Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"A Brief History of Scranton, Pennsylvania" by Cheryl A. Kashuba

Time travel is possible. Cheryl Kashuba's book offers a gateway. See the Masonic Temple rise from its limestone foundation. Walk down a bustling, but unpaved, Lackawanna Avenue. Watch workers atop scaffolding bring the Scranton Times building into existence.

Kashuba's work is filled with meticulously researched facts and figures, but it doesn't stop there. She transports the reader to an earlier time by writing history in a narrative style. You can feel the excitement of those waiting on Wyoming Avenue to take the first electric trolley run. The car's incandescent lamps lightning the way to Green Ridge on a cold November evening in 1886.

Fans of Kashuba's weekly local history column in The Scranton Times-Tribune are in for a treat. Learn how members of the family connected with the historic Tripp House were kidnapped and murdered by Native Americans. Discover how a journey from Clarks Summit to Scranton was made perilous by the screech of the panther and the cry of the wolf. Uncover how the Scranton family came to settle in the area only after a previous investor died after falling off his horse. Read how the burning of anthracite coal came about only after a Wilkes-Barre blacksmith fell asleep leaving his furnace burning throughout the night.

I always wondered why the Scranton area remained a wilderness during the American Revolution and beyond (with Pennsylvania being the second state in the Union). Kashuba explains this anomaly as resulting from a disagreement between Pennsylvania and Connecticut settlers over faulty land agreements made by King Charles II of England. No one definitively owned the land. It was fought over rather than built upon.

Modern achievements are skillfully intermingled with earlier noteworthy events. Civil War prisoner of war and former mayor, Ezra Ripple is remembered along with World War II Medal of Honor winners Gino Merli and Joseph Sarnoski. The success of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees is recorded with that of the Scranton Red Sox. The refreshment provided by Lake Lincoln parallels the water slides of today's Nay Aug Park.

An introduction by Mary Ann Moran Savakinus, the director of the Lackawanna Historical Society, provides a thorough outline of the key points Kashuba illustrates in greater detail throughout the book.

If you are looking for a concise, easy-to-read history - look no further. For all those who hold Scranton in their hearts - welcome home.

A Brief History of Scranton, Pennsylvania by Cheryl A. Kashuba is available for $19.99 at Amazon.com and Anthology New & Used Books.

Monday, December 21, 2009

"Scribbles" by Tommie Lyn

Scribbles is an interesting mixture. There are elements of The Da Vinci Code. Illuminati, anyone? A child with psychic abilities used for experimentation relates to aspects in Dark Visions by L.J. Smith, author of The Vampire Diaries.

The main character, Meg MacAllister is also many things. She is the daughter of two convicted murderers. She is a cop. She is a psychic. These disparate qualities elicit different responses from those around her. Devotion from her father. Disdain from her mother. Understanding from her grandmother. Frustration from her fellow cops.

Johnny Peyton is Meg's partner on the police force. His relationship with the newly divorced Amanda Adcock is already on shaky ground when Johnny and Meg are dispatched to a domestic disturbance involving Amanda and her ex-husband. The ensuing violence lands Meg in the hospital.

Johnny's guilt forces him to admit that he has feelings for Meg. His adolescent infatuation with Amanda was based on superficial attributes. He realizes that he has unwittingly fallen in love with Meg.

However, Johnny learns that a relationship with Meg will not be easy. Since childhood, she has been tormented by a recurring nightmare. It starts in a white room. Black scribbles fill the space. A face emerges from the black lines. Upon awakening, Meg learns that the person featured in her dream has met with violence.

Her parents, Jim Ed and Natalie, may be imprisoned for murder, but Meg believes she is the one responsible for their crime. Natalie had created a laboratory in their basement in order to forge a deeper connection with her lover, Professor Worthen. She dupes Jim Ed into fashioning a device to aid their psychological research. During an experiment, a juvenile delinquent used as a test subject dies at the same time Meg experiences her dream.

Johnny has a hard time making sense of Meg's psychic ability. When she opens up to him about her situation, he feels like he's been dropped into an episode of The Twilight Zone. Complications arise when Amanda decides she wants Johnny back, and will stop at nothing to separate him from Meg.

When Natalie obtains parole, she returns to her lab of horrors and Professor Worthen is determined to pick up where they left off. However a larger force is at work, and Meg's psychic ability is the only thing that can stop it.

Scribbles is a bit disjointed and leads the reader to believe it might be one of Tommie Lyn's earlier efforts. With a thriller, a reader needs to suspend disbelief. However, some points just don't ring true. Would the local police force really hire Meg after they arrested her parents for murder? Can Johnny fall in love with Meg so soon after ending things with Amanda? Why does the conspiracy theory involving the Illuminati read like a cliche? Lyn leaves the door open for a sequel, and one wonders what new face will appear in Meg's dream.

Overall, Scribbles is a bit all over the page. Supporting details and character motivations need to be more in line with the plot in order to create a more cohesive narrative.

