Sunday, December 12, 2010

Chinese Blackbird

Sherry Quan Lee’s poetry is mainly focused on ethnic experience as an Asian/African-American living in America. Her poetry book Chinese Blackbird (Modern History Press, 2008) bears close similarity in theme and modes, to her other poetry book How to Write a Suicide Note (Modern History Press, 2008). One perceptible difference is that of tone. How to Write a Suicide Note sounded more poignant and exuding the feeling of ethnic discrimination and identity crisis to the extent of leading one to suicide attempts. But Chinese Blackbird sounds more involved in self-expression and story-telling. Some pieces in this collection are in fact written in prose with the poetic feel coming through loosely maintained rhythm.

After a very warm, inviting preface by David Mura, Sherry Quan Lee’s very first line, “I’m pregnant with myself”, speaks her inner urge of having another birth, a sort of inner rebirth by conscious choice. There come poems then which question the arbitrariness of blackness, the biases gearing the judgmental process, and the deceptive standards of identity (based mainly on skin color). Some of the questions are quite broad and would challenge the intellect as a whole: “Is it too late to break silence?” “Am I the woman I’m in love with?” There is enough in this collection to spark some meaningful discussions.

Chinese Blackbird also tells more about the author’s family and her experience of family life as well as relationships. And at more than one place, it rejects men on different grounds. This is not to say that the poet sounds phobic of men without reason. But her interior self seems to express a greater trust of women, epitomized in the poem “Naming” where her tribute to her mother shows why she ultimately can trust a woman, and with good reason. Maybe, men would like to question her position, but they have to beat the poet’s inner voice with stronger reason and at least equal poetic talent.

If How to Write a Suicide Note was an uplifting book standing for the value of life against adversity, Chinese Blackbird is a poetic picture of the strengths of one’s interior and the possibility that one might find success with living by being true to one’s inner self, even if it implies looking at one’s face in the mirror with no social makeup on. These poems are important in addressing both personal and social aspects of life in a multi-ethnic society.

ISBN: 978-1932690682


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Ticket to Ride

This book is interesting and important in many of its qualities. Primarily, the author Philip Scott Wikel, shows that back in the 60s, with things turning upside down and inside out in individual and social lives in the developed west, two young people didn’t let their sanity detach from the normal and traditional, while also moving ahead with a new spirit of the age. Morgan and Livy – the main characters – are thus simultaneously conventional and unconventional youth of a time when breaking the convention was becoming a rash convention in itself.

Ticket to Ride is a work of great creative and artistic merit, especially when you consider the different styles of narration so flexibly and with perfect literary ease blended together such that various stories set in different times and places are read as self-standing events, and yet are expanded upon later to arrive at a complete end without expressly answering the questions that arise in the reader’s mind. The stories are mostly showing than telling, something highly desirable in literary fiction.

The lead characters hold life and warmth of living it as a dream. A few are unique or quirky, like Psalm, until you actually see what led them there. There is lots of imagery in the book, and the experience of reading really emulates a ticket to ride in the literal sense with descriptions of travel presented in the style of literary journalism, beside journal entries by the main characters. Morgan and Livy also love to fantasize, so much so that Morgan finally has a brief conversation with Herman Melville along a beach. Imagination and love for wisdom at its peak!

Also enjoyable are many snippets, excerpts, and quotes from celebrated works of literature and most popular songs (Beatles remain alive throughout the book). If one must name any weakness of the book here, it must be the typos that are spotted here and there. But the charm of the book is not in the least shadowed by them. From page one to the last line, Ticket to Ride is a treat for the reader with the taste.

ISBN: 1450588271

Amazon Link:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Abramo’s Gift

Donald Greco’s novel Abramo’s Gift (Bridgeway Books, 2008) tells the story of a young Italian Abramo Cardone who moves to America after losing his wife and infant child in a brutal crime incident committed by soldiers in his home country. Arriving in Ohio in 1918, he finds a new place to work and live, not knowing what destiny has in stock for him. As the story proceeds, Abramo suffers another trauma but recovers to a fuller life that has love, belongingness, and even more money than he could think of.

