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Dec. 2018BkCovHollywoodHollyweird

Hollywood: Hollyweird, How People Survive and Make It

Art Norman Jr., 2016

Yorkshire Publishing

3207 South Norwood Ave.

Tulsa, Oklahoma 74135


ISBN# 978-1-947491-67-0

Softcover, 96 pages, $9.95

Review by Christina Francine

The review will be published at:

  • GoodReads
  • Amazon

Does everyone want to go to Hollywood at some point in his or her life? Art Norman Jr. believes many people do and in his book, he shares his experience while in Hollywood with a caution. His book is a firsthand account of a young man who experiences a period in the limelight of Hollywood, and although he learned a lot and had fun, he did learn of Hollywood’s dark side.  Norman, who earned a B.A. in psychology, shares his 96 page, matter-of-fact account, which contains numerous chapters. The book is a quick read. He covers long periods briefly and readers must stay absorbed to follow. His point of view is in both the first and the second point of view, which flavors the account. Although the two views still support his wish to provide insight and caution. Anyone who makes the decision to live in Hollywood should weigh their decision with broad opinions and information. Norman’s message could be a part of that.

Norman comes from North Carolina, where he lived with his grandmother a number of years, although he lived for a time in Maryland with his mother and then in Chicago with his father,  a “big-time news anchor” (15), before his experience in Hollywood.  After spending a few years in Tinsiltown, Norman realized Hollywood was not where he wanted to be. Fatigue and changes to himself bothered him. Paranoia had niggled its way into his thoughts causing a “psychological war” (98). Norman explains that others caught in the same situation can beat the “nightmare” (93) just as he did. Norman shares life there, events, fun, and worrisome times. Finally, he shares the moment he decides Hollywood is too weird for him and leaves for home.  Though Norman shares thrills, he also shares truths from the frame of mind he believes Hollywood had caused.

Hollywood: Hollyweird makes up a part of the information one should use when considering a move to Hollywood with only tinsel and limelight in their eyes. Norman’s account and interpretation is one man’s account.

Sept. 2018


Before We Died (Rivers, Book 1)

Joan SchweighardtBkCovBefDied

Five Directions Press, 2018

Wallingford Rd.

ISBN:  9781947044166 (pbk)

ISBN: 9781947044173 (ebook)

Review by Christina Francine

“Bax grit his teeth and arched his back but the men on either side of him grabbed him and held him still. The chief dug deeply. I could see the river of fluids—pus and blood, and maybe a surviving maggot or two–” (112).

An waveringly real and achingly heartwarming tale about two brothers caught in a web of deception.

Schweighardt’s novel Before We Died is an exciting tale about two young Irish American brothers who go to South America to make money to help support their mother. The oldest will soon marry his sweetheart. The time is around 1908 when rubber trees provided the world with its hunger for tires, hoses, and shoe soles. The problem lies with the intention to harm others through deception and lies for personal gain. Like many others told they could make a fair wage through hard work, the two brothers, Jack and Baxter, are lured to the rain forest to harvest rubber and soon find themselves in debt. They’re not sure they’ll ever see home again and not only because of scam. The rubber tappers more often die from starvation, yellow fever, or from malaria.

Schweighardt’s strategy elevates the work from ordinary to sobering when she reminds readers about humankind’s ability for evil, humor, and profound love—the kind one brother gives to another. She weaves a story about the insatiable ability some people have to allow abuse, suffering, and death of others in order to obtain power and riches. Though Jack and Baxter argue, curse, and consistently threaten one another, they’re determined to keep the other safe, even at a momentous cost. Readers will be mesmerized and pull for the brothers, laugh at their playful antics, worry for them, and understand when they roll around on the ground fighting.

The storytelling provides an exciting journey that at the same time leaves readers wondering how some people justify what they do to others.

** The review is published at:

  • Bookreads
  • Twitter

March 2018

Marital Advice to My Grandson, Joel.

How to be a husband your wife won’t throw out the window in the middle of the night

Peter DavidsonBkCovMaritalAdviceGrand

Sweet Memories Publishing 2018

Arnolds Park, IA 51331

SC 137 pages, $10.95

ISBN # 9780692998151

This review has been published at:

  • Amazon
  • Bookreads
  • (upcoming in May)

“Just treat her like one of the guys” (4) is what Davidson’s well-meaning friends told him prior to being married. Advice like this is not what Davidson wanted his grandson to receive, especially with divorce rates what they are today. So, what began as a few words of wisdom soon developed into a light-hearted book that helps all men and not only Joel. Men begin to realize the misunderstandings that can occur because “Women are different than men” and men’s natural sense of humor is appreciated by most women. Marital Advice to My Grandson, Joel takes an amusing and entertaining view of four important areas men need to know about if they don’t want the woman they love to run for the nearest exit.

In the first section, Davidson offers “Settling into Married Life” (13), which contains eleven sub-headings:  “Compatibility or Compromise,” “Sharing,” “Mommy’s Little Helper,” “Bragging Rights,” “Bedroom Bliss,” “Does this Dress Make Me Look Big?” “The Look,” “Shut Up and Eat It,” and “Let the Training Begin” (13-15). This section attempts to remind men they are part of a couple now and making decisions based on their needs and thoughts only is in the past. As part of a couple, they need to consider what their partner needs and thinks too. For example, if a man decides to buy a banana for himself and not one for his lady because she doesn’t like them, men will soon realize “sharing in a marriage is not the same as sharing in kindergarten” (16-17). Though Davidson leaves his reader to “figure it out” (17) the message is clear:  the question isn’t whether or not a man’s lady wanted a banana or not.

In the second section, Davidson offers “Understanding Your Wife, and Other Myths” (53), which contains these headings:  “Female Shopping Logic,” “There’s No Stopping the Shopping,” “Look at That!” “Your Wife, The Entrepreneur,” “Your Wife the Addict” and “Her Silence, But Very Loud Language.” It is in this area Davidson attempts to explain as best as he can how to read women and what their logic is and when he doesn’t know an answer, he simply says he doesn’t. For example, he shares his experience on why women sometimes are silent:  “Researchers have determined that there are one hundred sixty-seven different reasons  why a woman may be silent,” he says. “Some of which are good[,] some of which are bad, and some which are neutral.” He cautions men to not even try to figure it out because they can’t (72). As much as men want a roadmap in understanding their partner, Davidson enforces the reality that there is no such thing, and when a woman is too quiet sometimes, the best a man can do is “consider everything, and then….GUESS!” (78). Davidson explains that in reading a woman and “her arms are crossed in front of her chest, [understand] she is probably feeling negative and is blocking out what you are saying, or worse yet, blocking you out” (77).

In the third section, Davidson offers areas that cover “Becoming Even More Exemplatory” (79) and contains these headings:  “Unpredictable You,” “The Perfect Greeting Card,” “Eating Etiquette,” “Chivalry,” “Keeping Your In-Laws From Becoming Out Laws,” and “The Wind Beneath Her Wings.” It is with these topics Davidson continues his recommendations. In case his readers still don’t understand, he adds a sobering chapter for male readers that spells things out. He explains that men should also know about themselves that even as fabulous and wonderful [as they] are, there may room for improvement (79). He reiterates women like to be thought of. He explains men should try and remember special anniversaries and holidays, especially Valentine’s Day and her birthday. That is what warms a woman’s heart. Davidson’s message is that if a guy grabs any card off the shelf, the results may not be ideal. Just because a man is a “Rocket Shopper” that isn’t a plus to most women because they see shopping as different. Instead, many women see shopping as something to be savored. Davidson even helps readers by supplying over a half of a page of “wonderful words” to put inside greeting cards (89). He even offers sentence starters too (89-90).

Yet another topic Davidson brings in that adds extra charm is chivalry. “It’s not dead,” he says. A chivalrous man shines. Remember, women are impressed by thoughtfulness and if the man adds a little extra act of kindness, his lady will see him as her perfect knight. He adds a chivalrous man also supports his lady’s goals too, even if she doesn’t do them well.

