“Payback – Tales of Love, Hate, and Revenge” by Steve Bassett

Steve Bassett
Steve Bassett (2019)
ISBN 9781087800332
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (9/19)

“Payback – Tales of Love, Hate, and Revenge,” the second book in the Passaic River Trilogy by Steve Bassett, is exactly what the title suggests – penetrating love, obsessive hate and grisly revenge weaved intricately through a post WWII world that only gets more intense as it goes along.

The setting is 1946 and the world is still reeling from the aftermath of WWII. It’s no different in Newark, NJ, where acting homicide chief Lieutenant Nick Cisco and his partner, Sergeant Kevin McClosky are investigating a series of bizarre homicides that stink of retribution and find themselves knee-deep in cover up, ambition and power struggles. Two bodies pulled from the Passaic River, and a single arm of another found at the city dump, the victims are all identified as members of the German-American Bund, a pro-Nazi organization. The message behind the murders is clear – retaliation for crimes against humanity.  Add in some racial tension, corporate greed, sexual dalliances, a marriage on the ropes, child abuse, gangsters, mind control, a mysterious madman, and a corrupt church – and you end up with an INTENSE drama that will keep you reading well into the night.

I had the pleasure of reading Steve Bassett’s first novel in the series, “Father Divine’s Bikes” and was excited for the opportunity to read his next journey along the Passaic River. True to form, Bassett’s gift is in the telling of his stories through his many, multifaceted characters. Their quirks, their faults, their strengths and weaknesses, one is delivered deep down into the psyche of each character, giving the reader a true sense of who they are and how they will react based on their thoroughly developed traits. But – that by no means implies they are predictable, and just when you think you know what’s going on and who’s who, Basset throws in a twist! And, as there are numerous characters essential to the plot, there are multiple sub-stories going on within the overall picture of the homicide investigation adding dimension and delicious layers to an amazing story.  Basset’s use of historical figures and events also adds authenticity to the story, as does the use of local dialect and mannerisms of the time, along with vivid imagery of the various settings.

What I enjoy most about reading books in a series is that I often find myself invested in the characters and want to learn even more. With Bassett’s characters, you definitely get a strong sense of who they are and it’s exciting to see what they’ll do next. That and ok, I’m a total book nerd, but I like to look for subtle (or not so subtle) references to the previous story in the series. It’s fun to be able to point out, “Hey, I remember that!” and/or, “Wow, I see so-and-so is up to his old tricks!” In other words, recognition and familiarity breeds dedication, and I always look forward to seeing how the characters evolve in subsequent stories.

Overall, “Payback – Tales of Love, Hate, and Revenge,” the second book in the Passaic River Trilogy by Steve Bassett, reads very well as a standalone novel, but go ahead and get the set.  You won’t regret it. I highly recommend this book, and the series to fans of mystery/thriller, historical fiction and crime novels – really to anyone who enjoys a good story with memorable characters.

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“Get to Aha!” by Andy Cunningham

Andy Cunningham
McGraw Hill (2018)
ISBN 9781260031201
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (10/19)

Mother, Mechanic, and Missionary. What do these three words have in common? They are all terms that can describe a company’s type of “DNA.”  Each business needs to decide which type they are. Are they customer oriented, product oriented or concept oriented? In “Get to Aha!: Discover Your Positioning DNA and Dominate Your Competition,” the author, and founder of a successful marketing and communication strategy firm, Andy Cunningham, teaches business entrepreneurs how to figure out their company’s DNA. This is done through “genetic” testing. This information will help them create successful marketing strategies involved with positioning, branding and communicating. After the genetic testing, the author will take you through the “Six C’s of Positioning.”  From there you will move forward to create an accurate and successful positioning statement. It is important that companies position themselves first, before they begin branding. The last step is to bring it all to life with “positioning activation.”

Apple, Blackberry, Nike, Uber, LG, Samsung, Red Bull, Netflix, Logitech, Verizon, and Google are a few of the companies discussed.  I found it extremely interesting to read the author’s views on how these companies positioned and branded themselves. I gained a great deal of insight from this information. It also gave me a lot of respect for some of the companies discussed, even if they do not have products which would be of use to me. Cunningham ends by providing an extensive discussion about six of her clients whose companies she helped with overcoming positioning issues. Each case study has its own unique story. Readers will gain confidence by seeing how this process worked to help other companies achieve success.

