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.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Non-fiction review

The Major Forces Driving Humanity
By Steven Zecola
ISBN-10: 0977950913
Review by Heather Froeschl

The keyword in society these days is “change.” We want change in our economy, environment, employment and our future. Figuring out how to create positive change requires looking at the changes and complacency of the past. Steve Zecola provides his completed research on a number of topics and presents it in his latest book, “The Major Forces Driving Humanity.”

Four parts of the book break it up into “Progress up to the Late 1700’s,” “The Late 1700’s to the Present,” “Future Directions,” and “Bringing the Major Forces into Harmony.” In layman’s terms, he shows us the progress of humanity from the beginning of man’s reasoning, religion, and governing to the present, where we feel so desperate for change for the better. Where did we go wrong? What did we do right? What patterns can we avoid or alter?

Sociology classes would eat this book up; students of sociology in everyday form will enjoy the pondering and exploration. Society should pay heed to these lessons learned. The writing is full of advice and research, opinion and teachings. Steve’s voice is full of concern and care. His readers will find a message here regardless of whether the entire book is embraced or not.

What are the major forces driving societal change? What has been allowed to flourish by our very lack of understanding? Zecola explains and offers a comprehensive plan.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Spiritual Fiction Review

By Clifford Lane Mark
ISBN: 978-0-595-46219-3
Review by Heather Froeschl

If you knew we were on the verge of a shift of consciousness, what would you do? Would you be a part of it? Would you hide from the change? Deny it? Notice it? Forever, there have been wise ones, enlightened ones who have told us that we could do as they do, be as they are. We have been lost in the process and sometimes lost sight of the goal.

The character Thomas Walls was drawn to do something in preparation for an event so monumental it would change the course of humanity for the next two thousand years. As synchronicity works, the people that needed to be planners for the event came together. They were given clues that had been presented by a guru, so that they would be sure of the ones who would come to teach. The souls of the masters reborn to show us the way didn’t really need to have clues foretell of their coming though. They were known when the time came.

The planning of the gathering at a sacred spot all fell into place over months of work. Would it have occurred regardless? The planners learned much along the way and shared of themselves. In this sharing the reader also learns to let go of beliefs, look for their own path to enlightenment and embrace what becomes. The pinnacle of the book, the event itself, is much anticipated.

The writing is well executed and the story purposeful. The beginning is a bit slow but the momentum of the plot builds like the path up the sacred mesa. It is well worth the exercise. A book with a different kind of vision, “Ecumensus” is full of hope, promising a new age of enlightenment that I sincerely wish to be non-fiction.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fiction Anthology Review

Sin: A Deadly Anthology
ISBN-10: 0974793469
Review by Heather Froeschl

Sin: behavior that goes against the moral and religious norms. Sin: the topic of a captivating anthology. Like being drawn to watch a tragedy in progress, readers will be enticed to turn the pages, witnessing horrific moments of sin. From some of Chicago’s popular fiction authors, “Sin, A Deadly Anthology,” is gripping.

What could force a person to commit a sin? Love? Hate? Revenge? Insanity? When does an action become a sin? At the moment the idea hits the person? When they admit that it was wrong? Is sin in the eye of the beholder? Readers will have to decide for themselves as each story unfolds.

Sex, murder, and greed are all obvious sins, but when the circumstances are impossible, things can be seen in another light. Nothing is simply obvious. A story about a flood and a loving husband choked me with tears. Another that involved a demon had me pondering the legends I’ve grown up with. A tale of buried family memories inspired questions of what we are told in our youth and what we trust as adults. Each contribution to the book has a different feel but an underlying theme of encouraging contemplation on what is understood to be sin.

The writing is all tight and solid. Each author putting his or her own spin and finishing touches on the anthology. It is an intriguing read. Dare you be seen holding a book titled: Sin? It is well worth any stares you might receive.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Suspense Review

By Deborah Cannon
Review by Heather Froeschl

Archaeologist Jake Lalonde searches for the origins of the icon of the mythical raven, as depicted in an ancient carving off the coast of British Columbia. Haunting his dreams, his search finds him is so far from what is expected that it leaves him breathless and nearly distracted enough to forget a deadly threat to his and Angeline’s lives. Deborah Cannon brings legends into a new light in “Ravenstone,” the third in a series but also a stand alone novel.

Menacing messages appear on Angeline’s phone and the threat is all too real though some suspect she is imagining it. A past nemesis has returned to Angeline and Jake’s world. Once safely (not really) locked away, insanely rich Radisson again haunts their minds and hunts control over their souls. When Jake’s daughter’s presence is revealed and then threatened, action must be taken. But Angeline is already on her way to Lyell Island, and Jake is unsure of where they stand as a couple.

Danger is hidden along with the elusive answers to Jake’s questions. What seems innocent flirtation at first leads to deadly dancing with a past he had forgotten and a present situation he hadn’t been very aware of.

The writing is engaging and immerses the reader into the contrasting but beautiful locales of the coast of British Columbia and the coast of Lyell Island, a Polynesian paradise.

