Author’s Book Reviews

THE IBPA BENJAMIN FRANKLIN AWARD PROGRAM,

which include fifty-six categories recognizing excellence in book editorial and design, are regarded as one of the highest national honors for independent publishers. The awards are administered by the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), with help from over 160 book publishing professionals including librarians, bookstore owners, reviewers, designers, publicity managers, and editors.

Category #52:  “Best New Voice: Nonfiction”

Judge’s remarks regarding:

Alone in the Darkness, In Search of Hope 

“An appealing and engaging voice that draws a reader in to hear more and more of these unique life experiences. Well written, conversational, warm, and sensitive. There’s a powerful flow to the writing that carries a reader along and moves one to keep turning pages. The voice is open, honest, and conveys how emotional selected episodes were, yet it maintain a steadiness and avoids histrionics. Instead of telling us, the author shows us, and that enhances reader engagement in the process. This book should have significant appeal to a range of audiences. It is personal, deals with love and loss that so many readers experience, and goes beyond simple grieving and reflection with communication from the other side that is fascinating. <…>  The hope here is that this author will share more of her appealing voice in other works.”

Author’s Note:  Although I didn’t win an award, I am proud of the fact that I received a 9/10 rating on all 7 categories used to judge the competition.

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27th ANNUAL WRITER’S DIGEST SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK AWARDS

Judges Commentary:

Very nice opening, as author self-introduces and provides connection for the reader by taking on, in conversational and engaging tone, some mighty questions. Reader is engaged from the start, considering the question of whether or not our life’s trials are predetermined as our soul’s map of learning. We’re in for an illuminating experience in this book, we know, so we’re fully engaged. <…>

Pace is stellar, and where dialogue occurs, we get good characterization, a sense of setting, movement, gesture and transitions between speaking characters. Very well done. <…>

Good pace with the section of her husband knowing his life is nearly over. Moments around that extend for just the right amount of time, no rushing, no cliché, no need for drama. It’s a pure and simple narrative, a winding down that embraces our hearts. I loved the portion of Thanksgiving, as she and the family try to decide how to make a new normal for their traditions, the presence of the empty chair looming so large, a family trying to heal together.

Author crafts such emotion in family interactions, giving characters their own voices, and deepening our feelings. We’re inspired by how they each cope, alone and together, and especially how the author honors her own grief process along the way.

A very experiential book with a lovely writing voice by the author. I felt this book deeply. Nice work.

Citation:  Judge, 27th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.”  (Response is unique to Judge’s individual perspective.)

  • Author’s Note: Although I did not win any awards, I was thrilled to receive an evaluation of 5 out of a possible 5 in every category, as well as the Judge’s encouraging remarks about my book. 

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Book Reviews – The US Review of Books: Professional Book Reviews

Alone in the Darkness: In Search of Hope
by Valerie Dziengiel
Mill City Press
book review by Carolyn Davis


“Each day is a new beginning, and the journey we take is intended to improve our life as a result of our experiences, both good and bad.”

This journey begins with the author meeting her husband in an unusual way when both are still teenagers in 1966. They are separated before their marriage by his tours of duty in Vietnam, during which he is exposed to Agent Orange. After his return, they are happily married and raise a family. Their happiness is interrupted by his pancreatic cancer, during which the author cares for him. Throughout the book, the author relates some of her spiritual experiences: the first is a frightening one after playing with a Ouija board. “Not a toy,” Dziengiel states unequivocally. During the experience, however, the planchette revealed the name of her as yet unknown husband and that she would have three children. Other incidents include visitations, perhaps by spirits, via smoke, and a comical and metaphysical view of an apparently independent spirit manifestation that, after several attempts, finds its way out of a funeral home. After her husband’s passing, the author, her family, and a Monsignor who is helping to plan the funeral, observe lights flickering on and off and the interruption of cell phone service, which is thought to be her husband’s spirit indicating that he has “made it” to the next world.

Two main subjects intertwine in the book: the long journey through cancer for the couple and the author’s increasing sensitivity to her spiritual experiences. Both are difficult journeys, for Dziengiel appears to disclose much of the events, emotions, and responses. Pivotal events in the author’s life include the surgeon’s first words that convey his belief that the tumor is malignant, all of the strength that the couple displays throughout the siege of the illness, the author’s realization of her husband’s death, her grief process, and the acceptance of life and renewed happiness through her faith. Of her own and her husband’s spiritual experiences, she writes, “My acceptance of the range of the spiritual activities, which continue to occur in my life, has allowed me to observe and accept the existence of a spiritual realm I believe is real.” Examples after her husband’s death include a message “to relax and go to sleep” in her car with its engine running, which the author believes was given by a malicious source. The advice came to her after an episode of confusion and an inability to get out of her car. However, she was jolted awake and into action, saved by “a spiritual intervention which allowed me to determine my fate that day.” Later, she experiences three actual visitations from her husband until she tells the spirit that she doesn’t believe that the visits are “right.”

Throughout Dziengiel’s challenging story, the reader feels gratified and inclined to commend the author for her ability to retrace her experiences and doing so in a style that makes the book a venture into the lives of likable people who have faced situations that are familiar to many others. The book is written in a personable, friendly style and conveys the tales not only of the author’s finding her way back to happiness and a strong belief in an afterlife but of situations throughout her life that she thinks may have been preordained to shape her and her family’s lives. The reader can connect to the author easily. Her tone is questing, at times assertive, but not aggressive as she ponders the significance of her experiences regarding eternal life and its potential. The book may be especially helpful for those dealing with grief or pondering life’s meaning.

©2020 All Rights Reserved • The US Review of Books

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