Saturday, December 19, 2009

Can't Stand the Heat

Can't Stand the Heat
is A Recipe For Love novel by Louisa Edwards, and her debut novel. In this steamy romance, Miranda Wake, a stubborn food critic who never has anything nice to say about any place she reviews, meets her match in restaurant owner Adam Temple. When the two of them meet at a special opening celebration for his new Manhattan restaurant, Market, things become sizzling hot both in the kitchen and out of it.

Adam challenges Miranda to come spend a day in his kitchen to see how tough it actually is. Next thing they both know, Miranda is spending a month in his kitchen, to work on a series about a critic in the kitchen. Ideas quickly come together for a book, but what exactly this tell-all confessional will contain keeps changing as relationships between characters keep evolving.

Adding to the plot are secrets about other workers at The Market, including a big one being hidden by Miranda's younger brother Jess. Miranda has been caring for him since their parents died when he was young. These secrets help add to the plot's twist and turns, test relationships, and keep the pages moving.

The strong attraction between Miranda and Adam is apparent from the very beginning, and let's face it - it wouldn't be a romance novel without a somewhat predictable relationship between the two main characters. Yet, reading of their exploits provides plenty of entertainment over a period of a few hours. Also enjoyable are the recipes and cooking tips that are included throughout the text. At the end are detailed recipes for a few of the highlights, including rose-infused vodka.

Intimate scenes between the two are quite detailed, and the associated language suddenly becomes vulgar. The language used to describe their encounters almost feels out of place with that of the rest of the story. Some people who would have otherwise greatly enjoyed this story are going to be turned off by these scenes.

Fortunately, I was able to get through those scenes and liked the book a lot. At the end is a preview chapter of the next book, On the Steamy Side, which I look forward to reading some day, as well!

Purchase Can't Stand The Heat (A Recipe for Love)

I received a review copy of this book through my association with

Sunday, December 13, 2009


For those who have ever been curious about that paranormal phenomenon known as the poltergeist, then this book by Colin Wilson is for you. Poltergeist: A Classic Study in Destructive Haunting goes beyond simply telling a scary ghost story. It delves into centuries of stories and case studies, dating as far back as the Ancient Greeks and Romans and has some research to back it up. It answers many questions, and leaves others unanswered.

The stories he shares range from the typical ghost story of objects flying through the air, to some of the most truly bizarre, such as the girl who could see through her ear, or the talking mongoose. Some of them are famous, such as the story of the Bell witch, and the bizarre case of Uri Geller and his ability to make random objects move and appear. Other stories are lesser known.

What they tend to have in common is some sort of force that propels the movement of the objects, usually centering around a teenager, almost always a female. When she leaves a place that appears to be inhabited by a poltergeist, the events usually stop. Most poltergeists do not speak, but on occasion, they attempt to mimic speech. Most can be eventually driven away. All of them are creepy.

It's a book that is going to appeal to the more intellectual crowd, as the stories are written as case studies. Wilson attempts to use strong evidence for answering questions, such as the creation and impetus of poltergeist forces, and what tactics they seem to use for survival. It is well-researched, with documentation spanning the centuries, as well as scholarly studies and reports by other professionals in the field. Those stories that seem unlikely are exposed and challenged. Wilson has been chasing ghosts for years, and knows what he is talking about.

While the book doesn't read like a novel, it is still an entertaining look into a history that is shared by cultures all over the world. It's the kind of history that you are not going to get in a traditional classroom setting. And it's scary enough to give you chills when you read it before bed or to question those little bumps you hear in the night.

Purchase Poltergeist: A Classic Study in Destructive Hauntings

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher via my association with

Reading Together: Everything You Need to Know to Raise a Child Who Loves to Read

One of the most important things that parents can do for their children is to establish a love for reading from the very beginning. Reading Together: Everything You Need to Know to Raise a Child Who Loves to Read by Diane W. Frankenstein is a great foundational point for this.

In the introduction to this book, Diane outlines ways for parents to help their children find appropriate books to read, to turn them on to reading. Many times, the child's lack of desire to read simply stems from an inability to find anything that really turns them on and encourages them to keep on reading. She encourages rereading stories, focusing on the plotlines instead of only vocabulary, and performing conversational reading.

Conversational reading is the art of reading a book together and talking about it. Start by asking concrete questions about what happened within the story. Then, find ways to apply the book to the child's personal circumstances, so that he can really put himself into it. Encourage the child to think about other perspectives of the story. The possibilities are endless!

The first part of the book consists of 101 different books that parents and teachers can share with children. Within this part are three different sections. One is for picture books, one for grades 2-5, and those for grades 4-6+. Each book has a short story synopsis, key words, and sample questions that can be used to elicit conversation with the child. Then, there are recommended follow-up titles, if this one was of particular interest to the child.

Part two gets into subject questions, which are even more ways adults can deepen the conversation with the child. Instead of focusing on a particular book, these parts focus on general topics, such as popularity, bullies, manners, choices, and challenges.

Finally, Diane provides even more recommendations for books. Trying to choose only 101 when there are so many good books out there is a daunting task, indeed!

Purchase Reading Together: Everything You Need to Know to Raise a Child Who Loves to Read

I received a copy of this book from the author for the purposes of reviewing it.

Soccer's Story & A Futbol Fable

Soccer's Story & A Futbol Fable by Gil Sperry is a two-fold story. In the beginning of the book, Gil details the history of this beloved sport, including some fascinating facts. For example, the game has existed in one form or another for over 2500 years!

The second part of the book is dedicated to the story of a losing team of mostly Mexican kids and their unlikely gringo coach. Gil Sperry wasn't looking to coach the young soccer team. He had only agreed to do so if the school couldn't find anyone else to do it. As fate would have it, no one else claimed the job, so it became his.

He was faced with multiple challenges. At the young age of the participants, 4th, 5th and 6th graders, not all had previous experiences playing competitive sports, let alone soccer. Also, regulations for elementary school play had a range of size regulations for fields and goals, but there was no consistency amongst the schools. Other schools simply had dangerous fields. In the beginning, the principal of the school had less support for the team. Infractions of school rules cost the team players during certain games.

Nevertheless, he worked toward teaching the children not only the techniques involved in the sport, but also a new mental attitude toward playing.

The team had its share of ups and downs throughout the season, but with the guidance and persistence of their coach, they manage to come back from behind to secure a second place trophy at the end of the season.

The intensity of the games and practices described in this book seems more appropriate for older children, and you often forget that you are reading about children ages 9-11. Some are going to question Gil's techniques.

Coaches can probably learn from the techniques used in coaching the children, as well as commiserate with the roller coaster ride. Some kids may wish to read the book for inspiration.

Stay tuned for the movie version and for an interview with Gil Sperry.

Purchase Soccer's Story & A Futbol Fable. The Beautiful Game. A Beautiful Season

I requested and received a copy of this book from Gil Sperry for the purpose of reviewing it here on my blog.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Spirits Out of Time

Annie Wilder's Spirits Out of Time: True Family Ghost Stories and Weird Paranormal Experiences takes us through her family's history of paranormal experiences, which almost seem to be genetic for them. She outlines her family tree, in hopes of helping the reader keep track of all of the "characters" contained within her book. (And it is somewhat helpful.) The end also includes an appendix with pictures of these people, to which she refers throughout the book.