With “Get to Aha!,” Andy Cunningham uses her knowledge and extensive experience to offer companies well thought out and innovative marketing strategies to help them not only survive but become successful. She did a masterful job of being able to tie the science of DNA into marketing strategies. I realize that this makes the book sound extremely complex, but Cunningham does a masterful job of making her work interesting and easy to understand. You do not need a PhD in genetics nor an MBA to be able to understand and put the information presented into good use. This book is a must-read for business owners who want to gain an edge over their competition.

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“The Baron and the Enchantress” by Paullett Golden

Paullett Golden
Published by Paullett Golden (2019)
ISBN 9781732834262
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (10/19)

“The Baron and the Enchantress” is an exquisite regency romance, the third book in the Enchantress series by Paullett Golden. I love a good historical romance and after reading this book one thing is for certain – I will be back-peddling to catch the first two books in the series I missed!

The story follows Lilith Chambers, a parish midwife, and Walter Hobbs, Baron Collingwood.  Lilith, raised in an orphanage, is rediscovered by her long-lost brother, who thought she was dead. When confronted with the truth about her past, Lilith grapples with the harsh realities that make up the differences between the social classes, and the feeling that she doesn’t belong to either set. Walter Hobbs is coming into his own, searching for purpose as he struggles in coping with the untimely death of his father and his subsequent inheritance. When the two meet sparks fly for both of them, but for very different reasons – Walter is smitten with Lilith, but she won’t have anything to do with him – he represents everything she despises about people of his class. Can the two work through their differences and find love and happiness or will society keep them apart forever?  

“The Baron and the Enchantress” is a treat to read, for so many reasons. The opening pages promise an entertaining, lively read and Golden does not disappoint. The well-written prose is a delight, the author’s voice compelling readers and drawing them into the story with an endearing, captivating plot and genuine, authentic settings. From the uncompromising social conventions of the era to the permissible attitudes and behaviors within each class, it’s a first-class journey back in time.

AND…as vivid and enchanting as the settings are, from the opulent ballrooms to the simple country cottages, it’s the characters that take the story to the next level for me. I guarantee you will form some kind of opinion of each and every character. Normally I find my strongest opinions reserved for the main characters but there are a couple of catty, simple-minded ladies really provoking my ire, making me want to just reach into the pages and slap them!  I love it when the characters incite such strong emotions in me while I’m reading – love ‘em or hate ‘em – bravo and kudos to the author!

Lilith is a character readers will enjoy connecting with – she has a genuine personality with realistic character defects and equally appealing attributes. She’s insecure at times, choosing to avoid confrontation, but also stands her ground when circumstances warrant – she clearly picks her battles. She is a woman ahead of her times, forging through barriers that hold average women in place. Then there is Walter. Poor Walter, such a gentleman, so prim and proper – he doesn’t dare bend the rules of society. But he wants what he wants and won’t give up too easily.  I love the genuine affection he feels for Lilith and feel sorry for him when he finds himself at the receiving end of Lilith’s petulance. Walter is definitely one of the good guys.

“The Baron and the Enchantress” by Paullett Golden easily ranks as one of the best historical romances I have read in some time and I highly recommend it to fans of romance, history and the regency era.  Fabulous reading!

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“Below the Moon” by Alexis Marie Chute

Alexis Marie Chute
SparkPress (2019)
ISBN 9781684630042
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (10/19)

“Below the Moon” is the second book in The 8th Island Trilogy, by Alexis Marie Chute, following on the heels of “Above the Star.” Picking up where the first book left off, the author takes us back to the island of Jarr-Way, which sits, on a planet, in a dimension that is parallel to ours.  The Wellsley family continues to try to find their place in this strange world. Ella, the protagonist, is still suffering from cancer. In order to protect Ella, her Bangol boyfriend Luggie must choose a side that might not be in the best interest of his people. Ella’s mother, Tessa, struggles to come to terms with her failing marriage to Ardenal, who has evolved into a different form. His father Archie is also evolving and finding answers, in this strange place, to his own past. The people of this place, namely the Olearons, Bangols, Steffanus, and the Millia continue their struggle for control over what happens to the evil star that is in the sea. The plot thickens when they utilize the portal jumpers called tillastrions to return to earth. Ella holds the key to many answers.

As with “Above the Star,” I found it very difficult to put “Below the Moon,” down. I enjoyed jumping back into this adventure, which is like nothing I have ever read. The uniqueness of the story makes it impossible to guess what might be coming next. I love that aspect! Drama takes place on multiple levels within these pages. At the core is the one that is happening within the family. The struggle to find a cure for the protagonist’s terminal illness, feels real, and at times hopeless. On a grander level, tensions really explode in this story, when the author moves the warring factions into our dimension. She also begins providing the reader with answers that tell us more about these complex characters.