The story on the whole makes an uplifting book with a high value placed on love, respect, and care among the many characters involved. However, the lack of balance is excessively felt throughout the book. Characters, which seem far more in number than needed for a complete story, are not developed well as the story proceeds. There is little real conflict, no climax, and a pretty fulsome ending that annoyingly zooms in on making everybody feel happy and look nice and safe. There is virtually no humor in the nearly 300 pages, making the story feel quite dry. Above all, the novel’s hero – Abramo – feels like a passive, ignored character that is hardly shown doing anything at all (not even speaking).

Chapters in this novel are usually short and there is a lot of telling than showing throughout the plot, resulting in the undesirable ease with which one can guess what’s coming. The only significance of the novel, apparent to me, is a picture of multi-ethnic social setting in early 20th Century America, mostly comprising Italians and Irish immigrants in the area where the story takes place. Though not thoroughly explored, what they did and how they lived may be of interest to readers having a liking for society and history. Personally, I would recommend Abramo’s Gift only to those who loved reading fairytales, and continue to do so.

ISBN: 978-1934454299


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Google Bomb

Sue Scheff and John W. Dozier Jr. have taken up a very important, as well as interesting, topic in this book, i.e. defamation via the Internet. The wonder of computer technology, aka the Internet, especially the most popular search engine Google, never seems to stop amazing its admirers but it also has emerged as one of the most dangerous weapons used for character assassination. In a matter of minutes, it can be used to present you to the world as a villain and, no matter how innocent you are, the dark shadow of a tarnished image haunts you to death. And, if you are in a business, you can certainly expect being ruined financially, at the least.

All these things happened to Google Bomb’s author Sue Scheff as she tells her story with the purpose to create awareness about the issue of cyber-slamming and what one can do about it. Defamation specialist attorney John W. Dozier Jr., the book’s co-author, tells about the legal aspects to online defamation, also referring to Sue’s case as an example. Sue’s story evokes the need for caution and action in the reader’s mind against the malice of cyber-stalkers. It inspires us to stand up against bullying inflicted by using web postings and emails, usually under the cover of anonymity. John’s advice on legal action that victims of cyber defamation can take in defense sounds very helpful and important for everyone to remember. John also guides on other sources that can be used for barricading against online defamation.

The book has been written in chapters and topics alternating between Sue’s story and John’s discussion of the subject. At first, readers may feel bit of confusion about who is talking now, or next, but later, the pattern becomes familiar and easy to follow. The ending is particularly impressive with a compassionate human message written in form of two emails (one by each author) that complement the book’s theme. Google Bomb is an important book for everyone to read and to keep with them in their “first aid” box.

ISBN: 0757314155

Book Website:

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Returning to My Mother’s House

House to Lighthouse; that is what Virginia Woolf would idealize for the feminine ideal; Gail Straub takes the same path, but only back home as she returns to her mother’s house to enliven and liberate the spirit of the feminine in its natural, creative, sustainable, and vibrant state. In her heart-winning memoir Returning to My Mother’s House (High Point Books, 2008), the pioneering empowerment expert takes her readers on a personal, spiritual journey around the world, coming full circle back to her childhood house to embrace the feminine spirit of her artist mother, thus continuing the sacred tradition of balancing the undying life forces up to the most wholesome level.

The metaphor of house is not a new one. It has been extensively used in fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, usually to symbolize the human sense and need of belongingness. E.M. Forster’s classic Howards End is perhaps the best-known work on extending the metaphor of house to imply ‘legacy’. Gail Straub’s concept of ‘house’ is closely similar to the popular use of ‘house’ as ‘belongingness’, though she customizes its boundaries to include the entire concept of feminine wisdom. Gail’s story starts like any other life story: a girl moving into a new house with her family and gradually coming to enjoying the innocent joys in artistic activity and play. Her mother, intrinsically an artist, taught her painting and creating puppets. Growing up in the joy of creativity and tomboy adventures, Gail gradually brook loose from the feminine and delved deeper into the masculine ideal of overachieving and mastering. Things changed however when she came to learn that her mother had not got long in this world. It was then that she would realize the vitality of the feminine, returning gradually to her feminine roots, and hence, her mother’s house. As her inner self evolves, her story becomes more distinct and so does her narrative tone.

