Book Reviews

“How Did They Do That?” by Deborah Tompkins Johnson


In her book, “How Did They Do That,”  Deborah Tompkins Johnson has interviewed a wide range of very successful people. She pulls inspiration out of each person’s life and shares their stories. We hear from such notables as Actor, Blair Underwood and former Governor of Virginia, Douglas Wilder to name just a few. In their stories of success we can find some common “can do” themes. I found some to be expected, such as having someone early in life that encouraged them to believe they could do anything. Conversely, some were self motivated by being told they could not do something.

Deborah has a wide range of very successful careers in her book which are all named on the cover. I believe this book would make an excellent gift if you know a student that aspires to greatness.  It would be an especially meaningful gift book if they aspire to be in one of the mentioned fields: Songwriter, Actor, Diplomat, Entrepreneur, Politician, Soldier, Teacher, Coach, Corporate Executive, Minister, Dancer, or Fashion Stylist.  For those of us that have been in our careers awhile it is an excellent reminder on finding inspiration in others. Deborah gets some great stories and inspirational moments out of those she interviewed. I totally enjoyed the story telling format of this book and was inspired by those who shared their life successes and inspiration with us. There are many more shared common experiences to success and I would encourage you to read this book to explore these commonalities.

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“Did I Say That Out Loud?” by Kelly McDermott Hartman



In her book, “Did I say that Out Loud?” Kelly McDermott Harmann shares hilarious “conversations about life.” Kelly has a wonderful story telling style that will make you laugh out loud, side splitting, belly laughing out loud! You will feel like you are sitting in your favorite local coffee shop overhearing a hysterical conversation. This book is a great vacation pick me up for your mind. Kelly shares stories about her husband, work and everyday life. You will find yourself laughing about some of these stores long after you read them.

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“Phillip’s Quest” by Belinda Miller

Phillips Quest

Some books are for the young and the young at heart. “Phillip’s Quest” written by Belinda Miller and illustrated by Dean Kuhta, is one of those books. This is a whimsical tale of Phillip, a gnome, who lives a simple life as a farmer. Simplicity, that is until the quest. With his squirrel friend, Edward, Phillip seems to find adventures. Along the way he encounters all the creatures that a good adventure in the world of fantasy must have. There are dragons, dinosaurs, castles, an enchanted forest and creatures with ominous sounding names. This tale is a fast paced adventure with many twists and turns. It is well written and had an element of the unexpected for sure!

What this delightful tale has that sets it apart is the numerous beautiful color illustrations that enable the reader to glimpse into the mind of the writer. The artwork is beautiful and serves to enhance the tale. There are a few ink drawings in the book as well, but the majority are beautiful full color illustrations. It is truly a multisensory experience to read this extraordinary tale. I will tell you this book is Book I in an epic series. The end does leave you wanting to read the next book in the series. While this book is a children’s book I found it engaging and a delight to read. As I am young at heart, I look forward to the rest of the series.

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“Myth, Magic and Metaphor” by Patricia Daly-Lipe


In her book, “Myth, Magic and Metaphor,” Patricia Daly-Lipe certainly provides a muse! This book is a must read for aspiring writers. I found her book to provide insights and ideas for books that I hope to write. I kept a list as I read her book and hope to write a few of them. Her subtitle is “A journey into the heart of creativity” could be, a journey toward your inner muse. Lipe is an expert muse teaching you to find yours. She guides you to ponder the meaning of words, shows how they are crafted together in various eras by wide variety of writer. Lipe pulls together examples of creative writing from all genre to inspire and enlighten the reader. This is a book that I will absolutely read more than once.  Lipe talks about the mystery of writing, using music and art to write and in doing so opens your imagination to new realms of creativity. This is one of those books that I believe could also help provide some inspiration when suffering “writers block.”

Lipe is an expert in her subject and to paraphrase her; open your eyes, see the art, read a book, look at a painting, watch nature; the more you see the more you will have to write. I love the way she challenges you as a writer to see writing in all things at all times. She reminds us to tuck these words we experience into our writings. I found this book to be my muse, thought provoking and challenging me to write with every turn of the page.

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“From These Ashes” by Tamela Ritter

From these Ashes

“From These Ashes,” by Tamela Ritter, is one of those unique stories that you will remember for a long time.  Ritter is a master storyteller as she weaves this tale of searching, and wandering through family issues. This story of siblings, Naomi and Tim takes you to the mid west and gives you some glimpses of Native American life. I found this story riveting despite at times the characters enduring brutal and  painful experiences. Ritter is able to paint word pictures that lead you through many issues for Naomi and Tim in various life stages.  I continue to ponder some of the issues raised in this powerful story of sibling connection and family. It is a book unlike any other!

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“Who Gets to Name Grandma?” by Carol Covin

Who Gets to Name Grandma

Carol Covin’s book, “Who Gets to Name Grandma” is a must read for Grandmothers and Mothers every where. This book takes a look at a serious topic in a humorous manner. There are many possible conflicts between mother’s and daughter’s, not to mention between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law when a new grand child is born. Covin gives the reader some recommendations of topics to be discussed and boundaries to be determined all with helpful humor. I am not a grandmother, but I am an Aunt and I found that many of Covin’s suggestions would apply to any relative when a new baby is born.

This book includes resources to help in this life changing time. It would make a great gift to the new mother and the new grandmother. This is a great gift book.

