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The Last Train
Allen & Unwin
9781760630867, A$29.99, hardback, 352 pages
Dr. Ann Skea, Reviewer
"Two families, over a century apart, their secrets laid bare."
So reads the blurb on the front cover of this book. And both families are linked by the Tay River Disaster in which, in 1879, a violent storm led to the collapse of the railway bridge across Tay River in Scotland just as a steam train was crossing it.
The two women around whom the story revolve both experience the sudden disappearance of their partners. Ann's husband is thought to have been on the train. Fiona, in 2015, has just discovered that her de facto partner has run off to Australia, leaving her a loving note but taking all their money. But in both cases there is a mystery. Was Ann's husband really on the now submerged train? Was Fiona's partner really who he says he was and where has he gone?
The plots sound good but the writing is adjective and cliche driven and the strictly alternating chapters, jumping between eras and characters, disrupts the flow of the parallel stories.
I find it hard to believe that a woman who has just discovered that her man has left her and is speeding down the highway to try and intercept him before he gets on a plane, should care about her "messy, fair hair and sallow skin" (has she only just discovered that she has fair hair?) or the fact that she has not "taken a minute to brush on some blusher".
Similarly, it seems unlikely that the Victorian woman, Ann, having just watched the train she believes her husband to be on plummet from the bridge into the river, and rushing through the storm to the local station for news, would bother to run after her hat when the wind blows it into some rose bushes.
Sue Lawrence is an award-winning food writer. She won the BBC Masterchef award in 1991 and has been cookery columnist for several prominent newspapers. She is clearly very good at writing about food but not so good, I fear, at writing novels. Nevertheless, The Last Train is light reading which, although not to my taste, will interest readers who like a little history mixed with their romances.
My partner deems this to be a book to read on a train journey - but not perhaps when crossing the Tay Bridge.
Truth Serum Press
Niles Reddick, Reviewer
Paul Beckman's newest Kiss Kiss is an eclectic collection of flash fiction that runs the gamut from humor to serious. It's Beckman's fifth book and one that is finely conceived and carefully crafted, and I am looking forward to reading even more of his short fiction in the future.
Beckman has published over three hundred and fifty stories in literary magazines and journals and has received much recognition including being the editor's choice for 2016 Fiction Southeast and one of the winners of Best Small Fictions 2016. He runs the monthly FBomb flash fiction reading series at KGB in New York City, and his story "Brother Speak" was selected for the 2018 Norton Microfiction Anthology. All of these recognitions are richly deserved. These seventy-eight stories keep readers turning pages. The most disappointing experience is to have the book come to an end.
"Kiss Kiss" is the story that gives the collection a title, and one might assume it's about a first kiss on the playground in elementary school. To the contrary, it's about a family visit to grandma's house, something many readers can relate to, but this is no ordinary grandma and no ordinary family. This eccentric family borders on grotesque with a grandma that wears a mask because she's afraid of germs, and her daughter encourages the grandchildren to get pills from grandma's bottle and refill them with aspirin and to look for cash under the mattress and other places grandma might use for hiding. The mother encourages the children to take it all because grandma will think she forgot where she put it. I imagine Flannery O'Connor would be pleased if she were around to read Beckman.
Another favorite of mine I'd read in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine even before the collection is "Mom on the USO Circuit". I loved the story then and I loved it no less the second time around. In this story, a mother likes to tell the story of having met Elvis in Germany when he was in the military and she was on the USO circuit, but she'd never been to Germany, and in fact, didn't get into acting until she divorced her husband, a bucket turned pickle salesman, and was an understudy for Gracie Allen at the end of Vaudeville. Between marijuana and gin, her brain recreates a life her family understands was never real.
From a dentist with no eyebrows in "Dean's Dilemma" to "Floaters" that recounts the reality of someone who has those annoying black dots in his eyes, Beckman offers us slice after slice of the good and bad of humanity. Each story is realistic and believable even when it might be a stretch in reality like in "Wallflower Solution" when a wife gives her husband a crib sheet at parties to use since he's an introvert and in "Epilogue" where two daughters who the parents thought had been abducted reappear after five years, having been living it up with a couple of truckers in their mobile homes. In both stories, what typically might be a happy reaction for the wife and then to the parents in these stories turns out to be the exact opposite. What they want and hope for slaps them in the face. The anecdote that be careful of what you wish for seems more real than ever.
For the flash fiction connoisseur, Kiss Kiss is a must read and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Beckman won an award for this collection. There are many surprises here and like other writers, I found myself thinking time and again, "I wish I'd written this." But what I loved about it most was its inspiration. Beckman's work unearthed long buried memories for me to revisit and write, and for that influence, I am grateful.