Each chapter focuses on a different location that is significant to the Wilder family. She talks about yellow eyes that followed her around in childhood and the death knock that her Irish family heard before someone passed away. Some family members had astral experiences, which are basically out-of-body experiences. Others were haunted by childish ghosts, who in reality were shadows of their former selves. There are the highly sensitive young ones and the cats, who always seem to see things that humans can't.

Particularly touching is a chapter dedicated to the spirit of her friend Dylan. After passing away, he reappeared to her as a white deer. He also appeared to her in dreams, when she needed him most. There is some comfort in believing in the possibility that our loved ones are still here even after they are gone.

Wilder also often refers to her previous work, a book called House of Spirits and Whispers, which is a true story of living in her haunted house.

If you're looking for a truly terrifying tale, this book isn't going to scare you as much as others might, though it helps to read it late at night. It reads more like a family history then a scary book. Nevertheless, it is interesting to hear how one family has shared in supernatural experiences throughout time. And it kind of makes you want to call up your relatives to find out their stories, as well.

Purchase Spirits Out of Time: True Family Ghost Stories and Weird Paranormal Experiences

I received a copy of this book to review from the publisher, Llewellyn Worldwide, as a part of my association with

Connecting to the Power of Nature

Nature has long been known to have a calming effect on the human psyche. But in this day and age of technology and constant movement, we have forgotten what it is like to go outside and relax. Joe H. Slate, Ph.D. aims to help us reconnect with ourselves by Connecting to the Power of Nature.

Throughout his book, he shares anecdotes about the power of various aspects of nature, such as stars, trees, stones, and more. Many of the experiences are his own, but he also shares those of people he has met throughout his life and work. He then outlines a plan of action to connect to the power of each natural object. These plans tend to consist of six steps, including choosing the item, stating your goal, connecting with the object, affirming your goal, and concluding the exercise to cement it into being.

This may sound like a bunch of New Age hocus-pocus to some people. And in some ways, I can agree with that. But, haven't you ever sat outside on a clear starry night, staring up at the sky, and felt a sense of wonderment and empowerment? Haven't you ever played with sand on the beach, mindlessly letting it fall through your fingers, and feel all of your cares melt away with the dirt? The exercises in this book are essentially the same thing. There are just fancier words and phrases used to explain them all.

No one says that you have to perform all of the exercises within the book, either. Perhaps you have an affinity for trees, but not so much for stones. So, use the tree and leaf exercises. Live close to the beach? Use the sand and water exercises. Meditation and goal setting cannot work if you are not comfortable with your muse of choice.

Also included in the book is a seven day Discovery and Empowerment plan. Each day you connect with a different piece of nature: leaf, cloud, sand, pebble, seed. Then you get in touch with your universal consciousness.

He also includes an appendix with a brief introduction to numerology, to assist you on your journey.

Exercises within this book can be easily adapted for use within families or the workplace, as each group works toward a communal goal of success and peace. Again, pick and choose what works for you within your given situation. And keep an open mind as you reengage with that foreign world known as the Outside.

Purchase Connecting to the Power of Nature

I received a copy of this book from the publishers, Llewellyn Worldwide, via my association with

Torn by Amber Lehman

by Amber Lehman is the story of fourteen year-old Krista McKinley, who has transferred from Catholic school in Ohio to public school in California. Talk about culture shock! But she quickly finds friends in Carrie and Brandon and makes her place in the school society.

Those early teenage years are already confusing enough as it is. But add sexual ambiguity and experimentation to the mix, and welcome to a scary spiral of self-doubt and questioning.

Krista's first bout with confusion comes when she realizes that Brandon is actually gay, even though every girl in school seems to want him. He throws men and boys away as easily as he throws his money around, seeming to not care what damage is created. Yet, she is highly devoted to him.

Then comes an intoxicated experiment with Carrie, that brings their relationship to a new level for them both. How should it really be defined now? What do they really owe each other? What is normal?

Seeking answers is difficult, as her father has long disappeared, her mother is doing missionary work overseas. Her brothers are wrapped up in their own worlds, and would freak out if they knew what she was really doing. And then she is highly attracted to her virginal almost-30 year-old Bible Study leader, who is also the older brother of one of her other friends.

Relationships between the friends become increasingly complex as they struggle to answer these and many other questions about life, love, and lust. Their predicaments, while possibly extreme in the wealthy California setting, can probably found in just about any town in America, though it used to not be at such a young age. These types of games and experiments used to only happen during the freedom of college.

Amber Lehman herself said that though the characters in this book are in high school, it is actually written for the 17 and older crowd. The topics presented within are quite mature and would probably be better for a slightly younger crowd if read with a trusted adult.

Nevertheless, I found it to be a very good read. I had a hard time putting it down once I got started. And I am sure I will read it again some day.

I received a copy of this book for the purposes of reviewing it, from the author, Amber Lehman.

Purchase Torn

The Christmas Clock

The Christmas Clock
is the latest book by bestselling author Kat Martin. It's the story of a young boy named Teddy Winters, who at the age of eight lives with his grandmother, Lottie Sparks. Unbeknownst to him and many others in their small Michigan town, Lottie is suffering from a very rapidly progressing form of Alzheimer's disease. She is seeking to find him a permanent home before she becomes too disabled. At the same time, Teddy is trying to earn money to by his beloved grandmother a mantel clock that reminds her of her childhood.

Teddy goes to work doing odd jobs around the mechanic shop owned by Joe Dixon. Joe has been trying to rebuild his life after doing time for accidentally killing a man in a bar fight many years ago. His rage had been sparked by the love of his life, Sylvia Winters, suddenly taking off, claiming she had never loved him, which he felt in his heart of hearts wasn't true.

Sylvia has recently returned to town, carefully guarding the secret that had caused her to flee all of those years ago. She is also looking to start over, but is finding it difficult, as she keeps running into Joe, and realizes that her feelings haven't changed.

At the same time, Sylvia is becoming close friends with Doris Culver, her landlord. Doris and her husband Floyd have been married forever, but lost the spark years ago. They dance around wanting to revive the relationship, but neither will be the first to admit it or to make the first move.

All of these people are interconnected, and every choice that they make somehow affects all of the others. Though highly predictable, as most romance novels are, each of these choices eventually leads to a Christmas miracle of sorts for everyone involved. A few lessons in life and love can also be gleaned from these pages if you pause for a second to reflect.

It's an extremely easy read, designed to allow you to relax for a couple of hours during this hectic holiday season. It's not written to change the world, but to entertain. Those with families touched by Alzheimer's will feel a sort of kinship with the characters dealing with it, even though Lottie's descent into the depths of dementia feel a little too fast for reality.

Purchase The Christmas Clock

I received a review galley copy of this book via my association with

Just call me...Rita

Just call me...Rita: Book 1984 was one of the first books I ever tried to request via PRWeb. The plot sounded somewhat interesting: transplant from Canada now living in LA, getting sucked into the sex, drugs, and rock & roll life back in the 1980s. The story is told via diary entries, which should allow for some really in-depth views and opinions.

