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Book Review: Super Jack Eats His Broccoli

Super Jack Eats His Broccoli. Michele Hilgart. Mascot Books: November 7, 2017, Hardcover and E-book, 38 pages.

Reviewed by Barb Belford.

Michele Hilgart sets out to help parents (and teachers) of picky eaters with Super Jack Eats His Broccoli, a picture book for toddlers, preschoolers, and early primary students. “Super” Jack Murphy is a pirate-enemy, baby-sister-saver, who is quite skeptical about eating vegetables—particularly green vegetables. When he finds out from his soccer coach that superfoods like broccoli and carrots make heroes strong and healthy, Jack decides to give them a try.

Hilgart uses simple kid-language to tell an appealing story about a little boy who doesn’t want to eat his vegetables. Parents will relate to Jack and his superhero persona. Hilgart shows sensitivity to family mealtime by showing Jack’s mom as the only adult eating with the children at the dinner table. It’s never explained whether Jack’s mom is a single mom, or whether work schedules prevent both parents eating with the children at mealtime, and the thoughtfulness that went into the author’s decision about this is appreciated.

Hilgart’s illustrations spread the important message of healthy eating. While they’re not as rich and realistic as some picture books, they will engage children’s imaginations. The speech-balloons create the opportunity for discussions about making predictions and inferences while reading. There’s plenty of white space on each page, and the font is the right size for parents who are teaching early reading skills, like one-to-one matching, and are able to point to words while reading them out loud. As an added bonus the book has a short glossary of ten superfoods, each with a large illustration and a fantastic explanation.

Michele Hilgart lives in the Chicago suburbs, and is a working mom, lifestyle coach, and blogger. Her goal is helping other moms put in place healthy fitness and nutrition habits for their families. Super Jack Eats His Broccoli assists nicely in achieving that goal.

I really enjoyed the clever way Jack became empowered to make good choices for healthy eating. I recommend this book to moms and teachers. I even know of a couple of grandchildren who will soon be reading this book—for fun and for superfood empowerment.



Book Review: Lovely Faze

Lovely Faze. Owen Patterson. Chicago: BREVIS Publishing, August 1, 2017, Trade Paperback and E-book, 98 pages.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Melvin.

A deceptively thin collection in an azure cover of flowers-in-motion came across my desk, and the next thing I know, little drops of distortion and disturbances came to me from Owen Patterson’s book, Lovely Faze. As the title would suggest, this poetry collection challenges the reader’s perception by embracing image. The poetry is simple and direct. In a recognizable Midwestern dialect, moments of grief, love, and joy roll across the page. The lasting image of each poem really resonates beyond the initial reading.

Owen Patterson was raised and educated here in the Second City. His background as a tutor, special education paraprofessional, and behavioral health counselor no doubt contribute to his baffling presentation of the human condition. Lovely Faze is his debut work and introduces us to a thoughtful wordsmith of resonating depth.

When I read this work, the faze—the disconcertion—hit me first. I found the imagery in works like ‘There Serene Drama’ and ‘What Remains’ easy to see and follow, yet, like drops of water in a pond, it took a while for the meaning to ripple out and become clear. The work is alluring in that it allows the images to gently evoke the stories and emotions of the poems. The brevity and clarity of the language allows it to be revisited, for that moment to be isolated, until it resonates beyond the words.

The collection is split into three parts. Part One is Lovely, which includes poems about nature and love. There is a resonating heat in these poems supported by beautiful imagery. ‘Ease and Repose’ is a seven-line poem hinged on a single image of “the star in my sky,” and you can feel your entire being exhale as you read these simple direct lines.

My favorite is ‘Missed Inspiration’ from Part Two—Faze. This poem, like others in this section of the book, is full of images that should not make sense and yet are completely correct in spirit.  It speaks of opening and of rain: “I opened my mind/ a wellspring flowed.” The concept of losing that idea in the moment is expressed with this saturated poem. Patterson’s work is often more felt than visualized.

