Book Review: Beneath A Scarlet Sky has Flaws, but still Phenomenal Book

After reading great book reviews, I decided to give Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan a try. The story takes place in Italy during the last two years of World War Two. I don’t recall reading or learning anything about how the war affected the Italian people, and I soon learned why in the book’s introduction. Sullivan quotes one survivor of that time period as saying, “We were still young and wanted to forget. We wanted to put the terrible things we’d experienced behind us. No one talks about World War Two, so no one remembers.”

Since this has been the prevailing attitude, Sullivan had to undertake a great deal of research. He dug up what he could but was forced to make up some characters and events in order to tell the story of long-forgotten World War Two hero Pino Lella. Lella rescued many Jews, political prisoners, and Allied fighters in his late teenage years. He guided many to escape through the Alps to Switzerland and then he became a spy while serving as the driver for high-ranking Nazi General Hans Leyers.

Pino demonstrates bravery and praiseworthy character for all his work. However, I found it a bit of a stretch that an eighteen-year-old, is an expert survivalist, translator (When did he learn English?), driver, and car mechanic. The author portrays him as a mixture of James Bond and saint. Also, at this age, he embarks on a relationship with a 24-year-old woman named Anna. At their ages, maturity levels are so different that it seems implausible, but then again, in times of war, anything can happen. I questioned Pino’s attraction to her because she initially treated him with disregard and yet he still dreamed of reconnecting with her.

Sullivan successfully captures the beauty of Italy’s landscape and architecture that becomes penetrated by darkness and misery when the Nazis ravage the land and its people. Readers get a glimpse of dictator Benito Mussolini when he makes a few appearances, and the author recounts the internal conflict of the Resistance vs. the Fascists among the Italians. There is much to learn in Beneath A Scarlet Sky while it also serves as a reminder of war’s brutality and destruction. Despite a few flaws, it is a worthwhile read.

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Shaquem Griffin and NFL: Story of Inspiration

I’ve been wanting to write a post about an inspirational person. This past weekend, I saw Shaquem Griffen and his twin brothe Shaquill on TV during the NFL draft and realized I had my post.

Shaquem Griffen was born with a pre-birth condition known as Amniotic Band Syndrome, which occurs when a limb in the fetus becomes entrapped in amniotic bands while still in the womb. In Griffin’s case, a band wrapped around his left hand had cut off circulation. Pain wracked his hand during his first few years of life, and one day his mother found him in the kitchen trying to cut off his hand with a knife. The next day his family took him for surgery to amputate that hand.

Shaquem said he had to work harder than everyone else to prove he was just as capable. He and his twin brother Shaquill played football growing up, and both earned scholarships to the University of Central Florida. However, during their first years of college, Shaquill played on the UCF football team while Shaquem got redshirted for the first year, playing second string, and then getting bumped down to third string. Then in the third season, his luck changed. The coach brought him back to play for the team.

And play he did. For the next two seasons the team was the undefeated, national champions. In 2016, Shaquem was named the American Athletic Conference Defense Player of the Year.

Now Shaquem has been drafted to play with the Seattle Seakhawks, reuniting him with Shaquill, who was drafted by Seattle last year.

Shaquem has a message he wishes to impart based on his life experience:

I’ve had people doubt me my whole life, and I know that there are a lot of kids out there with various deformities or birth defects or whatever labels people want to put on them, and they’re going to be doubted, too. And I’m convinced that God has put me on this earth for a reason, and that reason is to show people that it doesn’t matter what anybody else says, because people are going to doubt you regardless. That’s a fact of life for everybody, but especially for those with birth defects or other so-called disabilities.

The important thing is that you don’t doubt yourself.

In addition, Shaquem’s father taught him never to quit with a motto he always keeps in mind: “Nothing comes easy.”

Shaquem Griffen drafted by the Seahawks
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Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation Not Yet Achieved


On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation to abolish slavery. Unfortunately, 156 years later, slavery is still taking place in the United States as well as all over the world.

To commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation and to send the message that any form of slavery is unacceptable and will not be tolerated, the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking (NJCAHT) held the event “Human Trafficking: Surviving and Thriving” on Monday, April 16, 2018.

