Back on Track

New reviews coming soon! I'll be importing my work from the past two years, but in the meantime,
I'm reclaiming my small place on the web.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Fantasy Fiction Review

The Human Element
by Dan Skelton
ISBN-10: 1424142253

Do we really know the people in our hometowns? What could they be hiding, just under the surface? In Dan Skelton's novel, "The Human Element," what's under the surface is something truly scary.

Everyone in the small town of Medalia seems to idolize a young football hero, Trex Stegal. He's a fantastic player, on and off the field. The girls all want to be near him, the guys all want to be his friend. Trex has the respect of the adults in town, from the coach to the local cops. But there is something just barely hidden under his skin, something in the depths of his eyes that hints at an untamed beast. When three college students are murdered, the case goes unsolved for the guilty party is the person who would be last expected. Bit by bit though, we begin to see the boiling persona Trex keeps somewhat under control.

Disturbing events of sex and violence demonstrate the truth, but only to the reader. The other characters in the book have only an inkling that Trex can be a monster. You don't want him as an enemy, for revenge is deviously planned and played out. This all American boy is really anything but. Murder, incest, attempted rape, tortuous blackmail, vicious violence on the football field in front of hundreds of fans, all wrapped up in a tight package called, "The Human Element."

Dan Skelton captures the reader's attention and writes his work so fluidly it's a wonder the words don't pour off the page. His descriptive talent will have you gasping in shock, devouring the words in the heat of passion, and appalled at the detailed depictions of lust, violence, and insanity. Can he get any better? I can't wait to find out.

Non-Fiction Review

The Miracle Within
by Jack McCubbin
ISBN-10: 0978633601

The beauty of developing life is captured eloquently in the book, "The Miracle Within" by Jack McCubbin, M.D. and Cathy Schaffer. For every woman who is now pregnant or is considering having a baby, this beautiful book will be an inspiration.

Photography, artist's depictions, loving quotations, and a gentle, guiding narration will carry the reader through nine months of the gestation process. Straightforward, easy to understand, text portrays every step of the development of a baby. Guidance in the way of taking care of yourself as an expectant mother is given, regarding what you eat, what you partake of, the exercise you need, and tests you might have performed. The emotional side of pregnancy is also discussed, in a caring, loving manner.

The authors are well versed in their guidance. Jack H. McCubbin, M.D. has delivered thousands of babies and Cathy Schaffer, PA-C, has worked extensively with women suffering from high-risk medical problems during pregnancy. Together, they offer a book that is a helpful tool and resource for information, but is also an awe-inspiring collection of photographs of every stage of fetal development. This book should make an appearance at every baby shower and ought to be on the list of things to buy, right along with those prenatal vitamins.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Satire Fiction Review

by C. D. Jewell
ISBN-10: 059539258X

"Liberalstein" is definitely a satire. C.D. Jewell has taken Shelley's idea and created a whole new monster.

Thinly disguised characters based on real people in America take extreme liberties and decide to literally create the ultimate in liberal presidential candidates. A cloned male who will have DNA from numerous liberal sources is created with the hope that he will be the answer to their collective dreams. With the help of a select few, the clone, Frank N. Liberalstein, will win a governorship and then run for president. The polls reflect the popularity of such a candidate and the republicans are running scared. Liberalstein has flaws though, as his drastic composition is folding in on itself.

The problem with basing fictional characters on real people is that as an author you are taking your perception of that person and perhaps some of the public's perception and creating a character whom you can make do anything you wish. This is leading the reader to feel the same way you do about your character and what he does and you are relying on the reader understanding what you're going for. I felt that I was being led in a direction that I am not comfortable with. I am sure there are many readers who will agree with Jewell's more conservative viewpoints and will enjoy the book. If you like satire, this is the most satirical book I've read in ages. Quite imaginative!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Non-Fiction self-help Review

Help Me With My Teenager! A Step-by-step Guide for Parents that Works
by Christina Botto
ISBN-10: 0978846508