Digging into the habits and mindsets of archaeologists is interesting to witness, while the troublesome romance adds a delightful human interest quality to the tale. Danger, love, life, the past of characters and the subjects they study, and the possible futures of all involved wrap up into a well rounded story. Add the mystical quality of legends and you’ve got a memorable book. Not surprising coming from Deborah Cannon.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Memoir Book Review

Switched at Birth
By Frederick J. George
ISBN-10: 0615145027
Review by Heather Froeschl

A memoir with a twist, “Switched at Birth: My Life in Someone Else's World” by Frederick J. George examines the coincidences of life. Placed in the wrong bassinet in the hospital, Frederick didn’t confirm the switch until he was 57, and the parents he had grown up with were already passed on; his birth mother the only parent left to embrace in this deeply moving time.

His father had always been suspicious, even accusing Frederick’s mother of having had an affair. He always looked a little different than his siblings in family photos, and had slightly different interests, but Fred had tried to fit in. Fate also tried, making efforts to step in, crossing the paths of both boys and their families over the years. Fred’s brother was even friends with the switched boy, Jim. Ironic is the word that comes to mind, almost unbelievable is the tale.

Fred shares the histories of both of his families and how he came to understand them. He opens up, telling readers of his relationship with his birth mother, as it began so much later than it possibly should have.

The writing is reminiscent of the passed down family legend, purely memoir. An interesting book about a twist of fate.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Poetry Review

A Spell Too Far
by Celticscribe
ISBN-10: 0595499937
Review by Heather Froeschl

Blow away life’s troubles like the down of a dandelion and fall under the enchantment of poetry. “A Spell Too Far” by Colleen Avelli and Peter Crossland is a collection not to be missed. With a mystical flair, these two poets entwine their works like the twisting strands of a Celtic knot, creating enticing images to share with their readers.

Mythical creatures inhabit strange places, lords stand in defense, while turning the page brings love in emergence, or love at death’s door. The beautiful reside here, but so does the terrible. With a balance of both there is equilibrium of sensations, and what more could a poetry collection offer? The simple side of life, with precious moments of normalcy, is examined with poetic eye and we look on as it takes flight on gossamer wing. A pirate tale, a broken heart, precious things waiting under the bed, these are topics of this work, admired. My favorites are “The Page of Hearts” in which love is found in many chambers, like a house of mirrors, reflecting the multitude of amore found in a life, and “Broken Glass” in which a soul is shattered by a love turned despair.

These authors reach into the hearts and imaginations of their readers and breathe life into the words. The talent here is twofold, lucky for us. This well rounded offering promises moments of contemplation, exciting adventure, and mystical musings. “A Spell Too Far” is an enchantment to wish for.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Author Interview

It is my pleasure to interview Dat Phan, author of “The Changing River: A Meditative Fiction.” My review of this title can be seen here. This work of fiction depicts one man’s journey of life as he overcomes alcoholism, lives in poverty with purpose, and faces tigers to survive.

Dat Phan is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin where he received a bachelor’s degree in science. Ordained as a Zen monk at Plum Village headed by Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, he left the order after four years of practice. He now resides in France (Haute-Loire) with his wife and daughter, where he teaches English. He enjoys roaming in nature, and is passionate about playing music and basketball.

Feel free to visit and drop the author a line.
Heather: A traditional question here: Are any of the characters based upon yourself?

Dat: As any author draws from his life experiences to bring authenticity to his characters, I see myself a lot in Mr. Dubois and Rice Boy. But just as in a dream where we think that the people in it are outside of us, in reality, they are only aspects of ourselves, each character is a portrait and reflection of my own self.

Heather: This is very insightful and not something every author would readily admit. Thank you!
Heather: Have you faced your tigers?

Dat: My Chinese astrological sign is actually a tiger. I guess, if tigers represent fear, then I have seen its face and smelled its odor. The other week, I was driving on the highway in France near Lyon and a rock went straight into my windshield. It pierced a hole right through it like a bullet. Bits of glasses were everywhere on the driver and passenger seat. Some actually got into my eye. At that moment, panic arose. I became blind. But it's strange how fear can quickly transform into courage when there is a little calm and clarity. I kept the steering wheel straight and guided the car into the emergency lane. That day, I had an appointment with death, the great tiger that awaits us all. I was really close, but I guess it wasn't my time yet. Just after, I had this feeling of reverence that overwhelmed my heart. There was this deep appreciation for the most simple things. The more we touch our deepest fear, I think the more we'll appreciate our time on earth.

Heather: What a scary and intense gift you were given!
Heather: Will there be other books that follow Rice Boy and his family or Mr. Lee and his family?

Dat: I'm in the middle of writing "An Autobiography of a Hermit." It's the story of the wise man in the tree and what he did before he was on it. I really liked writing this one because it helped me look at my monastic path in another light. I kind of based the story on a dear monk that was a teacher, a big brother, and a true friend of mine. He has now passed away, but his spirit lives on with me each day.

Heather: It sounds like it will be wonderful to read.
Heather: Are you a student of meditation? Zen practices?

Dat: I have practiced both in the Tantric yoga and Zen tradition; about 10 years of formal training. But now, I just consider myself a student of life. I think any form of meditation should eventually free us from the form itself, like using a match to burn a fire, then the fire ultimately consumed the match. Some of us burn the fire but still hold on to the match.

Heather: I deeply agree.
Heather: Have you other books in the works? Others published?

Dat: I have one that I am writing with another author called "Chronicles of the Wanderer." It's a story of some persons traveling but you don't know how many or who. Most of the passages I wrote are in France and all the different towns and cities. I wanted to write and show how each one is so different, and also touch on different topics that relate to living life with all its surprises and learning to accept death. The other author explores other themes based in the US and also in a Buddhist monastery. This will hopefully be published next year by Linh Son Literature, books written for the "spiritually inclined and unconditioned mind."

