Between Two Banks by Wajdy Mustafa

betweentwobanksThis  book was originally written in Arabic by author Wajdy Mustafa, while he was in the midst of serving a Syrian prison sentence that was politically related. It was passed, in a rough form, from one prisoner to the next, as they waited eagerly for their turn at reading the haunting and captivating pages.

After his release, Mustafa was able to publish the work in English as well. It is a testament to the fact that love is love in any language, and its joys and sorrows are something anyone – anywhere – can relate to.

At the heart of the story is a forbidden love between a married woman named Julia and Selim, a young man she is tutoring in French. But there are many sub stories and characters, each with their own tale to tell – so much so that only careful reading will keep the changes in point of view and tense from becoming confusing. But it’s well worth paying close attention. The reader comes to know each character and is eager to find out more about their life and how it intertwines with the main characters. It’s impossible to divulge more information, because as mentioned, it’s complicated – but highly intriguing.

The book is at times poignant and beautiful, and at other times deliciously mysterious. As in his previous book, Levant Fever, Mustafa sets his story in Syria and Lebanon, giving it a unique glimpse into a region normally thought of as only hostile and dangerous. The author proves once again that good storytelling, the universal human condition, and the power of words can touch the heart and keep the pages turning.

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Driving Grandpa by John Redstand


There are times when a reader wants to get lost in a heart-pounding romance – a nail-biting thriller – a complicated but exciting mystery. And then again, sometimes simple, easy and down-to-Earth is just the thing. Good storytelling can be found in a book with no major plot twists or high drama, and Driving Grandpa is a prime example of  this. It’s a folksy tale of a grandson (author John Redstand) and his grandpa. The story is based on true events, but author Redstand has fictionalized the many mini stories here, resulting in an entertaining book with a very personal touch. None of the stories, on their own, is particularly powerful or highly dramatic, but put them all together and something magic happens. Love shines through and family bonds are highlighted. Redstand weaves stories of his life helping to chauffeur his grandpa around, after he’s “grounded” from driving. But Grandpa surprises his grandson by actually passing his driver’s license test (we’re not told how, but it’s a cute story). Their stories share life’s joys and challenges, and even though Grandpa is about 90 years old, he’s still “got it.” Some of the stories are simply a slice of daily life in nature. They focus on how the author, who cleans up and changes locks on homes that are being primed for bank sale, blends his job with being part-time driver to his grandfather. Because Grandpa comes with him on his jobs, they turn from routine  into all sorts of adventures and misadventures. Other stories reveal a bit about Grandpa’s time in World War II. There’s even an encounter with the widow of his former friend – and it turns out, she and Grandpa briefly dated before their respective marriages.

Overall, the effect is that grandson and grandfather have a very meaningful time together and one knows it’s a time they will both hold dear. There will be laughter and tears as readers delve into the book, but it will become a memorable reading experience either way. It’s so refreshing to come across a wholesome book that doesn’t rely on violence, graphic scenes or shocking language. I highly recommend this easy-to-read book by a very talented writer.



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Sex Tells by Darick Spears

Sex Tells

If you’ve read my blog for any bit of time, you’ll know that sexy is not my “normal” genre. But this book was offered to me out of the blue and I decided to give it a try. I put aside my softer, gentler (slightly prudish) side and promised myself not to be offended or shocked.

Well, I didn’t totally succeed there. But I also think I  actually did get the message the author was going for. This is a fast-paced, explicit novel that seems like a simple story of two sex-crazed guys – Ice and Darnel, living the dream of many males – sex with several different and very willing partners.

It is a graphic book, I’ll tell you up front. But dig a little deeper and it’s also a story of the male viewpoint on sexual attraction, the messages we all send out, and the consequences we might have to pay. It’s gritty and fun – definitely representing the attitudes of the young streetwise male. There are many grammatical issues for sure, and the book isn’t exactly “polished”, but maybe in this case, since it’s told from a young male’s perspective, this is excusable – even right. If it were perfect, maybe it would take away from the overall “feel” of the book. It almost seems the target reader should be a very young adult, who can hopefully get the moral of the story about sex from its raunchy side to the possible aftereffects of it.

The author has written other books, including, surprisingly, one called The Diary of a Stay-at-Home Dad (go figure). Read Sex Tells for excitement, but don’t miss the messages along the way. Its shocking ending definitely leaves the door open for a follow-up book and I’ll bet readers will be waiting to find out what happens next

For more information about the author, visit his website, or his Facebook page, darickbooks.


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Levant Fever – True Stories from Syria’s Underground by Wajdy Mustafa


This book couldn’t be more timely…or controversial. Terms or phrases that have sadly become part of the world’s vocabulary in a negative and frightening way – Shiites, Muslim Brotherhood (precursor to Islamic extremists), Allah–o-Akbar — are presented here as part of the daily life of the author. He spent a great deal of his life in and out of prison for the “crime” of associating with the wrong people or speaking out against the atrocities around him.

It’s not an easy book to read, with graphic details of beatings, torture and assassinations, not to mention prison conditions that were themselves a form of torture.  Yet this book is something of a history lesson, and while it’s doubtful that most readers will feel much sympathy for those involved, it does provide a better understanding of the conditions in Syria and Lebanon, past and present.

Even though the violence is predominant, perhaps the saddest portions of the book are the author’s childhood memories of playing with friends in a land that was once considered beautiful, at least through the eyes of a child. He also relates very “human” tales of family and love. One can’t help but wonder if things could have been different if generation after generation hadn’t resorted to fighting and brutality. Or is it impossible to break the vicious (literally) cycle of violence?