If you are the parent of a teenager you may have had some challenging also may have run screaming to a friend begging for advice. Some teens are the type you need an instruction manual for, while others are perfectly understandable. Christina Botto offers a guide for parents of teens, that she says "works." "Help Me With My Teenager!" is a step-by-step guide, that instruction manual parents sometimes wish for.
Botto shares her own experiences, being the mom of two young women who made it through teenhood. Once she has you at ease that she has been there and done that, she explains that the best approach to having a better relationship with your young adult is to understand what it means to be a teen. You probably remember but it doesn't hurt to be reminded. Botto then goes on to give advice on connecting with your teen, giving them room to grow, dealing with their friends, setting limits, and enjoying your relationship with your teenager. You can do it!

This guide is a no nonsense "how-to" that is likely to save many relationships. Being reminded to be careful of what we say, how to act, and react, is worth its weight in gold. Some of the tips are so slap-upside-the-head simple that you'll feel a Homer Simpson moment of "Doh!" Others are full of insight that you just may have never thought of.

If you need a little guidance, a friendly whisper in the ear about what works and what doesn't, Christina Botto is here for you.

Science Fiction/Fiction Review

The Expert on Everything - a novel
by Edward David Gil
ISBN-10: 1847287263

Big Brother meets Big Business in Edward David Gil's novel, "The Expert on Everything." What is the next evolutional step for the internet? Could it be instant information at the ear of the questioner? What would the repercussions be? What would the cost for such a tool be? What price would we all pay when it comes to issues of privacy?

Charlie Sanders doesn't suspect that he's been set up for a job, even though he's offered a six figure salary just a few moments into his interview at the newly formed Vector Systems. Things get very interesting when he is mistakenly given the company's only prototype of a new technology so innovative that it would change the world in a heartbeat. Just ask "Wallace" anything about anybody and you will instantly be the expert of everything. Drawing information from surveillance cameras, credit card purchases, motor vehicle records, satellite systems and every conceivable possibility, Wallace, a sort of personal assistant with a microchip brain, all in the form of an earpiece, will let you know if you should purchase the used car you're looking at, go out on a date with the person you're flirting with, or eat the sushi that's on your plate.

The company is growing, debating whether to sell this new technology to government agencies that are seeking out terrorists under every rock, developing marketing plans to baby boomers and Gen. X'ers, and all the while the techno geeks are working out some serious kinks. When the head techie's car goes into the ocean, things get a bit scary. Even scarier still is the fact that Wallace has taken on its own mission and is now threatening lives unless his transportation, in the name of Charlie Sanders, completes the orders he is given.

Orwell was on the right track of course, but Edward Gil takes it a step further and into the 21st century. This techno thriller touches on the real threat of privacy no longer existing. The plot is smooth and interesting, showing a great deal of the truth of business development. Gil's style is of a different flavor and sticks out just enough to be memorable. Let's hope the premise never comes to be, and if it already does, I just don't want to know.

Children's Fantasy Review

Marin and the Dragon's Golden Treasure: A Lesson in Trading with Dragons
by E W Bonadio
ISBN-10: 0595396569

"Come to pass the time in the light of a dragon's eye." E.W. Bonadio's book, "Marin and the Dragon's Golden Treasure," is told in classic style.

When a greedy general with a fierce army hears of a dragon's treasure, he decides to hold a village ransom for the gold he desires. The village of Vale will be destroyed in three day's time unless the rumored gold is presented, and the villagers sold into slavery. A young boy named Marin trusts the stories his father had told him, and sets out to the dragon's lair. In years past, the dragon, Dax, had a pact with the king to protect the villages in exchange for a yearly trade of gold. This pact had been forgotten and the dragon hadn't received any new treasure in quite some time. Young Marin made his way to beg the dragon for a few pieces of gold, enough to pay the ransom to the general. Dax has another plan in mind. Will he help the villagers once again? Is Marin too trusting of the stories from the past?