The final section of the book is entitled Memes, where Patterson breaks from poetic construct and instead isolates excerpts of social media. Taking social media commentary or shared moments out of the context of the Internet is powerful; removing the visual cues, the other posts that typically surround an update, leaves the black and white text on an unadorned page. It’s much like speaking to a crowded room that has been silenced. It allows the full weight of the words to ring out on their own to express humor, anger, and sarcasm so that instead of being buried with little ‘likes’ or emojis, the reader is left alone with the words themselves. This robs the reader of the interaction that we so often have with social media, which is to craft our response as we read. By taking these phrases off of social media, readers are encouraged to listen and leave their own ideas at rest for a moment. Instead of adding our two cents, we are invited to just experience the voice of another.

It was after this third section of the book that I went back to revisit the poems and read with a quiet mind. This is a collection of work that can be read and reread, each time finding more in the concise and lovely poems. I would recommend this collection to anyone who wants to set their own voice aside for just a moment to hear, to allow this voice to resonate, to find the story behind the simple ‘sleeping sun’ and ‘waters slipping through my fingers,’ and to enjoy the strength of the written word. 



Book Review: Trial and Commitment

Trial and Commitment. J. Gasparich. AuthorHouse, March 8, 2017, Trade Paperback and E-book, 286 pages.

Reviewed by Paige Doepke.

In Trial and Commitment, author J. Gasparich explores the near-misses in life that completely shift the path on which a person was originally headed. He uses two characters, Michael and Mark, both young men about the same age, to tell a somewhat heavy story about moral obligation versus obligation to family.

Michael, a medical student in Chicago, is dealing with the transition from medical school into the fire academy. His decision puts a strain on his relationship with his father, a surgeon, and ends a long-term relationship with his girlfriend. However, he believes in himself and feels a strong obligation to the people of Chicago to become a firefighter.

Mark, a good-hearted immigrant from Chechnya with a checkered past, is presented with the opportunity to help his family who is in a dire situation back home. Unfortunately, it would force him to become a major player in a catastrophic terrorist attack. Like Michael, Mark must turn away from family obligations to do what is morally right.

Both characters face a major life event, one most people face in young adulthood—the opportunity to choose yourself and your future over your family’s idea of your future. I think the way Gasparich presents the concept of choosing ones’ destiny, through characters who are so different, is fascinating.

Michael and Mark are living parallel lives, though very different versions. While Michael is learning to protect the city, Mark is involved in a plot to ruin it. In the midst of it all, both characters are given the opportunity for love, and both have to fight for that love.

To me, the most suspenseful part of this story is finding out which direction Mark chooses to go in his life—good or bad. 

What I really loved about this novel was Gasparich’s ability to make the reader root for Mark in hopes that he makes the right decision. It would have been really easy for Gasparich to villainize Mark, but I love that he made him human, and his ability to do so says a lot about his skills as a writer.

I recommend Trial and Commitment to everyone, especially readers interested in politics, coming-of-age novels, medicine, and law enforcement. 



Book Review: Let’s Get To Work: Episode Two of The Prodigy Series

Let’s Get To Work: Episode Two of The Prodigy Series. John F. Thomas. Los Angeles: Thomas Heri Visions, July 2, 2017, Trade Paperback and E-book, 96 pages.

Reviewed by Jose Nateras.

In author John F. Thomas’ second installment of The Prodigy Series, readers find themselves thrust right into the action. Picking up where the first book left off, Let’s Get to Work continues the story of young John Prodigy as he trains in preparation for the impending Affinity Trials. As with many sequels, Let’s Get to Work avoids excess exposition or world building, instead relying on the given circumstances established in the series’ first installment, Humble Beginnings. In that way, Let’s Get to Work feels almost like the second episode of a television show or comic book, rather than a complete work in and of itself. Given the short length of the chapters and book as whole, there is something almost episodic about it. Overall, this works, allowing the story to function as a smaller part of a larger series; this makes it a fun, quick read that leaves the reader excited for the next installment.