Empowerment, inner empowerment of the creative and free spirit, is the motif in Gail’s story. Her travel around the world for organizing feminine spiritual awareness events, personal decision not to have children, and exchange of learning with other women of spiritual radiance, all culminate in the steady, self-conscious return to values of hope, wisdom, and balance in a life that is always clouded by the unpredictable shadow of death. In the last chapter, Completing the Circle, Gail would leave her readers emotionally transfixed as she narrates the scene of receiving the news of her brother’s sudden death while she has been going through a series of death experiences among her friends. How a woman who empowers others responds to this moment of trial shows the true healing potential of her work. Beyond doubt, Returning to My Mother’s House is an empowering book that will be loved by its readers.

ISBN: 978-0963032751

Book Website:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding

Since reading her interview in Reinventing the Future (Thomas A. Bass, 1994) about a decade ago, Sarah Hrdy’s research on primate behavior reserved a place in my memory. Dr. Hrdy, one of the world’s leading anthropologists, has now published her evolutionary study of something that we have long taken for granted – shared care of infants, or “alloparental care” as termed in her recent book Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding (Belknap/Harvard University Press, 2009). The book ventures into accounting for, in evolutionary terms, the unique trait of primates, especially humans, of cooperative breeding.

The core concept of Mothers and Others is that higher primates have a unique capacity for empathizing with others, allowing greater physical and social proximity that provided the genus, and particularly again, the human species, such evolutionary succor as to ensure their survival in otherwise fatally inclement circumstances in the past. Not only that, but this special trait of letting alloparents care for a distantly related, or even entirely unrelated, infants of their kind made them the dominant species with advanced cognitive and emotional abilities. One is naturally then curious in the question how such breeding arose and what caused it to originate? Dr. Hrdy attempts to answer these questions by counting on the scientific evidence available so far on this topic.

As the book’s title reflects, the author’s research points primarily to maternal (mothers) care as well as her biological/social equivalents (others) in rearing offspring, though male alloparental care The book’s chapters take the reader back in historic times when the early hominins were struggling to make it through the ecological challenges of starvation, predation, and disease. Mothers, no matter how committed, would not be enough to ensure proper infant care, or even survival, in such times. Alloparental care from females, especially elder females in the family, would be a necessity to keep life going. Showing how alloparental care prevails in different species, Dr. Hrdy also files a case for greater evolutionary relatedness of humans to bonobos rather than the common chimpanzees. And there are many more interesting and informative concepts in anthropology, evolution, biology, and sociology in this book – all related to the uniqueness of life shaped by millions of years of evolutionary influences.

Mothers and Others also takes many psychological facts and observations, particularly in social psychology, for discussion, such that social interactions are not only seen as matter-of-course but actually evolving entities under natural selection in response to specific needs and dynamic ecological-genetic factors. Thus, we come to learn about, and appreciate, the role nature plays in our moods, preferences, and aversions. And all these are ultimately related to better enabling us in living on this planet. With Mothers and Others, Dr. Hrdy has set the stage for renewed understanding of the connections between our past and present, and she leaves us with the question whether the humans of the future will retain the traits of empathy and caring for others’ emotions.

One striking feature of this book is the quality of the images included in each chapter to complement a topic’s explanation. Each image captures the essence of the related topic and stands on its own as a real story without words. As characterizes any worthy scientific undertaking, Mothers and Others has helpful end notes and a treasure of relevant references for the scientific studies and findings cited in the book. It is one of the landmark publications that bring us closer to know what we are and how we came to be so.

ISBN: 978-0674032996

Amazon Link:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Food Fray: Inside the Controversy over Genetically Modified Food

Genetic engineering might have emerged as the magnet of hope for humans but its flip side couldn’t remain unturned for long. Since as early as 1970s, speculations had started about the manipulative potential of genetic modification of natural life and its consequent horrors. Entering different spheres of life, genetic engineering technologies did not leave aside the core human need – food. And at least some of those who lived by eating voiced their concerns over the genetic modification of food. This book, Food Fray: Inside the Controversy over Genetically Modified Food (AMACOM Books, 2009) by Lisa H. Weasal, PH.D, presents a most interesting, concise, and balanced account of the history of genetically modified (GM) food and the opposition its pioneers and proponents faced as they marched ahead to create what was termed ‘Frankenfood’.