History buffs and readers curious for some explanations or understanding will surely be very satisfied by this book, powerfully written by Wajdy Mustafa.


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IRS Whistleblower by Richard Schickel

whistleblowerThe very idea of the IRS strikes fear in most people’s hearts. And, when reading IRS Whistleblower, those fears could at first be increased. The crimes and abuse by IRS employees at times seem almost unbelievable. But they’re real, and they’re only a part of the secrets revealed by a brave former Senior Revenue Officer, Richard Schickel, who dares to expose what really happens between taxpayers and those who seek to collect from them.

Schickel worked for the IRS for 33 years and has pretty much seen it all. He tells of tax returns or checks being lost by the IRS, but blamed on the taxpayer. A severely outdated computer system renders the IRS highly ineffective technologically, almost unthinkable in this computer age. He also reveals severe security breaches, and outright crimes that IRS employees commit. Schickel tells of a secret system where audits are concerned. And this is just the tip of the iceberg that is this book.

But in spite of this, IRS Whistleblower isn’t a harsh book; instead, it’s eye-opening in its honesty. The best news is that he also offers advice to taxpayers on  how to brave the system, whether it’s something such as  an audit, a letter of payment due or something more serious…and win. In fairness, he also speaks of taxpayer indiscretions such as hiding money from the government, or claiming expenses and deductions that are not allowed. At the back of the book is a  Q & A section that handles most questions readers might have that were not addressed in the main part of the book.

This can’t be described as a fun read, but it is very informative and thought-provoking. An IRS Commissioner is quoted as saying, “We follow the law whenever we can.” Scary words from a government official. Readers owe it to themselves to read this book, to arm themselves against such disturbing thinking should they ever go up against the IRS.

It’s quite a task to present something that is, on the one hand, an exposure of a major institution, and on the other hand, a look at how to apply what’s been learned to better know the in’s and out’s of dealing with that institution.

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Paint It Black – How Rock-n-Roll and Other Tools are the Best Problem-Solving Techniques


Get past the fairly weighty title and subtitle and this book features a cleverly-written approach to self-help (a genre that ordinarily has more than its fair share of offerings).

The work of economist Rom Werran Gayoso is not clever in a funny way, but rather in the way the material is presented. It’s done as a series of short stories whose characters are facing various life decisions or situations that we can all relate to.

The author was influenced by the technique of scenario planning, originating during the Cold War. It’s a very simple-sounding yet highly successful approach to one’s life, whether business or personal in nature. The principle is to think through matters by evaluating, “If this happens, then that happens.” It’s more or less a cause and effect way of decision-making. Surely this isn’t the first book to address that topic, but what sets it apart and makes it highly readable is Gayoso’s method of imparting wisdom.

It’s done by way of several short stories drawing readers in and causing them to care about the characters.  Stories include the tale of 17-year-old Josh, whose parents offer him either a motorcycle or an opportunity to join an exchange program abroad. But only half the story is about a bike or a trip – it’s about how Josh arrives at his decision and why.

In “Sophie’s Wedding”, we encounter a couple (Sophie and Abe) who come from very different backgrounds and faiths, but are in love and getting married. They hope to be able to blend the two families along the way – especially the relationship between Sophie and her future mother-in-law. But this is about so much more than a wedding. A helpful technique called “mind mapping” is explained and we learn how better relationships between our characters were formed.

The story of Pedro centers around a young man in Ensenada who is contemplating establishing a hot dog cart in New York City. On the surface, readers may ask what stories such as these and others can mean to them. But stay with it – you may not want to run a hot dog cart, but you may have a decision that is somehow strikingly similar to the one that fictional Pedro faces.

At the end of each story is an interactive round up, where readers are asked a series of questions pertaining to the story, showing how the story may indirectly relate to situations in their life. It thus becomes very personalized.

The book’s title choice may be attention-grabbing, but don’t expect much about the Stones’ song or about rock and roll – there’s only one story that loosely deals with this. However, the material in general is quite informative, in an engrossing way. Enjoy – and learn!



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The Haunted House Diaries by William J. Hall


Objects moving or disappearing, a child playing with an invisible entity, voices and groans, mysterious balls of light – it all sounds like the making of a blockbuster ghost movie. But the stories shared in The Haunted House Diaries are chillingly true.

They took place in a 1790s Connecticut farmhouse over a long span of time, and the last five decades of events were chronicled in journals by Donna Fillie, a longtime resident of the property, whose family has had a long history there.

She began making the entries when she was 16, never dreaming that the spine-tingling events would continue, or even realizing what she was capturing on those pages.

It wasn’t just Donna living through the events – her parents, sister, eventually her children, and several other family members, experienced the unexplainable phenomena. Eventually famed ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren investigated the secluded farmhouse, declaring it “Ghost Central.” Connecticut resident, paranormal researcher and columnist – not to mention magician – William J. Hall visited the home, spending hours reading Donna’s diaries and then calling in experts and other researchers to further investigate.

What they found amounts to a portal of sorts, also known as a paranormal flap, opening the farmhouse and its surroundings to not only ghosts but perhaps aliens, UFOs, and any number of otherworldly creatures. The stories and findings are presented in the book in a simple but highly effective manner. It will have readers looking over their shoulders and jumping at noises.

Its only flaw lies in the selection of photos. Most are not paranormal in nature, but rather innocent pictures of rooms and areas mentioned in the book – disappointing. The very few that are said to show spirits or orbs are less than convincing. There is, however, a link to a site that is said to have examples of video and sound recordings during the ghostly encounters. However, when this reviewer repeatedly tried the link, it was not working. Nevertheless, the book is well worth a read.

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