads detectives Rochelle Trevelyan and Luther James on the hunt of their lives, one with progressively cold leads that together may cost the cops their careers...and their loved ones. As the detectives get ever closer to the killers, they make themselves more and more vulnerable to the life-altering repurcussions that follow.

If you like those detective, true-crime stories, you might find this to be an enjoyably quick and fulfilling read. The unveiling of the killers and the events that follow are unexpected and a bit misplaced in an almost desperate attempt to put some sexual tension and eroticism into the story, but it doesn't really work out that well. Sure, there's some heat between the detectives, even with Luther's snarky attitude and Rochelle's griping lover in the way, but not much is indicated between the pair romantically besides their constant presence around each other. (They're literally partners in crime, after all - that's to be expected.)

Overall, a good, solid read, but it could use more tweaks and fewer body parts.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Zombie Haiku by Ryan Mecum

A book about zombie written in bite sized chunks. It's just as simple as three simple lines of five syllables, then seven, and finally five more. It's powerful little morsels of story telling. "Zombie Haiku" is both a unique concept and a brilliantly fresh take on an horror genre mainstay. It's such a good idea that I wish that I had come up with it first, and it's such a good execution of the idea that I searched bookstores all over town until I finally got a copy of my own.

It takes 139 pages to tell this story. Most of the pages have two or three and sometimes four haiku. A few are filled with hand scrawled text. This is a story that was written into a poetry journal by a man after a plague has turned most everyone into zombies. The poetry journal belonged to someone else that had undergone "the change". It only takes one sitting to read this book from cover to cover. Of all the things that haunt me after reading this story, the weirdest has to be that it was written by a youth pastor at a Presbyterian church in Cincinnati, Ohio.

To be sure, "Zombie Haiku" will never be put on display beside ANY of the masters of Japanese literature. Seriously, how many of those ancient masters would have paired brains and artificial hips in verse, much less an entree?

Some, if not most, of the "haiku" in this book aren't even formal haiku, but 100% of these haiku-shaped stanzas are punchy, provocative, or funny. What's more is - all of them taste great and are less filling. If you want a smile, bite into this book today!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

North from Calcutta - Duane Evans

Nuclear bomb? Check. Evil leader bent on instigating war? Check. Beautiful woman? Check. Optimistic overweight sidekick? Uh...check.

North from Calcutta follows Tarek Durrani, a Pakistani intelligence officer, to London, Bangladesh, Dubai, the Himalayas, and a few other places in attempt to stop a plot to cause a world-changing war between Pakistan and India, as well as save the woman he's hopelessly fallen in love with. Seems like a typical action/adventure, 'save-the-world-before-it's-too-late' kind of tale, but it's really not.

While meeting with architect Advani (his last name; his first is way too long to even attempt to spell) about the plans of a dam named Farakka Barrage built north of Calcutta (hence the book's name), he meets Advani's beautiful daughter Sahar and falls head over heels. But after obtaining the plans he needs for Farakka Barrage, Durrani learns of a plot to blow the dam and pin it on Pakistan. Worse still, a commencement ceremony at Farakka Barrage is to take place with both Advani and his daughter present, putting them as well as hundreds of others in the possible line of fire. It's no wonder Durrani call on his connected, jolly and plump sidekick Habibi to help in stopping the plot's execution.

To be Evans' first novel, he writes like a veteran. Could definitely be owed to his own personal experience as a CIA operative, but even still, he uses all the right words to describe the situation in just enough detail to keep the reader enthralled and begging for more. I'd recommend the writers of 24 pick this guy up - he could make for some amazing scripts for season 8!

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Sneakiest Pirates/The Heroes of Googly Woogly - Dalton James

In an adorably-illustrated set of tales following Pete and his father James, seven-year-old author and illustrator Dalton James paints a brilliant picture of adventure and fantasy in his two books, The Sneakiest Pirates and The Heroes of Googly Woogly.

In the first, Pete and James set out to sea to find the buried treasure of pirate Peg Leg Chuck and keep it out of the hands of the king. The father-son team quietly snatch the treasure as Peg Leg and the king are demolishing each other's ships; with their newfound wealth, James and Pete decide to leave the sea-faring careers of pirates and become rock stars.