This short story is an enchanting tale of dragon lore, honesty and integrity. Bonadio offers insight into the world of dragons, first through the story and then with more details of the history of dragons. Fast paced and fascinating, children will love this book about Dax and Marin and just may learn a lesson about trading with dragons.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Historical Fiction Review

The Spectre of Death Rode the Land
by Lois Glass Webb
ISBN-10: 1595263632
Review by Heather Froeschl

War is a Grim Reaper that deeply invades the lives of everyone it encounters. The U.S. Civil War hosted the Reaper, and as the title of Lois Glass Webb’s book depicts, “The Spectre of Death Rode the Land.”

In Southeast Missouri, John Gordon announces that the family will remain neutral, that they will remain the farmers that they are and raise corn and hogs as they always have. Family duty is a strong pull but a sense of justice is yet another. Stuart Gordon goes against his father’s wishes and joins up as the Union army pushes into Missouri. His brother Riley is pulled from both sides, all the more stronger now that he is the eldest son at home. With women to protect, crops to be pursued and life wreaking havoc at every turn, Riley struggles with his commitments and sense of honor.

Life continues on through the deaths of loved ones. Every day is a battle to get through. Every little thing once taken for granted is now an obstacle to get over. John Gordon’s daughters, Kate, Emely and Ritty hang on, hoping against hope that the war will end and life will return. But how can it? Husbands are lost, new lives are birthed, torment of fear is persistent. Will life ever be the same again? Likely not, but maybe there is a new one to look forward to.

Lois Glass Webb’s story is one often told but rarely given the humanity and depth of life that her characters portray. This is more than a tale of the North invading the South; it is a story of life prevailing over that spectre of death. With the fast paced action of a war story and the heart felt perspective of deep emotion, this book is one that brings history to the light of humanistic evaluation. Facts and statistics do not breathe, but history told through family remembrances, with emotive response, hopes and fears shared with the reader, is a book you won’t forget.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Mythology Review

Jason and Medea: A Whirlwind of Ruin
by Matthew Hunter
ISBN-10: 0595671039
Review by Heather Froeschl

How far would you go to reach that golden ring? Would you push another child off the carousel? As Jason strives for the Golden Fleece, he does more than mythology has led us to believe. In Matthew L. Hunter's version of the tale, "Jason and Medea: A Whirlwind of Ruin," we finally see the whole story...or at least Hunter's imaginative adaptation.

Dear old King Pelias sends his nephew Jason off on a quest to return the Golden Fleece to his kingdom with a promise that if he does so, the throne will be his. In the next breath he has Jason's father Aeson killed. And thus begins the violent acts of lust for power in this tale. Jason and his Argonauts are not the things of film and cartoon that recent history has depicted. The crew is brutal and vicious at every obstacle, Jason heartless in his quest. Mythology continues to accompany this version of the Fleece seeker, while the author's imagination fills in many gaps to the classic tale.

In a unique form of style, not quite novel and not quite play, Hunter offers a "mind-play" for the reader to envision the acts as they occur. This style is fluid and refreshing to this reader, while others may find it hard to follow. His writing is crisp and precise, evoking the images to appear in the mind's eye, the emotion to choke the throat. A very well done piece of work!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Short Story Collection Review

Issi's (and other) Tales
by Anthony Waugh
ISBN-10: 1595264051
Review by Heather Froeschl

The short story is an art form that very few perfect. Poe and O. Henry come to mind. I recently was introduced to a new author along those very lines...Anthony Waugh. His collection, "Issi's (and other) Tales," is an example of awesome writing ability.

Twelve little stories, or rather, eleven short and one longer one, fill the pages with a very interesting variety of topics. All of them though, demonstrate an amazing knowledge of the human beast. Portraying that knowledge in such a way that each character comes to life before the reader's eyes, Waugh shows the world his gift.

Recreating Judea and the days of Jesus and his followers is a bold step, but so well done in the first story that you will be enticed to continue on to the next tale. Each story does the same, tempting and enthralling into the next chapter. Often, I was left open mouthed from an O. Henry twist, so much so that I could not wait to see what could come next... A story of raw human strength erupted by anger, another, about straying from a marriage, and my favorite, a look into the dementia of an elderly woman, lost in her mind and trying desperately to remember life.