When I received my copy, it kept looking at me, begging to be read. I wanted to devote some good attention to it, so I delayed starting it for a little while. And then, I wish I hadn't.

The book is literally a daily entry, as in 365 days, spanning from January 1, 1984 through December 31st. And while I admit that my life tends to be a lot of the same thing from day to day, so was this. And that did not make for entertaining reading.

Also detracting from a potentially good story is a lot of "ghetto talk" for lack of a better descriptive phrase. I have been known to swear like a sailor, but there is a time and place for everything. I know that it was part of the character, but it was a little much. Though, I did learn some colorful new phrases.

I had a lot of difficulty reading about everyone screwing each other, taking different drugs, and drinking as much as possible. It made my liver and certain orifices hurt just thinking about it all. There just didn't seem to be much of a plot, other than Rita's frustration with her rock star-wannabe hubby and doing anything she could to get back at him, while simultaneously getting tanked up as often as possible and literally screwing anything. (I will never be able to eat Jimmy Dean again.)

For some people, this book is going to be a treat. I think of those who enjoy the trashier side of reality TV, such as Real Housewives and all of those other ones that have catty, bitchy bleached blondes with horrific manicures, making up reasons to scream at and cat fight with each other. It has just never been my style of entertainment, and I couldn't even complete the book. I did sneak peeks at the last few pages, to see if anything changes throughout the story, but really it doesn't. I fear that there will be a follow-up for the year 1985, but I will leave that to the rest of you to read and review.

Purchase "Just call me...Rita" Book 1984

The Novice

The Novice: Why I Became a Buddhist Monk, Why I Quit & What I Learned by Stephen Schettini is a well-written memoir that almost seems like a version of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, but overseas, and with a more religious theme.

Schettini's religious road began at a young age, when he was attending a Catholic school. Even then, he was questioning the philosophy of Christianity, and was able to expose some of the hypocrisy contained within, and the problem of rote memorization of doctrine without thinking of how to apply it to daily situations.

When a little older, at the age of 11, he developed a knack for shoplifting various items from stores. At his preparatory school, he was considered to be lazy, untidy, careless, and erratic. Being a teenager of the 60s, he grew his hair long, listened to Bob Dylan and the Beatles, drank a lot, and had deep discussions about what really mattered.

When someone finally gave him a copy of the I Ching for his 21st birthday, the foundation was laid for a life-changing trip to Asia, in search of the lesser known Eastern philosophies, usually ignored by those in the West.

Leaving Gloucester to Dover, then continuing to hitchhike across Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, counting on the I Ching to help him make his decisions. Along the way, he tries different drugs that don't agree with him, meets many people who do, and has amazing black-and-white photographs to document the places. He describes these people and places, so often almost demonized on the recent news, in a vivid fashion that puts you right there with him. The behaviors of the people seem to be on par with other memoirs of the area, such as Greg Mortensen's Three Cups of Tea.

Following an almost fatal illness, Schettini finally makes his way to India and Tibet, and is inducted into the practices of Buddhism. He finds a new peace in his new perspective, and order in his previously cluttered mind and manners. He then spends the majority of the next couple of decades as a leader and instructor, before finally deciding to leave to apply what he has learned elsewhere.

This memoir is well-written and easy to read. It is filled with a great deal of honesty, which is the best way to portray emotion in its purest form. It is inspirational, as the reader cannot help but question her own ideals in comparison to Schettini's. And it's simply a good story.

Purchase The Novice: Why I Became a Buddhist Monk, Why I Quit, and What I Learned

I received this book to review as a part of my association with

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Second Chance: The Story of a Father's Faith, a Mother's Strength, and a Child's Will to Live

Second Chance: The Story of a Father's Faith, a Mother's Strength, and a Child's Will to Live by Kip Moore is a heart-wrenching story of one family's struggle with E.coli illness in their young eighteen-month-old son, named Chance. Mr. Moore has chosen to share their story, in the hopes of promoting awareness of the problem, and to help families in similar situations to keep the faith.

It all started when the Moore family was on vacation, spending a day at Mount Rushmore. After a random TV interview at the historic site, they decide to go to a local restaurant.

Soon after, Kip found himself feeling quite ill, with flu-like symptoms, lack of appetite, and diarrhea that lasted for ten days. His doctors told him he probably had a small case of food poisoning. Chance became ill the same evening, vomiting repeatedly. The next day, he began to have massive amounts of diarrhea, and even started to pass bloody stools.

The first trip to the pediatrician simply gave Chance some fluids to rehydrate him. When symptoms didn't improve the next day, the Moore family was instructed to take him directly to the Children's Hospital. And thus began a month-long roller coaster ride.

Tense moments, close calls, amazing people, and medical miracles fill the following 100+ pages. Even those who do not have their own children cannot help but feel the pain of a family waiting with baited breath to see if their precious baby is going to live or die. Their unwavering faith and devotion to each other, as well as reengaging with a higher power is inspirational.

This is a book that parents should read, especially as problems with E.coli and other forms of contamination are running rampant today. Chance's parents were not educated on the symptoms of E.coli infection and the outcome could have been quite different. The book also teaches parents how to find faith and to believe in miracles, while also fighting for the rights of their children. No one knows a child better than his parents, and parents need to be their child's biggest advocate.

The book also provides up-to-date information about E.coli, with links to the latest research and organizations. Again, the goal of the book is to arm readers with information, in the hopes that other families don't have to go through the same horror story that the Moore family faced back in the summer of 2005.

Andrea Coventry received this book as part of her affiliation with

Purchase Second Chance

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Language is Music by Susanna Zaraysky

Language is Music: Over 70 Fun & Easy Tips to Learn Foreign Languages by Susanna Zaraysky is a beneficial compliment to any language learning program. In it, Zaraysky provides tips that she used to assist her through the years while she learned to speak English, Russian, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Serbo-Croatian.

She relates the learning of language to that of learning music. You have to tune your ear to hear the melodies of different languages in order to recreate them. Pay attention to the tempo, tone and emphasis within each syllable, just like you would to the notes in a song. Practice the language daily, just as you would practice playing an instrument daily. The new language is your instrument.

Immersion is the best way to learn a new language. Zaraysky recommends listening to music, watching TV, and viewing films in your target language. Listen to phrases again and again. Practice repeating them until you can mimic the intonation and pronunciation. Make vocabulary lists of new words. Practice translating. Create flashcards. Listen, watch, write.

When you start getting comfortable in the new language, try to converse with others in that language. Ideally, you would look for someone who is a native speaker in the target language, but any exchange is beneficial. Perhaps you could help someone learn English as you learn his language. Practice in person or online. Zaraysky provides numerous online resources and tips for local resources, throughout her book.

Make yourself perform daily tasks, such as balancing the checkbook, by using the target language. The more you make it a part of you and your routine, the more likely you are to remember it.

Language is Music is not going to guarantee that you memorize grammatical structures and vocabulary quickly for an upcoming test or exam. It's not a quick shortcut to make you the star of the class. It's designed for people who are seriously looking for a way to become more proficient in their foreign language studies.