As an author, Thomas definitely wears his influences on his sleeve. With hints of The Karate Kid, The Hunger Games, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Maze Runner, and even Naruto, Thomas creates a fun world, complete with a fantastic map that manages to be simultaneously familiar and new. Action happens as quickly as the plot develops and a clear sense of the author’s enthusiasm for the material imbues the book with a youthful sense of adventure. Choosing to write in the present tense adds to the sense that John Prodigy’s struggles are happening in a moment-to-moment way that, while sometimes disorienting, allows readers to strongly associate with the young protagonist’s state of mind. As a narrative overall, Let’s Get to Work definitely succeeds in its goal to create a new piece of genre fiction along the lines of the author’s previously mentioned influences. Is it relatively derivative? Sure, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. Thomas achieves something extremely refreshing in the use of familiar genre conventions to put a main character of color in the center of a fairly established narrative form—especially since the book doesn’t try to be anything more than it is. Thomas’ commitment to the genre allows readers to enjoy his work as genre material, and by doing so, he creates an original character that resembles some we’ve seen before.  

Fans of young adult fiction, in particular of the action or fantasy variety, will definitely find Let’s Get to Work an entertaining jaunt through the world that Thomas has lovingly crafted. As with any original fantasy world, the intricacies and structures at play within Thomas’ fictive society do take some parsing out, and as such, it would behoove readers to consider reading the first installment in the series beforehand. Jumping into Let’s Get to Work without the context provided in Humble Beginnings definitely risks leaving newcomers to the series at a bit of a loss.



Book Review: Seeds of Intention

Seeds of Intention. Andrea Thome. Hesse Creek Media: September 5, 2017, Trade Paperback, E-book, and Audiobook, 312 pages.

Reviewed by Kandice Cole.

Seeds of Intention is the second book in the Hesse Creek series by Andrea Thome. This novel takes place at the Walland Resort nestled in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The setting provides a gorgeous backdrop that adds richness and depth. The story follows the journey of Garrett, the talented gardener at the Walland, and Willow, the new resort manager, as their paths intertwine after an unexpected turn of events finds Garrett reeling from a failed marriage proposal.

Willow quickly feels a romantic connection with Garrett after several chance encounters at the resort. She attempts to express her interest in Garrett one evening but is quickly rejected. Garrett does not intend to do that, but his broken heart has left him feeling defensive. He feels the connection too but is uncertain that he wants to open up his heart again. Willow respects his wishes and stays distant but cannot avoid him completely since they work together. Even from afar, Garrett finds himself becoming more attracted to her as they casually get to know one another. With the help of their mutual friends Wyatt and India, who were the main characters of the first Hesse Creek Series book, they start to open up to one another and develop a friendship. Their platonic relationship turns romantic after a Thanksgiving dinner ends early due to India going into labor.

As they both learn to trust one another and be vulnerable, their relationship quickly blossoms. Garrett gains an unwavering devotion to Willow and shows his commitment by every action that he takes to protect her. Willow gives Garrett the validation and care that he needs to be honest and intimate with her. Willow finds herself experiencing one tough situation after the next, and Garrett is by her side. From near-death experiences to cross-country relocations, they navigate it all with grace and love.

Fans of Nicholas Sparks’ books will enjoy Andrea Thome’s writing. She manages to tell a classic romantic story that is interesting, vibrant, and surprising. She writes in unexpected twists to the plot that feel realistic and not overly exaggerated. The characters are well-developed and the supporting characters play an important role in shaping the story. She delicately weaves the characters from the first Hesse Creek novel into this second one, connecting both stories naturally.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and found myself longing to visit the Smoky Mountains that Andrea describes in such great detail. I am looking forward to the next installment of the Hesse Creek series. I would highly recommend it if you are looking for women's fiction, romance, or general fiction to add to your reading list.