Googly Woogly picks up where Pirates left off, this time following the pair in their desire to become astronauts. With a space refrigerator packed full of sweets, the pair jet off in a spaceship and arrive at Googly Woogly, a rectangular planet home to the SooDos and the SooDonts. In an effort to aid the SooDos, an alien race that helps the sick and unfortunate, Pete and James use their arsenal of gum to trap the SooDonts that are stealing the SooDos' spaceships. When given a trophy (shaped like wads of gum) made out of a mysterious substance (besilium ore), the pair decide to head back to Earth and become scientists to study it.

I may be nineteen years old, but I loved these books and can't wait for the next installment! James explores a world full of opportunities an imagination only as big as Googly Woogly could fathom. An excellent, out-of-this-world read for kids and adults alike.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Silly Little Rich Girl - Jimmy Gleacher

No one would've ever thought a cross-country search for a family member could be this...interesting.

But Gleacher's Silly Little Rich Girl proves it's possible in many, many ways. Narrated by Liza, a Wall Street mainstay, the book follows her on her quest to find her sister and includes all the twists, turns, pitfalls, antics and perverted tasks done throughout the journey. On the side of a van she receives in a simply indescribable transaction with her mother's lover, Liza paints the portrait of her sister and her cell number in order to bring in the attention of any part of the public who may have spotted her. But her journey from New York to Washington in the said van turns into an unexpected media frenzy as she bunks with a designer to the stars, falls in love with a guy obsessed with death, and wins a best legs competition with a mannequin that resembles her sister. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

It's hard to describe and summarize Silly Little Rich Girl in just a few words. It's interesting, enthralling, frightening, moving, hilarious, disturbing, cringe-worthy, and so many other things. Gleacher flawlessly combines these elements into a very simply-plotted story that evolves into an out-of-this-world adventure.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Beach Chair Diaries - Janet E. Spurr

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a beach person. I love being near a city, the accessibility to so many opportunities and activities, the busyness of it all...but I will also admit that this book has made me appreciate the beauty and calm of a beautiful, water-edged beach.

In each short recollection, Spurr takes the reader to a world of no worries or cares, telling tales of humor, sorrow and relaxation. A quick read, Spurr's Diaries will allow you to bookmark after each memory and explore the beach yourself. Short questionnaries and tips at the end of each chapter will further aid you in your adventures as you make memories of your own along the shores of your own nearby beach...or just in your mind. While the book is centralized on the topic of beaches, even those nowhere near a beach can enjoy it (myself included) and take advantage of its tips and suggestions (ice cream and online shopping, anyone?).

An excellent, calming read.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Carbon Copy: Alpha Man - Gary Turcotte

The only adjective I can think to accurately describe this book is 'interesting'.

Not that the story is bad or anything - it's just...odd. You have an agent whose identity is constantly put under the knife so he can assume other identities. (So maybe Joan Rivers is a secret agent after all...) But in the midst of one of his latest reconstruction operations, his mind is implanted with knowledge of the alien sort...literally. The alien's name is Roswell and he likes Jell-O. I am deadly serious here.

This agent, Derek, and a few of his agent buddies (amazing he can figure out who they are with all the nip-tucks going on) go along with this weird alien thing and one of them, Janet, gets implanted with a hybrid 'superbaby'. The males of the group get the treatment they would more likely receive at a sperm bank - make your deposit, and your payment is the joy of creating more weird alien hybrids. Oh, wonderful.

Then the story weirds out when Derek and Janet are abducted willingly, given new faces, and decide "Oh, I don't want to do this 007 stuff anymore - I want to raise a family and go to Wal-Mart!" So they have to fake their previous identities's deaths and assume their new ones in order to find any peace and quiet.'s not like anyone could recognize them anyway. Let's just hope they're well supplied with Jell-O.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Artist Within - Whitney Ferre

"The Artist Within" is Liberation in three steps and fifteen exercises. The subtitle proclaims this book to be a guide to becoming creatively fit, but it is so much more than that. In equal parts "The Artist Within" is a companion, coach, creativity workshop, and collaborator.