The rest of Davidson’s marital advice concentrates on financial security, investment, and few final words to consider when his lady is too quiet. When she says “nothing,” he warns, that almost always means “something.”

Men and women are different and a book such as Davidson’s illustrates the likelihood misunderstandings will arise. Like many men, Davidson uses humor to help him deliver his message, something most women appreciate. Humor is one of men’s best natural tendencies. At a time when divorce is more the exception today statistically, Davidson’s book is appreciated. A note to women: the idea that a book like this exits shows men want to get “things” right, even though they may not. Why else would a book like Davidson’s exist? Maybe Mrs. Davidson needs to write a marital advice book for women.


On Reviewing Books

“A reviewer’s responsibility is to the publication’s readers. I write for readers not for the author or publisher.”

“In the arts, the critic is the only independent source of information. The rest is advertising.” -Pauline Kael

~ On Being a Reviewer – Someone Who Analyzes Books By Christina Francine ~

* I’ve been reviewing and publishing reviews and cover-copy (blurbs that go either on the inside front page or back cover) for authors and publishers since 1997 to the present. To date, I’ve published over 250 reviews and a few blurbs. Learn more about these on my book-review page. The number of authors is too great to list but highlighted authors, publishers, companies include:


  • Chelsea Quinn Yarbro  – Fantasy, Historical Suspense, Comic Fantasy, Historical Horror
  • Mark Hillman, Ph.D – (cognitive behavioral therapist) Therapy, Comedy
  • John Koch – (solider under Hitler) – Biography/Memoir
  • David Eddings – Fantasy
  • Dean Koontz – Suspense
  • Laurell K. Hamilton – Fantasy, Suspense
  • Jean M. Auel – Historical Fantasy
  • Neil Gaiman – Children’s, Fantasy, Suspense
  • Anne Kamma – Children’s books
  • Susun Weed – Herbal, Health


Book Review Sites & Companies

A good book review is an analysis, not advertising, although a review and its pieces are often used for advertising. Writing a review is a learned art form and more than simple opinion. Book writing takes incredible stamina, determination, and talent. Reviewing books judges that writing. To judge accurately, a reviewer should not only recognize skill, style, meaning of the book, and its measure compared to others, but also possess certain abilities themselves.

Process is based on topic, style, and author. If a work contains a “good” message and style, I’ll read the work. At times a book is recommended, or a review is requested. At others the choice isn’t mine because a publication I write for needs a particular book reviewed. Sometimes authors aren’t’ happy with my opinion. If an author doesn’t want an honest opinion, they shouldn’t ask for one. Only twice authors have given my publisher and me a hard time about a review of their work, even though I pointed out mainly positives. A review is an honest assessment. If not, it’s advertising. Reviewers want readers to trust them for their honesty.  A few always ruin it for the mass. Due to a few authors not being able to handle the opinion they asked for, I will only write reviews of work I am able to say only all positive things about. If the work is distasteful, or poorly done, I refuse to do the review.

Some people believe writing reviews is a lost art. Certainly the number of true reviewers is small these days and that is a shame. True reviewers analyze writing, are qualified, and share the truth about their findings. Everything else is advertising.

More Book-Reviews


January/February 2018

The Case of the Stinky StenchBkCovStinkyStench

by Josh Funk © 2017

Illustrated by Brendan Kearney

Designed by Jo Obarowski

Sterling Children’s Books, New York, NY

ISBN # 978-1-4549-1960-5

40 pages, $16.95 U.S. and $19.95 Canada

This review is published at:

  • Amazon  (under the name: C.F. Kennison)
  •    (its under Reviewer’s Book watch tab, February “Christina’s Bookshelf”)
  • goodreads (under my name Christina Francine)

“[T]he fridge is in trouble! How would you like to decay?”           —Inspector Croissant

Something foul to the nose can really catch children’s attention. The Case of the Stinky Stench is the second picture book to involve the characters Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast and does a great job of entertaining and educating through numerous ways, the biggest being fun. Of course Funk and Kearney don’t only utilize a stinky fridge mystery to communicate lessons; they also utilize interplay of verbal and visual aspects to convey information and stimulation to catch children’s attention.

The lessons in The Case of the Stinky Stench are about cooperation, neglect, forgetfulness, and cleanliness that are taught through animated food inside a refrigerator. Inspector Croissant is on a mission, and is accompanied by Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast who journey through the refrigerator in search of the stinky offender. All other food characters inside the refrigerator are also offended and support their search. When the stinker turns out to be an eight-month-old fruitcake who needs help, other food characters give the fruitcake a wash and shave. A nice lesson is given because instead of condemning him, they help him and make a difference. The case is solved and the refrigerator is fresh once more.

One way Funk and Kearney use verbal and visual aspect to capture children’s attention is through first deciding to create a picture book. As a specialist on children’s literature and professor of English at the University of Winnipeg, Nodelman explains “Children respond more readily to pictures than to words” (1). Picture books have been used for educational purposes since their very beginning. Pictures seem to “classify texts because they can indeed communicate effortlessly” (6). Most children enjoy looking at pictures and including a story about them captures their attention. There is more to picture books than just pictures with words however.

Language and placement of words make a difference on how children perceive each page and the whole book experience. Funk creates rhyming sentences and fun characters with names such as Inspector Croissant, Barron Von Waffle, Miss Steak, and of course Miss Pancake and Sir French Toast. He also is creative with areas such as Mount Everbean, Onion Ring Cave, Applesauce River, and Corn Chowder Lake. Where sentences are placed isn’t haphazard. Sentences in the tale jump all over. They go from the bottom on one page to the top of the next, which really creates a feeling of action. There are pages with sentences at the top and bottom of the same page and even pages without words too. Goldsmith, in her work “Learning from Illustrators: Factors in the Design of Illustrated Books for Middle School Children” suggest that how pictures and words are placed in a picture book make a difference (111-21).

The placement of illustrations makes a difference in how children perceive each page and the whole book experience too. Kearney uses a media that seems similar to water color, which creates a lighter feel instead of an intense one. Each picture covers complete pages, which tends to focus attention on action and emotion (Nodelman 51-52). There aren’t’ boxes for sentences or illustrations. None of the pages are framed, which creates a more thorough experience, a view from within. Some pages however, do offer a picture within a picture that is boxed, such as on page five where Inspector Croissant realizes he must solve the case. A purple circle frame surrounds him. This creates a feeling of constraint that must be broken in order to solve the case. The color purple here could cause a feeling of darkness or of mystery (Nodelman 63). Most illustrations are a spread where one picture takes up two pages and add to the dramatic tension. When Funk and Kearny offer a last page that opens down, offering a small poster-size glimpse of inside the fridge as depicted in Inspector Croissant’s journey, a mini refrigerator is brought to life. Actual parts of the inside of a refrigerator are never shown though. To do so might go too far and break the imaginative land Funk and Kearney bring to life as opposed to the reality of a commonly neglected household product.

Funk and Kearney incorporate lessons of cooperation can solve problems, and stink can be prevented through regular cleaning through using a lively picture book with strategically placed words and illustrations. Though recommended for ages 4-8 and Kindergarten through third grade, adults may enjoy the story too, or at least be made to wonder when the last time they cleaned out the refrigerator was.

Works Cited

Funk, Josh. The Case of the Stinky Stench. New York: Sterling Children’s Books, 2017. Print.

Goldsmith, Evelyn. “Learning From Illustrations: Factors in the Design of Illustrated Educational Books for Middle School Children.” Word & Image 2.2 (April-June 1986): 111-21.

Gombrich, E. H. Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation. Bollingen Series 35.5 2nd ed. New York: Pantheon, 1961.

Nodelman, Perry. Words About Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children’s Picture Books. Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press, 1988.