Keep in mind that languages come easily to Zaraysky. Some people are gifted in that regard. Nevertheless, she has had to work hard to develop fluency and has found these techniques to work a better than the rote memorization found in traditional foreign language classes. Applying her techniques as a supplement to what you are already doing will allow you to use different parts of your brain and achieve greater success in your foreign language endeavors.

Purchase Language is Music

Your Neighborhood Gives Me the Creeps

Your Neighborhood Gives Me the Creeps by Adam Selzer is a book that actually gave me the creeps. Not only is it full of ghost stories, primarily set in Chicago, but these are recorded by a self-proclaimed nonbeliever.

Adam Selzer is a skeptic who accidentally ended up doing ghost tours around Chicago, after he couldn't find a different "real" job and needed the money. While he is usually able to dispel ghost stories or explain away bizarre phenomena, such as orbs in photographs, he will admit to having a few of his own unexplained adventures in the supernatural realm. Some of these occurred when he was yet a child. Honestly, a scientifically-minded person who gets scared in certain situations is more likely to convince me of the plausibility of a ghostly encounter than someone who routinely finds spirits.

Adam Selzer is good at telling stories, a skill probably enhanced every time he goes out on the bus with his company Weird Chicago Tours, founded in 2006. He has published numerous other books and has a degree in English. He is well-versed in the history of numerous supposedly haunted locations, and has thoroughly researched any story he shares. He tries to scientifically explain away sightings, but will admit when he has no explanation. Particularly creepy is the story of a ghostly encounter with a former coworker who unexpectedly succumbed to an early demise after receiving bodiless threats from voices in the walls.

Locations covered throughout the book are notorious in the Windy City. Odin Tatu (now Old Town Tatu) is a former funeral parlor that is now a tattoo parlor. The Biograph Theatre, a.k.a. "Dillinger's Alley" is where John Dillinger met his demise. The St. Valentine's Day Massacre site and the Eastland disaster site can boast numerous tragic and simultaneous deaths. And of course, there is Hull House, and the stopping point for Lincoln's funeral train, amongst several others.

At the end of the book, Selzer provides information for wannabe ghost hunters about different kinds of equipment available. He also outlines a few rules for ghost hunters. Most importantly, remember to be skeptical enough to look for the scientific explanations of the weird, yet open-minded enough to be open to any possibilities. And don't be a jerk.

It is a thrilling read for anyone who is remotely interested in ghost hunting and/or ghost stories. I recommend reading it at night for full effect.

Visit Adam Selzer's websites at and

Purchase Your Neighborhood Gives Me the Creeps: True Tales of an Accidental Ghost Hunter

Be the Star You Are! For Teens

Be the Star You Are! For Teens is the latest collection from teen empowerment expert and life success coach, Cynthia Brian. It is a collection of 74 stories designed to empower and inspire teens. At least half of the stories are penned by Brian herself. Others are written by other motivational speakers and writers, as well as several teenagers. It is endorsed by teen celebrities.

Each story is designed to demonstrate how to achieve a particular goal, be it achievement, communication, imagination, serendipity, volunteerism, etc. Following each installment is a page of exercises that can be done to achieve each goal, as well as an inspirational quote. It is extremely bubbly and happy, almost sugary sweet, which is designed to elicit a positive response in the reader.

The book is not meant to be read in one sitting. It should be attacked one concept at a time, then digested to allow for understanding and reflection. It may help for readers to maintain a journal while making their way through the book, so that they can chart their own successes and track what still needs to change.

Teenagers who want to find meaning in their lives are going to be more likely to pick up this book and read through it. Others aren't going to want to let anyone know that they are reading a self-help book. For these teens, casually place the book in a basket of reading material in the bathroom or other out-of-the-way place. In the utmost privacy, they may just page through it and pick up some tips here and there. Don't call attention to the reluctant teen reading it, as that will guarantee it is set aside and not touched again.

Parents, teachers, and other mentors to teenagers can read through the book to choose stories to share to elicit conversation with their own children or in groups. It could be used in clubs, sports, or youth groups as a conversation tool.

Adults can also find some benefits by reading through the entries. It is never too late to start making positive changes in your life.

Cynthia Brian is a motivational speaker who can be heard on the radio on a weekly basis. Proceeds from the sale of this book will benefit her charity Be the Star You Are! which promotes literacy in people of all ages.

Visit her website at and the charity at

Stay tuned for a Q&A with Cynthia Brian.

Purchase Be the Star You Are! for Teens: Simple Gifts for Living, Loving, Laughing, Learning, and Leading

Travel Writing by Peter Ferry

Travel Writing by Peter Ferry follows the author as narrator throughout a series of intertwined stories that seems to combine fact and fiction.

Pete Ferry is a high school English teacher. He seeks to demonstrate to his students the power of telling a good story. He tells them about his supposedly made-up experiences following a car accident he witnessed. The accident occurred when Lisa Kim drove into a pole and died. Pete had come across her as she came careening along beside him, obviously intoxicated. At one point, he was next to her at a stoplight and wanted to jump out and take her keys to prevent her from driving. Of course, he didn't, and the result was her death.

Pete is haunted by this and becomes obsessed, trying to track her down to find out who she was and why she was in her condition. Who would want to kill the beautiful Lisa Kim? And why did her friends at the funeral think he was her boyfriend?

At the same time, he alienates his girlfriend Lydia, who cannot handle his obsession. Their already tumultuous relationship strains even further, and Pete is forced into self-reflection when he ends up with a lot of alone time.

Interspersed in the story about Lisa Kim are scenes of Pete in his classroom. Students keep asking him questions about writing a story and are desperately trying to figure out if the story is true or not. Also sprinkled throughout the story are travel essays written by Ferry. Some illustrate his relationship with Lydia, while others are designed to be informative about the destinations.

Ferry further blurs the lines between fact and fiction by including his real-life biography and writing experiences into his character's bio. It's the perfect example of putting yourself into your own story.

Trying to figure out what is fact and what is fiction in this book can make your head spin. It's better to just take the information as it comes and try to enjoy each part. Or think of it as reading three different books simultaneously. The pages will turn quickly and your brain will definitely get some exercise.

Purchase Travel Writing

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Silverstein & Me: A Memoir

Shel Silverstein is best known for his beloved books for children, including Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, and The Giving Tree. But did you know that he got his start in the professional world by a young Hugh Hefner, penning cartoons for Playboy magazine from almost the inception of the magazine? Or that he spent two years in overseas jail? Or that the original version of Uncle Shelby's Book of ABZ's was originally intended as a dirty book for adults?

Silverstein & Me: A Memoir, by Silverstein's lifelong friend Marv Gold, provides these "shocking" facts, as well as several other nuggets of information about the reclusive poet and cartoonist. The two met in Chicago, while attending grade school together. They stayed in contact or the rest of Shel's life. And, if you believe the opening story that continues throughout the book, they were still in some sort of contact even after Shel's death. This allows Marv to tell Shel's story in a way that no one else could ever do.

He tells how the two young Jewish boys made trouble in elementary school, and about Shel's childhood introduction to becoming a cartoonist via a correspondence course. He won an award for his work in this course, when he was in high school. Further notoriety was scraped together when he was in the Army, leading him to take his work to Playboy magazine in its infancy. Almost as a joke, Shel then took some of his Playboy pieces, considerably cleaned them up, and became a beloved children's storyteller.