Scribbles by Tommie Lyn is available for $14.99 at Amazon.com and TommieLyn.com.

A complimentary review copy was provided by Tommie Lyn.

Also by Tommie Lyn: And Night Falls and On Berryhill Road

Enter to win a FREE copy of Scribbles by leaving a comment below along with your email address. A winner will be chosen on January 1, 2010.

Congratulations to our winner: Tricia Dower!

Christmas excerpt from "Call Me Kate: Meeting the Molly Maguires"

An Old-Fashioned Christmas at Pardee Square
by Molly Roe

“A tree? In the house?” Pat and James laughed when I shook my head at the doings in the parlor. Mrs. Pardee had ordered the strongest servants to remove some heavy pieces of furniture to make room for a ten foot tree.

“The ways of the wealthy are strange, Katie. When you have too much money it scrambles your brain,” said James.

“Guess my senses will never be addled then,” I said.

“Mrs. Pardee imported all the decorations and candle-holders from Germany. Christmas trees are a popular tradition there,” said Pat.

“Here, here, get to work and stop gossiping about your betters,” said Mrs. Lane, who had only heard Pat’s last comment. Mrs. Lane directed the staff in decorating the branches with candles, glass balls, and tin ornaments. James’s towering height and long arms were needed to reach the highest branches. The candles sat on the boughs in cleverly designed pendulum holders that were balanced by weighted stars. With the candles lit, the dangling glass balls and tin ornaments reflected a soft radiance. Baby Frank reached out a chubby hand to grasp the colorful objects, but his nursery maid whisked him out of range. Once the evergreen was in place, I had to admit the piney aroma and cheerful appearance was a welcome change from the parlor’s usual stuffy atmosphere. A Christmas tree was a lot of work, but the finished product was lovely. As I stepped back to admire the effect, small fists tugged on my uniform skirt.

“Katie, Katie, look how I stayed in the lines!” Six-year-old Bart Pardee and his older brother, Izzie, were helping to decorate, cutting out Thomas Nast’s newspaper sketches of Santa Claus and coloring them. I complimented the boys and cut pieces of tinsel garland to tie their artwork onto the tree.

My favorite display was the three-tiered pyramid contraption on a side table. The draft created by small red candles moved wooden paddle blades, and a carved Nativity scene twirled before my fascinated eyes. I wished my sisters could see the delights. At least I was able to take the stubs when the candles were replaced. I would send them to Murphy’s Patch so a candle would remain burning in our window through the Christmas season.

One afternoon Mrs. Pardee announced a shopping trip to the Kristkindlmarkt in Pottsville. The outside fair would feature imported gift items for Christmas. German cuckoo clocks, Moravian stars, creche scenes, and intricate toys for the younger children were among the items for sale.

Mrs. P. planned to buy a large ceramic stein. She started planning a trip by train to the city. The most exciting news was that I would attend Mrs. Pardee and the children.

On the day of departure, we hustled to the station with enough luggage for several days. Porters carried the bags onto the train, but I would be in charge of everything once we were on board. A reddish-brown car with crisp gold lettering was already pulled up at the siding. I was more excited than Izzie and Bart since we were traveling in a luxury box with soft leather seats and plush velvet hangings for privacy. Our tickets gave us access to the lounge car and other exclusive areas that I had never seen before. To give Mrs. Pardee some quiet time, I took the two children for a walk through the cars to the observation deck.

“Oh, look at the horses in the field... and the hex sign on that barn.” I pointed out the green-glazed windows at highlights of the landscape to keep the children occupied. When we went back to our berth, we played counting and memory games until the children were lulled into naps. The lurching of the train stopping at Pottsville station awoke the children, and we gathered our possessions and left the car.

A coachman was waiting for us at the brick P&R station when we alit from the train amidst a cloud of steam, and he swept us by carriage to Pennsylvania Hall where a luxury suite was set aside for the Pardees. Visiting coal barons to the Schuylkill County seat always stayed in the hotel’s deluxe accommodations. Even my room, on the least exclusive floor, was delightful. I bounced onto the wide bed and giggled as I was almost launched off the other side.

I freshened up and had a cold luncheon before going to the outdoor market with Mrs. Pardee and her sons. The street scene was bustling with excitement. Large kegs at the intersections blocked out traffic to provide safe travel for pedestrians through small wooden booths and canvas-covered displays.

Mrs. Pardee examined and ordered many items. Some were to be personalized or created especially to her taste. The children wove between people in the crowd and raced each other from booth to booth.

“Boys, stop!” I chased them down a crowded lane and scolded them. “Your mother is looking for you.”

“Mother, can I buy something?” asked Bart, pointing at a toy display.

“Nothing for yourself, but you may purchase something for your brothers and sister.” Mrs. Pardee took note of their choices for Christmas gifts. The long day was beginning to wear on the boys, and they started to push each other and bicker.

