Book Reviews

Reviews for Tears and Tales

Russell A. Vassallo, in his book Tears and Tales: Stories of Animal and Human Rescue, writes very sweet and poignant stories about the animal friends he ha made and lost throughout his life.  Each narrative is finely crafted to tell an intriguing story --- and Vassallo's conversational tone makes it seem as if he's retelling these tales to ols childhood chums.  In some of the stories, he personifies his strong-willed and big-hearted animal friends, which gives them an unique voice and attitude.  Many of the stories are deeply moving; readers will be sure to develop an attachment to Git the dog or Willie the horse.  Writer's Digest Award Judge's comment

This book is a keeper, to be kept at your bedside for reading over and over.  Joanne Benham, Reader's Views

Reviews for The Horse with the Golden Mane

Original, compelling, entertaining and thought-provoking, The Horse with the Golden Mane: Stories of Adventure, Mystery and Romance is highly recommended and rewarding reading for anyone who has a deep regard for how an affection for our animals can influence us and help us in our darkest hours. Midwest Book Review

Russell Vassallo has crafted unforgettable stories that combine the tragedy of human weakness with the tender mercies evident in the behavior of these brave and faithful animals.  The author's voice is unique and continues to speak long after the story has ended.  Janice Phelps, Author of Open Your Heart with Pets

Reviews for Heart of an Animal

If there were no animals, there likely would be no Russell Vassallo.  If there were no Russell Vassallo, the canine world, the feline world, the equine ... well, let's just say, they probably wouldn't be the same.  Vassallo and the members of the animal world, especially the ones that Vassallo and his wife have rescued and nurtured at their farm, are close-knit, seeming to know each other's minds.

Heart of an Animal, author Vassallo's third book of short stories about the relationships he has with his critter friends in Kentucky, continues in that direction.  We learn, from the point of view of a dog, what it's like to search rugged terrain in search of its missing puppies.  In a humorous and imaginary conversation between Vassallo and his cat, Boots, the smack of a long married couple who argue relentlessly over perceived slights from the past -- yet realize and accept the fact that they love and need each other.  I'm Here is a "touching 'Marley and Me' rendtion of the author's dog, Taurus, as he rendered comfort to his guardian through his bitter divorce."

As always, Vassallo is almost unmerciful in showing personal transparency and vulnerabiltiy.  Accordingly, his own brand of literary courage might well teach the reader a few things too.  Steve Flairty, Author of the Kentucky Heroes series 

Russell Vassallo's latest work, Heart of an Animal, exposes the raw emotions often felt between pet and master.  A life-long animal lover, Vassallo tells the stories of his attachments to, even dependencies on, the animal friends he has encountered over many years with bits of humor, bits of sadness, but always with great sincerity.  Readers should cuddle with their favoriate furry pal or 'paws' to read this heartfelt short-story collection.  Penny Woods, Kentucky Living

Reviews for Streetwise: Mafia Memoirs

Russell Vassallo's Streetwise, an intimate account of the Mafia, is an eye-opening look into the world few of us know.  Instead of focusing solely on the sensational mob violence depicted by movies and television, Vassallo tells of strong "family" ties, loyalty and respect, and how it felt to grow up as part of this tightly knit family. Though he fairly discusses the darker side of the Mafia as well, he uses theses stories to expose the personalities and hurts of those involved in carrying out the bosses' orders causing his reader to look past the crime itself.  Penny Woods, Kentucky Living Magazine

"Streetwise" is the story of a bygone era, of a man, and of a city.  Russell Vassallo is the man of integrity and compassion.  This comes through in his writing.  Russell relates stories about his childhood and growing up in Newark, of his Sicilian heritage, and of the influence of the Mafia family connections on the kids growing up in the neighborhood.

Vassallo's portrayal of his family, real friends, and mob connections create visions of colorful fictional characters and movie stars acting out stories of mob violence.  Honorable and loyal Russell tells of lessons learned from a drunken prostitute who "mothered" him, of an alcoholic writer who mentored him, and of a young hooker bent on self-destruction.

