Bald is Beautiful: A Letter for a Fabulous Girl

“An Inspiring Story for Us All”

Review by Joey Madia

Carola Schmidt, a pediatric oncology pharmacist and author of several children’s books, including others on cancer, brings hope and passion to all of her works. She has been on the front lines and has used both her expertise in the field (she also writes nonfiction for the scientific mega-publisher Springer) and her big heart to craft stories that inspire confidence and positive action.

Bald is Beautiful: A Letter for a Fabulous Girl reinforces the positive feedback and support that everyone needs—most especially youth battling cancer. Since the biblical story of Samson and Delilah, power and identity have been associated with hair. And, as we know from personal experience and film/TV, cancer treatment often leads to hair loss.

When the heroine of the story is faced with losing her hair, it is an opportunity, not to mourn loss, but to have a Hat and Scarf Shower to celebrate creativity and self-expression. Many of us have hat and scarf collections. They help to express our identity and can open wide the doors of possibility for the imagination. Continue reading

Babushka is Homesick

“Returning to Her Homeland”

Review by Joey Madia

Babushka is Homesick is the sequel to Tell Me a Story, Babushka, which I recently reviewed (and loved!). Babushka, in the first book, tells her granddaughter Karina about how she came to America after escaping a camp in Siberia following the invasion and seizure of grain in Ukraine by the Russians.

In the sequel, Babushka decides to return to Ukraine—for the first time since she was taken from her home by the soldiers—on a trip sponsored by the Ukrainian Church.

While the first book centered solely on Babushka (which means “little grandmother”) and Karina, Babushka is Homesick reveals a house full of energetic grandchildren from a broad array of ethnicities and four of Babushka’s friends, who are all very unique in appearance and wonderfully, whimsically illustrated by Vinicius Melo.

Speaking of Melo’s illustrations, you will want to take your time with them, especially the opening one, which is filled with all kinds of elements that cue not only Ukrainian culture but daily life at Babushka’s. Another illustration, spread over two pages, on which you can spend a lot of time is on pages 18 and 19, when Babushka and friends first set out to explore the city. Celebration of diversity is everywhere in this book. Continue reading

Tell Me a Story, Babushka

“Knowing Where Our Roots Are”

Review by Joey Madia

Beautifully illustrated, with a strong sense of culture and family, Carola Schmidt’s wonderful children’s book gives us a glimpse into life for those in pre-independence Russia under the soviet communist party (the author chooses not to capitalize the scp, and I shall honor her choice).

A few things to know. Babushka is Ukrainian for “little Baba” and “Baba” means Grandmother. Like many Europeans (my family’s from Sicily and southern Italy), I have experienced the primary role of grandmothers in the family. Both of my grandmothers were very strong women who dealt with countless adversities—immigrating to America, helping their families with their businesses in New Jersey, suffering losses during World War II and Vietnam, raising children, taking care of their parents, and often managing the money and, of course, cooking enough delicious food for three times the amount of people present on holidays and for Sunday dinners.

Given this connection, I was immediately fond of Babushka, with her squat body and grey hair (again like my grandmothers) and her baby blue headscarf.

Babushka’s conversation partner is her granddaughter Karina, who, as the title tells us, asks her grandmother to tell her a story while they are making bread. When Babushka asks if Karina wants to hear a story about a princess, Karina agrees, asking her grandmother to also include some monsters. Continue reading

Nothing Good Happens After Midnight

“Once the Clock Strikes 12”

A review by Joey Madia

Anthologies are a lifeblood of the publishing industry. At any given time, I’m usually reading at least one. They are a great way to explore a certain genre (in this case, Thrillers) or to learn about new authors whose works you might enjoy.

Author–editor Jeffery Deaver has assembled a notable group of writers whose accolades as far as bestseller lists, awards, number of different languages in print, and sheer productivity most likely equal any current anthology’s on the market, and there’s plenty to highlight among the dozen stories in this brand-new collection, so let’s dive in.

Editor Deaver eases the reader into an eclectic mix of stories with one that treads along a tried and true trope of this genre: serial killers. [Subsequent stories also use this and other tropes: teen pranks turned bad; murderous rampages in snow storms, ala The Shining (notice the title of the anthology echoes King’s Four Past Midnight); and grizzled PIs with a heart.] The cleverly named Stephen Raye Vaughn (“no relation to the famed musician”) is readying to be executed as midnight fast approaches—having ensured his legacy in the annals of agents of big body count through his son. The author, Alan Jacobson, “spent over twenty-five years working with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, the DEA, the US Marshals Service, SWAT, the NYPD, Scotland Yard, local law enforcement, and the US military,” which shows in the details of his tale.

Tale number two, “Cell Phone Intolerant,” by Kevin O’Brien, is a fun “if only I could exact my revenge…” romp through a cantankerous inventor’s seeking of justice for all of us who have suffered the sights and sounds of a rude cell phone user as we go about our day—in grocery stores, public restrooms, on buses, and in traffic. A line from this engaging cautionary tale provides the title for the collection. Continue reading

The Watchman’s Rainbow and Other Works

Review by Joey Madia

DISCLOSURE: For four years the author of this collection of short stories, plays, essays, and poems was a student in my creative writing classes held through an extension program offered by a community college in West Virginia. Most of the pieces that create the seemingly disparate yet unified tapestry of this collection were developed in those classes; I edited many to varying degrees and published early versions of The Watchman’s Rainbow at the literary site for which I am Founding Editor,

That said, my objectivity could rightly be put into question. With sensitivity to such a probable circumstance, what follows is more of a book report than a book review. I have chosen this modification of my approach over the prospect of abandoning the work altogether for one simple reason:

These works are well written, exquisitely researched, and, as the author tells us in several of his Author Notes to the various sections, he has lived at least to some degree the realities that he has crafted into his fiction.

Constituting the bulk of the page-count for this collection, The Watchman’s Rainbow is a geopolitical action-thriller in the tradition of le Carré and Clancy. It takes as its focus the drug wars between the United States and Mexico, although, as writers and able readers know, we do not read or care about subjects when it comes to fiction—we read and care about people. And the person at the core of this collection of stories and theatre-like interludes is Amos Sanson (a pseudonym) who is coming to the end of a long, successful career as a watcher for a cabal led by a man named Simon Stoddard (think Charlie directing the Angels or the voice on the Mission: Impossible recordings). As we first meet Sanson he is struggling, akin to Sherlock Holmes (a character with whom Wyant, like myself, has great affinity) with whether or not to retire in the face of the fact that he is no longer the man he was, mentally or physically, although the villains—and his employers—are making it hard to walk away. Continue reading