Heather: I’ll be watching for it!
Heather: Have you been writing long?

Dat: I've been writing for about four years now, so I am still learning the ropes.

Heather: The ropes change course, so we are all in the same position.
Heather: What is the greatest message you wish readers to gain from The Changing River?

Dat: That meditation, freedom, and love is accessible for anyone. It isn't a sacred thing chosen for the few, but it is the foundation for being a compassionate human being capable of looking beyond the form as one day, one moment we would have to let go of everything that we know, might as well try do it now and see what happens!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Non-Fiction Self Help Review

Neutralizing the Power of Fear
by Casalnnie O. Henry
ISBN-10: 0595409598
Review by Heather Froeschl

There are some 577 officially named fears that people hold. Of 350 people surveyed, 99% had some kind of fear. From spiders to intimacy, blood to toads and tombstones, there is an official name for the phobia. How can we overcome those odds? Dr. Casalnnie O. Henry has written a book, “Neutralizing the Power of Fear” to help guide the reader.

The information covered in the book is extensive and in-depth. I applaud the amount of research that was done and the references given. Here you can learn the basis of fears and why we develop them is a good place to start; knowing how fear originates in humans is a beginning to understanding, and with understanding comes power. Knowing what fear can do a person physically, mentally, socially and emotionally is like knowing the side effects of medication you might take. So what can be done once the fear is realized? Dr. Henry has much advice. He describes the various approaches to therapy, looks at how society has dealt with fears, and delves deeply into what religions can do for fears. He describes examples of common fears, like rejection, intimacy problems, abuse, self esteem, and more, in precise detail that will hit home for many readers. In many of these examples he gives advice on dealing with them, but here is where this reader had a problem, for some of the advice was to “leave it to God.” I was hoping for practical absolute steps to take, not advice to leave it to a higher power. While the book is excellently written, if not a little overly scholarly for the average reader, it should be known that it is a Christian publication and not just a therapeutic guide. Non-Christians can still gain insight into the fear factor but may be a bit disappointed in the advice for some of them.

This highly qualified individual offers a book to possibly help a good portion of society. It is quite thorough and full of valuable information. Not a light read, it is meant to show readers “how to subdue your fears and make them harmless.” Squash that spider fear and put your mind at ease. I recommend this book to the intended audience.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Fiction Review

The Changing River
by Dat Phan
ISBN-: 978-0-07-212575-7
Review by Heather Froeschl

When we seek happiness outside of ourselves, we are being perfectly human; but it is the person who looks within and changes what they don’t like, that truly ends up being happy. Such reminders are abundant in these days but rarely is a book fictionally interesting and captivating, yet also inspiring and even meditative in it’s unfolding. Dat Phan has penned a novel, “The Changing River,” that will leave readers looking within and building their own bridges over troubled waters.

Mr. Dubois enters the novel as a cranky drunk who leers at women, complains about life, and finds his only moments of connection with prostitutes. He’s been fired from work and at a moment when all seems to be caving in on him, he is given a helping hand by Rice Boy. Rice Boy loses his own job to simply help the drunken man home. This reaching out is the beginning of great change. Over time, Mr. Dubois has realizations that leave him knowing what steps he has to take. Volunteering as a clown in a hospital leads him to quit drinking. He goes back to school and eventually becomes a guidance counselor. But a voyage awaits him. He finds Rice Boy in the forest and the two become intense friends. This relationship leads Rice Boy to some realizations as well, including one of his wife. Mr. Dubois has more to learn and more to teach, and since we are all teacher and student, he has much to accomplish. He travels and finds home in various interesting places, including a hut high up in a tree, living like the monkeys.

The tale is classic and the writing is flowing, poetic, and calming. The descriptions evoke moments of meditation and deep thought, while the story carries the reader down one man’s river of life. His encounters are mostly easy to relate to (with exception to the tigers); his inner struggles are ones that many will understand all too well. It seems that most readers will find inspiration in these words and hopefully some guidance in their own lives, but surely they will enjoy the read. I hope to see more from Dat Phan in the future. For more information about this book and its author, see

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fiction Review

Conversations with Asenath
by Sisi Theo
ISBN: 978-1-60266-902-4
Review by Heather Froeschl

Even today, unfortunately, cultures sometimes clash. Marriages are made and discoveries of incompatible traditions and beliefs must be worked through. What if such a marriage were highly public and important? In “Conversations with Asenath” by Sisi Theo, readers see the contrast between Egyptian and Israelite as wife and husband.

Asenath is a religious Egyptian woman who follows her upbringing’s beliefs. She is the daughter of a priest of On, and marries an important man whom her own father had a hand in helping in an interesting way. Joseph goes from slavery to prison to the palace, earning respect. A marriage is arranged by the Pharaoh, as Asenath desires. Asenath and Joseph have two sons, but Joseph gives them Hebrew names and this makes Asenath wonder. She meets her brother in law, Benjamin, and the two, over the years, have discussions regarding the betrayal of Joseph by his brothers, the naming of his sons, the raising of their sons away from Asenath, and the customs of both cultures, as seen from their quite different perspectives.