April 2017

BkCovWomb Womb

by Eric D. Goodman, 2017

Merge Publishing, Finger Lakes, New York

Book Design © 2016 by Leslie Taylor, Buffalo Creative Group

ISBN # 978-0-99-4432-8-5 Ebook

ISBN # 978-0-9904432-9-2 Softcover

261 pages, $3.99 Kindle, $17.96 Paperback

This review is published at:

  • Amazon  (under the name: C.F. Kennison)
  •    (its the second review under my June submission of”Christina’s Bookshelf”)

Goodman begins his story around the belief that people are born with “common knowledge.” In other words, they already have a certain understanding, and the longer they live, the more they learn this enlightenment fades. His main character is an embryo that wants to live in spite of his mother’s complicated situation. She considers aborting her fetus to save her marriage. The fetus shares with readers his mission is to help his mother. Along the way, readers learn the fetus is able to hear sounds outside his mother’s womb and can understand some her thoughts. Readers also learn what it is like inside the womb from this character’s perspective.

Though the story may at first seem to center around whether abortion is right or wrong, it actually is more about the difficulty and reality of the human condition, and about the difficulty of making choices. People hurt one another and make mistakes. They are far from perfect and we need to keep that in mind, especially with those we love and care about. WOMB reminds readers that there are times when loved ones have made less than respectable choices. It doesn’t make them unlovable or bad though, especially if they weren’t trying to. It makes them human. Ideally, people will learn from each choice.

In Goodman’s WOMB, a couple is faced with a messy situation due to the wife’s choice, which breaks a sacred promise. The husband must then make a choice of whether to stay in his marriage or not. Besides their marriage being in crisis due to a choice, another crisis exists. Each partner has an important, difficult choice to make that will affect them and another. The wife must decide whether to allow her baby to live or not. Interestingly, this baby will help her eventually if allowed to, yet the wife doesn’t know this. Difficult decisions without full knowledge and a broken sacred promise complicate the matter. Readers are asked to realize the only choice is to look at others with empathy and with understanding.

A provocative and thoughtful read that will cause reflection. Readers who like contemplating life and who also look beyond the surface of hot topics and the human condition will enjoy WOMB. Those who just like a good story will enjoy WOMB too however.

January 2017

Never Say Goodby51owUcNOaBL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Patrick Mathews

interior design and editing by Connie Hill

MJF Books 2003

198 pages

ISBN # 978-1-60671-273-3

Published review at Goodreads and at Amazon.

Saying goodbye to a loved one through death is the hardest part of losing them. Medium Patrick Mathews says we do not have to however. He tells readers they’re still around and don’t leave like often believed. They want our company as much as we want theirs, he says. To connect with our departed loved ones, we only need to learn how.

Mathews shares among other things, examples of communicating with people’s departed. These aide any doubts about his claims. His overall approach is warm and comfortable, which helps establish feelings of trust as well. Additionally, Mathews explains in other chapters how he discovered his gift, conversations he’s had with those who’ve passed, his insight, opinions, and more. He ends his book with tips for readers and other information to help them connect with their loved ones and a few humorous personal realities.

A comforting read for those missing those now on the other side.

January 2017

Nothing is Predictable

Adalina Mae.

Cover Design and interior formatting is by Tugboat Design. Editing by


Oct. 1st, 2016

270 pages

ISBN # 978-0995409712 and Kindle ASIN# B01LEMYQ3E

Published at Goodreads and Amazon.

Oppression and abuse of women happens in every culture, which leaves struggling with intimate relationships with men thereafter. In Nothing is Predictable, Adalina shares her story of Zara from the age of eight years-old when Zara’s drunken father, who is in a rage, chases after her and her mother. He beat her mother often, though he loved his family and was a good man when sober. His altered state left his wife and daughters on edge, suspicious, and often non-trusting of men in general. Add sexual abuse to Zara’s experiences when she was only a six-year-old girl and she grows to believe that independence and freedom are her only safe solution. Adalina’s story profiles how a tragic beginning with men can affect a woman’s ability for a healthy relationship with a man accordingly, whether subconsciously or not.

Adalina’s story is first about abused women’s struggle and secondly a multi-cultural story about a Lebanese woman. Zara was born in the United States but lived part of her life in Lebanon, and didn’t feel as if she fit in either culture. Her story opens with eight-year old Zara running with her mother for safety from her father, and wasn’t the first time. He’d terrorized his family for years, beating and abusing especially his wife. When he died, Zara became the sole provider for her mother.  Zara utilized and accomplished her singing and business career.

Toward the end of her account, Zara reflects on her life. Besides losing her alcoholic father, other men molested her as a girl resulting in attempts for a healthy relationship as an adult faltered. Time and time again she’d tried, but by her mid-thirties she was still single. She’d married and divorced, been engaged twice, suffered other dysfunctional relationships, and was childless.  During this reflection, she wonders why she can’t have a healthy relationship. The oppression and abuse had affected her ability but she doesn’t come out and say so. Adalina sharing her story of Zara seems to be as a message for abusive men from every culture. Women would rather be alone than be in an abusive and oppressive relationship. They can and do well at taking care of themselves and loneliness is better when it also offers independence and safety.

A sobering and thoughtful read with a message written in first-person ending with a cliffhanger.

July 2013


The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up

Jacob M. Appel

Chris Hannah, Cover design

Cargo Publishing, 2012

Dundee International Book Prize

300 Pages, $11.00

ISBN # 978-190-888-511-1

Review published in Published in Fjords Review 2013.

There comes a time when standing up for ones beliefs is necessary.  Passiveness, going with the crowd despite that incessant reminder is not only avoidance, but weakness and a loss of respect.  When someone stands mighty for their belief viewing their perspective in spite of ours is also respect.  Our founding fathers wanted a land where citizens were free to be themselves, where differences were viewed as a right, where people had back-bone to stand and fight despite what others thought.  Arnold Brinkman took a stand by not standing in Yankee Stadium.  Although ultimately not a warrior, his initial reasons for not standing to sing God-Bless America are honorable.  Of course the moment fast turned sour.  In his book, The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up, Appel’s two-fold message is made evident hilariously.  His poignant messages about America are made using humor and seriousness, and seriousness is received best when given in a non-serious way.

America is the land of the free. Citizens are innocent until proven guilty.  The first and fourteenth amendments give all people the right to have their say and the right to hear what others say.  These are intended to protect the expression of unpopular views.  The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up is about these rights.  The main character, Arnold Brinkman wondered if American citizens today went through traditions, such as standing up at base-ball games and singing God-Bless America, without meaning.  He didn’t want any part of such a farce, so while at the claustrophobic Yankee Stadium begrudgingly with his nine-year-old nephew Ray, and the time for standing and singing came at half0time, Arnold refused causing public outrage.

“You’ve got to stand up,” insisted Ray.

All around them, the spectators had begun to sing.

A woman with nine children told her pointing daughter to “Ignore the bad man.”

“Someone behind him shouted:  “Love it or leave it.”

A cabbie later told Arnold:  “Some wise-ass wouldn’t stand during God-Bless America.  I say we turn guys like that over to Al Al Qaeda.”

America wanted an apology.  Arnold didn’t believe he owed one.  The press, a preacher, mis-guided American, and even his wife apply pressure and Arnold’s life falls down around him.

Jacob M. Appel is a physician, attorney and bioethicist in New York City.  He is the author of more than two-hundred stories that have been published in major American literary journals including Missouri Review, Southwest Review and Virginia Quarterly Review.  His fiction has been short-listed for the O. Henry Award, Best American Short Stories, and Pushcart Prize Anthology on numerous occasions.  His collection, Scouting for the Reaper, won the 2012 Hudson Prize and is forthcoming in 2013.  Dr. Appel also writes about the nexus of law and medicine, contributing to The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle and many other leading periodicals.  He is a graduate of Brown University, Harvard Law School, Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the MFA Program in Creative Writing at New York University.  This is his first novel and the winner of the 2012 Dundee International Book Prize.

Breezy and razor-sharp at the same time.  A much needed reminder to Americans of how to act, be strong, be respectful of oneself and of fellow human-kind and Appel tells them in a way that’s easy to take.  The non-stop predicaments Arnold Brinkman gets into while trying to get himself out of the big one his in all the while driving home a clear message which causes reflection is genius, a rebuttal, and a challenge.

