Author: Don Sloan

I am a former journalist with a major daily newspaper and now am a full-time Indie book reviewer. I love to write, read, drink good wine, and take short naps in front of my fireplace here in the North Carolina mountains.

If It Works, Use It by Toni Elizabeth Sar’h Petrinovich

Of all the Reverend Doctor Toni Petrinovich’s many truisms in her life-altering book If It Works, Use It, the phrase that has stuck with me most goes back to a passage from the Bible — from the Old Testament, to be exact.

Early on, Almighty God (whom my cynical young friends and I referred to in secret as The Great and Powerful Wizard of Was) refers to Himself by the mystical two-word aphorism “I Am.”

When you’re sixteen and still convinced that you know everything, such a declaration is wonderfully arrogant — as if God is saying, “I have no reason to explain my cruel and destructive actions to you, young whipper snapper, so I will shroud myself in unknowable monikers and leave you to puzzle out my Goodness or Badness for yourself.”

And so this cosmic conundrum has in fact troubled me for the better part of sixty years — this reckoning between the benevolent Father figure Jesus portrays in the New Testament and the brimstone-belching deity that lays waste to entire Middle East regions because they ignored (or were blissfully unaware of) one Supreme Commandment or another.

The Reverend Doctor Petrinovich at last clears away the decades of misunderstanding, however, by saying, in effect, “If such a fundamentally powerful concept as this has prevented you from knowing true peace for that long, my friend, I am indeed sorry.”

And then she goes about the business of patiently explaining what Jehovah felt beneath Himself to explain countless eons ago. And that is, in essence, “Trouble yourself no longer over this inexplicable duality and focus instead on what it takes for you to realize such a state of plateau-like peace.”

For that is, and was, and forevermore will be, the true point of what God meant by referring to himself as, simply, “I AM.”

Petrinovich has penned a beautiful and easy-reading text consisting of just 37 chapters to make her point. (It took the original King James Version of The Bible more than 1,189 chapters to reach a far less satisfying conclusion). And a powerful point it is.

She asks, rhetorically, “What does it mean for you to live as Divine Awareness?”

Then, she goes on to explain succinctly that “Living in this universe as an expression of Source is a day-to-day awareness of perfection no matter the situation or circumstances.

“Awareness is. Awareness is not positive or negative, nor does it hold specific beliefs. It is not creating a condition of right or wrong, good or bad.

“To live a daily life as I AM, which is what you mean by Divine Awareness, means you accept everything that is happening without judging it as right or wrong.”

She says she was once asked a question based upon her statement that she remembered the ‘other side of the veil’ or being non-physical. The question was, ‘“What is it like?”’

“I had not been asked that question before,” she says, “so I was silent as I looked for the perfect word or words to use as a description of non-physicality. My response was, “’It is a realm without judgment.’”

And thus, in just a few well-chosen paragraphs, she both explains God’s perception of the human condition from His lofty eyrie of unfathomable inscrutability and, in the same few breaths, observes that the phrase “I AM” has become woefully misunderstood.

If it is, in fact, such a blameless place as Dr. Petrinovich portrays, it seems He could have merely said as much and saved centuries of endless speculation.

And so, having dwelt upon this particular point overlong, we realize there are 36 other fine chapters of her book that we are, for reasons of space limitations, leaving for exploration by you, The Reader.

Suffice to say, however, they are equally profound, touching on such diverse topics as:

Unity
Ah-Ha Moments
Metaphysics
Faith
Love
Unconditional Love
Life Purpose
Self-Expression
Obstacles
Co-Creation and a particularly choice chapter on something she calls
Twin Souls

If It Works, Use It, receives our very highest rating of five-plus stars and stands far above the sometimes ubiquitous genre of Self-Help to rest comfortably with the likes of Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now.

If you’re a seeker after inner peace, this is certainly a good place to start.

Amazon Link

 

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Serpents of Old by Kirk Millson

Serpents of Old is a novel steeped in Southwest atmosphere and mystery,. Author Kirk Millson’s familiarity with Arizona and Mexico’s byways (albeit now changed by growth and technology) lends a solid background to the evolving story of dogs, murder, and desert struggles when reporter Carter Miguel follows his nose for trouble from Arizona to Utah.

A young mother vanishes during an Arizona hike; then her children also vanish from their Salt Lake City home. The father is suspect, but but Carter thinks a different story might be in play than the cut-and-dry case the investigating detective wants to slap on matters. Carter’s probe leads to a Utah community, a con artist whose latest deal is threatened by the reporter’s nosing around, and a dangerous truth that isn’t easy to come by, given the detective’s adversarial relationship with the determined reporter.