Each story is complete and the plot unique. Anthony Waugh uses words as a paintbrush to depict a picture of some of the darker sides of life. Absolutely well done!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Poetry Review

The Dark Side of the Moon (The Dark Side of the Moon by Varujan Ughurlyan, Volume 1)
by Varujan Ughurlyan
ISBN-10: 9994101471
Review by Heather Froeschl

Reflective, mindful, descriptive, obscure, intense and intimate are some of the words that come to mind while reading "The Dark Side of the Moon," by Varujan Ughurlyan. This book, a work of art, for it denies being compartmentalized into the categories of book of poetry or portfolio of paintings, is not to be taken lightly. The author's intentions are surely not pure entertainment. His own words, from one of the poems, sum up the work nicely...

"I want
to mold my thoughts
so the words condense
into exquisite sculptures."

In his artwork, the man's body merges with many others - perhaps as a statement that relates well with his written work. He labels himself unique and truly is. I believe this is one man's search for God, for understanding, for acknowledgment, and self. We simply witness it.

The works show examples of love and hate, righteousness and depravity, good and evil - humanly and godly qualities and considerations. Short tales of mythology and human-ology mix poetry and fiction, leaving messages - or not - with the reader. Sometimes confusing, other times enlightening, the book is not light reading and should be given time to enter the mind. It is a massive work of intricacy, an intensive work of art.

Non-Fiction Review

Khanteya: My Courageous Quest for Love and Freedom
by Julietta Khanteya Thong
ISBN-10: 0595391052
Review by Heather Froeschl

What makes an American Dream? To be successful, happy and healthy? It may be different things to different people, but Julietta Khanteya Thong has proved an American Dream is possible. In her book "Khanteya: My Courageous Quest" she tells the world how she struggled and overcame many obstacles to make it to where she is today.

Khanteya's family endured impossibilities during the Cambodian Communist take over that began on April 17, 1975. They were forced to leave their home, and in fear for their lives became fugitives in their own land. Disguised as farmers, they existed, only barely, until they were able to flee into Thailand. Along the way, the family was split up, put into concentration camps, forced into slave labor, reunited, and ultimately regrouped in a refugee camp run by the United Nations, Khao-I-Dang. There, Khanteya volunteered in a hospital, caring for newborn babies and their mothers. There she met Dr. Rene, and began to understand love. Her teen years were "lived" on the run, in grave danger. Life began again when the family was sponsored to come to the United States.

This touching story is all the more real for me because I was once friends with a young many named Chen Pret, an immigrant to the US, from the terror of Cambodia's take over. The honesty and openness of Khanteya's story makes it personable and at the same time all the more real. This part of the world's history is not something that everyone knows about, but should! Her inspirational tale of her success in America is a testament to perseverance and dedication. Khanteya is an admirable woman and her story is one you won't forget.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Fiction Review

Fifteen Minutes
by Mark Connelly
ISBN-10: 1881515834

Fame comes to those who seek it, but also, sometimes, to those who are chosen by others to experience it. In "Fifteen Minutes," by Mark Connelly, those fleeting moments of fame are the goal after a lifetime of being just out of reach.

George Sabro washes dishes at a coffee shop. Growing up, he wasn't exactly doted upon by his mother. The military taught him to be a good bartender; life taught him to take chances, but to be ready to hit bottom. He learned that one the hard way. For a brief time he was a millionaire, but now, he has intimate knowledge of how to handle the Kleen Genie dishwasher at work. Nearing 50 years old, George wants desperately to enter that bubble of fame-dom.

With a cereal box bomb, he takes hostages, picked ever so carefully for the dramatic effect he seeks, and sits in an abandoned store in NYC. Geraldo Rivera tells the world about it. Will George find his fame? Will he do something with this power to better the world, even for just five people? Time will tell, with video footage on the eleven o'clock news.