“Time to return to the hotel,” said Mrs. Pardee amidst complaints from her sons.

Once Izzie and Bart were settled with a maid from the hotel to oversee their supper, Mrs. Pardee and I returned to the market to choose items for the children. By five o'clock the vendors had fires and lamps lit to allow their customers to see their merchandise. The festive scene was very enjoyable and since I was wearing my warmest outer garments, including gloves and scarf, the bite of the cold air did not affect my pleasure. Every breath filled my lungs with the smell of chestnuts, pretzels or spicy sausages roasting on open grates. Candles, incense, toasted candied peanuts, gingerbread, and other exotic scents mingled in the air. Laughter and music met my ears. It was as much a social event as it was a market.

My employer smiled and discussed the merchandise with the vendors, but her good mood disappeared when time came to order. Spoiled by the constant pandering of merchants in Hazleton and Philadelphia, Mrs. Pardee was dumbstruck that she would have to wait for some of the items.

Turning to me with a stern look she said, “You’ll have to stay in the city two extra days to collect my purchases and ensure their quality.”

“Yes, M’am.” I answered in a demure way, but beneath my composed face I was delighted.

Annoyed that she would have to take the trip back without my help, Mrs. P. pushed a purse into my hands and gave me last minute instructions. The money was to pay for the orders, for cab fare and tips, and for the return trip to Hazleton. She and the children bustled off to the station to catch the train home.

Early the next morning I set out on my mission. One of the bellboys was especially friendly. He called a cab and refused the tip I offered.

“Sure you need the money more than I do, darlin’. Buy yourself something at the fair.”

The cab lurched off before I could refuse the bellboy’s generosity, but I had an idea of what I’d buy with the unexpected spending money. The leather seat sighed as I settled into it.

I paid the driver and stepped onto the slate sidewalk. I thought about what I could buy my parents and sisters at the market. The small drawstring bag in which I kept my money clinked as I jiggled it. I wished that I had more money. It would be difficult to stretch the funds four ways.

Just as the thought entered my mind, I had a brainstorm. The ticket! I searched through my bag and located the return ticket that Mrs. Pardee pushed into my hand last night. It was a first class seat! My emotions soared. I could exchange the expensive ticket for a cheap seat in a combination car. I didn’t mind traveling with the ordinary passengers and baggage, especially since it meant several extra dollars in my purse.

I sallied off to the street fair feeling like a wealthy capitalist. My first purchase was simple. I decided to purchase some fragrant spices and a cookie press shaped like an angel for my mother, the baker.

The next stall has wonderful three-tiered pyramids like the one at Pardee Square. The carving and paintwork on the tiny figures was exquisite, but the prices were far beyond my pocketbook. Fortunately a little farther along I came to a booth with small German woodcarvings. One piece, depicting a trio of girls playing Ring a-ring o’roses, reminded me of my sisters and me in early childhood. My father would appreciate both the subject and the quality of the piece, so I added that gift to my basket.

My sisters would be happy with some candy, but should it be fudge, sugar mice, parma violets, barley toy candy, or rock candy strings? Apothecary-style jars lined the open shelves in the rear of the stand with more choices than I had ever seen in one place. The colorful and tempting plate of broken candy for sampling helped with my decision. Red and green barley pops finished my shopping list.

I swung the string-wrapped parcels and imagined my family’s delight on Christmas morning. I collected the merchandise for Mrs. Pardee and returned to the hotel. Passing my friend the bellboy, I smiled and told him that my little sisters would appreciate his kindness on Christmas morning.


MOLLY ROE (pen name for Mary Garrity Slaby) is the author of "Call Me Kate: Meeting the Molly Maguires" and a contributor to "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk High School." She is a veteran language arts & reading teacher at Lake-Lehman Junior Senior High School. Mary holds a Ph.D. in education from Temple University, and Pennsylvania teaching certification in six areas. She has pursued the hobby of genealogy for the past decade. Mary was born in Philadelphia, raised in Schuylkill County, and currently lives in Dallas, Pennsylvania with her husband, John. They are parents of two grown children, Melissa and John Garrett, cover illustrator of "Call Me Kate." Digging into the past has given Mary newfound respect for her ancestors and a better understanding of history. Call Me Kate is the first in the author’s trilogy of historical novels loosely based on the lives of the strong women who preceded her.

Visit Molly's blog at: conversationsfromthesideporch.blogspot.com

Visit Molly's Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1504351498&ref

Call Me Kate: Meeting the Molly Maguires by Molly Roe is available for $12.95 in paperback at Amazon.com and $19.95 in hardcover at Amazon.com.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"On Berryhill Road" by Tommie Lyn

Fallon McKniere is a character you can't help rooting for. She's a member of America's working poor. Employed as a convenience store clerk, she can barely afford the rent on the rundown trailer she shares with her mentally ill mother. In order to put food on the table, she salvages items past their expiration dates from the store's dumpster. Her malnourishment is plainly evident on her already petite stature. However, beneath the fragile exterior is a girl determined to survive.