April 2013


Life Is Perfect

Amy Small-McKinney

Book Arts Press

Jon Paster, Cover Design

88 pages, $12.50

ISBN # 0-9795861-4-3

Review by Christina Francine

Life Is Perfect is a plunge into determined thoughts, a quiet walk of contemplation.  Beautifully written and profoundly releasing; Amy Small-McKinney draws attention to dark crevices of reality, the ones often unspoken.  Combine craft ability with subtle shades of family topics and reflection awakens.  Reflection cannot be helped.  Life Is Perfect reminds politely and projects peacefully, twining around powerful subjects.  Small-McKinney provides a message too, an assurance that life is the way it’s supposed to be.  It’s perfect.

Three chapters separate the book.  One is titled “How It Is,” the second, “To Speak to You,” and the third, “Okay.”  In addition are “Author’s Notes,” “Notes on the Poems,” and “About the Author.”

In her poem, “Life Is Perfect,” Small-McKinney reminds us life is the way it’s supposed to be even with all the situations, feelings, desires, disappointments, and changes.  Life is hard and messy, yet okay.  In this poem, Small-McKinney explains to her daughter “life is perfect/because it is imperfect.”  At the end of the poem she adds, “All of this we had better just love.  Even the thorny locust trees that we can barely/tug apart from the elegant hostas/because those trees push up and out/against our limey soil and drought hardened earth/in spite of our yearnings/in spite of who we become.”

The theme of Small-McKinney’s book is though life seems ordinary, happiness if found from “the juicy orange,” “the sofa on sale,” and “not lost job.”  Significance is found peaceful ordinary and from the predictable.  “I know this world,” she states, “I wake, spy my slippers, my robe.”

One of the last poems reflects on lived life, on sweet and bitter moments.  Small-McKinney takes comfort with the fact that she “cannot be alone in this,” and “The need to begin- again” because her child has grown.”  Life is perfect in that, through the act of being on one’s knees “reaching for beneath a dresser,” some kind of aid is there.  When she “was drowning” she felt “someone/a guardian spirit” held her and “in turn held those I {(she}) loved.”  This author’s comfort is reader’s comfort.  Her message is profound; we don’t have to be elegant all the time.  We don’t have to get everything or be perfect in order for life to be perfect.  Her recommendation, kneel into life.

Amy Small-McKinney has published two chapbooks of poetry, Body of Surrender (2004) and Clear Moon, Frost (2009), both from sixth Finishing Line Press.  Her work has appeared in numerous journals, and her poem “Nighttime, Enigman, and Nostalgia,” was nominated by Switchback for the Sundress’ Publications Best of the Net 2012.  McKinney was a nominee for the Pushcart Prize in both 2004 and 2006.  She’s founder of Finding Our Voices:  Poetry & Resilience and promotes poetry, particularly for those struggling with mental health.  Amy Small-McKinney lives in Blue Bell, PA with her husband, and is mother to a college student.

Jon Paster created the cover design for Life Is Perfect.  He has been involved in digital document production, including digital typography and imaging for over ten years, with books, booklets poetry chapbooks, websites, and a variety of other publications.

March 2013


Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Published at 2013

What a nail-biting story. Read that pretty quick! Her work is always a pleasure, almost like eating a box of chocolates with nuts, my favorite.

January 27, 2013


John Wall Barger

Dawn Kresan

Palimpset Press

Kingsville, Ontario, Canada-

78 pages, $18.00 CDN

ISBN #978-1-926794-08-2

Barger shares a man’s journey of growth by way of a tiny bird. Hummingbird is his struggle, his adjustment. At times, the man seems the hummingbird and at others the hummingbird is a metaphor for Nature. The journey takes the man from Canada to distant places like Delhi, Rome, and the Gulf of Mexico, to those closer like California and New York City, then back home to Canada.

Barger doesn’t explain openly what has caused the man’s need to adjust, yet leaves hints throughout the book. His opening poem, “A Start” demonstrates strife and the beginning of a journey because of loss.

The book is then separated into three sections. In section one, a hint appears suggesting a canine at Christmas-time. Barger struggles and in “After Three Days,” mentions his “black dog running the Commons in Mexico City with the Hummingbird.” In the book’s final poem, “Away,” the man speaks of coming home and of his dog passing away.

Another loss is of a woman named Emily and with a divorce from Dominique that requires adjustment and growth. The man’s emotion is strong because Barger writes “I shoved you hard/for clasping hands over ears, /for not talking to me./You stomped off . . .” This is the last poem before “Away” and the second to last of the collection.

“Hummingbird,” the poem, is a pinnacle moment in Mexico where atmosphere, situation, and visuals come alive. Barger transports readers with the idea of a hummingbird that crosses his path. The poem personifies a hummingbird traveling through a wretched city in Mexico. A hummingbird is natural, flees through and hovers momentarily through human situations, communications, filth, brutality, noise, labels, but most of all weakness. Nature is not weak. Nature is not complicated. Barger too winds through the city taking notice and hears a message from inside himself, or maybe from Nature itself to “go home, go home. You should be with your girl in Nova Scotia/snow,” it cries. Like the hummingbird that travels south to Mexico and later lives north, Barger instinctively hears the call. “Hummingbird” hovers as the last poem in the first of three book sections before simplicity and immediacy are replaced with complication.

John Wall Barger’s poems have appeared in many literary journals and anthologies. His first book, Pain-proof Men (Palimpest Press), was published in 2009. When asked, he says, “Ginsberg and Kerouoc and Bukowski were models, but I kept drifting toward the mythic and surreal. Later Blake blew my mind. The poets I admire don’t judge. They watch and report. Perhaps poets today are useful because they (usually) do not look at the world through the ubiquitous commercial lens.”

The designer for Hummingbird’s book-cover is Dawn Kresan, founder of Palimpsest Press, who received her B.A. and M.A. in English Literature from the University of Windsor.

Step by agonizing step Hummingbird goes in search for reason, ultimately labeled as growth. Barger unfolds this journey using the hummingbird; seemingly fragile, yet also aggressive, swift, graceful, dexterous, and territorial. Hummingbird is a poignant collection, wrestles for answers and provides gripping reflections on humanity, and dark stretches of survival. Hummingbird is powerful and chillingly familiar.

August 31, 2012

51ARX12mweL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Walking for Peace, An Inner Journey

Mony Dojeiji and Alberto Agraso, 2012

Smashwords Edition

Completed review of Walking for Peace while a judge at Dan Poynter’s Global Ebook Awards. The result?


Congratulations to Mony Dojeiji and Alberto Agraso, authors of Walking for Peace, An Inner Journey.

Ottawa, Ontario -Aug 23, 2012- At an awards ceremony and dinner at the elegant U-Club of Santa Barbara, California, WALKING FOR PEACE, AN INNER JOURNEY by Ottawa authors Mony Dojeiji and Alberto Agraso was named Winner in the Action/Adventure category of the 2012 Dan Poynter Global Ebook Awards. They were also Finalists in the New Age category and received Honourable Mention in the Religion/Faith category.

The less traveled path teaches more than the worn one, as Mony Dojeiji and Alberto Agraso learn. After Mony’s marriage and life crumbled, she found a deep need for peace, and after not finding it through traditional avenues, she decided to take a non-traditional approach. She’d walk to Jerusalem for peace. Alberto decided he should go too. He couldn’t over-look obvious signs. He viewed the walk as a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey. Neither Mony nor Alberto were prepared. Finding peace meant great lessons, not only through exposure to others- views and blockages, but to their own as well. Exposure to various situations and people, to various areas of generosity or lack of, and from allowing the universe to have its way with them and take care of them, or not, brings even more lessons. Lessons of peace and love require a letting go of egos, of protection. Mony especially realizes only then can she recognize truths, only then can she touch and be touched spiritually, only then can she find peace and be the answer-love. To quote a line from a famous song, “Love is the answer,” and to quote a popular saying, “Live and let live.”