What comes out in these conversations is each side’s point of view, if there must be sides, and the personal joys and ramifications of beliefs and traditions. It is a wonderful study in sociology. Theology comes in and the question of free will is examined closely. This book is captivating in its descriptions of life in Egypt, its easy to read style, and the intimate look at one woman’s self examination. In the recent trend of retelling of Bible stories, this is a more personable attempt and makes for an enjoyable read.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Fiction Review

Desert Medicine
by Judy Alexander
ISBN-10: 0825420083
Review by Heather Froeschl

When we share of ourselves with other people, we often find ourselves. It doesn’t take much to reach out and in the end the rewards are usually greater than the effort. In “Desert Medicine” by Judy Alexander, a newly single mother in transition discovers the giving and receiving of being an unselfish friend, but she also discovers herself, her truth, and her desire to trust again.

Laurelle is a mother of five year old twins. She works two jobs, is divorcing her cheating husband, and agrees to visit a homebound member of her church. Rhoda has terminal cancer, but her early life did more damage to her spirit. When Laurelle visits, Rhoda shares stories that tell of her growing up in Texas during the Depression and then in Calexico, California, as her aunt’s live in babysitter. With an abusive alcoholic father, Rhoda was lucky to have the escape. Laurelle listens, at first reluctantly, but then is captivated by this woman’s strength and determination to survive. She is learning about her own life though these tales as she applies certain lessons to her dealings with her children’s father and her impending divorce. Her current life carries on.

Invitations to singles' events at the church, meeting a man at traffic school, a new puppy, and the holidays all put Laurelle on an emotional roller coaster of ups and downs. Realizing that she is bringing joy to Rhoda’s life is a gift unto itself but Laurelle is also receiving support and love just when she needs it most. It gives her enough perspective to find these things within her own family too. Rhoda becomes an integral part of her children’s lives and just when she understands how close she is to this elderly woman, Laurelle begins to doubt what she’s been told. Can she ever trust again? Is there hope for love in her life?

Judy Alexander has written a captivating tale in two voices. Laurelle is someone whom many readers can identify with and her struggles are unfortunately too common. Her story is familiar and her character is likable. Rhoda’s tales are sprinkled throughout the book in a different font and dialect, giving her a charm all her own. Hers too is a familiar tale of a different generation. The plot of the book runs like a gentle but fast running river, deep and green, embracing the rocks of life and passing under the bridges that connect us all. “Desert Medicine” is a book you won’t want to put down but will be sorry to come to the end of. I look forward to more from this author in the future.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Self Help Review

What Your Mother Never Told You
by Richard M. Dudum
ISBN-10: 1419678698
review by Heather Froeschl

Ah, the teenaged daughter. They are a wonder. I have my own and feel qualified to say this. I want to be everything I can for her, but we all know that this isn’t possible. Providing her with the tools she needs for life is important. For this reason, I am ever grateful to Richard M. Dudum for authoring “What You Mother Never Told You.” I could have used this book when I was a teen and I still appreciated the reminder of certain passages. Get a copy for the teenaged girls in your life, or get one for yourself if you fit that demographic. You’ll be glad you did.

Your mother might have sat you down for “the talk” and you cringed, and she cringed. Likely it wasn’t enough to answer all of your questions but maybe you couldn’t stand it anymore. Maybe you were lucky enough to have a really open mom who you could talk to about anything, but I’ll bet there were still a few things that didn’t get covered. “What Your Mother Never Told You” covers everything. Yes, everything…from how you are perceived in high school – as a snob, slut, show off, or shy girl – to how you will be remembered at your twentieth reunion, from accepting compliments and gifts from a guy to what you should not feel obligated to give him in return, from telling your parents that you are embarrassed by their behavior, or even appalled by it, and everything in between. What should you do if a friend seems to have an eating disorder, or you think that you might? What can do for a friend who is cutting herself? How can you be supportive of a friend whose parents are getting divorced? What if you need that support?

Discovering who you are and who you aren’t is part of being a teen (and an adult!) and this book can help sort things out. It’s like having this really cool parent to guide you, but not tell you what to do. Richard offers his advice and readers are free to take it or leave it, but reading it is the way to make informed decisions. Information is an important tool to have, and the best possible tool any parent can hope to give their daughters.

Written in a no-nonsense, straight talk manner, “What Your Mother Never Told You” is right on target with today’s teen. Each topic is covered succinctly and with care. In between are pretty images of floral designs, speaking to the femininity of its readers. Used as a tool for parents to broach topics with reluctant-to-talk teens or as a guide for them to read on their own, this book is sure to touch lives, inform minds, and even make you smile as you read about how “you don’t owe him Jack…” It is “the talk” on subjects that might make you blush, but are the must have tools for today’s society. Bravo!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Historical Fiction Review

Lady of the Roses
by Sandra Worth
ISBN-10: 0425219143
review by Heather Froeschl

History is never more alive than when explored through a fictional accounting. With extensive research and a passion for an era, an author can enlighten readers and pay homage to the past. Sandra Worth does so in her novel “Lady of the Roses.” This intense work of art brings life to English history during the times of the War of the Roses with as much rich vibrancy as the castle tapestries that are woven into the tale.

A classic love story, and one that was likely the inspiration for many others that we know and cherish, Sir John Neville and Lady Isobel Ingoldesthorpe’s tale is exquisitely bittersweet. At fifteen, Isobel was orphaned and became a ward of Queen Marguerite and King Henry VI. Her marriage would bring a decent price for the queen, but Isobel boldly requested that she be married for love instead. Such a thing was truly rare in the days of arranged marriages. Isobel was drawn by fate to meet John, and her heart would not be happy until they were wed. Favors do cost when bequeathed by royalty. During the struggle for marriage greater struggles were occupying the lands. Battles raged and many lives were lost. The red rose rivaled the white as brother fought brother, cousin slay cousin, and friends became foes. Treason was the common crime for those in dungeons and for those beheaded. How it came to be that Isobel and John were able to wed and live life through it all is a great tale.