How did Fallon find herself in such dire straits? When she was 6-years-old, her father allegedly committed suicide. The Navy discovered he was embezzling money from weapon sales when an audit uncovered his incriminating signature on pertinent documents. He took his life on a piece of property he supposedly purchased with the tainted money. Located on Berryhill Road, the land was intended to be the site of the McKniere's future home.

The disgraceful actions of her father made Fallon and her mother outcasts in their small Florida town. Fallon's mother could not find decent work and fell into a deep depression refusing to leave their tiny trailer. Fallon was labeled an outcast and ended up dropping out of high school. While her mother drifted into a child-like state, Fallon shouldered the burden of trying to make ends meet.

Donovan Pfarr, an airplane mechanic at the local Navy base, finds his life upended when he discovers his blond bombshell of a wife in bed with his friend. After filing for divorce, he succumbs to drink and despair. However, a random act of kindness by Fallon knocks him out of his self-absorption. Working the night shift at the store, Fallon - who has nothing - pays for Donovan's purchase when he realizes he has left his money at home. By doing so, Fallon is brought to the forefront of Donovan's consciousness.

He is the first person in a long time to take notice of Fallon, a girl living in a state of social isolation.
At first out of gratitude, he makes the effort to get to know her. He admires her strength of character, however, her pitiable physical condition worries him. He decides to ask her out with the sole intention of providing her with something to eat. Yet when these two broken people come together, they end up making each other whole.

During this time, Fallon receives a letter informing her that a trust has been established in her name by an anonymous donor. Ten thousand dollars is wired into her bank account. Suspicious of the money and not willing to accept charity, Fallon does not touch her unexpected windfall, even when Donovan tries to convince her otherwise.

Just as Donovan and Fallon are falling in love, Donovan's ex-wife returns to re-stake her claim. Fallon's mother is taken to the hospital by intervening paramedics when she barricades herself in her bedroom. While a man connected to the demise of Fallon's father returns to town with a murderous intent.

As Tommie Lyn week continues at Tribute Books Reviews, I am continually impressed with the talent of this self-published author. I am an avid reader, and Lyn's stories are addicting. You can't put her books down. She creates likable, realistic characters whose morality is put to the test - whether it be by the temptation of desire, refusing help when it is needed or neglecting one's duty for selfish pursuits.

There are only a few minor flaws with On Berryhill Road. The ending is a bit rushed. I realize that suspense novels are fast-paced, but I would have liked the concluding chapters to have been fleshed out a bit more. Also for the cover of the book, I would have preferred a more realistic image of Fallon. This is NOT a cheesy romance novel, and the cover doesn't portray the depth of feeling that the narrative possesses. I would not want it to deter a potential reader from picking it up based on a superficial judgment of the cover image.

Overall, Tommie Lyn captures the determined struggle of the working poor through the poignant heart of Fallon McKniere.

On Berryhill Road by Tommie Lyn is available for $13.99 at Amazon.com and TommieLyn.com.

A complimentary review copy was provided by Tommie Lyn.

Enter to win a FREE copy of On Berryhill Road by leaving a comment below along with your email address. A winner will be chosen on January 1, 2010.

Congratulations to our winner: Lynn Mosher!

Monday, December 14, 2009

"And Night Falls" by Tommie Lyn

William Goodnight is the notorious king of the Florida Panhandle. Shelley is daddy's little girl. So when she needs a job, he creates one in his real estate office. Little does he know that this particular act of nepotism could lead to the downfall of his shady empire.

Shelley reluctantly accepts her father's help.
After divorcing her college sweetheart, she moves into her own apartment. Living alone for the first time, she is determined to become independent.

She is off to a fresh start when the unthinkable happens. On a beach camping trip with her friends, she stumbles across the body - of ironically - her co-worker Farrell Gilbert. When the police arrive at the scene, Shelley's path crosses with Deputy Clay Cameron who finds himself instantly attracted to her.

Don Yearwood, Clay's fellow police officer, holds a familial grudge against the Goodnights. Farrell Gilbert was his cousin, and he is determined to hold Shelley and her father accountable for his murder. The history between the families is filled with blood and betrayal and Don is determined to seek revenge.

When Shelley is taken to the police station for questioning, Daddy once again comes to the rescue with his longtime friend and business partner, Attorney Kendall Shapiro. Shapiro is in the midst of a U.S. Senate campaign and the demands of William Goodnight are not a top priority. The power struggle between the two friends is brought to the forefront with Shelley's involvement in finding Farrell Gilbert's body.

Clay becomes an integral part of Shelley's life. He offers his protection when he begins to suspect that things are not what they seem with Farrell Gilbert's death. The two are drawn together as Hurricane Ivan strikes the Panhandle and a hit man is set on Shelley's trail.