Marv also spends time giving more insight into the private life of the man who preferred to be a recluse. He shares about Shel's love life, family, and offspring, providing a timeline of key events at the end. He also includes a full listing of Silverstein's works.

Those who have a wholesome image of Shel Silverstein are going to be very disappointed by this memoir. Everyone else will enjoy learning of his shenanigans. New rumors may be started, but most of them are laid to rest.

I personally enjoyed learning more about the man, as I was already aware of his more adult persona. I also enjoyed his quotes that headline each chapter. The only aspect of the book that I did not care for was the interspersed bits about Marv hearing Shel's voice and visiting his shrink about it. Those parts seemed too fictional to have a place in a truthful memoir. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining read.

Purchase Silverstein and Me: A Memoir

Friday, October 16, 2009

Love to the Little Ones

Every generation of parents hems and haws about how difficult parenting is, and how different things were when they were younger. Louisa Lane Fox's book Love to the Little Ones: The Trials and Triumphs of Parents Through the Ages in Letters, Diaries, Memoirs, and Essays seeks to prove them wrong. She has collected samples from letters, memoirs, diaries, and books dating as far back as the 1400s that demonstrate that parents continue to have the same concerns even after centuries of change.

The selections cover the entire gamut of childhood, starting with the writers' thoughts on pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing, through childhood, adolescence, and adult children. There is also a final section that deals with the death of a child. Examples are given by literary greats, such as Daniel Defoe, John Milton, Rudyard Kipling, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and even Oscar Wilde, amongst numerous other famous figures. Other examples tend to represent the middle to upper class society over the centuries, as their written works were more likely to be preserved.

It is fairly interesting to listen to the complaints of the woman almost six hundred years ago who is concerned about getting so fat while pregnant or the woman from two hundred years ago complain of her sister's lack of control over her own children. Similar sentiments are echoed regularly in today's society, though the verbiage may be different.

But readers should know that this is not a book that is designed to sit down and read through in a matter of hours. Instead, it is designed to be perused on occasion, soaking up a couple of stories per sitting. It serves well as a coffee table book, or a read for other special places where one requires a few minutes of entertainment. And being British, it will be drier than contemporary juicy Americana.

Those who will appreciate this book the most are those who are fascinated by family and history. Others who love to study how the English language has evolved over the centuries will be entranced by spelling and phrasing changes. Teachers and professors of history and of the English language will find this book a useful supplement in their curricula.

Purchase Love to the Little Ones: The Trials and Triumphs of Parents Through the Ages in Letters, Diaries, Memoirs and Essays

Blue Jesus by Tom Edwards

Blue Jesus by Tom Edwards is probably one of the best fiction reads I have had in a long time. I found it so good that I have already read it twice, and I know I will read it yet again.

Blue Jesus is the story of an eleven year-old boy named Buddy, also the narrator, and his best friend, Earl Lee, known locally as Early. Early is unique in that he and his family are called "blue people", as they suffer from a malady that causes their skin to be blue in color. Early also seems to possess a supernatural power that allows him to bring people back from the dead.

Early's powers first come to light when the boys stumble upon a dead baby in the local dump. Early is overcome by a special feeling, takes the baby in his hands, and brings it back to life. As the local Comfort Corners, Georgia population finds out about this, he becomes a local celebrity. Buddy enjoys his newfound popularity as he is Early's best friend.

Despite having done so much good, the two boys are also plagued by personal woes. Buddy recently lost his mother to cancer, his brother never has anything nice to say about him, and his father is rarely around. He's also considered to be a sissy, and is regularly beaten up by the town bully. Early's father regularly beats him for bringing unwanted attention to himself and the other blue people. He also tries to capitalize on Early's talents, touting him as the "Blue Jesus" and taking money from those hopeful to be cured as he lays hands on them.

The story takes place in the South in the 1960s, a time when blacks and whites were still at war with each other. Adding to the mayhem is the prejudice against the blue people, who really did exist back then. The blue people were ridiculed by blacks and whites alike. Present in the novel is also strife between different Christian denominations. It is told from the point of view of 11 year-old Buddy, allowing for some innocent insights into the situations.

Blue Jesus is an easy and entertaining read that inspires all kinds of emotions. It is also quality literature. The storyline and style is reminiscent of Toni Morrison. There are also glimpses of Stephen King, as in The Green Mile. This is author Tom Edwards' first novel.

Purchase Blue Jesus

Sunday, September 27, 2009

My Child Has Autism

My Child Has Autism: What Parents Need to Know by Clarissa Willis, Ph.D. is an excellent introductory tool for parents with a child newly diagnosed with autism. It explains all of the involved jargon in a clear fashion, allowing parents to better understand everything.

Willis begins by explaining what autism is and what it is not, including a look at what is known as the autism spectrum. She also provides an overview of the diagnostic process and applicable treatments and techniques.

A whole chapter is devoted to trying to answer common questions asked by parents of children with autism. Common behaviors of rituals, obsession with objects, and autistic tantrums are bewildering to parents. Willis also provides several activities designed to meet these challenges head-on.

Lack of communication skills are at the core of autistic difficulties. Parents and children struggle to understand each other. Willis takes a lot of time to explain the difficulties as well as strategies to implement to facilitate communication. These activities can amplify techniques used by therapists and teachers.

Another chapter is devoted to Sensory Integration Disorder, which often occurs in children with autism. Willis again provides an overview with some common strategies used with children with autism. She also provides resources for further information, as entire volumes have been written dedicated to SID.

The last three chapters of the book are about helping the autistic child to become as independent as possible, as well as learning how to socially interact. Social interactions are very difficult, especially with the lack of communication skills.

As an educator, I found this book to be quite useful. It is filled with beneficial information that can help a regular educator in her classroom. It is one of the clearest books I have yet read on the subject. Key terms are defined at the end of every chapter. The numerous references and resources, also found at the end of each chapter, allow for further study on a particular area. It can also provide a springboard for conversation between educators and parents.

Students can also benefit from use of this book as an initial textbook in their studies of autism.

Parents will benefit from the introduction to autism, and can also use the resource lists to gain more information. It can give them a list of questions to ask doctors and therapists. A mother of an autistic child who skimmed the book said that while she wished more information was given in the treatment section, she felt everything else was explained quite clearly. She wishes she could have had such a book when her son was first diagnosed.

Purchase My Child Has Autism: What Parents Need to Know.

Andrea Coventry is a reviewer for

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Max Lucado's Fearless

Best-selling author Max Lucado released his new book Fearless today. I was one privileged reviewer who got an advanced copy to preview.

I have never read Max Lucado before, but I know he is highly regarded by my sister (who is an ordained pastor) and many other devout Christians as one of the best. After reading this book, I understand why.

Lucado tackles the concept of fear by providing real-life experiences to which readers can relate, then backs them up with Bible verses in which they can seek comfort. He is not ashamed of sharing his own weaknesses and how he copes with them. You don't get a "holier than thou" attitude from him, which can be common in similar books.