There are many angles that separate this southwest-steeped mystery from other genre reads to make it an exception to any formula approach. One of the strongest is this clash between investigators, and each’s special interest in the case.

It turns out that Carter is not only reporting on a puzzle and trying to solve it, but has stirred up a virtual hornet’s nest of dangerous special interests in the process of doing his job.

Another strong feature of Serpents of Old lies in its astute cross-cultural descriptions as Mexican soldiers encounter American investigators and escapees on the run from justice.

There’s also an undercurrent of humor that runs through it, as when Tom discovers that his escape plane has been running on fumes, and that Pedro must leave him alone with it in search of gas, tamales, or tequila.

The characters are solid enough to keep the story flowing, and but not too numerous, which makes it easy to follow the story line’s circuitous route through different perspectives and special interests.

Who is pulling the strings behind an innocent man’s indictment for murder? How have the Atoners gotten a toehold in law enforcement circles, and how can romantic feelings between suspect Tom and Casey evolve in the crosshairs of a justice system gone wrong and a flight to freedom? As a teaser about one of the story’s underlying themes, dog lovers also are thrown a pleasantly unexpected bone.

All these angles intersect to create a vivid story that will especially delight fans of Tony Hillerman and others interested in capturing the southwest landscape against the backdrop of murder, mystery, and struggles for justice.

Amazon Link

The Legacy and the Lion: Book One of the Yusan Chronicles by Elaine Jemmett

The Legacy and the Lion is the first book in the Yusan Chronicles, a military sci-fi story that holds a different atmosphere than most. It’s set in the future, but focuses on a primitive world of kings, horse-riding soldiers, murder plots, and power plays. It actually reads more like a history of an ancient world than a chronicle of a futuristic one.

In this setting, soldier Patrick seems to have no obvious connections after the death of his family. His introduction to a new post where political and social differences abound makes for an absorbing story of change, adaptation, different layers of political purpose, and angst.

Those who anticipate a post-apocalyptic tale should be advised that, in many ways, The Legacy and the Lion focuses on military and political maneuvering as it follows Patrick’s entry into the alien (to him) society of Yusay and its very different approaches to life. The usual trappings of a survival story or new society’s evolution are largely set aside in favor of this focus on Patrick’s adaptation process as he creates a life in the kingdom which is to be his new home.

It should also be noted that this is no light production. Elaine Jemmett takes the time to build her characters and the world in which they operate, resulting in a richer, fuller-bodied, less action-packed read than leisure readers usually receive.

These notes aside, The Legacy and the Lion is simply outstanding in its world-building approach and its strong characters and their individual concerns. The central protagonist Patrick, who faces a new job, a king’s commands, mysteries and plots, and the changing political atmosphere of a society under siege, brings all these pieces together.

As events move full circle into Patrick’s realizations about his own family ties, readers receive a satisfying, multifaceted story that is as much a mystery and political examination as it is the story of one man’s search for a new place and realizations in a futuristic world.

It’s especially highly recommended for readers who like multi-volume series reads steeped in social, political, and military encounters.

Amazon Link

Encouragement: How to Be and Find the Best by Cathy Burnham Martin

In her extraordinary book, Encouragement: How to Be and Find the Best, author Cathy Burnham Martin exudes an enthusiasm for life unmatched in other self-help books that claim to boost your spirit and world view.

This articulate narrative examines expertly the reasons why we should surround ourselves with cheerleaders — people who either call out from the sidelines, ‘You can do it!’” Or those that “may stand quietly in front of us and look us in the eyes, as they calmly infirm, ‘You’ve got this.’”

Burnham goes on to provide a wealth of lists, tips and inspirational quotes to bolster her assertions that anyone can attain — and keep — a winning attitude.

On the flip side, she also warns against extensive association with negative individuals whom she calls “Discouragers,” who carry with them each day an abundance of negativity which they bestow freely upon anyone who is finally getting the upper hand on things.

“Discouragers see the gloom in every room, the cloud on every silver lining, and the problem in front of every solution,” Burnham reports.

Next, she marches confidently through the book, touching briefly on such vital topics as how to deal effectively with despair by quoting a no less venerable source than the Bible: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” — Proverbs 17:22

And then she follows that helpful admonition by citing the profound observation of a man who truly outlasted more opportunities for despair than most of us will ever know: Nelson Mandela, who said, “It always seems impossible until it is done.”