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Guest Blogger – Katherine Gotthardt

1121         Covercropped    wounded-in-hospital

Jan, thank you for hosting me on your blog!  You are a true advocate for the literary arts and a wonderful asset to Write by the Rails!
Below is a poem from my collection of Civil War themed poetry, quotes and photos, Poems from the Battlefield.  I hope at least some of it resonates with your readers.
In gratitude, Katherine


The Red Flagged House

You say you are here to protect us,
the man-less, the son-less, the tepid wives
wafting through misused rooms of our
home-turned-makeshift-hospital.  But
the divan is upholstered in wounded,

dun rags stacked on our armoire,
gauze, iodine, ammonia, spirits following
the hems of our dresses.  “We cannot fit
one more!” we cry.  But you are deaf with war.
“We have nothing left to give you!” we

wail, but the moans of our warriors bury us
in bandages and heat rash and fungus.  Our dresser
lies on its back, an oaken cot for Confederates,
our maple table forced to feed soldiers to surgeons,
and everywhere, blood of our bold and our young

re-paints our wood, our walls,our memories.
We shuttle torn uniforms from what was home
to hearth, stir some in our soup cauldrons, burn others
to stay the fire, the fetid smoke of our torched ideals
and stained coverlets greeting each new casualty.

You say you are here to protect us, we your women
who don’t want war, we who try to heal hurts,
scouring basins with our old lace, sucking up sweat
with our linens, mending the last blankets we own,
and asking, “Who will protect us from you?”

copyright 2009, Katherine M. Gotthardt

Katherine Gotthardt Outreach Manager Rainbow Center 4-H Therapeutic Riding Program, Inc.
FARM (BY APPOINTMENT ONLY): 16198 Silver Lake Road Haymarket, VA 20169
MAIL: P.O. Box 479 Haymarket, VA 20168
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The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn

The Harbinger

The Harbinger has been on the New York Times Best Seller list. This prestigious award in and of itself makes it a bit daunting to write a review at times. However, I shall take the plunge.  I was skeptical if I would like reading this book and the prophetic connections to 9/11. I decided to take the challenge – “The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn fiction or prophecy?” This book is written in such a way that it will continue to make you wonder about the answer to this question long after the last page is turned. I believe our countries founding fathers were men of deep Christian faith. I do believe that America was founded for freedom OF religion and not freedom FROM religion. Given that this is the lens through which I see, I can buy into the overarching premise that America has wandered from God. I believe that this book makes us look at what the impact of that drifting and running from God. What is the impact not only as a nation but as individuals?

As to some of the other messages in the book about the exact nature of the prophecy I will encourage you to read and enjoy thinking them through for yourself.  I did find this book well written and it leads me to some thought provoking ponderings. I think we each have to ponder how are we doing in our personal relationship with God? What are the eternal consequences of our choices on earth? If I call myself a Christian what are my responsibilities in holding true to my faith? Are my beliefs not just responsible for my personal eternity but for my countries destiny?

Sometimes I feel like we are living in a test. Having a Christian perspective in a time that honors the individual and wants to respect all choices can be very grueling. If I choose to say that anything is against my belief as a Christian I am seen as disrespecting other points of view. If someone expresses a non-Christian point of view they are see as condemning and yet they can impact my choices – school prayer rings a bell here. However, if someone expresses a point of view I differ with I am seen as narrow-minded. How can it be? Can we value a difference of opinion without disagreeing on what God’s word says? I am throwing some of these questions out there because that is where this book has led my mind. I invite you to take up the challenge and see where it leads your mind. All in all I come down on the side of both, some fact with some fiction thrown in. Read the book and post a comment so I can consider your point of view about this book.

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On Wings Of The Morning – By Dan Verneer

Dan Verner

Dan Verner’s novel, On Wings Of The Morning, is an exciting tale of a young boy who dreams of becoming a pilot and the epic adventure of that dream becoming a reality.  Otto will get his dream of becoming a pilot in unusual circumstances for a young boy from Wisconsin. This tale goes on to tell of Otto in WW II as a pilot with many successful missions. This wonderfully written book is full of twists and turns; with a lot of adventure and a pinch of romance for good measure. I found it to be an enlightening and captivating read about WWII. I confess generally I steer away from any sort of military tale.  I found this story captivating as I could see the story unfolding like a movie in my minds eye. Verner beckons the reader back to the era of the Greatest Generation and invites you to experience that time through his tale of Otto and his crew. This tale of tragedy and humanness is very believable and that is part of the magic of this well written book. Verner’s book helps us several generations younger to see the courage of their time and recognize why they are, the Greatest Generation.


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Catwalk: Messiah by Nick Kelly




What a surprise I loved Catwalk: Messiah by Nick Kelly.  Looking at the cover I thought it was going to be a android robotic tale that I might not like. Surprise, I loved it!  Actually this is a very futuristic book set in the year 2033. It is the exploits of a former cop named Leon “Catwalk” Caliber. Catwalk was anything but your typical cop – he was the cop that chased down rogue machines that needed to be “retired”. Cat left the beat of being a cop but continued to be a “cleaner”.  Now instead of retiring rogue machines he kills and destroys for those that can afford to pay him. Problems arise when Cat becomes the target.  As gun for hire in the City of Angels Cat’s training as a cop is useful in this new life as a hit man that is up for any challenge if the money is right.

The year 2033 is a very violent time and Kelly describes these battles between Catwalk and his foe in great detail that leave me hoping this book will become a movie. Kelly’s ability to draw the reader into the scenes makes this a wonderful read. I do not want to spoil the story but I will tell you it is a page turner till the end. Some will say this is a book for the Young Adult reader. I, however, believe this is a great read for those like myself that are young at heart. This book at times reminded me of Dick Tracey and other heroes of my youth only faced with an apocalyptic challenges. The detail Kelly describes the way that Catwalk is able to function is intriguing and wonderfully detailed. Cat is a human that is technologically enhanced while fully human in his emotions.

Enjoy! I look forward to the next installment in this series and hope for a movie for this one!

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