Where books are chronicled from beginning to end, and never stop being read.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

An Ordinary Toad's Extraordinary Night

An Ordinary Toad's Extraordinary Night by Joanne McGonagle, Illustrated by Rachael Mahaffey
What is the value of an individual?

It's a difficult question to quantify and yet, a question that each person has most likely asked at one point or another in their lives.

In this story, Andrew the toad comes to a crossroads in his life. He questions his worth as a toad, wondering why he had not been born a frog. He asks his mother the question and she sends him off to visit his wise grandfather.

" 'Toads and frogs are both amphibians, but why does it seem better to be green and shiny than brown and warty?' "

On the way to his grandfather's house, Andrew meets various animals who give him a different perspective on his own sense of worth. As his journey continues, it becomes apparent to the reader that Andrew is quite a smart toad.

"Andrew thought that tasting terrible to a fox might make even an ordinary toad, like himself, something special."

His encounter with three young bullfrogs stands out more than any other part of the book. Perhaps it is because of the boastful nature of the "Bug-Eyed Bullies".

"Deep down, Andrew knew he wasn't in any real danger from the young bullfrog army... Even worse, he began to wonder if they were right. Maybe it is better to be a frog than a toad."

Bullying is not new in any sense. It exists and most of the populous has experienced it to one degree or another. Yet the fabulist way in which this author decided to approach the circumstance was quite extraordinary.

Andrew reaches his destination and finds his own enlightenment through his grandfather.

McGonagle provides an interesting array of characters ranging from highly detailed to purposely nondescript. The environment that she provides in her writing assumes a fantastic whimsy while still keeping rooted in a realistic quandary.

The story teaches children that being different should not only be accepted, it should be welcomed. The visual component adds a deeper connection to the story. An Ordinary Toad's Extraordinary Night is humorous, educational, and entertaining.

Joanne L. McGonagle has an MBA from Ohio University and a Master of Zoology GFP from Miami University. She is the award winning author of The Tiniest Tiger, a children's book.

An Ordinary Toad's Extraordinary Night by Joanne McGonagle, Illustrated by Rachael Mchaffrey, 2013 ISBN 978-0989008808

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Interrogator's Notebook

The Interrogator's Notebook by Martin Ott
Danger is imminent in the title and stark cover of The Interrogator's Notebook by Martin Ott. The author evinces a treacherous cloak and dagger story line that is fueled by vengeance and frustration.

Norman Kross, a retired interrogator, finds himself teaching a class within his field expertise, perhaps feeling a bit bereft of his own path in life. In civilian life, he is going through the motions of a pseudo-proletarian existence. The aphorism "those who can't do, teach", rings with the banality of truth.

His family life is at odds with the successes of his professional life, and he is plagued with certain doubts.

"His bombshell Russian wife, her volatile violinist father, and his two headstrong sons stared at him from their framed family holiday photo. What did it say about him that he wan't in it? ... Did his family like having him around now that he wasn't traveling to the four corners of the globe..."

When Norman is commissioned with a job of interviewing a character actor, George Stark, concerning the death of a young woman, he suddenly finds himself walking a sinister tightrope that shatters his original assessment of the generic private sector.

"The actor paused and slyly looked over his shoulder. 'I'm going to like pulling the carpet out from under you and wrapping you up in it.' Stark tugged on the door handle, slid out, and casually reached back for the light switch, casting the room in total darkness."

With his own family now in certain peril, Norman must unmask the true threat that lurks just beyond the shadows.

I was impressed with the progression of The Interrogator's Notebook and the character development that portrayed a complex understanding (on the author's part) of human behavior. Snippets of the Notebook are added before each chapter, allowing a glimpse at the moral reckoning and experiences of the main character.

"As interrogators, we've all been instructed by our superiors to follow the rules with a wink. The subtext is the get results, that 'our' human lives are always more important than 'their' human lives. There are moral consequences, of course, to this approach, not just to a nation but to its citizens that commit themselves unequivocally to a cause."

There is a hard boiled quality to Ott's prose, it is allegorical and his narration is entirely transfixing. His references are dead on and, upon close inspection, his writing is quite profound.

Martin Ott is a former U.S. Army interrogator. He has published two books of poetry as well as dozens of short stories in publication. He also has a blog for writers: writeliving.wordpress.com

The Interrogator's Notebook by Martin Ott, 2013 ISBN 978-0983605881

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

If You Were Me And Lived In... South Korea...

If You Were Me And Lived In... South Korea... by Carole P. Roman
This is a fantastic immersion into a completely different world. From the author who took us on a whirlwind adventure to Mexico, comes an entirely new experience: If You Were Me And Lived In... South Korea... by Carole P. Roman.

There is a sense of expectation and excitement when viewing the cover of an If You Were Me book. Even before delving into the pages, the reader will know that they are in for a spectacular treat.