He writes: "...each story, each life I met was like a guiding rod, shuffling and channeling me like a mouse negotiating a maze.  I speak of the city, the streets and the people because they are eternal and because they will survive me.  I write of them because they 'are' me and becasue they should not be forgotten."  Richard Blake

Reviews of Mafia Honor

Russ, I finished reading Mafia Honor.  To keep you for having to read further about what I thought of it:  IT WAS FANTASTIC!

To borrow an old cliche, I couldn't put it down -- figuratively, that is.  

I have never been a fan of Mafia bookrs or movies, but your story was captivating.  The writing style was engaging and did a tremendous job of leading me through the story.  To be honest, I think it was your best book by far!

Russ, I feel honored to know you and am amazed at your width and breath of knowledge, wisdom and ability to communicate your feelings through words.  Bill Noel, Author of the Folly Beach Mystery Series

Russell, you outdid yourself!  I am a few pages into chapter 4. [Streetwise] Mafia Memoirs was great.  Russell, this is far better!  I feel like I am there for everything.  It's hard to put down.  Did I hear you say earlier that you have enough information for another book about Rosolino?  This is fascinating!  Fred M., Frankfort, KY

I am memmerzied with Mafia Honor.  Staying up too late to read it, but it's too good to put down.  Marilyn H., Texas

Reviews of Mafia Diary

It was necessary for you to complete Mafia Diary and it is a good thing that you did.  This is your best, Russ.  Your story telling, picturesque descriptions and story suspense are superb and your talent for weaving information on key Mob figures is really a mark of genius.  I knew about those guys only from what I had read in the papers while growing up but you brought them to life, breathed fire into them and it all held my attention throughout.  This work is a thrilling masterpiece!  Forrest Johnson, Author of Phantom Warrior 

I just finished Mafia Diary and was once again extremely impressed! Your writing, insight, sensitivity, and ability to capture the essence of people who are not held in the highest esteem all combine to produce a human perspective that while, may not make me a fan of the Mafia, took me inside their fascinating world.  Russ, thank for an excellent book.  Bill Noel, Author of the Folly Beach Mystery Series

Reviews of An April Trail in Kentucky

I am loving the book and, although I started to share some laughter with Travis, he made me stop because he wants to read it for himself!  I could not help it and told him I just had to share that one section of Government! Just so funny but soooooooooo true!  I can't wait to finish reading it and I truly do absolutely, no doubts about it, LOVE the's perfect! Susan G., Kewaunee Wisconsin

For those of us who have followed the writings of Russell Vassallo, his book "An April Trail in Kentucky," demonstrated once again the depth of his feelings and the breadth of his experiences.  On the surface, this book chronicles the move that he and his beloved wife, Virginia, made from the mean streets of New Jersey to the simple country byways of rural Kentucky.  But like all good books, what you see on the surface is just a hint of what lies beneath.

Apparently, from Vassallo's experience, decency is till a commodity that is not rare at all in the hills of Kentucky.  One such example, of a decent and meaningful life is the story of Audra, a true Woman of Kentucky, a pioneer wife and mother who typifies the kind of spirit that still exists, particularly in rural areas of our nation. But as Vassallo says of her, 'there is nothing dramatic about Audra's life.  In fact, the beauty of her life lies in its simplicity, in loving a man and her children, in suffering through the loss of her children at birth, in working beside her family in the kitchen or in the fields."  