Titles changed with the blowing of the wind and the troubles this caused, and heartache it inspired are worthy of a modern day soap opera. With such changes the futures of the young heirs changed as well, with marriages being arranged at birth and carried out at even the age of eight. The king’s throne being the highest in ruling the land, many questioned the sanity of a queen’s influence. The lifetime of this novel shows the insanity of two queens who essentially ruled the throne and subsequently caused many deaths and sorrows. The years of 1456 through 1476 are played out in “Lady of the Roses” with the intensity of battle and the decadence of pure love.

Sandra Worth has brought to life Sir John Neville, of whom no biography has yet to be found, but much is accounted to and admired for. Her research of his deeds and character are plain to be seen. Dear Isobel, our narrator, becomes a cherished companion to the reader. Seeing the times and strife through the eyes of first a young girl of fifteen and then as a young woman in love, and later as a mother and dedicated wife truly opens a window into the past. The writing is rich with precise details, lush scenery, and blunt bloodshed. Weaving in the authorship of the unparalleled tales of King Arthur and Sir Lancelot is a delightful inclusion. I look forward to further reading of this accomplished author.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Non-Fiction YA Review

I've Got This Friend Who...
Edited by Anna Radev
ISBN-10: 1592854583
Review by Heather Froeschl

Ask a teenager who they would rather have advice from, their friends, or the adults in their lives, and you know they are going to say their friends. It’s what we all did, and I can live with that. But how many friends have the answers to everything a teen could be wondering about? Sometimes it takes a group of friends to find the answers. In “I’ve Got This Friend Who…” edited by Anna Radev, a panel of six teens share their experiences, their knowledge, and their approaches to life and its many challenges.

If there is a question about it, the answers are likely in this book. The hottest topics of drugs, smoking, alcohol, eating disorders, self injurious and high risk behaviors are thoroughly explored and discussed from a teen’s perspective. Why do people smoke? What makes you an alcoholic? How can you control the urges of addiction? Why would someone not eat? How does hurting yourself affect you? What do you do when your friends are headed for serious trouble? The best solutions are always found with knowledge of the who, what, when, where and why. Coming from the words of other teenagers, the advice here is most valuable.

Imagine a group of young adults hanging out and discussing whatever is going on. The questions that come up are asked with curiosity but also with great importance and interest since things might be very personally and hugely influential in their lives. One might have an eating disorder and have first hand experience with why this occurs. One might have a parent who is an alcoholic and is concerned that it is hereditary. Someone’s best friend might be considering having sex, while another friend might be cutting herself with a razor blade. The discussions in the book are broken down into six chapters, focusing on these topics. Each chapter is like a panel chat-fest and includes sidebars of important facts and information while the teens discuss the real life ramifications. What results is an advice source for readers whose friends might not have all the answers.

There are times when the information sharing seems a little forced; like a teen just wouldn’t answer in such a fact based way, but the answers provided are worth that risk. I highly recommend having this book around the house. Most readers won’t sit through the entire book all at once, but will refer back to it when a situation arises in their lives. Full of additional resources like websites and hotlines, it is an interactive tool as well. The people behind the book are well versed in helping teens: KidsPeace is a 125 year old national children’s crisis charity dedicated to giving hope, help, and healing to children facing crisis. This is a must have for teens everywhere.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Children's/YA Fiction Review

Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague
By Brandon Mull
ISBN: 978-1-59038-742-9
Review by Heather Froeschl
Title to be released April 21, 2008

Darkness spreads and shadows grow in the greatest Brandon Mull adventure yet. “Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague” will have readers shining a flashlight into dark corners and under the blankets to stay up reading into the night. The fantasy realm hasn’t been so threatened since a certain ring was cast in another series of books. Can hope remain that the magical sanctuary of Fablehaven will not meet its demise along with centaurs, fairies, dwarfs, dryads, and our heroes, Seth and Kendra?

Books like the Fablehaven series are not commonly found. A series that captivates attention, inspires imagination, encourages reluctant readers, and offers books that stand alone, not demanding that the previous books have been read, but absolutely beguiling readers to do so, is a true gift. “Grip of the Shadow Plague” does continue the story of Seth and Kendra and Fablehaven, the sanctuary for magical creatures that their grandparents are the caretakers of. Nearly 15 year old Kendra and her brother, twelve year old Seth, are still at the refuge, where we left them in “Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star.” Their parents would like them to return home, but Grandma and Grandpa Sorenson fear the children would be in great danger away from the protection that Fablehaven offers. But is it really so safe on the preserve?

Kendra is given a great honor in this book; she is to be inducted as a knight to The Knights of the Dawn, protectors of the five secret magical preserves. Soon after, she is given her first assignment, one which involves a magical item, a dragon, deadly traps, and a visit to another preserve. Suspicion rises that the Captain of the Knights is corrupt, possibly someone whom they have suspected, and so refusing the mission is not in the best interest if Kendra hopes to find out the truth. Back at Fablehaven, Seth uncovers a darkening of magical creatures; dark fairies attempt to attack him, and a plague is revealed. Discovering who unleashed the shadows is possibly the key to ending the disaster before it spreads too far. When friends Coulter and Tanu are turned to shadow creatures, time becomes a precious commodity. Fablehaven could fall, ending an era of magic and light. It will take every ounce of courage, intelligence and cunning to save the preserve. Will the Sorensons be able to survive?