Walking for Peace, An Inner Journey contains examples of awakenings, understandings, lessons, and insight to the human condition. Readers share the “Ah-ha!” moments of Mony in this journaling of sorts and find themselves wanting to share these revelations with others. This book can set readers free from their own blockages, from their need for control themselves and others. Relief and good will, peace and love, and generosity and freedom radiate from this account. To name and share them all seems right and yet the better way is to just read the book.

In the end Mony and Alberto surprise themselves with yet one more truth about love, peace, and freedom. Mony eventually knew Alberto’s accompanying her on her journey changed the whole experience for the better. His way of seeing their purpose may have been the same, but his way of going about it was different. At first, Mony wasn’t sure Albertos coming was the right decision. He frustrated her so with his ideas and lack of control. He made her feel guilty and at times like a bum. She always paid her way. Alberto helped Mony lose this controlling part of herself and to see it in others. At the end, she worries about losing an ultimate freedom–the loss of her dreams because with love we often throw away our dreams for another’s. How does one go about giving and receiving love without sacrificing their total selves? Can one love and find peace without controlling themselves or another, or does the only way to travel and experience the narrow path have to be a lonely one?

Readers cannot help but not help but ask themselves questions. The book’s dedication provides more insight to its flavor and message. “To those who do the work of peace–both inner and outer–despite the odds against them. You are not alone.”

Readers cannot help but ask themselves how they view not only themselves, but others also. They’ll reflect how they view those taking the road less traveled and themselves why they’ve taken or not taken the less worn road.

Sometimes books come along that speak to us, do more than entertain, Walking for Peace, An Inner Journey is one of them. Most of us have times when people don’t understand our choices, try to force their beliefs upon us, try to hold us back from our path, believe our joy disrespectful, and insist on cold, formal rituals, or the so called “safe” road. We try to hear our quiet voice but are afraid because we don’t trust it. Mony and Alberto take the road less traveled and at the end find themselves better people. Highly recommended. Poignant. Memorable. Life-changing. Beautiful.

Summer 2012

China’s Lost Decade, Cultural Politics & Poetics 1978-1990, In Place of History

Gregory B. Lee, 2012BkCovChinaLostDecade

Zephyr Press

Brookline, Mass

ISBN # 978-0-983297-00-0


Review published in Fjord Review

The truth is an account of actuality.  China almost lost a decade of truth.  Political intellectuals and makers of culture in China hoped to cover up the period between the late 1970s and the late 1980s.  The political intellectuals were embarrassed for their country and wanted to pretend the time didn’t exist.  Extraordinary oppression and work marked this time  period however, and deserves uncovering.  Gregory B. Lee exposes the political side, shares amazing poetry, information about plays, and other forms of art from that time in his book.  He explains, “This book has the intention not of being a ‘history’ but rather of temporarily standing in place of history.”

Lee (born 1955) is an academic, author, and broad caster.  He is Professor of Chinese and Transcultural Studies at the University of Lyon Jean Moulin) where he is a member of the IETT and MC3M (Institute of Transcultural Studies and Transtextual, a research center attached to the faculty of Languages at the University jean Moulin Lyon and Migration and Citizenship Responsible for Lyon-CNRON dEnxo-Xhinwaw Platform). He was previously Chair Professor of Chinese and Transcultural Studies at City University of Hong Kong where he established and was the first director of Hong Kong.

Lee’s interest, years spent in studying, traveling in, and living in China during the 1980s, is chiefly the foundation for his account.  Besides living in Beijing, the centralized location of political authority, culture, and place of enormous diversity, Lee spent years living with an expatriate old “Chinaman” who remained dogged in his attachment to the land of his birth even after a century of being separated from it.

Lee opens his book by exploring the reason he created it with a preamble and introduction.  He moves into what happened in China during 1978-1989 (a time referred to as “China’s Lost Decade”); then to providing poetry from various Chinese writers and activists, and concludes with an epilogue, a bibliography, and an index.

One example of Lee examining political events of the time is when he discusses in detail the Tiananmen event.   Students and protesters called for “greater democracy” and “open government.”  Lee clarifys how unaware students didn’t realize the lengths government would go to stop them.  On June 3 and 9, 1989, an estimated thousand unarmed civilians were killed by troops who fired indiscriminately into crowds in Beijing.  Some six thousand were officially arrested and Amnesty International reports several hundred secretly executed between June and August. A poet named Duoduo related in a BBC random interview declared, “I want to tell the world that the Chinese army killed the Chinese people.  I hope the Goddess of Democracy will stand again in Tiananmen Square.”  Duoduo’s poetry stayed away from politics, yet he spoke his heart because he wanted “greater autonomy and greater liberty for individual Chinese.”

In order to learn from mistakes from the past, actuality must be started.  Without addressing the truth and without examination, a government will repeat mistakes.  Control and oppression by government causes deep destruction of human souls and passion for life.  Art, in its many forms, is a manifestation of the soul, its passions and cries.  Artists during The Lost Decade either stopped expressing, expressed secretly, or expressed in exile.  Lee provides pieces of art from The Last Decade in this book and explores each.

From a poem during the Cultural Revolution called “Sunflowers in the Sunlight,” comes the reason for sunflower seeds on the book’s cover.  The poem centers on the image of the sun and is associated with the ideological lexicon of Maoism.  “Mao was the sun, the king,” Lee explains, and “the Chinese people were the sunflowers who followed in unison the movement of his son-like face.”  He wants people to stand up to the Sun.  “Look at it (sun), it hasn’t lowered its head/It’s turning its head around/As if to bite through/That rope around its neck/Tethering it to the Sun’s hand.”

Lee writes matter-of-factly about the events of China’s Lost decade with actual accounts to back his explanations, which is in line with accounting actuality.  He tells the truth.  The mood is serious, driving, articulate, and well organized.   Artists and work support his goal by adding emotion to his facts.  Lee’s book provides important lesson about how a government can destroy their nation’s people.  Actual history shows what works when running a country and what does not.

A sobering read with the power to prevent government control and government oppression.  A good government is proud of their results and of their citizen’s passion instead.  Besides, truth is an account of actuality.  1978 to 1990 did exist in China.

Fall 2011


What Fears Become, An Anthology from the Horror Zine

Edited by Jeani Rector

Imajin Books, Aug. 2011

ISBN# 978-1-926997-18-6,

Ebook $4.99, Paperback $16.99 U.S.

Cover Design by Sapphire Designs

My review of this book appeared in Print and Online:—What-Fear-Becomes-.html

What do reader’s fears become when they’re examined? Top-notch tales, poems, and images will horrify and delight readers in this anthology called What Fears Become. Each feature rips through reality plunging readers into frightful situations deep enough to provoke a bag full of nightmares. It is unlikely readers will set aside a single whisper-read word. Like stepping onto a monstrous scene, their wide eyes can’t look away. Thirty-one finely honed eager narratives, eighteen delicious poems, and eighteen visions touch all who dare venture inside.

The foreword is by Simon Clark, and he has nothing but positive comments about What Fears Become. He titles this foreword, “A Small Matter of Life and Death.”

Besides penning horror fiction, authors are teachers, radio personalities, newspaper reporters, editors, gardeners, musicians, poets, reality TV contestants, aides at mental hospitals, technical writers, volunteers, graphic designers, inventory clerks, writers of chapter units for history textbooks, receivers of prestigious awards, founders of martial art systems and have had films produced from novels.

The collection opens with “Bast,” by Christina A. Larsen, which is about a man who visits his dying grandmother. Do cats really take breaths away? Marty finds out in this eerie yarn. Descriptive.

“Next Time You’ll Know Me,” by Ramsey Campbell, is told in first-person by a paranoid person who threatens others because he believes they are the reason for all his bad luck. He focuses especially on someone who stole his stories and killed his mother. An unusual story.

Another narrative sure to raise hackles is “Ouija” by Cheryl Kaye Tardif. Liza doesn’t like the Ouija board she’s had for years and decides to be rid of it once and for all, but her friend, Sharon, is overcome by curiosity. She disregards Liza’s warnings and asks the board a question. Suddenly, evil things begin to happen and the women decide to destroy it. By itself, the board reveals who will die and then they do. One night the women’s names are spelled out. Now, they’re determined to rid themselves of this evil once and for all. Wickedly scary, suspenseful reading. Tardif doesn’t disappoint.