I also found the book interesting because it caused old knowledge of the Bible's teaching to resurface. I'm not an avid reader nor scholar of Scripture anymore, but it's amazing how much I retained from my years of study. It was a good introduction for me to Max Lucado's works. I'm sure his continuous fans will be pleased with it.

Receive Me Falling

Receive Me Falling is an excellent debut novel from Erika Robuck. It chronicles the plight of Meg, whose parents die in a tragic car accident while on their way home from her engagement party. As Meg sifts through her parents’ belongings, she discovers that she is heiress to a former sugar plantation, named Eden, which is found on the island of Nevis in the Caribbean.

Eager for a respite from her woes, Meg heads down to the island. She is in awe of its obvious former beauty and wishes to revive the house, though she is not keen to learn that it was a slave plantation in its heyday. Upon discovering that her father came by his wealth, including this plantation, through illegal means, Meg decides she needs to sell the plantation. She owes millions of dollars to the people her father had swindled.

Simultaneously, the story of Catherine is told. Catherine Dall runs her father Cecil’s sugar plantation, which is the Eden that Meg has come to love. Catherine is unlike other plantation owners, in that she believes slavery is wrong.
She comes more at odds with her family and her beliefs when British abolitionists arrive on the island.

The two women’s stories are told in alternating chapters, each one paralleling the other. Each woman learns more secrets about her family, as the stories progress. Each women’s plans for a perfect life and happiness is shattered by deceit, much as the original Eden was ruined by Eve’s deception by the serpent Satan. How each woman copes with the deception, however, is different. Their resolutions and ends are opposite.

The book itself divides nicely with the alternating chapters, as each one neatly flows into the other, despite the time setting differences. It is easy to keep track of what is happening within each story. While not a book that can be polished off in one afternoon, it is engaging enough to keep you coming back for more. The underlying ghost story isn’t meant to be macabre or scary; it’s actually almost believable.

Another appealing part about this book is that it discusses slaves in the Caribbean islands. So many stories revolve around the American’s enslaving Africans, forgetting that we were not the only ones to do so. Erika Robuck did a lot of research to maintain the accuracy of slave life on the sugar plantations. This alternate point of view demonstrates the cruelty that slaves faced, despite their location, as well as the attempts by abolitionists to treat them as humans.

Erika Robuck is a descriptive writer who makes the reader feel as if she is actually there. I could easily picture the characters and settings and felt like I was there while I was reading. I found the book to be highly enjoyable and engaging, and have already recommended it to friends.

Buy Receive Me Falling

Read Erika Robuck's blog.

Read another review, posted on Everything Distils Into Reading.

Andrea Coventry is a reviewer for

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Die Trying: One Man's Quest to Conquer the Seven Summits

Die Trying: One Man's Quest to Conquer the Seven Summits is an inspiring memoir by a man, who at the age of 26, began a four-year journey to summit all of the highest climbs on the seven continents. When starting his journey, Parfet was an overweight, under-trained 26 year-old working 100 hours a week as an investment banker at J.P. Morgan. His first summit, of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, made him realize that he was capable of doing anything that he set his mind to, and whetted his appetite to go for more.

He had always dreamed of going to Mt. Everest, ever since reading about Sir Edmund Hilliary and Tenzing Norgay being the first documented people to summit the world's tallest mountain. Then, hearing about the challenge to summit the tallest on every continent, Parfet began taking the necessary steps to prepare. He started eating better, working to lose the excess weight he had put on as a junior banker at J.P. Morgan. He began to actively train during the off times when he wasn't climbing.

Each mountain brought its own set of challenges. Lessons learned on one mountain didn't necessarily translate to a different mountain. He learned the importance of friendship, trust, and simplistic intelligence, as well as the necessity of staying cool in the face of danger. And as if it isn't already inspiring enough that he conquered all Seven Summits, Parfet shares about his scholarship funds that were set up to educate people in each country he visited.

The mountains that Parfet climbed, in order of ascent, are as follows: Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa), Cerro Aconcagua (South America), Denali/Mount McKinley (North America), Vinson Massif (Antarctica), Mount Elbrus (Europe), Castensz Pyramid and Mount Kosciuszko (Australia -- two different lists of the Seven Summits exist), and finally Mount Everest (Asia).

Parfet's recollections of each of his climbs are filled with vivid detail that help you feel like you are right there with him. An energy to his storytelling keep the pages turning, because you want to know what happens next.

The accomplishments Parfet shares in Die Trying are humbling, especially when you realize how young he was at the time. You will laugh, cry, and bit your nails as he fights with a tent mate, loses a team member, and slides down the ice.

This book definitely ranks up there with the likes of Jon Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air. If Bo Parfet has more stories to share, he should tell them! Die Trying has definitely become my favorite book of 2009.

Buy Die Trying: One Man's Quest to Conquer the Seven Summits

Andrea Coventry is a reviewer for

The Anti-Alzheimer's Prescription

Dr. Vincent Fortanasce has intimate knowledge of the horrors of Alzheimer's disease, as he watched his father plummet down the black hole. Through much research, he has developed a diet and exercise program to help himself, and others like him, to reduce their risk of this debilitating disease.

Alzheimer's tends to be inherited, so those with a close family member suffering from the disease are automatically more at risk. Other lifestyle factors, such as obesity, diabetes, poor diet, and lack of exercise, can also come into play.

Dr. Fortanasce first devotes time explaining the signs, symptoms, and stages of Alzheimer's disease, to help readers fully understand it. He also wants readers to look at themselves with a microscope, to determine their personal level of risk. With each risk factor explained, he provides steps to be taken to reduce the risk.

The first step in the Anti-Alzheimer's Prescription is to eat an Anti-Alzheimer's diet. This diet is Mediterranean in style, focusing on a low glycemic index and high in "good fats", such as omega-3s. Dr. Fortanasce provides extensive lists of the types of food he recommends, to allow for a healthy brain-boosting balance in the diet. He explains how to clean out the kitchen and go shopping for specific brands. In the appendices, he includes a 28-day menu and a mini-cookbook. The included recipes are palatable, even to us picky eaters.

The second step is to exercise the body to benefit the brain. Diagrams and detailed explanations of exercise to tone the body, reduce stress, and subsequently boost brainpower, make it easy to see how the moves can be implemented into daily routines.

The third step is to perform daily neurobics, or exercises for the mind. Simple tasks such as playing Solitaire, balancing the checkbook, and memorizing sequences of numbers can keep current brain dendrites strong and stop deterioration.

The fourth step in the Anti-Alzheimer's Prescription is to get plenty of rest and relaxation. Stress has long been known to be a killer; now it can also destroy your brain.

Concluding chapters focus on testing, diagnosis, and medications used for Alzheimer's disease.

Dr. Fortanansce's book appears to be well-researched and consistent with other theories about beneficial diets and practices for other medical issues. As a neurologist, he has had plenty of opportunities to test out his theories with his patients. It will be interesting to see how the theories hold up against the test of time, as medical studies have a tendency to disprove each other on a regular basis. However, having a strong family history of Alzheimer's disease, I hope and pray that he is right, as I work to implement more of his techniques in my own life.

