Monday, August 24, 2015

“Guidance from Beyond”: A Review of I’m Not Dead, Am I?: A Paranormal Family Living in Rural New York,

 by Josette L. Berardi (Foreword, Elizabeth Tucker) (2012) ISBN: 147769336X
When I first heard about the experiences of the Berardi family, through a mutual contact, I was immediately drawn to the core elements of their story because of certain similarities in my own life: Italian Catholics, the Berardis have experienced paranormal events, in their case, through the gift of mediumship that runs through the maternal side of the family and through their many clients for readings and house clearings.
As readers of my reviews, blog essays, plays, and fiction are aware, I have had a lifetime of paranormal experiences, some of which have involved visitations from deceased family members, and I believe that, although I am no longer a practicing Catholic, my experiences growing up in the Roman Catholic  Church (complete with Catholic school, CCD, and church on Sundays and Holy Days) have informed my relationship with the paranormal.
With all of this in mind I welcomed the opportunity to read and review both I’m Not Dead, Am I? and the book Berardi wrote a year earlier, The Man at the Foot of the Bed, which I am currently reading and will also review.
Although Berardi is clear that she is not a writer (per se), her prose is engaging, well-paced, and passionate. She has the natural gift of many Italians for storytelling, which her grandmother  and mother also possessed. She interweaves geography, relevant New York State history, and larger family history with the through-line of the narrative (her mother’s severe illness and recovery) as seamlessly as the most skilled of memoirists and biographers.
I’m Not Dead, Am I?, because of these larger perspectives, appeals to the reader on multiple levels: it is both a detailed examination and indictment of the American health care system (especially for the elderly); it is a primer on the possibilities of life after death, and the role that mediums play in navigating the exchange of the living and the deceased; and a moving story of a single mother of three whose commitment to taking care of her family leads her on a journey that would cause many others to give up. Her mother had a Living Will that Berardi, as her only child, was solely responsible for possibly executing. I think about the Living Will entrusted to me by my parents that sits in a fireproof lock box with other valuable documents. Reading Berardi’s tale of lack of support from the doctors (none supportive of exercising her mother’s wishes and one of which was heartless and cruel) and the confusion she felt as her mother deteriorated but she considered her daughter Nicole’s certainty (related to messages from the other side) that her grandmother would indeed recover evokes sympathy and admiration, especially when her mother awakens from the coma and, frustrated at her lack of memory of what had happened and the numerous physical limitations she experienced, accused her daughter, for a time, of abandoning and betraying her.
Berardi tells her story with brutal honesty, with the anger and frustration at times bubbling off the page in palpable waves. She is as hard on herself as on the doctors, the System, and the circumstances that surround her mother’s surgery to repair her perforated intestines and subsequent, hard-fought recovery from complications that led to a coma, colostomy bag, and permanent damage to the nerves in her feet that confined her to a wheelchair, and, like many Catholics, she experiences the prolonged guilt that comes when she questioned not only the paranormal experiences of her daughters, mother, and grandmother, but, most poignantly, her own crises of Faith.
Since The Man at the Foot of the Bed centers on her daughter Nicole’s experiences of communicating with the deceased and seeing other entities less benevolent, I am not going to go into detail in this review about those types of experiences. As Berardi says several times in I’m Not Dead, Am I?, that’s not primarily what this book is about. Like a well-crafted novel or film, Berardi’s story is about a loving, tight-knit family whose connection is so strong that it overcomes the life/death barrier to reach across multiple generations and other dimensions. The paranormal is part of the story, but in no way the story itself, which is refreshing and not always the case when individuals and families go public about what they’ve experienced in these realms.
As I complete the second draft of my latest non-fiction book, on the importance of storytelling in our lives for both our own health and the health of our communities and humankind, I believe that this is just one of the reasons why Josette Berardi and these books about her family have come into my life at this time. Because of its honesty and breadth, this book can touch countless lives with its messages of Belief , Family, and Perseverance.
You can order I’m Not Dead, Am I? and The Man at the Foot of the Bed at

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Review of Seth Hammons’s Prelude to Discord [Book Three of The Keys]

(2012, ISBN 978-0-9859841-2-0)
In the past three years I have reviewed the first two books in this series—Unheard Of and The Silent Sound. With this third installment, Seth Hammons proves that he has not only created a richly detailed and intriguing world whose political and economic divisions and clashes speak to our own circumstances in many ways in 2015, but that this world he has created can sustain as a multi-book series for the long haul.
For those who have not read the first two books, I strongly recommend that you do so before continuing on with this review. All four books in the series are available on Amazon, in both paperback and Kindle editions. 
As with the last two books, the rebellion sparked between the working-class, pagan Brecks and the mighty, militaristic Iori Empire is the centerpiece of the story, as the main characters, Rachel and Chastin (a Juliet and Romeo-esque coupling whose families are on opposite sides of the war) discover ever-more secrets about the use of music in their world as they travel by sea with an interesting array of sailors, all with diverse backgrounds and something to accomplish or prove. Their relentless pursuit of their personal missions causes plenty of micro-level conflicts amidst the larger backdrop of war, and I found myself continually shifting allegiances depending on the reveals.
Complicating all of their efforts are a pair of telepathic, sarcastic drumsticks that hold the essence of a mysterious character named Maletalio, who holds several secrets of his own that are still not close to revealed by the end of the third book.
Uniting the two sides, at least temporarily, is the common enemy of the sea-bound race called the demar, who are bred beneath the sea to wage war on the Humans. They employ magic and a fierce warrior ethic to do so, as well as unleashing an array of other sea creatures to do their will.
They are to mermaids as Nosferatu is to vampires—the scary truth about what truly monsters are, instead of some Disney sanitization of the things that dwell beneath and in the shadows.
Always at work in these books are the kinds of “Us vs. Them” mentalities in the characters that hit closest to home in the current state of lines in the sand in our world. Rich and poor; land- and sea-dwelling; religious and spiritual. And, within all of these broad-stroke dichotomies are subsets such as those that use music for good, or evil, or not at all (music being the metaphorical driver for power and desire that serves as the foundation for the series).
As with the first two books, Prelude to Discord is well imagined, well paced, and full of twists, surprises, and compelling questions. Seth Hammons is a very talented author, plain and simple. I look forward to reading the fourth book in the series, In Harmony’s Way.

This series is highly recommended for readers in their early teens to adults. The beautifully rendered maps by Zeyan Zhang (who also did the cover, which features the demar) and a Glossary makes it easy to keep track of the detailed world Hammons presents, and offers opportunities for reading clubs to engage with the books and the timely, relevant social, economic, and politic questions they explore.