Scott Nicholson contributes a narrative readers cannot set aside. Their thoughts are held afterward too. His character, Kelly, becomes pregnant by Chet, the kind of man no woman should ever be with. Kelly decides that even though she’s the last of her family, she’ll soon have someone to love, to carry her family’s name, and to inherit her family’s humble farm house. Another infant hovers near Kelly. From the family cemetery Kelly realizes the ghost baby grows at the same rate as the one in her belly does. The white shape hangs around the old Stamey Cemetery, not far from the old Cherokee ceremonial mound. When Chet comes back to Kelly, he cruelly decides she and her baby shouldn’t live, yet the ghost baby decides they should.

Poetry in this collection is respectfully good. Not only are the author’s imaginations powerful, but it is evident they’ve studied poetry form.

When examining “A Guide for Ethical Zombie Murder,” by Emon Anthousis, readers find six stanzas written in blank verse, and written as a “how-to” accept becoming a zombie. He explains the whys for each step, and the necessary cautions during this change. Authousis ends his rhyme advise on a humorous note.

“Bugs,” by Dennis Bogwell, features ten stanzas. The rhyme scheme begins with abab, goes into cdcd in the second stanza, and then into fgfg for the remaining eight. Each line is short, carrying punch, not only creating a sense of squittering like a bug, but by bringing urgency to the exasperation the character feels about dealing with bugs. Readers will squirm themselves with this poem.

Peter Steele, carries a recommendation for those who consider resisting their morbid circumstances with a rhyme called “City of the Dead.” The first three stanzas help readers realize their state and how much is changing. The last turns to sharing sentiments of empathy and reveals how the poem’s author knows. This is because he was once there himself. Steele knows pain and advises readers a final resolve. Though sixteen lines and the rhyme scheme doesn’t fit neatly into the English or Italian sonnet, The City of the Dead” is in fixed form. Each line in the four stanzas tries to stick to ten syllables. Each stanza contains two couplets and goes: aabb, ccbb, eebb, ffbb. No one can argue that Steele studied poetry, or that he has a sense of humor.

Besides writing poetry, poets write biographies, songs, screenplays, comic strips, novels, short stories, and non-fiction. They come from all over the world, won prestigious prizes, and have multi-published. Besides the writing profession, other vocations of poets include Navy engineers, chemists, musicians, and financial systems annalists.

Artwork in “What Fears Become” is in black, white, and shades of gray. Each conjures up feelings of loneliness, deep thought, boldness and a dark slice of freedom. Each dares a peak into crevices and borders, into eyes and into open body parts, and of their situation of thought. Artists include graphic designers, poets, writers, sculptures, tailors, and work in pencil, crayon, pen and ink, watercolors, digital, and oil paints.

Jeani Rector is the editor for “What Fears Become.” She is also the founder and editor of The Horror Zine. Multiple publications have featured her stories. A novel called Around a Dark Corner was released by Graveyard Press in 2009 by Rector.

Dean H. Wild is the assistant editor of The Horror Zine. He has written love stories, and been a freelance copywriter.

What Fears Become examines the horrors of human-kind, dares to lift the lid, dares to step into the headlights and to follow dark whispers. Why examine nightmares? Because they remind us that monsters and horror lurk just under the surface, and by examining them we gain strength. Determination to keep them at bay is renewed when we realize horror resides only inches away. What do readers fears become if not examined – reality.

February 2008

Miss You PatBkMissYouPat

Sharon Watts  2007

44 Masters Place, Beacon, NY  12508

SC 247 pages, $19.95

ISBN# 978-1-4303-2704-2

Published at:

Some events should never be forgotten.  Some people should not be either.  What love has a man? One that is selfless.  He paves a path to excellence.

911 – Tape released August 16, 2006

“I’m on the 35th floor, okay, okay? Just relay to the command post we’re trying to get up.  There’s numerous civilians at all stairwells, numerous burn injuries are coming down.  I’m trying to send them down first.  Apparently it’s above the 75th floor.  I don’t know if they got there yet.  Okay, Three Truck and we are still heading up.  Okay? Thank you.”

—Captain Patrick J. Brown

Captain Patrick Brown was a highly decorated firefighter.  He was a Vietnam veteran, a yoga student, and his courage is legendary.  Pat was a hero long before 911 occurred, but this day proved that.  He had been one of eleven men from his squad of twenty-seven.  They were last in the twin tower collapses.  Pat died in the North tower.  Watts’ book is a tribute to this special human-being who reminds us that heroes in fact do exist today.  They are real and fight the odds.  Some hear our calls and then respond; give all they have – even at the cost of themselves.

The dictionary describes a hero as, “A man of distinguished courage or ability for his brave deeds.”  Such a man lived in New York City and died on September 11, 2002.  His name was Captain J. Brown of the New York Fire Department.

The author of Miss You, Pat heard from so many people who were touched by Pat, that she began writing everything down and compiled all of it.  Then, when she was the enormity of letters and pictures placed at Grand Central Station, she realized the size of the paths Pat crossed; Watts decided moments needed space in a book.  People share their knowledge and use words like “remarkable,” “modest,” “strong,” “empathetic,” and “generous” to describe Pat in Watts’ book.  She also shares that she and Pat were once engaged to be married.

Pat not only went above and beyond the call of duty as a fire-fighter, he impacted people’s lives in other ways too.  For example, he volunteered giving time to teach blind people self-defense.  Roxanne Bebee Blatz, Sensei at Seido Karate, had this to say, “Pat could be tough on the students.  They loved him,” however.  “Too many people patronized them.  He gave them encouragement and hope.”  Another example comes from Steve Baker.  “Pat was my AA sponsor.  He didn’t judge me.  He gave me strength.”  Still another example comes from a yoga instructor named Felise (Shivadasi) Berman.  She reflects on Pat and what he did.  “When I move into a down-ward dog, a warrior, a crow, or a wheel, I think about you, Pat, wherever you are.  Bye, Pat.

Pat has appeared on 60 Minutes, Dateline, in Yoga Journal, Time Magazine, NY Times, and on local NYC TV.  A documentary has also been made about him called, Finding Paddy.

Many readers have never been to New York City.  Some view the place as insensitive and filled with cold characters.  Those whose lives Pat touched know this is not the case.  Numerous citizens share their thoughts about Pat in Watts’ book.  Many show that not only good people live in New York City, but also heroes do.

Firefighter, Mike Moran said this in Watt’s book, “Paddy had pretty detailed instruction if he should ever die in a fire on what he wanted done.  He had his place in Central Park picked out where he wanted his ashes spread.”  Since Pat’s body could not be found, a tree was planted in his honor.

The books’ layout includes multiple photographs of Pat, an author’s note, Watt’s journal entries, exerts from published work about Pat, and shared thoughts from people who knew Pat.  There is also a note which says, “Proceeds of book sales will go to Bent On Learning, a not-for-profit program that brings yoga and meditation to NYC public schools and youth centers.  For more information go to”  The book was published on Pat’s birthday, 11/9, and is to be included among the archives at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center.

Just when we have begun to lose our faith in humankind, a larger than life hero steps up for the fight.  Miss You, Pat is a haunting book that promises to restore your confidence; to have you thinking of Bonnie Tyler’s song, I Need a Hero.  Pat’s nobility demonstrates the best of our humanity.  In an era where we seek for ourselves, Pat distinguished himself by giving the greatest measure of love one can give.   What love has a man? Sacrifice of himself for another.  A highly recommended read.

March 2006

Am I a Color Too?BkColoI

Heidi Cole & Nancy Vogl

Gerald Purnell – Illustrator

Illumination Arts Publishing Co., INC. 2006

P.O. Box 1865, Bellevue, WA.  98009


HC 32 pages, $15.95

ISBN # 09740190 -5-4

Review published at

Not all children’s questions are easy to answer.  In ‘Am I a Color Too?’ a little boy asks which color he is.  His mom is white and his dad black, so what does that make him?