To read more about Paul Beckman, please see his website at http://paulbeckmanstories.com or his blog at https://pincusb.com
The Cellist of Sarajevo
Riverhead Books/Penguin Group
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York, USA 10014
Paul Binford, Reviewer
A war story. The genre conjures up images of tanks, cannons, marching soldiers, explosions and the rattle of machine guns. Often in war stories, the enemy is without a face, unseen, somewhere in the distance with malevolent intentions, as if they were evil spirits. This is the enemy in "The Cellist of Sarajevo." They are simply called, by the residents of the city, "the men in the hills."
In the first half of the 1990's the former Yugoslavia broke into separate countries, but not without a civil war divided along cultural and religious lines. Sarajevo, the city at the heart of what became Bosnia-Herzegovina, was surrounded and bombarded by the Serbian army, whose intention was to convert the country into a greater Serbia. Ironically, Sarajevo had been the venue for the Winter Olympics just a few years earlier.
Steven Galloway, a professor at the University of British Columbia, has written a story of that conflict which puts the military tone of the usual war story into the background. His story, a fictional recreation of real people, is about those who lived within the range of the rifles and artillery fired by "the men in the hills," snipers who indiscriminately killed thousands of civilians during the siege.
He focuses on four main characters, starting with the cellist. A mortar round exploded in the middle of a small city square. A cellist who lived near the site dedicated himself to taking his cello and a stool to the exact spot where the tragedy occurred and playing his cello for 22 days, the number of people killed while waiting for bread.
He is given protection by a sniper called by the nom de guerre of Arrow. A member of the shooting team in her high school days, she was approached by the local military commander for a role in the killing machine that Sarajevo had become. She was allowed to pick her own targets and report only to her recruiter. He asked her to take on a special assignment; protect the cellist from an assassin.
A man named Kenan spends the entire novel getting a supply of water from a brewery on the opposite side of town from the apartment where he lives in with his wife and children. It's a journey through a once familiar and delightful landscape that has been turned into a nightmarish death zone. On the way, he describes what the city was once like, with pleasant memories which he tries to obliterate. His walk for water is marked by burned out and blown up buildings, empty streets, intersections where he doesn't know if it's safe to cross. He witnesses a man getting shot through the head, a woman shot through the stomach, and the car used as an ambulance destroyed by an artillery shell. Just to get water.
The fourth main character is Dragan, a semi-retired baker who is on his way to get breakfast at the bakery. He is lucky to have a job, though he doesn't get paid money. He gets loaves of bread, just as a soldier he meets on the way gets paid in cigarettes. Dragan watches a young couple crossing a dangerous street. They are fired on by a sniper, who misses. There is a sense of relief among the other people waiting to cross the street, who regard it as much easier to deal with "than an unfocused sense of doom, of being uncertain about where the men on the hills are shooting. At least now they know."
The overall picture painted by Galloway is of a city under extraordinary circumstances and how it is that ordinary people learn to accept it and adapt. There are horrifying, unending acts of violence, yet what eventually moves the reader is the recognition that the people of Sarajevo had the chance to lose more than their lives. They were on the edge of losing their humanity, and the cellist represents that striving in the human heart to preserve the soul of whatever it is to be human. He plays his music with determination and courage, in the same way that Kenan takes off from his home with empty water bottles.
The cat-and-mouse game played by Arrow and the assassin sent from the other side of the battle lines is another example of the test for the soul. Arrow has the assassin in the sights of her rifle, or is it the assassin? Could it be one of her fellows, trapped in the siege, who just happens to be where she guesses the sniper would be? Would she save the cellist, or add another innocent victim to the list of the dead?
Arrow runs into a moral and ethical dilemma when her commander is replaced by a more hard-line faction within the Bosnian army. She is ordered to shoot at a random target, one of the men in the hills who happens to wander into her firing zone. If she pulls the trigger, she will have crossed the line that she has drawn for herself. If she doesn't, her own life is in danger, from her own side. Even the victims are likely to be endangered by other victims.
The residents of the city are not above human avariciousness. There's a tunnel that offers not only an escape from the city, at a cost, but a way in for some goods. A group of gangsters has commandeered the tunnel. They are the ones who have gasoline for their cars, who dress well and eat well. They serve as pawnbrokers, willing to pay someone a little money for a family heirloom. Their role is not to moralize, but to exploit the desperation.