Brandon Mull offers a more intellectually stimulating and exciting adventure in this book. The characters are growing and their capabilities expanding. The language of the book is more mature, leading readers to learn as they enjoy the story. This feat alone is to be commended. The plot is rich, intricate and well rounded, with moments of humor and instances of tender feeling. Above all else it is a captivating tale of magical beings and exceptionally strong souled children. Here are role models for readers and a crack in the wall that hides fantasy and possibility from the real world. Do you dare to take a peek? Do you dare not?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Memoir Review

Sixtyfive Roses
By Heather Summerhayes Cariou
ISBN-10: 1552786781
Review by Heather Froeschl

Bonds between sisters can be deeply profound. Life changing, life sustaining relationships with our sisters prove this. Heather Summerhayes Cariou’s memoir, “Sixtyfive Roses” demonstrates the bond of sisterhood in a way that readers will never forget. When your sibling, your best friend, is given months to survive, and you vow to die along with her, life becomes a struggle to live.

When Pam was just four years old, and Heather was six, Pam was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, which Pam pronounced Sixtyfive Roses. It wasn’t a new experience, handling Pam’s illness, since she had been ill all along, but it now had a name, and a death sentence. Heather’s family began to learn everything about Cystic Fibrosis; became founders of the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and fought for Pam’s life with every fiber of their being. Heather describes how helpless it felt to lay awake listening to her sister breathing, ready to jump up to get her parents, and how scared she was to wake in the morning to find Pam gone from life. The treatments they were to give Pam at home, the long hospital stays fighting infections, the struggle to pay bills, and the toll on everyone’s lives shook the foundation of their family but at the same time made them all the stronger. Heather’s internal struggle with her feelings and adolescence brought forth an angry young woman; the constant turmoil affected each family member in different ways. The tradition of having tea became a soothing ointment for many moments. Was it enough to soothe their souls?

This memoir is an astounding testament to the strength of family, but also to the reality of illness and a person’s spiritual growth. Witnessing Pam finding her own peace and subsequently Heather’s whole family is the gift Pam left for us all, wrapped up and crafted into “Sixtyfive Roses” by Heather Summerhayes Cariou. This book is about depth of love and dedication, it is about sisterhood and family, it is about Cystic Fibrosis and the research that is being done, it is about one family’s selfless dedication, and it is about Pam. Excellently written, with a foreword by Celine Dion, who has also been touched by Cystic Fibrosis in her family, readers will not be able to put the book down. One can’t help but be moved in reading it.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Non-Fiction Review

What They Want You to Know!
Messages from beyond the grave
by Carter Shepard and Carolyn Cummings
Review by Heather Froeschl

If we could speak once more with some of the great minds of our time, the icons of civilization to some, what would they tell us? What would we ask them? Is communication with the dead actually possible? In “What They Want You to Know!” by Carter Shepard and Carolyn Cummings, it does seem possible, and the examples given just might shatter the reader’s preconceptions of the afterlife.

Carolyn, a professional medium for twenty years, and Carter, a student of metaphysics for thirty years, interviewed eighteen well known people, from the other side. It may seem like star gazing but the list of interviewees is what it is: astounding. Starting with Albert Einstein, some of those included are Benjamin Franklin, John Kennedy Jr., his mother, Jackie Kennedy, Howard Hughes, and Steve Irwin. These souls were very much a part of what our civilization is today, so going to them for some answers does make sense. What would you ask intelligent spirits who now have the ability to see much more than we here on the earth plane? What is our purpose here on earth? What is death like? Is there a heaven or hell?

The answers to these are not all that surprising for anyone who has been a student of the metaphysical. However the questions and answers about the current situation in Iraq, the current president and race for office, and other political ponderings were a little more shocking to me. I wasn’t able to wholeheartedly believe that the answers weren’t what the questioner wanted to “hear.” The subject of religion too, was a little overpowering to me. I got the sense that the authors had certain messages that they wanted to portray. My opinion, of course, and perhaps not what the authors had in mind after all. Their disclaimer is that those who can believe will, and those that can’t, simply won’t.

These “messages” from beyond the grave are sometimes funny, often touching, and are certainly thought-provoking. Opening the mind to the continuance of the spirit is a purposeful goal that this book leads to. “What They Want You to Know!” is an interesting project indeed.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Children's Fiction Review

Treasure in Tahiti
by Connie Lee Berry
ISBN-10: 0977284816
Review by Heather Froeschl

Journey to the other side of the world? Max and Sam are going on an incredible journey to Tahiti. What waits for them there is a fantastic mystery, in Connie Lee Berry’s book, “Treasure in Tahiti.” This action packed adventure book for young readers promises excited page turning!

Their island paradise is not exactly what their mother had in mind. The family is left on their own at a simple hut with no electricity or inside running water. However the majestic scenery and ocean waves make up for it. When one of the boys finds an old treasure map beneath a loose floorboard, the adventure really begins. Convincing their dad to explore a nearby deserted island doesn’t take long and soon the boys are daring the darkness of a cave. Someone else is on the island though; someone else is searching for the hundred year old treasure. Will the boys be able to follow the clues and beat their opponent to the prize? Is it even still there after so long?