Dr. Weasel’s research into the topic is thoroughgoing, not missing any of the scientific, corporate, consumer, ethical, and regional aspects to the genetic modification of food species by the pioneers and proponents of the GM technology. All along, the reader also gets informed on the role of the media in addressing the issue of how and who is modifying food and at what cost. The author’s coverage of the GM movement and the resistance it aroused in different parts of the world opens a window in perspective to the reader’s understanding: the corporate biotech groups in the US and the health/environment-conscious opposition that stood up against GM food production, mainly in Europe and later in other parts of the world. This compact history of the GM food fray doesn’t fail to offer a look inside the political winds blowing between the developed and developing world.

With increased consumer awareness and steadfast anti-GM activism, the biotech giants have increasingly been pushed back from the frontiers of food production as they advanced with the slogan of eliminating hunger. Even within the United States, the stronghold of world’s biotech leads, consumers’ demand forced sellers to remove genetically manipulated food items off their store shelves. The entire conflict symbolizes nature’s violation by self-satisfied technocrats and human defense of their natural food. While Dr. Weasel’s professional tone does not leak any partiality, the general reader has a good idea where to stand in this US-vs-Them scenario.

Indexed and provided with helpful endnotes, Food Fray is the book for every reader who eats.

ISBN: 978-0814401644

Book Website:

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Stories of Devil-Girl

Anya Achtenberg’s The Stories of Devil-Girl (Modern History Press, 2008) is one of the books that cannot be confidently placed in a single category/genre. We may look at it as fiction, semi-autobiographical non-fiction, experimental prose, memoir, and even rhetoric mixed with narrative. Though not very long, this book is rich in variety of themes and styles adopted to tell multiple stories that would serve as chapters of a single modern tale about contemporary urban life, especially in America.

Most of the situations in these short stories blend the disturbing images of exploitation and abuse with a narrative’s voice – the Devil-Girl – who speaks sometimes in first person, referring to her own life, and sometimes as a commentator on the observations made in her current surroundings or past life. Motifs of sexual abuse, homelessness, and neglect in urban living recur throughout the book. Devil-Girl thus becomes a character and a voice in one, serving a lens that focuses thoughts and feelings of the reader on the poignant images created via words. The mood prevailing in these stories is dominantly resistive but provocatively helpless, calling for human attention.

Despite the feeling of gender-sensitive care searing out of the writer’s heart though her words, Achtenberg’s Devil-Girl remains a child who looks at the exploitative world with redemptive innocence. The situations and character responses in themselves are very critical of the world and of the existence itself, so much that one feels the surrealistic style adopted in many stories is a means of negating existence on the terms of a mad society. Nevertheless, by refusing to act out the true obedience the world expects of her, the Devil-Girl gives us hope in the form of human strength that stands the trails of oppression and is born afresh to see a better day.

If you love reading experimental fiction/non-fiction and new forms of literary approaches to social observation and critique, The Stories of Devil-Girl is just the book for you.

ISBN: 9781932690620

Author Website:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Public Schools Are Archaic

A short book from M.R. Ussery, we are told herein that public schools do not meet the range of educational demands of our children in the 21st century. Public schools are archaic, by which the author is referring to processes and the system only (not meaning thereby to hurt any human agents). The essential learning focus of public school learning is on memorizing and not “doing” besides ignoring the range of the required timeframe among different students for successfully accomplishing the same educational tasks. The book tells us that we need a modern, more flexible, and updated system of education.

To M.R. Ussery, this proposed system comes in the form of learning modules developed for students after assessment of their learning needs and incorporating modern multimedia and digital technologies. There are special learning advantages to gain from schools operating on these modules including a broader range of learning that is not rigidly time-bound and takes into consideration the aspects of a student’s practical achievements. The author proposes a pilot program for developing such a system.

What you will like in this book is that it does not attempt at any kind of negative criticism of public schools. Instead, it proceeds in a very positive tone toward the book’s point, inviting all educated professionals to contribute their own ideas for the potential development of a better educational system. This book is a good read for parents, educators, and policymakers but also for thoughtful individuals from any walk of life.