The methods author Whitney Feere uses in this book are straight-forward, practical, and understandable. Anyone can do them. The only thing that is uncommon is the result! It works. Most people spend their workaday lives using the logical, verbal and analytical parts of their brains. The way the author introduces the reader to "the artist within" is to use these different exercises to stimulate the other side of the brain. By giving that portion a recognizable voice, it makes a connection with it easy with practice. The exercises the author leads the read through build upon one another effortlessly. You create from the start! You can get even more resources from the author's website

The exercises are organized as explorations in the most commonly acknowledged principles of design: emphasis, balance, proportion, harmony, contrast, rhythm, and repetition. Each exercise builds a new confidence in oneself as well as materials and methods of creating different kinds of art. Each variation in these concepts and techniques is intuitive, quick and most importantly, fun.

If you want to discover or develop your creativity, this is the book that was worth waiting for and will get you in touch with a part of yourself that can't wait to meet you too.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Strength of a Sparrow - Tim Anders

"The Strength of a Sparrow" is a catchy urban romance with generous helpings of suspense, discovery and family history. Largely seen through the eyes of a young actress, Bouvette Sherwood, and based on her true life experience, this story is an interesting read.

The story begins in an Italian restaurant in the upper east side of Manhattan in 1946. A 25 year old Bouvette meets Hughie, a distinguished older man with a taste for Dewar's White Label Scotch. Bouvette, or "Boo" as her friends call her, learns more about Hughie, she finds he has a secret. He is a Roman Catholic priest.

As their romance develops, so does the intrigue of a forbidden relationship. Time and passion raise the stakes, and when Bouvette becomes pregnant, the story becomes a full fledged suspense. This developing romance with its surprising twists builds velocity as it moves along. It's well paced and filled with warmly developed characters and locales that sparkle with personality.

"The Strength of a Sparrow" is a rich and structurally complex story. The changes between the viewpoint characters, Bouvette and Hughie, are unusual for a traditional romance. Another viewpoint character, the author, appears late in the story to add another colorful square to this interestingly quilted, patchwork story. Bouvette and Hughie each make some hard choices and those decisions determine lives are changed lives forever. The story morphs into autobiography there, closing the curtain on the author's parent's romance.

Because this story is based on events that really happened and involves real people with real human strengths and weaknesses, some scenes are intense.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Bouncing Boy - ILIA

A boy confused for a bouncing ball helps save a village from a disease of head-grown flowers and sour-puss attitudes. Awkward concept, but it surprisingly works.

ILIA's unique tale of Jack, a full-faced and -bodied kid and victim of quite a jab and insult in his small village, leads the child to a life of glutton after being cast out of his village and into the wilderness beyond. But an old man, witness to the birth of the Sad Situation, a sudden growth of odiferous flowers atop the villagers' heads, seeks the boy's assistance in finding the disease's cure. The unlikely duo head out from the village into the unknown in search of the antidote, encountering many an obstacle along the way. But will their efforts be enough to save the villagers?

There's good moral behind the story, but it seems a little weirdly emphasized. The first few pages are almost dedicated solely to the teasing and insulting poor Jack receives from the villagers, highlighting the cruelness of the villagers and the slim likelihood that Jack would ever put one pinky finger towards helping them. But I guess that is the moral...not do unto others as they do unto you, but rather do unto those with stinky flowers on their heads.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Blood Lines (NCIS) - Mel Odom

Talk about a complicated father-son relationship.

NCIS's Shel McHenry's father pops up missing and McHenry recruits his fellow teammates to help him figure out what's going on. Turns out a drug ring in Vietnam has a past connection to him and he's running from a potential imprisonment or execution due to an unintended murder. Now NCIS must hunt down the decades-old corpse of the victim to uncover the truth.

Mel Odom is an excellent writer, through and through; he flawlessly injects needed shots of drama in all the right places. Each character's personality shines through, including Shel's God-fearing brother Don, an uplifting dose of religion sparingly added to the grim tale. Odom packs the tale with bushelfuls of adventure and nail-biting suspense that is a rarity in some of today's novels.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Baron Thinks Dogs Are People Too! - Laurie Dean

What's a puppy to do when he can't find a best friend?

Laurie Dean writes of precocious puppy Baron, a family pet that, despite energetic and rowdy playing and caring from his owners, decided one day to wander into the road. Don't worry, he's okay - he just has to pass obedience school! When he finally makes it home, he finds some of his friends leaving, like Dad, who's in the Air Force, and the neighborhood kids that finished their fun and playing in the snow. Will Baron find the friend he's seeking?