The relationship between Shelley and Clay is portrayed in an chivalrous light. Having grown up on a farm, the gentlemanly ways of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are instilled in Clay's character. He insists on separate bedrooms when he harbors Shelley at his house. He is the first to say, "I love you," and to bring up the subject of marriage and children. Shelley is at times frustrated by his restraint, but can't help falling in love with his honest and open nature. However, she revels in the thought of giving up her newly-found independence to settle down with him.

The novel is fast-paced and can be read in two sittings. The font and type size are easy on the eye. The chapters are short in length with cliffhanger endings that make you want to turn the page. There are a lot of character names to keep track of and the "who-done-it" aspect is alluded to before the final climatic scene. Shelley is a fully fleshed out character who has flaws and doubts. She is actively working through the issues in her life. Supporting characters are a bit one-dimensional such as Shelley's devoted mother or they exhibit abrupt 360ยบ personality shifts like William Goodnight's switch from protector to perpetrator. The motivations behind the plot are plausible, however, the main causes are caught up mainly in the back story that occurred before the time of the novel.

Overall, it is a great work of escapist fiction when all you want to do is curl up with a good book.

And Night Falls by Tommie Lyn is available for $14.99 at Amazon.com and TommieLyn.com.

A complimentary review copy was provided by Tommie Lyn.

Enter to win a FREE copy of And Night Falls by leaving a comment below along with your email address. A winner will be chosen on January 1, 2010.

Congratulations to our winner: Cheryl Malandrinos!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"The Sound Snatcher" by Linda Bryan Sabin

Do you know a young child who freaks out when you turn on the vacuum? Does the noise make them run from the room in terror? Linda Bryan Sabin has the answer. In her children's book The Sound Snatcher (illustrated by Valerie Bouthyette), Sabin writes for "the sensitive child who may become unsettled and anxious when confronted with noisy distractions."

Her writing style is rooted in sound techniques such as rhythm, alliteration and multi-syllable words. A vocabulary section in the back of the book defines words that might be unfamiliar to a young child like reverberation, truffle and shroud. Sabin also creates her own words via onomonopia such as fluffle, squwurgles and swirgles.

Readers are encouraged to look for clues in the illustrations in the "Let's Talk About the Book" question and answer section. What is the boy's name? Look at the back of his shirt. What supporting character appears on every page? The name of Sabin's publisher - Peeking Kitty Books - offers a clue. Sabin encourages "curiosity, excitement of exploration and a desire to see what comes next."

I appreciated the book's library reinforced binding - a plus for any children's book subjected to the wear and tear of little hands. The overall theme of overpowering, overwhelming noise is synonymous with modern family life. Details are drowned out and important moments are missed. The word "quiet" fills the last page and illustrates its inherent value.

The little Sound Snatcher is precious with his big round eyes and stick-out tongue. His endearing appearance makes him approachable combating a child's fear. He is so industrious, vacuuming up everything in sight, that his belly bag nearly explodes. By completing his chore, he is unplugged and falls fast asleep.

The Sound Snatcher by Linda Bryan Sabin is available for $14.95 at Amazon.com and PeekingKitty.com.

A complimentary review copy was provided by Linda Bryan Sabin.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"How to Master Your Muck" by Kathi Burns

Being a publisher, I always appreciate a well-designed book. How to Master Your Muck by Kathi Burns hits everything on the list. A "how to" title? Check. A celebrity endorsement (in this case, What Not to Wear's Clinton Kelly)? Check. Interior text in an easy-to-read font with major points highlighted in wide margins? Check. The form equals the function. The book is so well organized that just flipping through its pages motivates you to want to get your life in order.

Burns' philosophy centers around the belief that change is unavoidable. You have the decision to either man up and face it or get stuck in the muck. Burns is a firm believer that small changes lead to larger lifestyle transitions. All we need is space. Physical space free of clutter. Personal space free of guilt. Working space free of interruption. Once we simplify things and break them down into their component parts, we find contentment knowing where things are, who we are as a person and where we'd like to go in our career.

The book covers a range of topics from managing your email inbox to finding the perfect wardrobe. It caters to those with an entrepreneurial spirit who operate a home-based business. However, it can apply to anyone looking to regain control of their life. Muck is defined as anything that stands in the way of realizing your full potential. An overbooked schedule. A disorganized desk. Ill-fitting clothes. Muck is everywhere.

Regaining control of your life doesn't have to be hard. Burns provides the road map. Want to simplify an untidy desk? Get a vertical file folder to organize your to-do list. Want your home office to run like a well-oiled machine? Purchase supplies before you need them. Feeling pulled in all different directions? Create a schedule that allows one day a week for outside appointments. Constantly interrupted by email? Check it only 2-3 times a day.

Burns admits creating new routines is not easy and will take at least four weeks to become indoctrinated into your life. It's not about being getting caught up in frantic activity and collecting possessions. It's about clearly stating your goals and going after them. You need to eliminate what you don't need, salvage what can be saved and pursue what you're missing.