Author Mark Connelly offers a unique and interesting tale of what desire can do to a person. His writing is tight and well thought out, obviously planned to perfection. His plot and the character's reflections back to the past, feel real and flow with natural fluidity. His sense of timing is apparent as the story is almost believable in an only in New York kind of way. Very well done!

Children's book Review

Never Pull a Lion's Tail!: A collection of poetry and photographs about animals of Africa For Sophisticated Children of all Ages
by Barry J. Freeman
ISBN-10: 1904722245
Review by Heather Froeschl

Who doesn't love a book about animals? In the rich photographic collection of Barry J. Freeman's book, "Never Pull a Lion's Tail," readers will delight in not only fantastic pictures but also personable poetry. Go on safari with Barry and enjoy the ride.

With poems that reach out in animalistic innocence and humanistic politics, the book is a well-rounded offering to all ages. Children will love the references to the lion cub's nervousness, the baboon's overeating and the zebra losing his stripes, while adults might find satisfaction in a poacher who gets his just desserts, and a pair of waterbucks that thwart danger by falling in love. Young folks interested in animal conservation will no doubt be inspired, and those who just love photos of nature or poetry in the rhythm and rhyme style will be compelled to settle down with the book.

Barry Freeman, having gone on four African safaris to observe and photograph animals in their natural habitats, shares his joy with the world. It is obvious that he loves animals and his delight in writing about them shows on every page. The book is a wonderful addition to any library and home collection. The photos are absolutely splendid. Barry shares credit with two of Africa's widely published photographers: Karl Ammann and David Pluth. This is Barry's first published work but I certainly hope that it isn't his last!

"Never Pull a Lion's Tail" is a treasure!

Short Story Collection Review

Flying Into Tomorrow & Other Stories
by Irving A. Greenfield
Review by Heather Froeschl

"Flying Into Tomorrow & Other Stories" by Irving A. Greenfield is a collection of short tales that reflect real life and real emotion. I would imagine that many are based on actual occurrences, feelings, and reflections of a well-lived life.

The stories are full of flavor and the robust feel of New York, Long Island, and the five boroughs. What's more is the sense of the people of the area; the characters in the stories are rich with life. In Pow! Right in the Kisser, a man comes face to face with a memory from the War while witnessing the tragic death of a man on the street - resulting in a synchronistic moment. In Hash Brown Potatoes, two men sit a table apart and realize that the truth of the past is a huge weight they will continue to bear. In Flying Into Tomorrow, a man flies off to see his son after eight years, and along the way finds compassion and caring - will his journey be a new beginning?

The stories are raw with human nature and emotion and rich with the depth of the author's life. Having been born in Brooklyn some 75 years ago, spending many years teaching at Wagner College, Greenfield no doubt writes what he knows. All in all, the book is an interesting collection.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Memoir Review

Success Envy Crash Reborn
by JoySun Wong
ISBN-10: 0615132006
Review by Heather Froeschl

Do you dare to dream the American Dream? A lot of Americans don't even pursue what they have opportunities for, but the main character of "Success, Envy, Crash, Reborn" did and then some. This true story reads like fiction, through the role of Tony Lima, a Brazilian immigrant who makes a serious go at life in America.

Told in third person but from the mind of the character himself, this book shares a true American Dream tale. Coming to America in his 20's, not even speaking English, Tony builds a life beginning as a dish washer, busboy, and failed car salesman and ends up becoming a millionaire entrepreneur. He finds his way through female relationships, somewhat leery of commitment at first and ends up wary of contractual, married relationships after a couple of tries at matrimony. His business dealings were not always the best, trusting in those he should not have, and success teeters on the brink of failure several times. Bankruptcy is something Tony Lima knows about! Finally, on a trip to India, Tony finds understanding of life with the help of two books and synchronicity.

The story is a frantic one, full of many life lessons and ups and downs. That it is true is something of an amazement at one man's perseverance. Reading the book as a non-fiction work, it is interesting and proves that the American Dream can be realized. Reading as fiction, the storytelling leaves a bit to be desired. I prefer to think of the book as a fictionalized memoir, for with that classification I can say it is well done.