ISBN: 978-1432758059


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Laura Ann Bradbury (Missing) – A Father's Search

This one is a disturbing, empowering, and thought-provoking book by Mike Bradbury who, along with his father-in-law Dana Scott Winters, has shared his story of 25 years of a hope-and-disappointment cycle experienced during the search for his kidnapped daughter Laura. The little girl, only three-and-a-half then, was abducted from a site of camping in Joshua Tree National Monument, California, in October 1984. Since then, Mike spared no effort in trying to find his daughter, including facing armed criminals and partaking of private investigation. His challenges grew as he discovered the unexpected.

Finding an abducted girl may have been much harder back in the 80s but what made Laura’s case particularly cumbersome were the seams in the efficiency, and even intentionality, of the concerned sheriff’s department. Not responding properly to reports of sightings and exhibiting slackness in investigating suspects as well as handling evidence, the local police soon lost its reliability with Mike and his family, leading to Mike’s personal quest in collaboration with private investigators to find a trace of Laura. This led to an adventure full of risk, desperation, and hope for the Bradburys.

Above all, Mike’s search for Laura was accompanied by the establishment of the Bradbury’s own center for finding the child, attaining organized, collective effort that world serve as an example of self-help for everyone facing loss and/or trauma. Every phone call, every sighting, and each bit of help from volunteers/philanthropists reinforced the belief that good does not prostrate before evil. Mike’s loss became a symbol of threat for the entire community. Criminals existed, were active, and were getting away; they could harm anyone, anytime; and protecting one’s family was no more solely the burden of the law enforcement agencies – it was also one’s own. The way Mike pursued his mission of finding Laura is a winning story with a lesson Never Give In!

Laura Ann Bradbury (Missing) is truly a father’s search. It tells the story from Mike’s side. In one sense, it is more of a man’s book as Patty (Laura’s mother) is not allowed much to tell therein. Yet, it is a book that everyone needs to read, especially the parents and would-be parents, to learn from Mike’s experience and to help their own children grow safer. Laura may still be out there, and Mike’s hope is alive! It is hard to read this book without developing the crushing feeling of somehow reuniting Laura with her family. Mike’s story speaks to the human soul in all of us.

ISBN: 978-1-60264-535-6


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

In the Footsteps of Dracula

The first vampire in literature, Count Dracula, has fascinated millions of people around the world for well over a century. The subject of books, movies, animated films, festivals, and all things gothic – Dracula is omnipresent in the world of darkness. For all those who are curious to learn about the source of Bram Stoker’s timeless character, travel writer Steven P. Unger has recently published In the Footsteps of Dracula: A Personal Journey and Travel Guide (World Audience Publishers, 2010). The book includes Count Dracula’s history, a travel guide to the sites of his origin, and an abundance of photographs of remarkable scenes and places relating to Dracula, all based on the writer’s own travels to Romania and parts of Britain.

Historically, as Unger tells us, Count Dracula’s character is based on the Transylvanian Prince Vlad Tepes – or Vlad The Impaler – who is generally remembered for the torturous practice of impaling thousands of people to death during his rule over part of Transylvania (modern-day Romania) in the 15th Century. After reading this book, one comes to know the history of Vlad Dracula (as he was also called), particularly the difference between legends and facts, which have merged in the cult literature woven around Prince Dracula’s character over the past six centuries.

It is interesting to learn from Unger’s book that Bram Stoker himself never visited Transylvania. Instead, the gothic settings in Dracula (the novel) are modeled on British architecture of the time, blended, in his imagination, with descriptions of Transylvania as recorded by a British diplomat in 1820. Most of the novel was written in Whitby (England), and Unger shows the relevant sites in original pictures that impart the sensation of being present in the authentic world of horror history.

The latter part of the book is a concise travel guide to Romania and to a few places in Britain relating to Count Dracula, Prince Vlad the Impaler, and Bram Stoker. Steven P. Unger has taken care to include important guidelines for the independent traveler on topics including modes of transportation, money, health and security, lodging, restaurants, and more. In the Footsteps of Dracula is a portable guide to one of the darkest characters in the world of gothic literature and to his historical counterpart, Prince Vad Dracula the Impaler. Anyone thinking of traveling to Europe should not miss taking along this absorbing, helpful book.