Burns states, "Muck is much bigger than the stuff attached to it. There is a domino effect, and eventually you will arrive at the core area where you are really stifled, be it creativity, lack of productivity, depression or boredom. You will inevitably feel lighter and more creative and energized."

This is a handbook you'll refer to again and again. Whenever you feel frustrated and inadequate, it's just the muck talking. The key is not to give it a voice.

How to Master Your Muck by Kathi Burns is available for $17.95 at Amazon.com and AddSpaceToYourLife.com.

A complimentary review copy was provided by Kathi Burns.

Friday, December 4, 2009

"America's Dumbest Doctors" by K. Patrick McDonald

Sometimes you're just in sync with the universe. As I was reading K. Patrick McDonald's America's Dumbest Doctors, a story appeared in my local newspaper entitled "Alleged victim testifies at surgeon's assault trial." The story related how a doctor became enraged when his date danced with an elderly man at an Italian restaurant where the couple had stopped for drinks. On the way home, the doctor pulled into a car wash parking lot where he proceeded to drag the woman from the car kicking her several times in the back. Police later found the woman at a nearby gas station where a 911 call had been placed from a pay phone. The woman did not press charges, but the detective assigned to the case charged the doctor with simple assault after reviewing pictures the woman had taken of bruises on her body. The doctor has since left town, but he continues to practice medicine in a nearby metropolitan area. His trial is currently underway.

When I first picked up this book, I thought, "Well this collection of stories is horrifying, but these things don't happen where I live." As the above newspaper story illustrates, I couldn't have been more wrong. McDonald at the onset of his work wonders why no one has ever written a comprehensive book on the bad behavior of doctors. As San Diego's first EMS supervisor, he was exposed to the misdeeds of a profession whose members consider themselves beyond reproach. What is truly frightening is that these rogue doctors violate a sacred trust. They are not scheming Wall Street tycoons or common thugs. They are who we turn to when things go wrong. We entrust our very being into their hands. It is an intimate connection that is severed by these doctors who willfully turn their backs on the Hippocratic Oath.

McDonald peppers his text with interesting tidbits. He states, "We have 100,000+ working physicians in this country within the IQ ranges of janitors and farmhands." The book's premise is supported through numerous examples of news headlines taken from across the country. Doctors are charged with murder, rape, drug trafficking, insurance fraud, child molestation, medical malpractice, sexual harassment, money laundering - the list goes on and on.

The misbehavior of a few doctors has consequences for the entire medical field. Medical mistakes and fraud raise insurance rates. One headline states, "Surgical mistakes cost insurance companies 1.5 billion dollars annually." Another relates, "4,600 American hospitals scam insurance plans." While doctors' mistreatment of nurses leave hospitals understaffed. A supporting headline states, "Abusive docs are driving out nurses." Another proclaims, "429,000 nurses a year are victims of assault. Too many are by doctors."

Readers will recognize famous cases such as the Texas MD who deliberately ran down her philandering physician-husband with her Mercedes in a hotel parking lot. Another being the doctor who blew up his New York City apartment building when he tampered with a gas line because he was angry with his estranged wife. Others are more obscure like the doctor dressed as Captain America who assaulted a woman at a bar with a burrito stuffed down his crotch. While an OB-GYN in California used secret cameras hidden in his shirt and in the air vent above the examination table to film teenage patients during breast and pelvic exams.

After reading this book, it is inevitable that you will never look at your physician the same way.

America's Dumbest Doctors
by K. Patrick McDonald is available for $14.99 at Amazon.com
and AmericasDumbestDoctors.com.

A complimentary review copy was provided by K. Patrick McDonald.

Monday, November 23, 2009

"The Basics of Surfboard Design" by Bob Smith

I gotta admit right off the bat - the closest I've ever come to surfing was on a $10 foam boogie board at Coquina Beach in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I live in the land-locked state of Pennsylvania and trips to the beach are few and far between. But when author Bob Smith asked me to review his book The Basics of Surfboard Design, he said, "I'm always interested in how well it communicates, so I can improve." Bob, himself, is a pioneer in the surfing community having been "at the forefront of the short-board revolution in Hawaii during the late '60s" with examples of his surfboards appearing on the December 1968 cover of Master of Surf Photography: Art Brewer.

What I like about Bob's approach is that he debunks many "established" truths that I think would be of interest to surfers, such as:

#1: Many surfers have a lack of interest about how and why a surfboard works.

#2: Surfers ride shorter boards than necessary because shortening the board helps make up for an inferior design.

#3: How many fins should a surfboard have? Ask instead - Where should the fin(s) be placed?

#4: Adding a fin will not increase thrust - it will in fact increase drag, slowing the board.

#5: A vertical fin is more stable and more powerful (size for size) than a swept fin.

#6: To get a good bottom, it is necessary to wet sand the surface with progressively finer paper.

#7: The pointy ends on surfboards should all be cut off - they serve no useful function.