The siege of Sarajevo lasted longer than any other siege in modern history. When that war started in the spring of 1992, it was apparently a skirmish along the borders of the future countries. I was shocked when it turned a part of modern Europe into a battlefield reminiscent of WWII, including concentration camps, genocide, torture, a complete reversal of the direction Europe had been following. "The Cellist of Sarajevo" is a reminder of the fragility of peace, and what the consequences are for humanity when the edges fray and daily life becomes fire and brimstone. I highly recommend this book to anyone who remembers that period, but I more strongly recommend it to anyone born after that time. It was 25 years ago when the siege first began, anyone born since would do well to learn about the consequences of ultra-nationalism, religious fervor, and blind obedience to an ideology.
Stephen Galloway, in his acknowledgements at the back of the book, informs us that he has been to Sarajevo. He met people who were involved in the siege, he heard their stories, he walked the streets he describes in "The Cellist of Sarajevo." The reader can rest assured that the picture he paints is an authentic portrayal of life under the guns of "the men in the hills."
Fish from the Sky
Amazon Digital Services LLC
B06ZYZ7WJW, $2.99, Kindle Edition, 271 pages
In the heat of war, a love emerges... Will this newfound relationship be strong enough to survive a country torn apart?
Abigail Linneman has lived in Cambridge all of her life. She decides she is in need of a break from Cambridge. To earn extra cash, she starts work at a local pub. She loves her job, for it provides her life and excitement that she has been craving.
When the Royal Corps of Signals learned she spoken German, they recruited her. She accepted their offer. There she first noticed Sergeant James Marshall. He was so unlike the other men who she came in contact with, for there was a shyness in him that wasn't present in the others who sought her attention.
James fell in love with Abigail instantly. Together they shared a whirlwind courtship. When James proposed marriage to her, she was unsure if she wanted to marry someone who had such a dangerous career. It took her seven days to say "yes" to his question.
The two spend their wedding night together, and then James military career calls him away to participate in a special operation. Will his mission be a success and he come home to the comforting arms of his new bride?
FISH FROM THE SKY is an outstanding novel! I found myself being enthralled by each of the scenes as they play out before my eyes. This book has the power to reach out and pull you into its pages. Through the author's descriptive words, you are able to feel a magnetic pull that quickly wraps its way around your heart.
Addison Marsh should stand up and take a bow! She has proven to me that she is one magnificent author. With this being my first book that I found by this talented author I quickly knew that her writing was going to earn a spot on my keeper shelf. Each scene is so perfectly constructed, the characters are expertly defined, which makes for an unforgettable reading experience.
The Vanishing Velazquez: a 19th Century Bookseller's Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece
c/o Simon & Schuster
9781476762159 $15.99 hc
B010MHAC9E, $12.99 Kindle, 305 pp, www.amazon.com
THE VANISHING VELAZQUEZ is about the unhappy experiences of John Snare, a Reading, England bookseller who discovered a painting "A Half-Length of Charles the First". Interposed with this tale is the author's backstory of art and Velazquez in the 17th century. Charles the First was the English King executed for high treason in 1649. In 1845 Snare attended an auction offering the portrait, which was attributed to Van Dyke, bought the painting, and then did extensive detective work to prove that the artist was Velazquez. Traces of the painting had been lost for centuries, thus potentially giving Snare a rare and exciting find.
Prince Charles, the son of King James I, had gone to Spain in 1623 on a doomed mission to meet and possibly marry Philip IV's sister Infanta Maria Anna of Spain. Although the visit was considered a disaster, Philip IV had arranged for Charles to be painted by Velazquez, who had a glorious reputation within the Spanish court. Snare left no stone unturned in finding proof that the sitter was indeed Prince Charles, and that the painter of his acquisition was Velazquez, finding solid information that the painting had come back to England and entered the collections of English aristocrats, and ultimately the auction. Snare was beside himself with joy when most of his suppositions and documentation were initially accepted.
However, the Establishment began to wonder "how on earth he could possibly have laid hands on a lost Velazquez that others before him had longed to discover, yet of which there was - apparently - no recorded sighting since the day it was made in Madrid". The astonished art infrastructure and previous aristocratic owners struck back with the seizure of the painting and a bottomless pit of legal arguments designed to keep both the painting and accolades from a humble bookseller.
The author offers an in-depth analysis of the genius of Velazquez, especially in relation to the famous and important Las Meninas painting and generalizes many of her insights to the Prince Charles portrait. This analysis is interesting, especially in discussing the topics of spontaneity, light, illusions, and supposed viewers of the work of the artist. However, I did not feel that this larger picture was very well integrated into the immediate subject of the book: how the Prince Charles portrait was lost, found and lost again. I appreciated the insights, and many of them were very relevant to enriching the story, but sometimes it was difficult to follow Snare's narrative because there were so many intricate digressions.