Many speakers informed the event’s attendees about the plight of human trafficking victims and the efforts to assist them. Sister Mary Beth Lloyd of John Corr Family Resources described the extreme poverty in Brazil that leads many families to prostitute their daughters in order to feed their families. The average age of these girls is 6-9 years old and the nuns run a mission to shelter and rescue as many girls as possible. Monica Kristen of Dreamcatchers spoke about their work to provide crisis counseling, follow-up when survivors return home, and job assistance. Dreamcatchers currently has four offices and 600 clients. Kate Lee of NJCAHT explained their latest project of distributing soap bars with NJCAHT’s contact information to hotels, a common place where traffickers bring their victims. The audience also heard testimonies from human trafficking survivors.

Attendees donated outfits for survivors preparing for job interviews.

For more information, contact the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking at or call their number at 201-901-2111. Many committees and programs are always looking for volunteers.

Human trafficking is the second fastest growing criminal organization in the world and the only way to make strides to combat it is for us to unite against it. Much progress has been made but still much more work needs to be done.

After attending the event, I realize there needs to be a mobilization of great kindness and support to battle this extreme evil.

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Evil in Our Midst–NXIVM Accused of Human Trafficking


Throughout human history, people have pondered over the existence of evil.

Unfortunately, we read and hear about examples of utterly horrifying evil all the time. One of those evils is human trafficking.

An example is the recent headlines on the arrest of Keith Raniere, the leader of the group NXIVM. He is accused of running a sex cult disguised as a self-help program. On its website the organization claims that it is “a community guided by humanitarian principles that seek to empower people and answer important questions about what it means to be human.”

Evidently, their interpretation of “what it means to be human” involved luring young women seeking successful careers to become slaves. They were reportedly forced to sleep with Raniere, who was known as “Vanguard” within the organization; perform menial tasks for their masters; and most horrifying of all, submit to branding near their pelvis area with Keith Raniere’s initials. If that isn’t enough, prominent people are alleged to be involved in this organization, among them Emiliano Salinas, the son of the former President of Mexico, Carlos Salinas; Allison Mack, Emmy-Award winning actress of the television series Smallville; and Clare Bronfman, an heiress to the Seagram fortune.

Throughout history, evil can appear beneficial and even beautiful in form. Raniere is a handsome, suave businessman whose past clients include business magnate Richard Branson, actress Linda Evans, and Antonia Novello, former Surgeon General of the Unites States. Raniere appealed to young women desperate to get ahead and impressionable enough to believe his promises. As stated on NXIVM’s website, the purpose of the organization was to promote “the philosophical and practical foundations necessary to acquire and build the skills for success.”

The question now is not only will Raniere be convicted, but also what will happen to the thousands of women who invested their hopes, dreams and money to become members of his sex cult posing as a self-help program? These victims, like all victims of human trafficking, will need a great deal of support to cope with their lives in the aftermath of their encounter with this recent manifestation of evil.

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Picking Myself Up: The Ups and Downs of the Writing Life


Photo by Joe Silva

Like everything else, there are ups and downs to being a writer. While I experience much joy getting my thoughts down on paper, there are many instances that I have to write for free. How many professions require one to work for free? Writing even a short article requires a lot of time and attention to make the writing the best it can be and then one has to polish it up before it is actually finished. What often happens is my hard work goes unrewarded and my spirit sinks to the point where I cannot find a flow in my words. What is the point of all this hard work if nothing comes of it, I’ve asked myself. Many times.I wish I was good at something more marketable and practical.

In the midst of this negativity and pessimism I realize I need to take advantage of resources to boost my motivation and inspiration.

That’s why I signed up to attend a writers conference. I registered last December but I could certainly use the boost now. It begins toward the end of this week.

When writers get together, I have found they are not competitive but to the contrary, very generous with encouraging fellow writers. They exchange resources, give constructive criticism in writer critique groups and applaud each other’s accomplishments. The speakers offer a plethora of information and tips to help writers succeed. There are pep talks about not giving up, to keep plugging away and eventually all our hard work and the long hours of writing will bear fruit. We may not rise to the level of Stephen King or James Patterson, but each of us will see some success if we just hang in there. The writing life is a long, slow, arduous journey for most. Overnight success rarely happens.

I know many writers write in isolation. Many do well, but I personally love being in a writers group. I find the support, advice, and friendship to be invaluable. I often don’t meet others who enjoy writing, so when we writers get together, that time is uplifting.

Weather forecasts predict a snowstorm, so I’m just hoping I’ll get to the conference this year. Wish me luck!

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