Written in a fun and upbeat tone, Connie Lee Berry’s books are perfect for reluctant readers. The intrigue of the plot makes “Treasure in Tahiti” a page turner. Max and Sam are likeable characters that kids can relate to who just happen to be going on incredible journeys. Giving a bit of history, geography and even science, this book is a well rounded offering that packs in the surprises. The variety of it creates a buffet of island tastes. The Incredible Journey Book series is a fun collection to treasure.

Children's Fiction Review

The Criminal in the Caymans
By Connie Lee Berry
ISBN-10: 0977284808
Review by Heather Froeschl

Family adventures and incredible journeys await brothers Max and Sam. Going to the Cayman Islands would be an adventure enough for any first and second grader, but a mysterious box arrives at their home before they leave, adding intrigue to the voyage. Connie Lee Berry’s book, “The Criminal in the Caymans” is the beginning of an exciting series for young readers.

This first book is a great introduction to Max and Sam’s family and their lives in grade school, but then jumps right into the adventure with a mysterious map and a leather bound journal. Their vacation begins in the normal way, running to the ocean and playing in the sand but suddenly turns quite extraordinary as the boys realize they are in the midst of a dangerous criminal. An amazing thing happens just as one of the boys is about to call the FBI. What exactly does their dad do for a living, being sent to this paradise for work? They are about to find out.

Connie writes in a fresh and outreaching way. Young readers will be captivated, which is sometimes hard to achieve. The story, setting and feel of the book is right on the level of excitement needed for this age group. Adding in some interesting facts about the Cayman Islands is a plus for parents and teachers and as another bonus; a science project is described in the back of the book. These extras are like getting that special package in the mail…surprising and fun. Max and Sam are likeable characters who promise some incredible journeys. Expect the unexpected.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Non-Fiction Review

Messages From the Other Side
by Joseph Tittel
ISBN-10: 1419666452
Review by Heather Froeschl

How does a psychic develop their gifts? Is it actually something that can be developed in all of us or is it a talent you must be born with? Many believe that we all have psychic ability to tap into. Joseph Tittel shares his life story as a medium in his book, “Messages From the Other Side.”

When he was just four years old, Joseph was aware of spiritual energy watching over him at the foot of his bed. This book chronicles how he grew up being psychic and shares his experiences of helping others as a medium. With his mother’s passing, Joseph was expecting a big sign from the other side, all the while he was telling clients to be aware of the smallest thing being a message. This is the reminder that we all need, because often the signs go unnoticed. Spirit may guide us to glance at the clock and see significant numbers, or change the radio station to one where their favorite song is playing, but they probably are not going to physically tap you on the shoulder and announce their presence, although I know this does happen too. Sharing his realization that he wasn’t taking his own advice, Joseph shows his humanity to readers. Even a psychic sometimes needs to pay closer attention.

Giving readings, Joseph has helped bring messages to loved ones from the other side. This allows some closure and validation and ultimately peace of mind. The book shares some of his more intense experiences and explains how this interaction with spirit can be healing for those left on the earth plane. Joseph goes on to help readers to tap into their own psychic abilities using detailed meditation techniques. Yes, we are all born with ability.

A compelling read, “Messages From the Other Side” addresses the questions many have sought the answers to. Joseph Tittel reaches out to readers in a friendly, easy going tone. Much like chatting over coffee with a good friend, the visit passes all too quickly. This book is an excellent introduction to the spirit world and a comfort to those who are grieving.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fiction Review

The Wish I Wish Tonight
by Barbara Elliott Carpenter
ISBN-10: 1434342301
Review by Heather Froeschl

Can you really go home again? While our memories of childhood, teenaged years, and college may be bittersweet or even deep dark chocolate delicious, going back in time is a difficult task to attempt. Dare we even try? In Barbara Elliott Carpenter’s novel “The Wish I Wish Tonight,” the drive to move forward and hang onto the past is a struggle many can relate to. Letting go of the past is sometimes a better option.

This concluding book in Carpenter’s Starlight Trilogy is a completion of certain chapters in the main character’s life. Sissy Bannister has gone through some challenging times and her character has been a joy to have known. Readers who are new to the series will be able to enjoy this book and all three in any order, but for those who have witnessed her growing up in the trilogy this last title is a satisfying conclusion. Following Sissy in her career to New York City is exciting and fulfilling, and witnessing her homesickness for West Virginia is something we can all relate to as we make our own lives away from family. The emotional roller coaster of her high school reunion is again a familiar encounter with poignant moments to recall in real life. Some lingering questions are answered, some new ones are addressed. In this stage of her existence, Sissy faces some of her demons, some of her family’s demons, and is attacked by yet another one along the way. The result is a growth that only time and experience can provide.

This work of fiction reaches out to readers on many personal levels. The issues are ones that are familiar, and so the reader can relate to the characters and plot. It is an entertaining work but also a thought provoking one. Getting lost in a fictional world is delightful and coming away from a book with some lingering thought to goals, life lessons and family is a blessing. As always, Carpenter presents a polished and well rounded offering. She has a true gift for evoking emotion, showing her plot like a well loved home movie, and depicting real life, even when it is a made up one. With hope for from this author, I heartily recommend her works.