The book is filled with a rich and diverse introduction to a people who have "lived there for over two thousand years". It is a lesser known place that is deeply routed in tradition and formality. The little boy and girl will take the reader into Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. From there, visitors are given a peek into the wonders of Min Sok Chon (the Korean Folk Village) and taken to a restaurant to eat bulgogi (Korean barbeque) with kimchee (spicy fermented cabbage).

Roman fills the reader with a sense of culture by showing them crucial differences in currency: "...won, which is like a dollar bill..." and language: "When you call your mommy, you would say Omma. When you address your father, his name would be Appa."

It is important for every child to gain exposure to various cultures. This book provides a creative learning aid that is developed specially for children Pre-K to 8-years old, but has proven insightful for people of all ages. If You Were Me And Lived In... South Korea... educates the mind and dispels certain biases that stem from ignorance. It teaches children that there is an entire world out there, unknown to a vast degree, but, thanks to Roman, a bit easier to understand.

Case in point, my son, who loved every bit of the South Korean culture, especially Seol-nal (the Lunar New Year).

Roman has created an enticing tale that provides a delightful learning tool presented under the charming guise of a simple story. She has also provided a Pronunciation page at the end of the book.

This book will enlighten the mind and cultivate the imagination.

Carole P. Roman is also the author of the Captain No Beard series that deals with issues such as dyslexia, compromise, and leadership. Her new series explores the small world we live in as well as the different, complex cultures of the people around us.

If You Were Me And Lived In... South Korea... by Carole P. Roman, 2013 ISBN 978-1481062343

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Fugitive Grandma

The Fugitive Grandma by Dmitri Ragano
Rage against the system.

Physically? Mentally? Emotionally?

The Fugitive Grandma by Dmitri Ragano is an insightful, dark humored story. Something is seriously broken in our world. How often has a person considered going to the extreme to make a point? To right a wrong? To set aside fears instilled by the laws of society and let conscience dictate their actions?

Stella Valentine is a prime example of this broken system. Retired from Caruso's Grocery, she lives on a very fixed income. To top it all off, her benefits barely cover an experimental drug that allows her to stay cancer-free.

Stella is a fascinating character. She is the epitome of a time long past. There is an old fashioned moral code within Stella's heart that goes beyond fear, beyond hatred, and every now and then, it makes a ferocious appearance.

"It's just like that story with the girl, the grandmother, and the wolf. The wolf comes after all of us, Johnny. When my time comes, maybe there's someone there to save me and maybe I am on my own. So I got to prepare. You better believe that when the wolf come for me, he's going to get one heck of a fight."

The heavy hand of betrayal comes barreling through Stella's quiet life. She loses her benefits and her treatments almost overnight. Great American has absorbed Caruso's Grocery and has refused to honor any pensions or benefits. Dr. Whittier, who had been treating her with the experimental drug that has thus far proven quite effective, has refused to help her; instead, opting to let her die if she can't afford the "miracle cure".

Going one step farther, as Stella is hospitalized, her son Frank sticks her in an assisted living facility and sells her home and car.

Johnny Valentine is Stella's grandson. He's young and idealistic. Johnny's smaller stature makes him the target of bullying in school. Perhaps that is the putative reason for his deep desire to be a hero.

"Bullies do't go away when you get older... They just get bigger and meaner. So you got to know how to stick up for yourself. Nobody gets a happy ending guaranteed. When the wolf comes to get you, you can't count on some knight in shining armor. You better get ready to take the wolf out yourself."

Together, Stella and Johnny recognize the gaping void of betrayal and despair that have inundated their own lives. There is not a lot of philosophizing at this point. Consistent to Stella's character, the decision was simple and direct. They would steal from the corrupted individuals who had, under the guise of doing business within legal limits, stolen the lives of countless other struggling Americans.

Ragano's story is wholly original, yet the song is a tune that every reader has experienced from one degree to the next. It is the reason the book strikes a chord within each of us. His narrative comes off the page in a life-like manner and keeps the reader hooked in a fast-paced story.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It's a simple irony that we tend to forget in the rat-race of life, it is preserved in our constitution and we are strangely reminded of those rights in books like The Fugitive Grandma.

This is the second book I have read by Ragano. His writing is strong and his theme stays central, on topic, and is always incredibly entertaining.

Dmitri Ragano lives in Irvine, California with his wife and daughter. He has previously worked as a journalist and technology consultant in San Francisco and Tokyo.

The Fugitive Grandma by Dmitri Ragano, 2013 ISBN 978-1470125370



Monday, August 12, 2013

The Last Sewer Ball

The Last Sewer Ball by Steven Schindler
A true dichotomy exists whence looking upon the past and dealing with the present. Memories hold a tenuous grasp upon mortal minds; even recalling growing up street savvy in a blue-collared neighborhood in the Bronx holds a charmed haze.

The Last Sewer Ball by Steven Schindler is a prime example of that remembered past. Mired firmly in rediscovering ones roots, the story presents the past and an all-too-real present.