Chute also does an excellent job of bringing her settings to life. Readers can clearly see the places and characters that she is describing. The action also plays out well. There is a lot of violence and loss, so it is best read by young adults and adults. The author also does an excellent job of updating the reader about what happened in the first book. She skillfully blends the details into the second story. I still would recommend that the books be read in order, because readers will find themselves more invested in the characters if they start from the beginning and won’t feel the need to catch up. 

“Below the Moon,” and the entire 8th Island trilogy is highly recommended reading and I look forward to reading the next installment in this remarkable series by Alexis Marie Chute.

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“Love is the Law” by Marieta Oslanec

Marieta Oslanec
LITL Publishing (2019)
ISBN 9781733305419
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (10/19)

“Love is the Law: 21 Universal Laws to Activate Your Inner Genius and Uplift Humanity” by Marieta Oslanec is the consummate book about self-love and creating your best life. Inspired by her own journey, the author guides readers through a step by step process of self-discovery, leading to love, happiness, joy, prosperity, abundance, health and ultimately, self-transformation.  It is through self-transformation, Oslanec submits, that we can change the world.

The book is divided into 21 chapters, each highlighting a universal law to be studied and applied in a progressive format. I love the author’s play with words, using her professional experience as an attorney to develop a “lawful” approach to discovering the unique meaning for your life. The laws range from self-love, authenticity, balance, self-healing, intuition, change, and non-attachment, to name a few, ending with “The Law of Love” as the final chapter.

The messages are clear and concise, beginning with the author’s personal experience; each chapter ending with a thorough, informative list of how to apply the law discussed in the particular chapter to your own life.  Make no mistake, while Oslanec provides well-defined, easy to follow guidance, there is much hard work to be done and not all of it will be smooth sailing. One must begin the process with a willingness to dig deep inside themselves, work through their “stuff,” and be able to be open and honest with themselves in order to achieve the full benefits of the practice. 

The author’s journey was a big force behind the connection I felt while absorbing the subject matter. Sharing vignettes of her personal story, she invites reader into her mind, and entire being for that matter, providing a clear picture of who she was before starting her journey and who she has become by applying these practices  in her own life. As she emerges into total transformation, she provides a clear message of hope for anyone daring to look deep inside themselves and begin their own journey.

Fans of metaphysical books and self-help journals will thoroughly enjoy the journey Marieta Oslanec outlines in “Love is the Law,” but it’s definitely not limited to those groups – there is something in it for everyone.  It’s a relatively compact book, just over 150 pages, but packs a powerful message. I read it all the way through completely for the purposes of this review, tabbing several pages along the way, and plan to revisit the laws individually, at a slower pace. It’s a process and a journey that is too good to miss.  There are also several opportunities for deeper involvement noted in the back of the book that may be of interest to readers, such as one-on-one coaching, workshops, phone support, retreat opportunities, and a wealth of information provided on her various websites, the main site relating to this book is www.loveisthelaw.com.

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“The Enchanters’ Child” by Navya Sarikonda

Navya Sarikonda
Independently Published (2018)
ISBN 9780998025612
Reviewed by Rachel Dehning for Reader View (10/19)

“The Enchanters’ Child” by Navya Sarikonda is the story of three unlikely partners as they venture on a common quest to defeat the Sorcerer. Each of the main characters have had their lives affected by this mastermind, and with multiple deaths occurring throughout the kingdom, the three know they have no choice but to find this madman and defeat him once and for all, if only for personal revenge.

Wren, an orphan girl living with her aunt, finds herself on this quest to avenge her parents. When she meets Zayne and Quinn, also individuals who hold high positions in their respective areas of the kingdom, they all understand that the only way to make things right in the world is by risking their lives. Each person has a backstory that makes them who they are. Zayne is a local boy who has an important position in an underground resistance group. Quinn is the person that people call when they need “things taken care of.” During their adventures, the trio encounters mystical creatures, some of which will have your hair raising on end at their descriptions. Magic, heroism, creativity, and overcoming differences are some of the topics displayed in the book and allow the reader to be able to learn from. When the characters face a challenge (which every obstacle initially looks to be), they find a solution either by means of magic, smarts, and/or skills. The way their initial mindset and attitudes were at the beginning of the quest change drastically at the end with a surprise you won’t see coming.

