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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.



Book Review: Pink Slips

Pink Slips. Beth Aldrich. Restoring Essence, June 5, 2017, Trade Paperback, E-book, and Audiobook, 266 pages.

Reviewed by Jessica Cage.

With Pink Slips, Beth Aldrich makes a smooth transition into novel writing from her previous work: Real Moms Love to Eat, a non-fiction book filled with yummy recipes. The story is set in Chicago, where a pregnant Betsy is receiving threatening notes and is left home alone when her husband is away for business. She is left vulnerable and afraid and in an unexpected twist, her dog Barney is there to help her through it. From the opening pages, the reader is engaged and intrigued wanting to know more about the characters inside.

Pink Slips is a touching yet suspenseful story. Though Betsy’s connection with Barney comes a little bit out of left field and could have been better developed, the interactions between her and her pup are enjoyable and readers will grow to care about Aldrich’s characters and become thoroughly swept up in the action. This is a clean and easy read. Overall, it is well done.



Book Review: Jumping Over Shadows: A Memoir

Jumping Over Shadows: A Memoir. Annette Gendler. Berkeley, CA: She Writes Press, April 4, 2017, Trade Paperback and E-book, 232 pages.

Reviewed by Deb Lecos.

Jumping Over Shadows is a powerful and creative telling of the author falling in love with a Jewish man, their eventual marriage, and her conversion to Judaism. Ms. Gendler layers this narrative with the story of her Great Aunt Resi’s marriage to a Jew, just prior to the Nazi takeover of Germany. The author answers the question “Is there any form of love not worth fighting for?” She takes a reader on a journey through her introduction to the Jewish faith and her own questions about what she believes, the complexities of interfaith relationships, and the horror and pain that has been heaped upon the Jewish people and those that loved them during the Nazi era and the modern world.

Throughout this personal and honest memoir, Ms. Gendler beautifully interlaces two time periods, bringing readers along as she learns more about the history of her family. In Czechoslovakia, a few years before the war, the author’s Great Aunt Resi fell in love with a Jewish man at a time when different religions not only kept people apart but, in the ensuing years, being Jewish or related to a Jew got people killed in gas chambers. When the day arrived that Nazis assumed power over their hometown, Resi and her husband Guido had to make a terrible choice for the sake of their children.

With that as the tragic backdrop, in Germany 1985, Annette Gendler meets and falls in love with a Jewish man whose family prefers him to marry a woman of the Jewish faith. He is a child of survivors of the Holocaust and she a German shiksa—a non-Jewish woman. They keep their relationship a secret until they are sure the love they have for each other can survive the scrutiny and judgment of an interfaith and intercultural marriage.

After the author marries Harry Gendler, she learns the traditions of keeping a Jewish home kosher. As she is schooled in the art of making gefilte fish from her husband’s Aunt Rachel, Ms. Gendler speaks to Harry on the phone in German. Aunt Rachel, who had been imprisoned in a concentration camp, had heard German on many occasions in her past. When the phone call ends, Aunt Rachel wonders aloud why she cannot understand the dialect Annette used. German soldiers had beaten her nearly to death in Auschwitz, their language no doubt a painful reminder.

As this illuminating memoir moves through Annette Gendler’s eventual conversion to Judaism, the author reflects on what faith means—not only to her, but also to the broader issues our world is currently struggling with. Walls that have been built through separation, both by beliefs and the real bricks stacked between us, cannot stop the force of humanity rising. Germany making it illegal to use or distribute swastikas, perform Nazi salutes, or have statues memorializing Nazis, and the destruction of the wall dividing that country are a testament to what is possible.

As I read this story, I reflected on my own obtuseness about history repeating itself until the framework for hate and division are finally deconstructed. As Ms. Gendler has so beautifully conveyed, love is found between our innate humane souls, and it behooves us to accept all people as worthy and allowed to love who they love, and believe what they believe. It is there in that vast space of acceptance that true humanity and peaceful coexistence resides. Love is not contained in a box that separates us, but is rather a doorway to one another. 

Jumping Over Shadows is a timely and thought-provoking book, one that I urge people of all faiths and cultural backgrounds to read and reread. Intolerance is not sustainable in a society of many people with differing backgrounds. Acceptance is the only humane path forward.


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