God and President Trump Plus the Rest of Us
9780692855416, $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 Kindle, 110pp, www.amazon.com
Online Book Club
Almost a full year into Donald Trump's presidency it's still impossible to go anywhere online or in the news without seeing his name. Mentions of Trump range from the most hateful, insulting things to those who praise his every word as the greatest ever. These two sides have two things in common - they're both so solidly stuck in their opinions that no matter what happened they'd never change their minds and, more closely related to this book, both sides fail to see that Trump is a human being who has both negatives and positives, not a god.
God and President Trump Plus the Rest of Us by Patric Rutherford was published in May 2017, so a few months had already passed since Trump's inauguration in January of the same year. A lot has happened in the U.S. since, certainly, but the book is general enough that it's still relevant. The 112-page book is essentially broken into two parts: a discussion about Trump, God, the "responsibility of the presidency" (table of contents) and a discussion of both those who love and hate trump; and a review of historical leaders from Moses to Nelson Mandela.
The first section of the book does an absolutely excellent job of discussing Trump in a balanced, fair way. He lists the legitimate reasons people voted for Trump and discourages those who hate Trump or his supporters (in fact, he discourages hatred in general and explains how it's an unchristian trait), but he also discusses those who show blind love for Trump as well. Here is perhaps one of the greatest points of the book - Rutherford explains that if someone is always negative, only arguing or pointing out bad points someone makes, people will naturally deflect their opinions and consider them as hateful. To truly criticize someone in any way that's helpful, not merely hateful, one must (except in extreme circumstances) actually be close to them. To merely go around and attack everyone who hates or loves Trump (or anyone/anything else for that matter) is unhelpful to everyone; to explain to a friend that you regularly speak with in a kind, solid way - "Hey, friend, Trump is [doing something] and that's bad because of [these reasons]," rather than "You're a racist if you like Trump, go away" for example - is not only much better, it's actually vital in a good friendship. This section also blatantly points out the issues with voting or praising the words of a single party regardless of who one is voting for or what they're saying. Putting so much blind faith in anything is dangerous and comes close to worship, which should be reserved for God alone.
Or is God planning to use [Trump] as he did Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus for some special purpose in his plan for the world? Or will he be like Lyndon Johnson, who created havoc with the Vietnam War but also upgraded the Social Security system to include Medicare and Medicaid, which is of benefit to millions of Americans today? Maybe God has allowed Donald Trump to win so that Americans can face the reality of their rejection of him and their worship of their new gods: money, entertainment, and celebrities.
The second half of the book explores spiritual and governmental leaders. These range from Moses, Nebuchadnezzar, Isaiah and Saul to Hitler, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, with Jesus Himself as a finale. Each of these explores different things that can be related not only to Trump but the direction our country is headed in. Some of these stories I was rather familiar with, but for the most part I learned a lot here. I knew surprisingly little about the challenges Gandhi and Mandela faced, and the leaders and kings of biblical times like Saul, Rehoboam and Moses had a lot of depth I wasn't aware of. It was fantastic seeing not only how these people each held lessons that pertain to today, but how God sometimes used powerful figures in biblical times to point out problems or punish the people who had turned their backs on Him.
In the end, the author points out some things to look out for in the coming years and what we can do about it. Some of those things we're already seeing, like "the smallness of parochialism that pits our citizens against each other and against people of other countries or ethnic groups" (pages 92/93), and how we must act if or when Trump needs to be held accountable and removed (and if Congress fails to hold him accountable).
If there is one lesson this book seeks to teach us, it's that Trump is only a man and that we need to keep our faith in God regardless of what he does. Rutherford points out that even Jesus knew when to be "decisive and forceful when necessary" (page 90), such as when he destroyed the tables of merchants in the temple. There are numerous characteristics that a good Christian shares with Jesus, and these apply to everything in life, even politics. I found only 3 grammatical errors, all minor, and the writing was incredibly easy to follow. I especially appreciated that this wasn't a book that sought out to show Trump, his supporters or his opponents as terrible human beings or 100% correct. As such, I rate the surprisingly enjoyable God and President Trump Plus the Rest of Us by Patric Rutherford 4 out of 4 stars. Despite this, I wouldn't recommend the book to people outside the U.S. unless they're interested in U.S. politics. It also isn't recommended to those who aren't Christian and aren't interested in religious books, as the majority of it (clearly) has a religious slant. Finally, although they may be the ones who need to read the book the most, people who are entirely set in their opinions and don't hesitate to argue with total strangers over the slightest kindness or criticism of Trump probably won't like this either.