This story is just too cute for its own good. Maybe it's my soft spot for dogs, but the concept is absolutely adorable. Kevin Collier's accompanying artwork just adds to the story, increasing the tale's impact. It's easy to understand and should be present on every dog-loving kiddo's bookshelf.

Too Tall Alice - Barbara Worton

Four inches can seem like four miles to an eight-year-old.

So is the case for Alice, who's had a little bit of a growth spurt and is now four inches taller than her classmates at Cherry Tree School. Like many of a similar age, Alice wishes only to fit in with her buddies and not be able to get a good look of the top of their heads. Her Mom and doctor say she's healthy and fine, but Alice doesn't feel that great. Things are made worse when, while in her bedroom, Alice overhears conversation between her neighbors and parents, who speak of their daughter's vertical advantage. When Alice falls asleep at last, she dreams of a place where only tall girls reside, girls with futures in basketball, modeling and the circus. Will Alice ever feel comfortable with her height?

Worton's writing is very fluid and light, but Alice's unsure sentiments are evident and strong. Its message of self-esteem even in times of difference or awkwardness is pure and influential, surely to help kids (and maybe even a few adults!) with issues of self-image. To be noted also is illustrator Dom Rodi's whimsical sketches and images accompanying the book, mixing various elements to create a crowded, yet thought-provoking tale.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Collision of Angels - Michael Carver

Historically, the inauguration of America's first African-American president has come and gone with celebrations abound. But unlike this year of presidential firsts, Michael Carver's Collision of Angels explores another side to a potential American leadership, asking a very important question: What would happen if a man of God was elected president?

Enter Tony Campbell, a company CEO with an ever-growing relationship with The Man Upstairs, and son-in-law to Silas Jackson, a man with a brilliant idea. He and his friends have more than enough money to support the idea, and they have just the right person to fill the spot - why not kick off an presidential campaign for Tony? Though hesitant at first, Tony quickly falls into step with his father-in-law after a bathroom visit from the Lord himself. But as the time to announce his running draws closer, the word of Tony's running leaks to the press thanks to buddy Pete's troublesome son and basketball superstar Karl.

Though the addition of Satan's little sneaky henchmen add a little bit of cheese to the story, the book is very solid and beautifully written. Carver is a clearly religious man and writes as so, but not in a preachy, off-putting manner like most religious books. He just tells the story of a man who heavily believes and lives for his relationship with Jesus, a rare find in this day and age. The overall concept also raises questions about our nation's current political state and about what would happen if this country was finally governed again on the principles it was founded and built on.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Keeping Hannah Waiting by Dave Clarke

Have you ever read a book and thought how great the movie of it would be? This is one of those stories! "Keeping Hannah Waiting" is a beautiful and compelling story by veteran author and child of two Holocaust survivors, Dave Clarke. This is a classic romance wrapped in a mystery and knitted together by art, history, and Holocaust.

Kate McBride inherits an attic full of books from her mother. One of the books, titled "Die Zulassung, 1940" contains a real surprise - a breathtaking painting of a young woman lying in a field of lavender. Only after she sells the painting for $50 million does she find that the painting was stolen by the Nazis from its rightful owner. Unable to get the painting back, Kate wants to give the money from its sale to the original owner - if she can find that person. Solving the mystery of who is the painting's rightful owner takes Kate on a journey of the most interesting kind, one that runs right through the heart.

To show us how the painting was created, the story jumps back in time to Russia in 1910. The romance between an artist and the beauty that eventually becomes his model is a familiar one. If you liked "Titanic", then you will definitely like "Keeping Hannah Waiting."

This story covers a lot of history. It is rich with culture and the characters are real enough to jump right off the page. Its scant 267 pages is simply not enough to tell a story this big. This shortness really hurts in two ways. The description of the end of the romance between the model and the artist occurs in just two pages. If that part of the story had been written as tenderly and compellingly as the rest of this really good book, then it would have been great. The story of how the Nazis steal the painting happens in just a few pages as well leaving the reader with a sense of "what might have been" rather than the "wow" that is the rest of this book.

"Keeping Hannah Waiting" is good and definitely worth every minute of the read. Another fifty pages would have made this great. I hope the author adds those missing pages at some point in the future. The quality of the writing and the powerful elements of the story make this a pleasure to read.