#8: Make sure to tell a shaper: (A) what board you're currently riding (B) what you like & dislike about it (C) your favorite surf spot and (D) what size of waves you like to ride.

Overall, the book is primarily for those who are heavily into surfing and wish to have a custom-designed surfboard. The book is mainly text accompanied by rudimentary drawings. Professional artwork would have more fully illustrated the concepts for better comprehension.

I wish Bob had included photos of surfboards that he designed and comments from surfers who use them. Attributed quotes from those who utilize Bob's knowledge in the field would also have added credibility to his theories.

The Basics of Surfboard Design by Bob Smith is available for $9.95 at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com

A complimentary review copy was provided by Bob Smith.

"The Leadership Garden Guidebook" by Debra J. Slover

I have to say Debra Slover's series is very well done. She has created an effectively designed brand that brings something new to the self-improvement market. The main concepts of the U.N.I.Q.U.E. series are clearly delineated in the companion guidebook. Interactive space is also provided for readers to record their reactions to Slover's thought-provoking questions. The guidebook forges the gap between concept and reality. It is a must-have for those wanting to get the most out of the series.

The guidebook's chapters correspond to those in the adult and child versions of the U.N.I.Q.U.E. books. They are filled with writing exercises that help readers apply the series' concepts to their lives. Intangible concepts are made personal by involving the reader in hands-on activities. Theory is put into action. The guidebook also functions as a journal allowing the reader the opportunity to go back and reflect on past entries. Personal growth can be measured and evaluated as the reader progresses through the U.N.I.Q.U.E. chapters.

Some key points illustrate Slover's philosophy:

- True leadership is not a title, position, or job. It's a way of life that expresses your imagination, purpose and spirit. What brings these qualities to life is unique in everyone. Love binds you with others and is at the heart of all authentic leadership. Leadership warms your heart and lifts your spirit when used in service of another's greatness.

- Greatness sprouts, not in spite of your imperfections, but from the wisdom you gain as you improve upon them.

- When you allow others to be themselves, without trying to fix or change them, and focus on their positive behaviors, extraordinary results show up. Empathy is a bridge from survival to thriving leadership. The more open and receptive you are with others, the more open and receptive they are to you.

- You cannot always control the circumstances of your life, but you can choose how you respond to them. Each time you choose to focus on the pleasant events of your life, and not let the unpleasant ones dictate your response in a negative manner, you begin to rewire your brain and create a new reality. Setbacks, failure and disappointments are to be expected, and thriving leaders use them as an opportunity to grow and expand.

This guidebook affords you the opportunity to look at
what you do, how you do it, and why you do it, so you can begin to make the choice to thrive.

Slover also relates an interesting anecdote about the U.N.I.Q.U.E. series influence. At a book signing, Slover sold one copy. That copy was sent to a doctoral candidate in leadership studies who used the book in teaching college students in the United States and in an economically challenged school in Africa.

Inspired by the effect the U.N.I.Q.U.E. series was having on others, Slover set up the Leadership Garden Registry which accepts donations through the Calvert Foundation to provide grants in $250-$500 amounts to non-profit organizations that wish to develop leader-friendly gardening "Practice Projects."

The guidebook concludes with an adorable photo of Slover with her dog, Mooko.

The Leadership Garden Guidebook
by Debra J. Slover is available for $18.95 at Amazon.com and LeadershipGardenLegacy.com

A complimentary review copy was provided by Debra J. Slover.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"U.N.I.Q.U.E. Kids: Growing My Leadership Garden" by Debra J. Slover

Debra J. Slover is well aware that books read in childhood leave a lasting impression. She defines a young mind's potential as a leadership garden. With the right cultivation, Slover believes every child can find the leader within. Her book sheds light on the seeds that form the foundation of a deeply-rooted character.

Slover's goal is "to seed and nurture 11 million leadership gardens by 11-11-2011." Her mission is to provide children with tools to better themselves. "Imagine the future of our planet if we nurture each leader to sprout greatness," she states. She focuses on awakening the child's inherent abilities. It is not an adherence to a strict dogma or a step-by-step formula to mold a child to some preexisting ideal. Instead, a child's uniqueness is what is cherished. Leaders are not defined by the power to control, but by how they empower others through love. For Slover, l
eaders connect well with others because they combine their thoughts, feelings and behaviors into good choices.

The fable of the lost sheep Hugh is reiterated in the children's edition. The illustrations by Darlene Warner are more numerous and in color. Chapters conclude with a "Hugh Wants to Know" questionnaire reinforcing the moral lessons taught by each farm animal. The leadership concepts are explained with a vocabulary appropriate for ages 8 to 12. As Slover states, "It is an ideal book to be read aloud and discussed over eight sessions at home, in school or in youth groups."

Children will undoubtedly respond to the imagery of spring's arrival on the farm.
The details of nature are meant to stir the physical senses while the accompanying leadership lessons awaken a child's curiosity and problem-solving skills. It is a winning combination to engage the mind, body and spirit in character-developing activities.