The main character, Vinny Schmidt, is back to square one when he finds himself without a home, a family, or a job. As he returns to the Bronx after two decades and begins piecing himself back together, he finds something even more important... A gnawing curiosity about his childhood friend, Whitey Shelley.

As the story develops, the reader is taken back to Vinny's childhood; with all of the illogically optimistic meanderings of childhood up to the erratically angst-filled teenage years, awash with the nostalgic references of the 60's.

Schindler's narrative is quite unique, methodically moving from time and place, absolutely comfortable within the intimate surroundings of the Bronx. Old memories and new actualities perpetuate a deceptively simple prose, while precipitating complex emotions within the reader.

There is a certain amount of reflection within the pages of The Last Sewer Ball. Yet, passing through the bound pages of reminiscence, the reader will be given a harsh dose of reality. Schindler has succeeded in something immensely difficult, being able to present both ends of an emotional spectrum within the timeline of a character's life.

It is a gritty, memory-laden, heart-warming story that imprints itself upon the mind, long after the final page is read.

Steven Schindler was born and raised in the Bronx. He graduated Hunter College with a degree in Film and Theatre. He has been awarded four Chicago Emmy Awards and Best Fiction at the DIY/Indie Book Awards for From The Block.

The Last Sewer Ball by Steven Schindler, 2013 ISBN 978-0-9662408-9-4

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Valley Of Thracians

Valley of Thracians: A Novel of Bulgaria by Ellis Shuman
There is a vivid, life-like element to Valley Of Thracians by Ellis Shuman. Perhaps it is because of the author's expertise on Bulgaria, or because of the timeline of history that is refreshingly accurate. Regardless of the reason, the end product has proved to be something quite special.

As the novel opens we meet Simon Matthews, a man on a mission. Simon's character evokes the reader's empathy as his heart-wrenching situation comes to light. He has traveled to Bulgaria to answer a question that had been plaguing him, what has happened to his grandson?

"It was a feeling he had -a gut feeling that was burning inside him and growing in intensity from day to day."

No body had ever been produced from his grandson's death. And as Simon begins his quest, digging into the truth behind the mysterious death, he uncovers something incredibly sinister.

"The bus speeds east through the dark and forbidding Bulgarian night. The rhythm of the tires on the asphalt pavement soothes my worries, and I close my eyes, eager to forget the strange happenings that have led me to this unexpected journey."

With the help of Sophia Ivanova, an expert in Thracian culture, he is able to traverse throughout Bulgaria on an amazing journey filled with the languid rhythms of culture, and subtle clues of muddled deception.

"Simon wiped away a tear that threatened to cascade down his face, something that surprised him each time he thought deeply about his beloved grandson even after all this time."

Shuman's writing style ensconces the reader in an intriguing plot-line that is chock-full of significant detail. His past experiences provide a compelling narrative. Valley Of Thracians is a riveting fiction debut that will enrich each reader to the savoir-faire of Bulgaria.

Ellis Shuman currently resides in Israel with his wife and children. He lived in Sofia, Bulgaria from 2009-2010. Ellis's first book was The Virtual Kibbutz and is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at other online retailers. He writes regularly at: ellisshuman.blogspot.com .

Valley Of Thracians by Ellis Shuman, 2013 ASIN B00B68J114

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Roxana's Revolution

Roxana's Revolution by Farin Powell
There is quite an unusual undercurrent within Roxana's Revolution by Farin Powell. It takes the reader on a transcendent journey through different continents, reliving a painful part of American and Iranian history.

The book commences on a tumultuous situation for Roxana, an attorney who receives a letter that could threaten the very fabric of her existence.

"Her American dream had just been shattered, like a house of cards blown away in the wind."

It becomes clearly evident during the initial chapters that this book carries a huge weight of political and emotional turmoil. The frightful events that become a national struggle are well delineated throughout the story.

"She began to feel as though she and all Iranians had been blamed for the hostage taking. Friends came to her with stories of attacks on Iranian students and businesses."

Roxana makes a complicated decision that ultimately throws her smack dab in the middle of an entirely different war. This book gives a new perspective to certain old prejudices and sheds light on an international incident that changed course of history in both Iran and America.

Powell has developed a bold, unusually rich tale based mainly on historical fact, her expansive research and knowledge is apparent throughout this novel. The narration carries the reader through several lives, showing a backdrop of cultural significance that has often gone missing. Sensitive issues are given a voice and displayed without hesitation.

The reader will follow a mesmerizing tale of love, identity, and circumstance; deeply symbolic in its painful recount of the Iranian revolution. I highly recommend this book.

Farin Powell practices law in Washington D.C. She is extremely talented and has published short stories and poems in various literary magazines and poetry anthologies. She is the author of A Piece Of Heaven and Two Weddings.

Roxana's Revolution by Farin Powell, 2013 ISBN 978-1475980622