ISBN: 9781935444534


Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Perfect Formula Diet

(Reviewed for TCM Reviews)

Unlike most other books on diet and health, Janice Stanger’s The Perfect Formula Diet can be called a complete health guide, showing the health threats of bad food choices as well as explaining, in an easy yet impressive manner, why we need to return to our natural diet – whole foods from plants sources.

What is particularly interesting and important about this book is that the author has thoroughly researched facts, drawing on over a thousand research studies. These include eye-opening findings about some very popular animal food hypes that are not usually heeded in most health/diet books. For example, the general belief that fish and dairy are health-friendly foods and should be regularly taken has been convincingly refuted by the author. Also, that plants do not provide enough calcium to strengthen bones has been shown as a myth rather than a fact. And many more concealed facts about diet and health have been brought to attention in Janice Stanger’s book.

Showing how animal foods and other unhealthy choices mar our natural, perfect physical and mental health, The Perfect Formula Diet tells about the six types of perfect foods that are not only the ultimate solution to our health problems, but also to most of our environmental problems and certainly to the sufferings inflicted on animals. The Perfect Foods recommended in this book are also a natural recipe for the perfect weight we can attain without much aimless, self-defeating effort that so many of us indulge in with heavy costs. And yet, the author shows, we blindly follow foods that never were meant for us.

I was also very impressed by the author’s environment-friendly spirit as she tells in her book about not including the one thousand references in the book, so as to save paper, instead posting them online. With a valuable list of resources for getting started with the perfect formula diet, this book is recommended as a must-read for everyone.

Book Website:

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Confessions of a Former Child: A Therapist's Mem

In his childhood, Daniel Tomasulo had a recurring dream in which he kept struggling to complete a large jigsaw puzzle lying over a source of light, but the moment he fitted the final piece in place to complete the puzzle, the light source lying beneath the puzzle was entirely covered and darkness resulted, making Daniel so uncomfortable that he’d remove the piece again to let the light out. The trade-off between a solved puzzle and light remained for decades in Daniel’s real life as he grew up to be a professional psychologist who helped children, including the one living inside him, to stay connected to the light in their lives. His memoir Confessions of a Former Child lights select scenes of growth from his past.

Childhood and family relationships take center stage in Daniel’s memoir. Far from being a gloom-and-doom journey, his childhood underscores the uniqueness of child-like curiosity which made him stop foods with seeds after he was told that conception starts with a seed. This innocence seems never to have left his life as the adventures from his childhood are paralleled in his later life where he responds in unusual ways to challenging life situations – the upcoming birth of his first child, for example – and works with unusual patients with psychological problems. Both happy and gloomy sides of life are instantiated in the author’s memories of his family and profession, making his book and enthralling experience.

It takes more than wisdom alone to make a memoir a complete life story that vibrates to an average reader; it takes skill and creative thought. Daniel Tomasulo exhibits both the latter in his book whose chapters connect memorable parts of his childhood and later years meaningfully, just like the letters in the word ‘Life’. What passed in his past returned in his future, albeit in a different form and with different characters; and that he grew in understanding through learning is put cogently in each chapter. His memoir is thus not only his story but a complete story of human life in our times.

As a writer, Daniel stands out from the crowd. His narrative skills are incredibly engaging and his passages truly memorable. His words speak to the instincts and emotions of the reader. He also employs humor, especially the hyperbole, to freshen up the reader, never letting them wanting to put the book down. One of his most impressive skills shows in his dialogues, especially when he practices role-taking – something that, perhaps, comes natural to him as a psychodrama trainer.

Confessions of a Former Child also has some important information on healing, particularly on relief from anxiety and depression through group therapy and energy healing through Reiki. It is a complete book that ends with the author’s arrival at the solution of his childhood’s puzzling dream. He leaves the puzzle and chooses over it the light that is hiding underneath – an ending that is a potential beginning of eternal light in the lives of his readers.

ISBN: 978-1555974992