Really, the book is one remarkable observation after another — many of them Burnham’s own, bubbling up from her deep well of sincere belief that every day and every hour gives us a chance to excel, and to be, as the old advertisement used to say, “All that (we) can be.”

“Sometimes the brightest lights come out of the darkest corners,” she intones during a brief discussion on the value of not giving up.

Space limitations on this review require us to fall back on the timeworn saying that you’re just going to have to get this incredible new book and read it cover to cover in order to get the maximum impact from it.

Five-plus stars to Encouragement: How to Be and Find the Best. Get it for yourself or as a special gift to anyone who has issues with self-esteem ot is dealing with hard times. It might not cure their lifelong feelings of inadequacy, or be a cureall for their current circumstances, but it could definitely provide lifesaving inspiration and a firm footstep toward a more meaningful tomorrow.

We’ll close with this inspirational advice from someone who left a legacy befitting her quiet dedication to excellence. Marie Curie, first woman to win the Nobel Prize, said, “Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that?  We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves.  We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.”

This book is available for instant download or delivery as a paperback keepsake gift from Amazon today.

Here’s the link.

Plum Rains on Happy House by Michael Greco

Review by Diane Donovan

Plum Rains on Happy House is set in Japan, where an odd kind of boarding house containing a strange cast of characters engages a Westerner, Lawrence Thornberry (called ‘the Ichiban’ by the house observer), in a culture clash of oddity that opens with a powerful description of this individual’s countenance:

“He wore pointy shoes that were like two little brown puppies scurrying on the leash ahead of their owner, determined to get somewhere before anyone else. The Ichiban looked like a ski jump with feet—his body always seemed a half step behind, as if his shoes were in charge and the rest of him was just along for the stroll.”

The first important key to appreciating Michael A. Greco’s production is an acceptance of its quiet descriptions and contrasts between Japanese and American cultures.

His approach to description, which might seem so exquisitely wrought to some (as in the passage above, which will particularly appeal to poets with a solid appreciation of metaphorical color), might feel a bit too slow to others.

Greco himself remarks on cultural differences in many ways throughout the story, providing further clues to his plot and choices which belay the Westerner’s usual penchant for fast-paced action and startling surprises over astute observation:

“No one smiled at him as he passed with his bulky backpack and his suitcase, and this confirmed things he had heard or read; the observations of Westerners that the Japanese were not an outgoing bunch, rather stand-offish, inward looking, not exactly what you’d call friendly—the opposite of what the world considered Americans to be: open and affable, fat, gun-toting, frontier individuals.”

Readers who approach this story awaiting a crescendo of action may thus be disappointed, but others able to see this novel for what it is–an astute, reflective piece taking the time to peel away layers of Japanese psyche and society like an onion–will discover riches in the odd cast of characters, quirky old house, efforts of an English teacher to absorb Japanese culture, and the haunting reflections of a different kind of sentient house that holds the heartbeat of Japan within its walls.

There are no seismic events in this story: no shocking confrontations or thriller-style moments. Indeed, its winding plot and characters sometimes thwart the reader’s logical understanding as much as the historically enigmatic Japanese culture may defy neat categorization and pat interpretation.

As a result, some readers might see the story as elusive and puzzling. Perhaps the best prerequisite to a thorough appreciation of Greco’s tale is to hold a prior appreciation of surrealism art’s ability to take familiar places and objects and skew them for a different, thought-provoking result. Viewed in this manner, the fine art of cultural inspection and impressions give Plum Rains on Happy House a unique literary feel that sets it apart from other stories.

This story will especially please wordsmiths and poets, as well as those familiar with Japanese culture and scenarios. These audiences will find the literary work delightful and evocative where everyday readers might find it hard to pin down and challenging, and will appreciate the haunted house’s major role in influencing “the Ichiban” and his obsessions.

The house is flowering–and so will the reader, if they allow proper time to walk Plum Rains on Happy House’s surreal hallways. This is a gem of metaphorical description, and provides insights that linger in the mind long after the mysterious, true nature of Happy House draws to an end.

Amazon Link

Deliberate Deception by Joe Porrazzo

Review by Cy Young, Publishers Daily Reviews

Great writers are often measured by reviewers using a literary yardstick of sorts.