One of Windsor: The Untold Story of America's First Witch Hanging
Beth M. Caruso
Lady Slipper Press
9780692567036, $16.99 PB, $8.99 Kindle, 358pp, www.amazon.com
J. Duffield, Reviewer
The US Review of Books
"'Goodwife Alice Young, you are under arrest for complaints of consorting with Satan.'"
The author has penned an intriguing historical fiction novel about Alice Young, the first American Colonist hanged for witchcraft. Filled with images of what Puritan life must have been like, Caruso delivers an engaging, if frightening, story about what can result from a people mired in their religious beliefs. The author's sharp setting recreates the early Colonial days - days which were filled with triumphs and terror, new discoveries, and old brutality.
The inception of the witch hangings is a fascinating topic, and the author has clearly done her research. Alice is a worthy heroine; she is as much every woman as she is unique in character. The author delivers her story by way of different countries and different years, but the majority of the story takes place in Windsor, Connecticut in the 1600's. Having learned about the many healing herbs from the other strong women in her family lineage, Alice uses the knowledge to help the suffering. Instead of gratitude, she experiences hatred from her fellow townspeople who consider her healing talents to be hexes.
Caruso's dialogue is believable and interesting, and the pace remains solid throughout. While witchery and witchcraft have long been a mystery, these themes are as relevant today as they were in the 1600's. Although it can be argued that people are now more open to spirituality and magic, most religions clash and even reject these same ideals. The horror brought unto these highly intuitive women should not be forgotten lest they are repeated. Caruso has done an excellent job of capturing this dark time in American history.
Mrs. Chartwell and the Cat Burglar
9780997638752, $14.95 paperback, $3.99 ebook, 241 pages, www.amazon.com
Abigail Chartwell is a widow and likes it that way, thank you very much. She has a fulfilling job as a librarian, a great cat to come home to, and isn't interested in any of the offers of masculine attention that come her way in response to her youthful good looks and lovely auburn hair. Everything changes on the night she works late at the library, when a cat burglar swings down through a skylight and into her life. He isn't looking for valuables or things he can sell - this time - but instead is searching for a map that will lead him to a lost painting that holds the key to his beloved grandmother's family history. Tony wears his spandex pants well and convinces Abigail not to give him away to the police, luring her into the search for this famous missing painting, and endangering her heart as well as her conscience. As the mystery pulls her in, Tony steals over her defenses, opening up her heart to the risks and joys of love that she had promised herself she had forever left behind.
Mrs. Chartwell and the Cat Burglar is a sweet, fun romantic mystery that made me very happy while I was reading it. Abigail and Tony investigate and banter and talk through both (all?) of their relationship issues as they work together to find the missing painting. Both of them examine who they are and who they want to be, together and apart, as they fall in love. I enjoyed the quiet aspects of this story as well as the fun investigation and mystery. It's a cozy, uplifting read for anyone looking for good story to curl up with. Optional accessories: a cup of something warm and a cat in your lap.
Spirituality 103 The Forgiveness Code: Finding The Light in Our Shadows
9781504379731, $33.95 HC; Kindle $3.99
9781504379724, $15.99 PB, 222pp, www.amazon.com
Lianna Albrizio, Reviewer
Ghandi once said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world," but is the proposition as simple as it sounds? Author Ivan Figueroa-Otera may be able to help. In the final book of his Spirituality trilogy, Figueroa-Otera educates the reader about how the vitality of mind, body and spirit can have on the human race, challenging readers to change how they see themselves and the universe.
All those who wander are not lost.
Through Dr. Ivan Figueroa-Otero's eyes, you're just in a dusky battlefield with your shadows, far away from your light source. Your reflection is obscured by past hurts that you constantly carry, which constitute the smudges that cloud the brilliance in what Figueroa-Otero calls your "Magical Mirror," which hinder you from seeing your true self.
If you've ever been lost, you're familiar with the feeling: living a life consumed by negativity where your only friends are doom and gloom. But in truth, everyone at one time or another goes through this delusion of nothingness. So wherever you are in life - whether you're in a downward spiral of depression or relatively successful but still harbor ill feelings towards someone who hurt you and wish to become a better person, put your weapons down and refocus your minds to a cause bigger and better than your problems. School is in session.