Buy The Anti-Alzheimer's Prescription: The Science-Proven Plan to Start at Any Age

Andrea Coventry is a reviewer for

Boardinghouse Stew by E. E. Smith

Boardinghouse Stew by E. E. Smith is an interesting snapshot about life in a boardinghouse during World War II. The author tells her own story of working as a maid and cook for a summer in Mrs. Mumson's home on the West Coast in 1943.

Told from the point-of-view of eleven year-old Eileen, the story is about the interactions between Mrs. Mumson, and the six "guests" who live with her. Patsy, the beautiful stenographer; Iris, a welder and air raid warden; and Margaret, the telephone operator who has been a little "sickly" lately, make up Mrs. Mumson's "girls." Howard, a supervisor at the cannery; Doc, who is a doctor; and Teddy, whose job is a mystery, yet he comes home with a new car every few weeks, make up Mrs. Mumson's "boys". Eileen, who lied and said she was thirteen years old, has been hired to do the cooking and cleaning, because Mrs. Mumson's Japanese help has been transferred to a holding camp.

Eileen works hard to run the household. She has to be frugal in her shopping, due to the rationing, and becomes creative in her culinary creations, following the misguidance of the fictional "Miss Kitchen". Her treats leave much to be desired, but no one else is doing the cooking. She strives to keep the house clean, and works harder than even most adults. Along the way, she gain insight into various prejudices of the time, against the Japanese and the Germans. These come to a head when a mysterious visitor appears on the doorstep. She even learns a life lesson from the mysterious goings-on between Margaret and a certain man.

Boardinghouse Stew is an easy read, as it is written in the style of a play, told mostly through dialogue. As someone not as familiar with reading scripts, I could picture the play-by-play action, as if it were occurring on a stage, thanks to the narrative style in lieu of stage directions. The strong voice of an eleven year-old narrator helps you appreciate any filtering and interpretation of events that could easily otherwise seem ludicrous. Photographs of people familiar to the author, and of places and things of the times, also bring about a real quality to the story.

The story is unique, because most novels about WWII seem to focus on the concentration camps and the war being fought overseas. This brings the fear back to the homefront, and brings about a sense of reality to the daily happenings of Americans at the time, even if the characters seem sensational. It helps that it is based on the recollections of E. E. Smith's actual experiences during the war.

In the end, E. E. Smith addresses any burning questions that the reader may have, such as what happened to certain characters in the novel in real life. She also shares her experiences with the boardinghouse as an adults, as well as some experiences from writing and producing the original play.

Buy Boardinghouse Stew

Andrea Coventry is a book reviewer for

The Blue Fairy and other tales of transcendence by Ernest Dempsey

Ernest Dempsey opens his short story collections with a moving dedication to his Aunt Farahana, who passed away in November 1992. Her passing had a profound effect on Dempsey, as familiar to him today as it was 17 years ago. His description of her influence on his life literally moved me to tears.

Dempsey has collected several short stories he has penned over the years, to put into the collection entitled The Blue Fairy and other tales of transcendence. He takes a look at death from many points of view.

Some are told in the first person, almost seemingly like he is literally telling about someone he knew in real life. Others are third-person looks inside the troubled mind of one who is dealing with death. Stories are about the loss of a child, impending death from illness, and mysterious people floating in and out of one's life.

On occasion, a story would leave me wanting for more. Either I didn't understand the point, or felt that the point was lacking. I frequently find this to be the case when reading a short story collection by an author, as well as when rereading some of my own short stories. Sometimes, a story would seem like it was trying too hard to be deep. Again, I think it is a common issue in short story collections.

Luckily, the more that I read, the more I was drawn into the stories, the more I was able to understand them, and the more I was able to emotionally feel connected to some of them. I am particularly drawn to stories of the loss of a child or a sibling, as I feel like I can relate to those best after losing a baby cousin some years ago.

"Recreating Stone" was particularly painful to read, as it is a story of unrequited love that is lost forever. Here, I can see the parallels drawn between Dempsey and his 19th century counterparts, referenced by other reviewers.

I also found ones like "Just a Kilometer" to be reminiscent of a Stephen King short story. A man is shot far away from civilization, and is striving to find his way back to the love of his life, despite the bleeding and the pain. Stephen King has been one of my favorite authors for the last 20-plus years, and I enjoy finding well-written stories within the same genre.

Short story collections should never be read in one sitting, as each piece is designed to stand on its own. The same holds true of The Blue Fairy. It also should only be read when the reader is in a mood that can accommodate darker stories without being thrust into an emotional depression. Stories such as Dempsey's have the potential of striking a chord deep within, especially if one has experienced a similar situation.

Should you make a purchase through this affiliate link, I may earn a few pennies at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my websites!

Andrea Coventry is a book reviewer for

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rick & Bubba's Guide to the Almost Nearly Perfect Marriage

Rick & Bubba’s Guide to the Almost Nearly Perfect Marriage by Rick Burgess & Bill “Bubba” Bussey is probably one of the funniest books I have read in recent memory! “The two sexiest fat men in America” have found an entertaining way to share marital advice, based on over 33 years of experience between them.

While the book is told from the man’s point-of-view, and inevitably makes fun of the way that women act in various situations, Rick & Bubba allow plenty of page space to poke fun at themselves, as well. They recognize that men and women interpret everything differently, and the lack of communication and understanding can either become humorous or disastrous.

Filled with examples from their own families, Rick and Bubba’s Guide is a beneficial read to both single and married people, alike. Learn how to have a sense of humor when dealing with the tricks life throws at you. Remember that no one is perfect and embrace each other for who you really are. Love yourself. Love each other. Be patient. Forgive. Be graceful. Be faithful to each other and to God. And stay determined. Together you will grow stronger and make it through this thing called life.

I received a review copy from the publisher and was not required to leave a positive review.

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Review of The Perfect Christmas by Debbie Macomber

Author: Debbie Macomber
Publisher: MIRA Books
ISBN: 9780778326823

Debbie Macomber consistently can be found at the top of numerous bestseller lists. She is also a huge fan of the Christmas holiday. Her upcoming novel, The Perfect Christmas, is sure to enjoy the same kind of success.

While I found The Perfect Christmas to be predictable, simply by reading the back cover, I also found it to be a highly enjoyable way to relax on a summer’s evening, as I‘m a sucker for the story of a thirty-something year-old looking for love.

Cassie Beaumont is a relatable character, as she is thirty-three years old, and still single. It’s horribly difficult to meet a man. Then, any man she meets ends up being a total stinker. With so many friends in wedded bliss, her misery is amplified. When she receives a perfect Christmas card, before Thanksgiving no less, from her perfect friend with a perfect husband and a perfect boy and a perfect girl, and the perfect house, and, well, the perfect life, Cassie decides to take drastic action.

Upon the recommendation of her best friend, Angie, Cassie decides to enlist the services of Simon Dodson, a professional matchmaker. He’s assertive, somewhat egotistical, and a know-it-all. He promises that he will find her the perfect match, otherwise he will give a full refund. And the fee will be $30,000.

Before Cassie can meet her match, she must perform three simple Christmas tasks: be a charity bell-ringer, dress up as Santa’s elf, and prepare a traditional turkey Christmas dinner for her neighbors. The first two seem easy, but Cassie does not have any kind of positive relationship with any of her neighbors.