In “The Art of Dramatic Writing,” Lajos Egri applies a mathematical formula to dramatic structure.  He contends that the degree to which the reader cares about the main character and the depth of the danger he endures is in exact proportion to the readers’ satisfaction at the end of the story.

In Deliberate Deception, skilled storyteller Joe Porrazzo executes this formula to perfection.

To deal with the first element of the equation, the reader instantly sympathizes with Alex Porter, who’s just moved to Tucson and opened a P.I. office.  His first assignment, to test the security systems of Doolittle-Mitchell Air Force Base, is successful, partly due to his experience as a retired Air Force OSI Colonel.  Porter’s painful background, the loss of his wife and daughter, add greatly to his appeal.

The P.I. is quickly pulled into a complex plot involving six murders, all occurring within a week’s time.  The deeper Alex digs into these murders, the more threats to his life multiply.

What follows with lighting speed and mind-boggling plot twists is a masterfully told drama of fascinating intrigue, deceptive characters who are seldom who they seem to be, and a ‘What the hell is gonna happen next!’ thrust that keeps the reader on edge waiting anxiously for the next unexpected and surprising slam in the gut.

Porrazzo, a retired U. S. Air Force officer still employed at the Department of Defense, expertly weaves his knowledge and experience of covert operations, as well as a full familiarity of police work, into a fascinating complexity of danger and a spellbinding panorama of action, surprise, and dramatic tension.

The story shifts effortlessly from Tucson to Trinidad to D.C.  We were particularly hooked by Porrazzo’s military expertise, his sense of drama, and his ability to combine Air Force protocol with interesting characters who always kept tricking us with their false facades.

His descriptions of locales, scenery, and neighborhood angst were compelling.  We could smell the decay and poverty of the Tunapuna District of Trinidad where Porter goes to meet Ronnie Brown, a minor but interesting player.

Finally, the dialogue moves quickly and reveals character. And referring back to the formula for a great work of fiction, the writer masterfully fulfills the first piece of the mathematical equation by making us care deeply for Alex through the trials he endures…leading us to the second part by providing a satisfying ending to the drama.

The final equation: Deliberate Deception = Five-Plus Stars.

Amazon Link

CFI! The Book: A Satirical Aviation Comedy by Alex Stone

Step into a world where student pilots repeatedly overshoot runways, foreigners desperate for a pilot’s license are casually extorted for an upfront nonrefundable fee of $10,000. And their instructors are all so broke that they spray Windex on their dress shirts every day to avoid the expense of washing them.

Is this comical fiction or appalling fact?

Flight instructor-turned author Alex Stone isn’t saying for the record. But his hilarious look inside one hapless flight school employee’s life is enough to make you wonder if the skies above you are safe or if an incompetent student pilot isn’t about to suddenly nose dive into your house, killing your whole family in one spectacular, pyrotechnic event.

It’s possible & even arguably probable if this book, with its memorable, offbeat characters and uneasy message are to be believed. But in the end, it’s probably just a harmless good read — something to curl up with by the fire and enjoy this winter, or throw in the beach hamper this summer.

Wherever you read it, you won’t be disappointed.

Stone delivers a solid, well-written narrative with an ensemble cast of fallible, believable players, like George, the perennial student who can’t seem to find the airport at which he’s supposed to land even when he’s flying right over it. Then there’s the beyond-weird father and his look-alike five-year-old son who show up for a demo ride, saluting and giggling right up to the moment he panics in-flight, seizing the controls in a dangerous death grip.

And finally, running this sleazy fly-by-night flight school is Todd, the owner who would rather see one of his planes disappear with all hands on board so he can collect on insurance than perform anything like proper maintenance on his ratty fleet of Sixties-era aircraft.

Yes, it’s a dysfunctional gathering of misfit students and desperate pilot instructors populating the pages of this rare glimpse into just how the pilot of your last commercial flight may have paid his or her dues down in the likes of this Florida flight school, where instructors are cheating death every day just trying to earn enough flight hours to move up one more level to a flying job that is more than a cut above the national poverty level.

And while the text is often peppered with aviation terms familiar only to pilots, Stone does include a handy glossary in the back to help any bewildered readers sort it all out. But even without that, the book is carried along nicely by the diverting antics of students and management, and the lengths to which instructors must go to keep the whole enterprise afloat.

Five stars to CFI. It’s a heckuva good book — but don’t read it if you’re about to go up in a private plane. You might seriously wonder if you’ll ever come down again in one piece.

Amazon Link