In SPIRITUALITY 103 THE FORGIVENESS CODE FINDING THE LIGHT IN OUR SHADOWS, the last book in a trilogy, Dr. Figueroa-Otero schools readers about discerning one's true existence and the vitality of purification of mind, body and spirit. He explores the detrimental effects a toxic lifestyle fueled by a negative mindset can have on one's survival down to a science, and DNA's role in perpetuating that cycle in future generations. As Buddha once said, "What you think you become."
The book is told in a therapeutic manner meant to placate the reader and help the so-called "Warrior of Shadows" back to their light source. The book not only serves to educate about the importance of wisdom as a shield in our internal and external battles, but to recognize that despite your trials and tribulations, you can be a Warrior of Light in this school of life Dr. Figueroa-Otera calls the universe. Readers also repeatedly asked throughout the book to recite a "Warrior of Light" oath to reinforce their commitment to love, spreading hope to their brethren and forgiveness.
This workbook of how to achieve a wholesomely good and harmonious life has contemplative homework assignments after each thought-provoking and enlightening chapter to help you see yourself as you truly are in God's image, while offering holistic approaches to problems in the form of diet, mindful meditation and lifestyle choices - all things attainable if willing to be still and choosing the light.
Verdict: Author Ivan Figueroa-Otero meditatively galvanizes readers in his spellbinding self-help book SPIRITUALITY 103 THE FORGIVENESS CODE FINDING THE LIGHT IN OUR SHADOWS conceptualizing in great detail and imagination humanity's quest for wellness down to a science.
The Water at the End of the World
Valley Oak Publications
9780692853030, $19.95 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 392pp, www.amazon.com
Wendy Schultz, Reviewer
Placerville Mountain Democrat
Epic. That's the best word I can think of to describe the quest of Yana Mayu, a young woman in the 15th century Incan Empire who goes on a physical, emotional and spiritual journey to find the water at the end of the world in order to save the heir to the empire and her little brother.
Yana's journey from her Hatunruna village across mountains, through jungles, into the depths of pitch-black caverns and finally to the fabulous Incan city transforms her from a girl into a woman, from obedient villager to fearless path finder, from living on the fringe of the empire to becoming an important player in its legends. She travels alone, except for her llama, Chumpi - a dangerous feat for a woman of long ago - but the people and animals she meets along the way become her guides.
Christopher J. Driver
Mill City Press
9781635050349, $14.95 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 340pp, www.amazon.com
The author explores the white-and blue-collar job markets while also trying to find fulfilling employment as a writer in this debut memoir.
It's said that if you love what you do, then you'll never work a day in your life. By that yardstick, Driver has spent most of his adult life hard at work. This lively, albeit sometimes-digressive, memoir offers "bits and pieces of a working life, job-related stories, lessons and misadventures of an aspiring writer...trapped in the life of a barn-hauling truck driver" in the South.
It's studded with pop-culture references, scholarly footnotes, cogent quotes from authors with whom Driver feels a kinship (Henry David Thoreau, Barbara Ehrenreich, Studs Terkel), personal photos, and illustrations by his wife, Tarri Driver. The author draws a distinction between a mere job and meaningful work, but this isn't a screed of millennial entitlement; he credits his grandfather with imparting the value of a strong work ethic ("He showed me what it felt like to be satisfied by a job well done").
His fraught, often-bumpy journey will strike a chord with many readers - especially college graduates who have labored under the impression that their degrees would, for want of a better phrase, pay off. Driver laments, "A hell of a lot of good a Master of Arts degree in English does when your job is to deliver portable storage barns from a truck in the middle of nowhere."
Overall, he walks a fine line in this book; he's grateful for the work that enables him to pay his bills, despite feeling defeated that he's unable to make his education work for him, but at the same time, he's cognizant of the millions of people who "struggle every day at crap jobs that pay next-to-nothing because it is the only option they have." However, in describing the colorful characters he encounters and recreating their Southern-fried patois, he comes perilously close to caricature ("Sorry bout all 'at chicken shit over thar, but that's wore I need it tuh set"), and his habit of jumping from present to past jobs and back again robs the book of some momentum.
A largely resonant, darkly comic remembrance that embodies the struggle between pursuing reliable employment and devoting oneself to one's passions.
Once upon a Mulberry Field
C. L. Hoang
Willow Stream Publishing
9780989975674, $15.95 PB, $6.99 Kindle, 392pp, www.amazon.com
Honorable Mention for Fiction
2014 Writer's Digest Book Awards
"Once upon a Mulberry Field" by C.L. Hoang is a heartfelt story that takes the reader deep into the Vietnam War through characters that ring with authenticity and make us think about the human condition. Those who want to know more about the war in Vietnam would do well to read this wonderful novel. The reader will have no doubt as to why this touching novel took the author six years to complete.