The authors tackle a sensitive topic well through the main character.  The theme is a distinguished piece that encourages young readers to listen to their own inner voice, to ask questions, and to look for the beauty in their own family.  It’s a celebration of colors, of equality, and of personal empowerment.

The book starts out with a little boy noticing his mother and father’s colors and what they’re called.  He wonders then what color he is.  As the story goes along the boy notices the differences of those around him, and not just in his family.  Besides black and white, he notes the colors cream and brown.  He comes to decide on his own, that people sing and dance to different colors according to the music in their hearts; that they think, dream, and feel in every color.  Eventually the boy realizes that actually he’s a human being, and that’s what everyone has in common.  It’s not so much about the color differences as much as it is about what’s the same, and that is he’s a person just like others are.

This book is for the four to six age groups, but older readers may find the message speaks to them, and the illustrations quite pleasing.  A large part of the book’s appeal also comes from the illustrations.  They’re bright, bold, and beautiful – definitely adding to the book’s appeal.  The artist, Purnell, has a great deal of talent.

Other qualities that make this book attractive to young readers, and their parents, like the size of the book itself.  It’s 9×11”, is hard-covered and sturdy.  The print is larger sized; easier for young readers.  To add interest, the print color varies and the words are placed well with the illustrations.

The book is well written and clearly expressed in ideas.  The words are easy, the sentences average in length; with one to two sentences on a page.  The mood is light with a lot of imagery and good feelings.

Parents know that not all of children’s questions are easy to answer.  Cole and Vogl’s grasp of language, poetic tones, and way of handling parents of different “color” is masterful; insightful.  A powerfully winning book for young readers, and a stinging reminder for adults that children are human beings and precious no matter what.  The type of reading I want to encourage.

December 2005

Catch a Tiger by the Toe

Ellen LevineBkCovCatchTigerToe

Viking Penguin Young Readers Group

345 Hudson Street, New York, N.Y.  10014

HC 192 pages, $15.99

ISBN# 0-670-88461-8

Review published at

Thirteen-year-old Jamie Morse is like other kids her age in the 1950’s, almost anyway.  She lives in New York City, loves going to the movies and looking through magazines, works hard in school, and listens to special radio programs with her family at night.  There is a difference though, and Jamie keeps this a secret for as long as she can until one terrible day.  She’s sick of hearing about politics, about “Commies,” those “Reds,” the “Moscow Menace,” and phrases like “Got to get rid of the Commie traitors in our government.”  Her whole world turns upside down.  Even her best friend won’t talk to her.

Jamie’s story mirrors what many families faced during the “Red Scare.”  It isn’t the only time principals in the American Constitution have been threatened and by one of its own.  It surely won’t be the last.  ‘Catch a Tiger by the Toe’ stirs up conversation and debate, but that’s okay.  Americans have the right to exercise the Amendments and shouldn’t be persecuted for assembling peaceably.  Neither should they be punished for their ideas.

Story Excerpt:

(scene setter) Two men from the FBI have just stopped Jamie and begin asking her questions.

“It’s a survey about newspapers.  Does your Dad read the New York Times? The National Guardian? The Daily Worker?”

These men must have thought I was real dumb.  Sure, they’re doing a questionnaire.  My foot!

“My foot!” I said.  I startled myself as well as them.  I ran around Mr. Talker, up the block, and headed for the playground.  I wasn’t going home with them following me.”

Levine knows how to write an opening.  In this story she opens in such a way as to pull readers in quick.  Before they know it readers have read a whole chapter, and then another, and then another.

‘Catch a Tiger by the Toe’ is written in first-person through the main character’s eyes, teaches as well as entertains, and is set at a time when McCarthyism has an affect on everyone.

Fall 2005

The RiverBkCovTheRiver

Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Trafford Publishing 2005

6E – 2333 Government Street
Victoria, BC, Canada V8T 4P4

toll-free 1-888-232-4444
phone 250-383-6864   fax 250-383-6804

ISBN # 1-4120-6229-2

Review published at www.MidwestBookReview and at Amazon

Ms. Tardif used my blurbs for cover-copy.



My review of The River:

Cheryl Kaye Tardif skillfully balances scientific intrigue, and the human desire to retain a youthful body, with tantalizing sexual tension, and vivid characterizations in this engrossing romantic thriller.

The plot steps beyond reality, but by how much? Science grows in its knowledge more every day.  One thing is for sure, and history shows it to be true, greed and absolute power taint fabulous discoveries and inventions.

Tough and tender Professor Delia Hawthorne aches for her father, and she wouldn’t admit it, but also a decent relationship.  Is her father really alive or is something unethical going on?  She remembered what the disturbing man at the doorway of her classroom said.  The elderly man wore a grimy suede jacket, needed a haircut and a shampoo, and his clothes were torn and worn, but his eyes seemed vaguely familiar.

“They’re going to kill him Delly.  Find the river and stop the Director before he destroys humanity.  It’s all in the book,” the old man said.

Del examined the leather-bound book later, along with a strange symbol, the notes inside, and what appeared to be a code.

For seven years she’d believed her father dead.  There was even a funeral.  He’d gone on an excursion down the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories, and came up missing.  If he lived, she’d find him, but first, Del decided to visit the company her father had worked for, Bio-Tec Canada.

Award-winning Cheryl Kaye Tordif is a Canadian mystery author who’s appeared on television and radio.  She’s been told that she has the highest, most consistent sales during a book signing in Edmonton

Other books include:

–  ‘Divine Intervention’

–  ‘Whale Song’

Exciting and vivid.  Tardif’s latest novel sweeps readers along into uncharted, wild Canadian territory.  A thrilling adventure where science sniffs harder, desperate to find the fountain-of-youth.

January 2004

NO ESCAPE (My Young Years Under Hitler’s Shadow)BkCovNoEscap

John Koch

Books WJK

300 Pages

200 Illustrations, Maps, Annotations

Softcover $28.95

Hardcover $35.95

ISBN# 0-9731579-2-5 (softcover)

ISBN# 0-9731579-1-7 (hardcover)

Review published at

History will repeat itself.  What will it take for this not to be so? How will the majority learn from experience and hard-earned wisdom? Books and songs attempt to share worthy messages, yet meager handfuls try to understand the heart of it.

Koch takes readers into the world under one of history’s most brutal fiend, Hitler.  An incredible account and explanation.  This is not some boring history book.  It’s on the spot.  One can almost hear bombs going off.

Koch describes history as it happened all around him.  He gives his account through the eyes of a boy, a young man drafted into the German Army, later as a prisoner, and finally, through an older gentleman’s perspective.

With the crash of the stock market, Hitler rose fear in Germany.  Battle lines between LEFT and RIGHT were drawn.

Koch first saw Hitler in Waldenburg, 1932.  “His rasping, excited voice and hysterical screams and applause of the masses could be heard,” says Koch, “from my grandparent’s apartment.”

A new power took possession of Germany.  “Hitler disregarded, abolished, broke, and destroyed every rule in the book of humankind.  He misused Christianity and the name of God as a means to legitimize himself in the eyes of the common man.”  He decided their needed to be a cleansing, a concentration on “the enemies of the people.”  He began brainwashing the German people.  He told them he wanted peace, though some realized this wasn’t so.

On April 10th, 1945, Koch is ordered as a soldier, to bury 23 concentration camp victims shot in front of him.  Some are still breathing and squirming.  Koch struggled with this for 25 years until seeking therapy.

In 1952, Koch decided to prepare for his emigration to Canada.  Once there, his life finally becomes normal.  He says he chose Canada because it is America’s neighbor and has British traditions, something he’s comfortable with.  He feels loyal and committed to Canada and the United States.  “It is their humanness, people, literature, music, art, and way of life that first gave me my appreciation and exposure.”

Koch provides a realistic, behind the scenes sense of what really happened during this oppressive time in history.  Teachers could show students more than mere facts with this book.