Friday, September 1, 2006

Fiction Review

by Jeffrey Scott Alfin
ISBN-10: 0595377866
Review by Heather Froeschl

Things are not always what they seem, even when the official report claims to be the final word. In a book riddled with clues and mystery, author Jeffrey Scott Alfin offers an interesting look at a major American crime, a down-home story of family, and a modern examination of the facts. "Bryceless" is a captivating tale.

Bryce is called across the country from Arizona to Massachusetts to the reading of his aunt's will. What is revealed is a mind-blowing opportunity. If Bryce can live in the house on the cape for a year, having houseguests every weekend, the estate is his to keep. He must also report memories to the lawyer, and complete a list of objects in the attic that help him recall moments with his uncle. However interesting and nostalgic this part of the story is, it is just a cover for the real challenge. It all begins with the possibility of an intruder and a key that is found hidden under a hinge of an old wine crate. Where it ends is far from the tranquility of his aunt and uncle's home.

If you had information about a something illegal that has happened, would you bring it to light and let the world know? What if your own world would be in grave danger should you choose to do so? What if not doing so would continue a blindfold over America?

"Bryceless" is a delightful twist of personable storytelling and mysterious intrigue. The plot is so well thought out that it feels one is being drawn into a very sticky spider web. The feeling of the trap is something many Americans have suspicions over and it is likely we will never know the whole truth. Portraying this emotion seems to have been the goal of the author. Bryce is a likable character with a few flaws, which make him even more believable. The tale begins innocently enough and turns more sinister as the crescendo of mystery develops. My only minor complaint is from an editor's point of view and involves the misuse of certain spellings of words. A very minor thing when compared to the massive pull this book has. Extremely well done.

Non-Fiction Review

Toxic Faith - Liberal Cure
by Daniel C. Bruch & Thomas W. Strieter
ISBN-10: 1425722288
Review by Heather Froeschl

Freedom of religion means EVERY religion. America was not founded to be a Christian nation. Got your attention? I hope so. "Toxic Faith: Liberal Cure" is an outstanding, must-read book for every American. With calm, intelligent, and composed words, authors Daniel C. Bruch, D.Min., Ph.D., Sc.D. and Thomas W. Strieter, M.Div., STM, Ph.D. make a reasoned response to the alarming assertions of the Religious Right. I applaud them every step of the way.

With scholarly attention to detail and fact, the authors touch on many of the hot topics of American life today...patriotism, abortion, homosexuality, poverty, war, and the environment. Issues of name calling to gain power, infiltrating political parties, using money and political offices to further religious agendas, making moral decisions, examining what it means to be patriotic and many more, are discussed in great detail and with passionate persuasion to see the truth of what is happening all around us.

This is a book written to answer those who claim that liberalism is immoral and somehow destroying the values of this country (though I personally feel that the author's liberalism is more of a democratic stance - and that part of the problem America currently has is people feeling compelled to lump everything that is Democratic under the title of Liberal, like it is a dirty word.) and to carefully and rationally deal with many of today's current issues in a specifically Judeo-Christian liberal context. That isn't to say one has to be Liberal or Christian to agree with the things the authors say. I absolutely concur with their points and reasoning. The point of the book is to show how very much of our government, our society, our world, is under the threat of being run by Fundamentalist Christians. This is not what our founding fathers had in mind at all. Anyone who has an inkling of patriotism needs to read this book and take action.

The authors bring across their points with understanding, obvious intelligence and experience, and clearly, much research. I would love to sit for hours with either or both of them and discuss every issue in the book in great detail. It is my hope, and surely theirs, that "Toxic Faith: Liberal Cure" will become a much talked about work. If you've ever felt that something wasn't quite right in our country, from the reasons for the Iraq War, to the attacks on the Separation of Church and State, or if you're of the mindset that this country WAS based on Christian beliefs, you need to read this book.