Vassallo's writing style in this book is a perfect fit for his subject matter: An April Trail.  His narration meanders in a seemingly aimless way, much like any trail does: through the woods, across streams, up hill and down, first to the eas, then to the west, into the past and them back to the present.  But somehow, whichever trail he is on, always seems to arrive at its inevitable destination.  Russ Heitz, Author of Dying in Deer Country

Reviews of Deep is the Dark

I have read Deep is the Dark twice and must say it is very moving, very haunting.The story stays with me and I am still thinking through some parts.  The trip into the supernatural with your wonderful descriptions is a brilliant piece of writing.  I made notes as I read Deep and looking back over them now, I find I recorded words like "spellbinding".  So many tunes I asked myself, "Could this really happen? Did it ever happen anywhere?" And that is spooky.  Forrest Johnson, Author of Phantom Warrior

Deep is the Dark -- WOW.  I couldn't put it down, honestly!  In fact, I stayed up later than I usually do, reading in bed.  I'm usually sleepy after a short time reading and out goes the light, but you kept me wondering what on earth would happen next!  The cover is both intriguing and spooky.  What a prospect for a movie.  The mental images you create are so vivid  -- it's already halfway there!  Jan Canavan, California

Reviews of Memoirs of the Streets

Unlike most memoirists who focus solely on themselves, on their own lives, their own feelings, their own disappointments, their own triumphs, Russell Vassallo's Memoirs of the Streets focuses primarily on other people.  It turns a gentle but penetrating spotlight on a few more of the people he has known during his colorful and eventfilled life.

Vassallo touched the lives of these people in many ways.  He was with them in their pain.  He shared their loneliness, their grief, their fear.  He erased, at least temporarily, their isolation, their separateness.  It is an isolation and separation that Vassallo himself still feels from time to time.  It is the same separateness, the same aloneness that lurks inside each one of us.  Perhaps that is why we are drawn to Vassallo's writings.  He is not only writing about himself and about the people who populated his world.  He is also writing about us, the readers.  He is writing about our lives, and about how LIFE affects us, every day.  Russ Heitz, Author of Dying in Deer Country

Good job, Russ - as "Eddie" would say.  Your characterizations were so poignant that they brought tears to my eyes more than once.  Each of the characters you befriended were so real.  I felt as though I was right there.  You brought happiness, a spark of hope in their lives even but for a short time.  Not only is there depth in your writing but you obviously have a very big heart, as well.  Lee Heitz, Florida

Reviews of Unsung Patriot

I didn't know beans about the WWI origins of Stripes until I read a book, Unsung Patriot, sent to me by Sue Mayo, archivist, librarian and wife of Jim, the priary founder of the Stars and Stripes Museum/Library in Bloomfield, MO.  It was written by a talented writer and lawyer, Virginia G. Vassallo, graddaughter of the WWI Stripes founder, Guy T. Viskniskki (1876 - 1949).  She delves into the life of Viskniskki, whom she never met, with an abundance of detail, but with a style that makes it a page-turner for anyone interested in Stripes histoty. She draws her story from myriad official documents, writings and letter exchanges her grandfather left in his wake.  Frank Praytor, Pacific Stars & Stripes, '52 - '54

Virginia uses her grandfather's unpublished memoirs, various internet sources, interviews with family members, and numberless newspaper articles, and correspondence to research the background information for this book.  She contacted Jim Mayo, President of the Stars and Stripes Museum for help  Jim was eager to assist her in this project and provided additional valuable resource information.

Guy T. Viskniskki will long be remembered for his patriotism, integrity and perserverance for the things he valued.  The book will provide inspiration to small town newspaper editors and the editor-in-chiefs of newspapers across the world.  Veterans' Associations, Sons of the American Revolution, and members of the American Legion will remember Guy's indefatigable efforts for their causes.  As readers they will applaud this tribute to a tireless mentor and for his advocacy for the peoples of the United States of America.

Virginia's respect and admiration for the accomplishments fo Guy T. Viskniskki came through beautifully.  She masterfully created well-rounded word pictures of this dynamic, yet complex, man whose legacy is "The Stars and Stripes."  Virginia is very articulate, her words are well chosen.  Her organization is meticulour, and her presentation is convincing.  I say "Bravo!"  Richard R. Blake, U. S. Navy Veteran, Korean Conflict