A testament to one man’s will and strength to persevere, and a teacher for humankind.  Insightful, humbling, and sobering.  Highly recommended for everyone.

 November 2004

Dark of the Sun (A Novel of Saint Germain)BkCovDarkofSun

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

TOR Books, Nov. 2004

464 Pages


Review published in (since folded)

A most unusual hero indeed.  Just when readers think they know what to expect from vampires.  If all of humanity were as considerate, tender, and generous as Yarbro’s vampire, what a wonderful world it would be.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has out done herself.  She’s either naturally gifted or works extra hard.  Probably both.  Her insight and research certainly is apparent with ‘Dark of the Sun.’

A thrilling tale of heroism and of courage, in a world of catastrophe.  Yarbro’s thoughtful story telling, combined with engrossing characters make for a brilliantly deep read.  Not to be read off the cuff.  To enjoy and understand this narration, readers need to submit and allow themselves to be guided through an enthralling journey.

The time is the late 1200’s or according to the Pope’s calendar, early 500’s – after Salvation.  A mammoth volcano exploded sending enormous amounts of volcanic ash into the upper atmosphere.  The sun is blocked, and falling with the yellow snow, is sulfur.  Winter extends into first one summer and then another.  The world suffers.  People and animals starve and become diseased.  Nothing, no-where, grows, and even honorable men turn to thievery, murder, and cannibalism.

Count Saint-Germain is one of the most successful foreign merchants in Asia, and a vampire.  In the full grip of winter, he must leave his current home, and travel to meet with Wen Emperor Yuan Buo-Ju, and other merchants.  He sets out on his journey with a few hired men, his long time companion Ro-shei, horses, and a wagon filled with provisions.

Before long, Ro-shei, who’s been with his master for nearly five hundred years, notes Zangi-Rago isn’t eating.  This concerns him.  His master must maintain strength if they are to succeed in their long journey.

“If the dancing girl is unwilling, then I will try to find a widow to visit in her sleep.”

“So long as you have nourishment.  Your true nature would not be welcome by anyone in this town.”

Count Saint-Germain is also known as Zangi-Ragozh, and as Ragoczy Franciscus in the West, where he came from.  His people are called Carpathians and his country Transylvania.

Before long the journey proves more treacherous and lengthy than anticipated.  Zangi-Ragozh uses every bit of his long learned wits to avoid trouble, and to keep his friend and himself, safe.  Numerous confrontations and setbacks test his patience, but he remains kind, generous, helpful and calm – always seeing the big picture.  Even when he is almost slain by someone he’d held dear, aided repeatedly, his sympathy proves more humanitarian than humans anywhere.

Finally, in spite of his determination and perseverance, Zangi-Ragozh changes his plan.  He decides to return to his native soil; to the ruins of his father’s empire from ancient times, if he can.

How does ‘Dark of the Sun’ measure up?

  • Originality of theme: very original
  • Ability to tell a story well: excellent
  • Plot: excellent
  • Style of writing: excellent
  • Target audience & age group: YA and Adult. Vampire fans, history buffs, those who enjoy a tale of journey and those who like deep speculative reads.

Detailing in Yarbro’s writing is extraordinary.  I was there, saw, heard, tasted, smelled, felt, and lived her tale.  A good writer gives her readers this as a gift.

Will I read Chelsea Quinn Yarbro again? You bet.  I have already, and will again.  The humanity of her vampire is a vision.  Maybe some day more people will be as good as her creature.

Profound.  Rewarding.  Absorbing.

December 2004

Moon Days BkMoonDa

Cassie Premo Steele

Published in Susun Weed’s Newsletter:  Weed Wanderings

Ash  Tree Publishing. Woodstock, N.Y.  1999

Some cultures regard woman’s puberty as taboo and something we should be ashamed of; not all.  Steele profiles various cultures’ ways of viewing womanhood, especially the Western one.  Here, a woman is to look, act, think, and dress like a man.  How did this come to be and who says so?

This book is about ending the silence and stigma that occurs concerning menstruation.  Many women today still grow quiet when the subject comes up.  Steele’s book brings voice, an openness on the topic.

The book moves through four phases, just as a woman and their bodies do.  The first phase is “Early Moons” – those first periods.  The second phase is “Waxing Moons: Coming to Light.”  It moves from adolescence to adulthood; of feelings, dreams and consciousness.  It also discusses the position our culture places women in as daughters, wives, mothers, sister, and patients dealing with sons, husbands, fathers, brothers, and doctors.  The third phase is “Full Moon Celebrations.”  This section provides the differences in how mainstream cultures differs from “natural” or “normal.”  The forth phase is “Re-entering the Dark: Poetry and Prayer.”  Here, poetry emphasizes the power of being female, suggests menstruation is more than physical.  The back of the book contains notes, a bibliography, and a listing of contributors, including their picture and Biography.  There are 27 contributors in all.

As a woman reading Steele’s book, I nodded often and said, “Hmm-hmm, yes, that’s true” often.  Steele removes the baggage and gets to the bare truth.  I liked her book so much I shared it with my daughters; ages seventeen and twenty, as well as women friends and relatives.  I’ve always wanted my daughters to be comfortable and proud of being female, to not view themselves as weak or less than men.  Women and men are just different.  One is not better than the other.  We discussed being women, shared our thoughts, concerns, and dreams.  Steele provided a springboard.

Readers will find themselves nodding in agreement, and recalling their first period and everything happening around it.  Most will smile, some shed tears, but all will feel a kinship with other women. A book to be treasured and shared by females everywhere.  Like having a conversation with a wise, strong and loving mother. Perfect for mothers and daughters, or as a gift.  Empowering and passionate.  Highly recommended.

October 2002

Sins of the FleshBkSinsoftheFlesh

Don & Jay Davis

TOR Books, 1989

ISBN#:  0-812-51679-6

Review published in (since folded)

The wendigo monster wanted revenge, but he also enjoyed killing for the thrill of it.  He’d waited a long time under his mother’s magical deep sleep spell.  Now that she was dying her spell was weakened setting Jesse, free.  Little did the quiet country town of Gideon know what was about to be unleashed from their neighbor’s root cellar.  It was more than an upset outcast seeking to get even, more than a simple abomination about to loose his temper.

It all started when long ago a young man saved his teenage sweetheart from the hands of Eugene Latham, a dark creature of a cult.  Angry that his plans were being spoiled, Latham pronounced sentence.  Their first-born child would commit unspeakable sins of the flesh.  For years the couple watched for a sign that their son wasn’t quite right, but he seemed like every other child so they stopped worrying until Jesse started school – until later when Walter found a monstrous type Jesse at the age of 19 hunched over his neighbor’s milk cow with his face buried in the animal’s belly.

Legend calls his kind a shape shifter, because he can disguise himself as something else and the only thing a wendigo thinks about is killing and eating.

This book is a good scare story.  One that shoots your pulse soaring; makes you go lock the door, and listen for any unusual sounds.  The tale is one of suspense with some gore, but very little.

It’s an easy, tight, fast read.  I was drawn into the plot quickly and found the action and characters easy to follow.  The story grabbed me and held on until the last sentence of the last page.

Anyone who likes suspense and a good scare will enjoy this book. I recommend Sins of The Flesh and give it a 5 out of a 5

Additional Past Reviews:

* With 250+ reviews to date written and published at the request of authors and  publishers, all are not mentioned here.

Noteworthy Books:

Bootstrapper, A Memoir, by Mardi Jo Link.  Alfred A. Knopf.  New York, New York. Fjord Review 2.1 (2013)

*   Complete Fragments,  by Larry Fagin.  Cuneiform Press.  Victoria, Texas.  Fjord Review 1.4 (2012):  105-107.  Print.

*   Eve Asks, by Christine Redman-Waldeyer.  Muse Pie Press.  Passaic, New Jersey. Fjord Review 1.4 (2012):  108-109.  Print.

Gudrun’s Tapestry, by Joan Schweighardt.  Beagle Bay Books.  Reno, Nevada. Web.  YetAnotherBookReview.  2003.

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