Non-Fiction Book Review

The Five Secrets You Must Know Before You Die
by John Izzo, Ph.D.
ISBN-10: 1576754758
Review by Heather Froeschl

Looking to our elders for guidance is a time honored and wise practice that unfortunately is not played out often enough. John Izzo encourages us to go back to that tradition in his book “The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die.” Seeking the secrets to happiness, it makes sense to look to those who have lived it.

John interviewed over 200 people, all over the age of 60 and some up into their hundreds, who had been identified by their own friends and family as “the one person they knew who had found happiness and meaning.” These people were asked such questions as: “What has brought you the greatest sense of meaning and purpose in life?” and “What is the greatest fear at the end of life?” They were asked to finish the sentence: “I wish I had…” These elders came from all walks of life and acted many roles; some were authors, professors, or business owners, others were a nurse, psychologist, biologist, and a barber. Amazingly, or expectedly, their answers were quite similar. Therein are the five secrets.

The first, and only one I will divulge, is “Be True to Your Self.” Of course this can mean different things to each person who reads the words, but author John Izzo guides readers to the purpose behind them. His guidance leads one to ask in this chapter, “Am I following my heart?” “Is my life focused on the things that really matter to me?” and “Am I being the person I want to be in this world?” Answering these questions will lead a person to be true to themselves. Izzo demonstrates the secret by sharing stories from his interviewees. They share by example, much as elders have done since the dawn of humanity. This brings the secret to life for us, and then Izzo gives us homework. He gives us questions to ask ourselves each day or week, that bring the secret home and to the front of the mind. Practice, practice, practice. And so on, with each of the five secrets.

This book is a gem. It is an obvious quest to go to our wise members of society and seek answers to life’s questions, but many of us no longer do it. “The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die” does it for us, and hopefully will prompt us to do it ourselves with our own elders. The stories here are all about living wisely, living in the moment; some are funny, while others are poignant. All should be thought-provoking. The consistency of the lessons makes for an easy to understand and digest plan. Taking one secret at a time to work on may be best for some people, pausing in the consumption of the book to work on that particular goal. Other may devour the entire book in one sitting and go back to reflect more carefully as they consider each message. The end result is surely one that will be self fulfilling and inspired. While the title may cause one to stop for a second, for good reason and cause, the content and purpose is wisdom.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Author Interview

Mike Sandrolini, sportswriter and editor/author of “All the Good in Sports,” a collection of stories of 25 contemporary sports personalities finding their faith, agreed to speak with me recently. A review of Mike’s book can be seen here.

Heather: How did you get started writing about sports?

Mike: I grew up in north central Illinois loving hockey. My hometown of Peru is located along the Illinois River. All of us who played hockey in the area couldn’t wait for the river’s backwaters to freeze; the nearest indoor skating rink was 60 to 80 miles away. My best friend in high school, Larry Lister -- he was the goalie -- helped me out one day with a story I did for our school’s newspaper on hockey. That was my first story.

Heather: Sports is usually geared toward game performances, scores and statistics. What made you decide to look at the spiritual side of sports stars? To write a book length work?

Mike: Sadly, I think whenever an athlete – or anyone in public eye for that matter, whether he or she is a politician, a celebrity, etc. – says “I believe in God” or “I believe in Jesus,” they are viewed with a certain degree of skepticism, or dismissed as a holier-than-thou bible thumper. I think they get a bad rap. They’re not perfect; they simply try to live their lives according to their beliefs. I wanted to give readers an in-depth look at why they believe what they believe, and how they rely on their faith, both on and off the field.

Heather: How did you find those who participated in the book?

Mike: The stories in this collection are adapted from the pages of Sports Spectrum magazine, which is published nationally and in Canada. It comes out six times per year. I went through all the issues of the magazine, dating back to the early 1990s, then consulted with Sports Spectrum staff members and editors at Regal Books, the book’s publisher, to decide which 25 stories would appear in the book.

Heather: Certain topics are often seen as taboo to speak of, religion among them; was this a concern?

Mike: Not at all. Some people are turned off by it, but I don’t think discussing things that are religious or spiritual is as taboo as it once was. Many athletes have openly expressed their faith during interviews. Their faith is at the core of who they are. Certainly, anyone who watched last year’s Super Bowl may recall how Tony Dungy, the Indianapolis Colts head coach, gave credit to the Lord on national television following the game. I think that’s quite refreshing!

Heather: What was your main goal in compiling “All the Good in Sports”?

Mike: In this book, I wanted to show how these sports figures go through many of the same life challenges, struggles, disappointments and loss that you and I do, yet the recurring theme in this book is how their faith has either helped carry them through their circumstances, or helped them cope with something they could not change.

Heather: Has the release been as successful as I expect? Are you pleased with the results?

Mike: Yes, most definitely. In mid-December, All the Good in Sports was ranked among the top 100 most popular sports books on I think that’s a testament to the great stories that are in the book, and the talented group of writers who told the stories. They deserve the credit.

Heather: What is next for Mike Sandrolini?

Mike: Well, I certainly would like to be involved in another book project sometime. We’ll have to see what happens.

Heather: Thanks Mike! Readers, here is a little bit of a bio about Mike, in his words.

I’m a graduate of Illinois State University, and have worked for over 20 years as an editor, reporter and columnist at four different newspapers. Over the years, I have written articles for Suburban Life Publications, Sports Spectrum, the Chicago Tribune, the Daily Herald, Copley Newspapers, SLAM magazine (a nationally published basketball magazine), the Chicago Bear Report and Preview Sports magazine (nationally published).

Web links:,