Slover's approach is realistic. Things happen in the outside world that cannot be controlled. Hugh's mother is attacked by coyotes. Howard the Horse is left to starve by his previous owner. Hugh is bullied by the farmer's son. Just by reading this book, bad things will not go away. Change depends on how children respond. A child's purpose and aim must play to his or her strengths. By tapping into their innate abilities, children are then able to face life's challenges. When one child demonstrates this inner strength, it empowers others to hone their leadership potential. One by one, new gardens are grown.

U.N.I.Q.U.E. Kids: Growing My Leadership Garden
by Debra J. Slover is available for $18.95 at Amazon.com and LeadershipGardenLegacy.com

A complimentary review copy was provided by Debra J. Slover.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"U.N.I.Q.U.E. Growing the Leader Within" by Debra J. Slover

This book came into my life when I needed it the most. It articulated feelings that I had trouble putting into words. In essence, the message is stop living your life in survival mode. In a tough economy, it is a message we all need to hear.

Author Debra J. Slover states, "We cannot always control the circumstances of our lives, but we can choose how we respond to them." Her book is a guide on how to do just that. Our mental outlook filters our perception of reality. Slover provides tips and exercises on how to shift our way of thinking so that we thrive.

The book is a fable/memoir/self-help hybrid. The fable is populated with animals beautifully illustrated by Darlene Warner. Hugh, the sheep, is led through a Leadership Garden by Annabelle, the collie, stopping along the way to visit with different animals. Each offers Hugh a "U.N.I.Q.U.E." tidbit of wisdom on how he can go from being afraid and weak to courageous and powerful. He becomes a leader whose character is rooted in integrity through direct and open communication.

Slover is down to earth. She openly admits that she is not perfect and how she continually needs to work on her faults - just like the rest of us. In one instance, she chewed out a student worker who could not provide her with a campus parking pass. Knowing she was wrong, she went back and apologized to the student. She's an author who practices what she preaches.

The self-help aspects can get wordy at times. The book connects best when concepts are fleshed out rather than merely defined. I found that I do not walk away remembering what the acronym U.N.I.Q.U.E. stands for, but instead with a comprehension of the overall message. The chapter exercises engage the reader to actively examine his/her life. They are helpful tools in making the reader realize how many "weeds" need to be removed from his/her "leadership garden."

When I first picked up the book, I thought it was going to be a slog through New Age mumbo jumbo. I couldn't have been more wrong. I flew through this book in two sittings. I kept reading passages where I thought to myself, "This author gets it." She addresses problems that we all need to resolve. If you're looking for sound advice on how to obtain peace of mind and a sense of well-being, pick up this book. It'll show you the way.

U.N.I.Q.U.E. Growing the Leader Within by Debra J. Slover is available for $18.95 at Amazon.com and LeadershipGardenLegacy.com

A complimentary review copy was provided by Debra J. Slover.

Also by Debra J. Slover:
The Leadership Garden Guidebook & U.N.I.Q.U.E. Kids: Growing My Leadership Garden

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Hard Times and Great Blessings: The Story of My Life" by Kenneth F. Worth

The essence of faith is continuing to choose to do what is right without the certainty of an earthly reward. It requires a firmness of conviction against the unknown. Kenneth Worth exhibits this quality.

In Hard Times and Great Blessings: The Story of My Life, the reader is transported to Worth's post-World War II era childhood where in a stunning flashback he relates his tragic past with two words: BANG! BANG! These two inexplicable shots fired by his mother silenced his parents forever.

Worth employs writing as a means to examine his life. The reader gains access to moments of lasting impact. It is interesting to note the events he chooses to highlight - the memories that he has carried across a lifetime. The ones he selected to record for posterity.

Worth recalls the mundane yet special moments that fill every life such as getting married, having children and earning a job promotion. It takes an individual with an acute sensitivity to realize the bigger picture behind the backdrop of this collage of everyday life. Every life has a fingerprint, no two are the same. There is something to be learned from every one.

Through writing, Worth illustrates an active faith. He does not doubt, but engages the reader into questioning the fundamental purpose of a life. Beneath the surface, questions are there but the ultimate answers remain illusive.

Later in life, illness strikes Worth. His golden years of retirement are filled with coping with a body assaulted by Parkinson's Disease. It is not the situation he imagined for himself. Yet as his physical abilities decline, his mental and spiritual capacities sharpen. He has known all along that life is not fair. Yet he has come to the realization that it can be examined and shared with others.

Does a life come full circle? Does the constant cycle of change lead to a final culminating point? Worth is still examining these primal issues. He has taken the first introspective step with this book. However, his spiritual journey continues.

Hard Times and Great Blessings: The Story of My Life by Kenneth F. Worth is available for $12.95 at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com

A complimentary review copy was provided by Kenneth F. Worth.