Meanwhile, her best friend, Alexis, who had been refused services by Simon, has a mysterious new man, and isn‘t sharing any dirt. And something is going on with her brother, Shawn. She focuses on her tasks so that she can meet her beloved John, while simultaneously being drawn to the enigma that is Simon.

Throughout her escapades, she has some Bridget Jones-worthy moments that make you laugh out loud as you shrink in embarrassment for her. You encourage her through her misfortunes, because you want to see her happy. And while paying $30,000 for a matchmaker seems like the most unrealistic thing in the world for even the most desperate woman to do, you realize in the end it is inconsequential. The price of true love and happiness is worth so much more than that.

Andrea Coventry is a book reviewer for

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Review of The Box From Braunau by Jan Elvin

Author: Jan Elvin
Publisher: Amacom Books
ISBN: 9780814410493

The Box from Braunau: In Search of My Father’s War is a touching tribute. Not only does it celebrate the life and legacy of author Jan Elvin’s father Bill, it also gives honor to the men who fought in WWII and celebrates the prisoners of the concentration camps they liberated.

All through Jan Elvin’s childhood, she and her siblings were warned to be careful around their father. They were especially warned to never be close-by when waking him, as he may attack. He was anxious and controlling. He often appeared apathetic to his family and their needs. What they didn’t know then, was that he was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

Jan Elvin had a somewhat strained relationship with her father, as he seemed incapable of really opening up to anyone. Then, a few years before he died, Jan stumbled upon a familiar box from her youth. It was a metal box, upon the side of which read “Braunau 1944”. When she questioned her reticent father about its significance, she discovered that he had been a part of a regiment that freed a slave labor camp in Braunau, Austria. He received the box from a prisoner out of gratitude.

Bill Elvin also revealed that he had witnessed first-hand the atrocities of the concentration camp Ebensee. Desperate to discover more about her father’s experiences, which were too painful for him to articulate, Jan Elvin began a four-year quest to find out about Ebensee and Braunau. The Box from Braunau is the result of her research.

Jan’s research literally took her around the world and introduced her to many of America’s finest, who served with her father. Through those experiences, and through her father’s journal, she was finally able to paint a better picture of her father, and of the war in which he fought.

The Box From Braunau
alternates between narratives of the author’s memories of her family and journal entries made by her father during the war. She supplements those entries with factual information garnered in her research. The combination of memory, journal, and research provides an insightful and personal look at one of the worst experiences of mankind.

In addition to the book itself is a comprehensive bibliography for those who wish to research the war further. Jan Elvin also includes resources for those who wish to research their own family’s history as it relates to WWII.

It is an interesting read for anyone who is interested in WWII. It is also a sharp reminder to listen to your father’s stories, and to embrace him while you still have him.

Andrea Coventry is a book reviewer for

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Review of Whiteout by Brian Duren

Author: Brian Duren
Publisher: Beaver’s Pond Press
ISBN: 978159282875

Author Brian Duren’s debut novel Whiteout is a remarkable first work. I’ll admit I had minor hesitations when starting it, as I am always wary of new writers. But I always try to keep an open mind, and was not disappointed.

The story revolves around Paul Bauer, who is a freelance journalist who fled to Paris several years prior, to escape his family. His estranged older sister, Christine, keeps calling him to return home to Minnesota, as their mother is on her deathbed. Simultaneously, Paul is plagued by a dream in which a little boy is walking in huge snow drifts. When the boy reaches the peak, he lifts off and soars....and Paul wakes up. Adding to the confusion is a Christmas card, sent to Paul by his mother the previous year, including his parents wedding announcement from 49 years ago.

When Paul’s mother finally passes, he obligingly returns stateside, sans girlfriend Claire, to attend her funeral and reacquaint himself with his family. In addition to Christine, he has an older brother, Fran, whose infamous mood swings can erupt into unpredictable rages. And then there is Stone, whose actual relationship with the family remains fuzzy in Paul’s mind.

All Paul has ever known about his father was that he was lost in a snowstorm whiteout thirty-five years ago. He has little to no memories of the man, yet is curious about him. A cryptic conversation with his mother’s long-time friend, Ruth, and stumbling upon ripped-up photographs in his mother’s closet, propel Paul to search for the truth about his family, no matter what he may discover.

The novel is full of long descriptions of Paul’s surroundings. At first one questions the necessity of such descriptions, but then the purpose is revealed. As Paul takes in every detail around him, he is also processing any new information he may receive via provoked memories or conversations with others. Many of us also become hyper-aware of small details in our environment when we are entrenched in deep thought.

Much of the story is also told through dialogue between the characters, which reveals their personalities without an omniscient narrator being responsible for doing so. This makes them a little more believable.

The story is fluid and a desire to keep up on Paul’s discoveries keeps the pages turning. The inevitable twist toward the end of the book is slightly predictable, yet the change of voice and mood is jarring enough to be entertaining.

I look forward to hearing Brian Duren’s fictional voice in the future.

Andrea Coventry is a reviewer for

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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Review of Learning Disabilities by Etta K. Brown

Learning Disabilities: Understanding the Problem and Managing the Challenges by Etta K. Brown, is a smorgasbord of information for both parents and educators of children with learning disabilities. Divided into three parts, Brown covers environmental influences on learning disabilities, history and laws pertaining to special education, and how to observe and accommodate special needs both in the classroom and at home.

This book is not one that can be read quickly in one sitting. Instead, it is meant to be read slowly, absorbing each bit of information before moving on to the next part. Brown even tells readers at the end of Part I to stop and be sure they understand what they have read before proceeding to the next part.

The language is technical, yet understandable. It reads almost like a textbook, fully explaining each term in context. Concepts are subdivided in bold print, and bulleted lists allow for easy readability and easy searches within the text. I just wish there would have also been an index in the back.

It is beneficial for educators as it can serve as a reminder of concepts learned may years ago in college. It may also provide new information, especially for those who are not as aware of some of the learning disabilities contained within. Research in this area is constantly evolving, and it can be overwhelming to keep up with it all.

Parents will benefit the most from Learning Disabilities. Brown is good at reinforcing the rights of the parents of the child with learning disabilities. Many parents quickly give in to schools, even when they don’t have to do so. This book arms them with information about the disabilities, accommodations that should legally be made, and the phraseology of the laws that back them up.

Brown also articulates accommodations that should be attempted at home to facilitate the child’s learning process. School and parents need to consistently work together to truly help the child.

A unique aspect of the book is Etta K. Brown’s desire to help parents in any way possible. She has a website that is dedicated to providing information to parents. She encourages parents to email her with any questions, or if they are feeling dejected about the process. The goal is to be an advocate for the child, though she and her partners cannot provide legal advice as attorneys.

I found this book to be a great review of the special ed laws that I learned several years ago. It provided further information about issues I am starting to see more of in my classroom, that perhaps I haven’t before observed. It gave me language to share with parents as they go about the evaluation process. The openness and willingness of the author to discuss issues also provide a lead for me to share with my parents.

Brown, Etta K. (2008) Learning Disabilities: Understanding the Problem and Manging the Challenges. Minneapolis: Langdon Street Press.

Andrea Coventry is a reviewer for

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