The story and writing in “The Enchanters’ Child” by Navya Sarikonda are very well done. This would be an exciting story for lovers of fantasy novels, such as the Harry Potter series, The Maze Runner series, and The Hunger Games series based on their similarities in storylines and imagination. My guess is it will do just as well as these previous series have. It is refreshing to read about a strong heroine who has the skills and bravery to embark on a mission of this magnitude. It also is made clear in the story that as perfect as she seems, her skills still need to be balanced out with her two partners, or friends, in order to have a successful mission. As already mentioned, the story is well written, exciting, and enticing, and discovering that the author is so young makes it that much more of a special read. Well done.

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“#Snapshot” by Hannah Harris and Marcus Harris

Hannah Harris and Marcus Harris
CreateSpace (2018)
ISBN 9781984331434
Reviewed by Marjorine Castillo for Reader Views (10/19)

Hannah and Marcus Harris’ book “#Snapshot” uses poetry to convey personal, social, and political issues American adolescents may be facing in the current social media-driven and political chaotic climate. The themes of the poems vary from topics such as self-esteem, interactions with friends and family, school, and policies that are disproportionately affecting the lives of youth of color. The authors successfully convey the message that the youth are experiencing various emotions as they transition into adulthood and begin to see the current world for what it is. The writing is clear, accessible, and appropriate for a wide audience. I believe people who like poetry or are interested in using short text to discuss grand issues such as the ones discussed in this book would enjoy the book. Some of the poems were insightful and well-written. However, other poems felt incomplete and could have been revised to make the messages stronger.

The first section of the book, “The Daily,” focuses on everyday issues adolescents might be experiencing such as self-doubt, acne, social media pressure, and aspirations for the future. My favorite vignette was ‘Kidulthood’ because it speaks to how adults have normalized overprotecting adolescents from things they shouldn’t know about, despite the reality that many are exposed to “adult things” before parents realize. I think this poem powerfully conveys the “in-betweenness” that children go through, on one end being exposed to “adult things” by their peers, but on the other being treated as naïve by their parents. The poems ‘Never Be,’ ‘Little Girls,’ and ‘Cuteness’ were about physical appearance, which is an important aspect for adolescents’ self-esteem, but I felt that the poems came off as judgmental by using phrases like “they all look like clowns.” If the target audience for this book is youth, then I could see an adolescent getting offended if they dress in the ways described in the poem. I think it would be more useful to describe different types of youth experiences in a neutral tone rather than place judgement.

“The Grind” and “The Salt” sections were, in my opinion, the weakest parts of the book. Most of vignettes read like a list of descriptive adjectives that describe the pressure parents and teachers put on students to succeed and how bullying is a manifestation of underlying issues. These are important topics that are very relevant to the lived experiences of youth, therefore, more substance would have had a greater impact than a list of words. I acknowledge that I am reading it from an adult perspective, so a youth might enjoy the simplicity and connect with the poems more than I did. The sections “The Ride,” “The Curve,” and “The Fam” were more about interpersonal relationships and what youth can learn from other generations. Some of the vignettes (Dadda Says, Pop Pop Says, Mama Says, and Nana Says) could have been condensed into one poem. I liked the concise writing about cultural knowledge being passed down felt it would have a greater impact as one poem.

The section, “The Real,” was the most interesting part of the book and it was more of what I expected when I read the description of the book. The authors focus on issues regarding the school to prison pipeline, racism, media desensitization, gentrification and displacement, biased criminal justice system, xenophobia, and immigration. This part was my favorite section because the poems delivered profound messages about issues that affect groups of populations in different ways. In ‘Pipeline,’ ‘Surviving Adolescence,’ and ‘Consequences’ the authors describe the perpetuating cycle that many black and brown people are kept into due to structural racism, racial profiling and social neglect of communities of color. Adolescents must be careful to engage in normal human interactions such as being invited to private parties or playing music at the gas station, because the consequences of being perceived as criminal are dire and vary by race. The vignettes ‘Perpetual Solution,’ ‘What I Know,’ and ‘My America (?),’ discussed the effects of gentrification on the communities that get displaced and the xenophobia incited by political figures who try to paint immigrants as criminals and terrorists. The discourse of “othering” people in America and how this mistreatment stems from the legacy of America’s colonial history was well elaborated in the poems. Youth need to be aware of these hidden issues so that they are not mislead when it is their time to politically contribute to a better society. These poems were gratifying and informative in a time where people are trying to make sense of what is happening in the world.

Overall, #Snapshot by Hannah Harris and Marcus Harris was an interesting way to engage youth into reading about difficult topics that too often are written in dense text. Some of the poems seemed too simplistic, at least for me, to elicit the kind of thinking the authors potentially wanted to provoke, nevertheless, I believe this is an appropriate book for people who like poetry or are interested in addressing the topics discussed in unconventional ways.

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