The cover is graced with one of the most lovely pictures I have seen in a long time. I love the colors. The lush landscape and brilliant orange and yellow sunset come to life despite being what could be called "marred" by the presence of the helicopter. I wonder what the young woman is thinking as she looks upon the scene. Very emotional and moving cover. Kudos to the artist.
Immediately I was drawn into the book and wanted to find out what happened.
The author chose a point of view that not every author can handle with skill - first person - but the author does a fine job with this perspective. This wasn't an era I knew much about, but what I especially like about the story is that it goes beyond the events and makes the thoughtful reader contemplate the larger issues of life and death we all must face. With deep inner and outer conflict, romance, characters we can all care about, and a superb plot, "Once upon a Mulberry Field" is a book well worth the reader's time.
I hope it won't take C.L. Hoang six more years to write another novel!
The Garden of Wisdom
Michael J. Caduto, editor
Odelia Liphshiz, illustrator
Green Heart Books
9780972751858, $26.95, HC, 156pp, www.amazon.com
Compiled and edited by Michael J. Caduto, and illustrated by Odelia Liphshiz, "The Garden of Wisdom: Earth Tales from the Middle East" is comprised of traditional stories, told with a twist of humor, that will take children ages 7 to 12 on a journey borne on the wings of their imaginations, revealing knowledge and wisdom to help them care for Earth and live in harmony. From the heights of Mount Hermon to the depths of the Dead Sea, the Middle East is a land of stories that convey life lessons that have been handed down through the generations with respect to the protection of endangered species, habitats, and water quality; the knowledge of healing plants; and the virtues of truth, justice, and generosity. Time-honored wisdom shows children how to live in kinship with Earth and humankind while celebrating the wonder and beauty of nature. Entertaining, inspiring, thoughtful, "The Garden of Wisdom: Earth Tales from the Middle East" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to family, elementary school, and community library collections.
Ana and the Sea Star
R. Lynne Roelfs, author
Jamie Hogan, illustrator
Tilbury House, Publishers
12 Starr Street, Thomaston, ME 04861
9780884485223, $17.95, HC, 36pp, www.amazon.com
When a young girl named Ana finds a starfish on the beach, she wants to show it to her mother at
home, but doesn't want to take it from its home. With encouragement from her dad and a little
imagination, Ana is able to let the sea star go and yet keep it with her at the same time. Written
with an almost poetic flair bhy R. Lynne Roelfs and wonderfully illustrated throughout with the
artistry of Jamie Hogan, "Ana and the Sea Star" is a simply beautiful picture book that celebrates
the power of imagination and an appreciation of the natural world. Back matter invites children
ages 5 to 6 into the lives and experiences of a jellyfish, stingray, loggerhead turtle and other sea
creatures, making "Ana and the Sea Star" an ideal and unreservedly recommended addition to
family, elementary school, and community library picture book collections.
Always New Beginnings
Helena Ana Young
c/o Hay House, Inc.
PO Box 5100, Carlsbad, CA 92018-5100
9781504376556 $8.99 pbk / $3.99 Kindle amazon.com
Chemical Dependency coach Helena Ana Young presents Always New Beginnings, a memoir about the power of faith in God, and the author's lifelong of work to aid others suffering from addiction. Young tells of new beginnings, turning points that enable spiritual reflection and growth, in this profound and emotionally moving collection of true-life stories. Highly recommended.
Feminism From A to Z
Gayle E. Pitman
c/o American Psychological Association
750 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242
9781433827211, $15.95, PB, 288pp, www.amazon.com
"Feminism From A to Z" by Gayle E. Pitman (who is a Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies at Sacramento City College) is basically an alphabetical primer on feminism specifically written for teenage girls. Each individual chapter examines a topic that offers call-to-action exercises incorporated into each lesson. Together, the chapters comprising "Feminism From A to Z" examine the history of feminism and thematically relevant current events through the lens of feminist theory and introduce an inclusive and wide range of feminist thoughts and perspectives. Includes an informative introduction to readers on how to use the book and an alphabetical list of ways to take feminist action. Nicely illustrated throughout, "Feminism From A to Z" is exceptionally 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, making it an ideal and highly recommended addition to highschool, community, and academic library Feminism & Women's Studies collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Feminism From A to Z" is also available in a digital book format (eTextbook, $11.13).
Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming
PO Box 480, Wolfeboro, NH 03894-0480
9781594395352, $14.95, PB, 160pp, www.amazon.com
Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming is a world-renowned author, scholar, and teacher. He has been involved in Chinese martial arts since 1961 and maintains over 55 schools in 18 countries. In "Pain-Free Joints: 46 Simple Qigong Movements for Arthritis Healing and Prevention" he draws upon his years of experience and expertise to specifically address the problem of join pain that afflicts millions men and women. Motion is the key, and in the pages of "Pain-Free Joints" he presents 46 movements to help loosen, stretch, strengthen, heal, and maintain comfortable, flexible joints for a lifetime. Specifically, "Pain-Free Joints" showcases: 4 gentle torso-loosening movements; 9 hand massage movements and techniques; 6 massage methods for immediate relief; 3 qigong movements for neck, spine, and waist; 7 qigong movements for fingers, hands, and wrists; 8 qigong movements for elbows and shoulders; 4 qigong movements for toes and ankles; and 5 qigong movements for hips and knees. An ideal and profusely illustrated 'self-help' instructional guide, "Pain-Free Joints" is very highly recommended for medical center, community, and academic library Health/Medicine collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Pain-Free Joints" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.99).
The Gospel for Muslims
820 N. LaSalle Blvd., Chicago, IL 60610
9780802416841, $11.99, PB, 176pp, www.amazon.com
There are over three million Muslims living in the United States today. Soon, if not already, you will have Muslim neighbors and coworkers. Does the thought of reaching out to them with the gospel make you nervous? How can you effectively communicate the good news with such large theological differences? "The Gospel for Muslims" can help make sharing your faith with Muslim neighbors, friends, or co-workers easier than you think. Deftly written by Thabiti Anyabwile (who is himself a convert from Islam to Christianity), "The Gospel for Muslims" instructs you in ways to discuss the good news of Christ with your neighbors and friends. "The Gospel for Muslims" allows you to focus on the people rather than the religious system. Meant for the average Christian, "The Gospel for Muslims" is not an exhaustive apologetic or comparative study of Christianity and Islam. Rather, it compellingly stirs confidence in the gospel, equipping you with the basics necessary to communicate clearly, boldly, and winsomely. Simply stated, "The Gospel for Muslims" is unreservedly recommended for church libraries and the personal reading lists of all Christians (regardless of denominational affiliations) wanting to share the Good News with the Muslims in their communities.
Natural Disaster: I Cover Them. I am One.
c/o Disney Book Group
1200 Grand Central Avenue, Glendale, CA 91301
9781484780428, $26.99, HC, 288pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: ABC News chief meteorologist Ginger Zee pulls back the curtain on her life in "Natural Disaster: I Cover Them. I am One.".
Ginger grew up in small-town Michigan where she developed an obsession with weather as a young girl. Ginger opens up about her lifelong battle with crippling depression, her romances that range from misguided to dangerous, and her tumultuous professional path. This cyclone of stories may sound familiar to some-it's just that Ginger's personal tempests happened while she was covering some of the most devastating storms in recent history, including a ferocious tornado that killed a legend in the meteorology field.
"Natural Disaster" is for all the mistake makers who have learned to forgive others and themselves-even in the aftermath of man-made, or in this case, Zee-made, disasters. It's a story that every young woman should read, a story about finding love and finding it in yourself.
Beloved by Good Morning America's audience, Ginger is a daily presence for millions. She gained fame for her social media presence which is as unfiltered as "Natural Disaster" and ranges from baby barf to doggy doo-doo. She's shattered the glass ceiling for women in meteorology, but admits here first, she's the one natural disaster she couldn't have forecast.
Critique: A wonderfully entertaining and surprisingly candid memoir, "Natural Disaster: I Cover Them. I am One." is an inherently riveting read and a 'must' for the legions of Ginger Zee fans. While very highly recommended, especially for community library Contemporary American Biography collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Natural Disaster: I Cover Them. I am One." is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99), as well as a complete and unabridged audio book (Brilliance Audio, 9781543623031, $24.99, MP3 CD).
Baby Proof: Mocktails for the Mom-to-Be
The Countryman Press
c/o W. W. Norton & Company
500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110
9781682681541, $14.95, PB, 160pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: Nicole Nared-Washington is the award winning blogger behind bsugarmama.com. Her recipes have been featured by Town & Country, Country Living, Essence, Redbook, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, and Yahoo.com. When Nicole got pregnant, she knew she was going to miss Bellinis with her girlfriends and a glass of wine with dinner -- and then she realized she this was an opportunity to stay social and fun without the booze. In "Baby Proof: Mocktails for the Mom-to-Be" Nicole shares the 50 recipes that got her through dinner parties, barbecues, date nights, and even morning sickness. She uses fresh fruit and herbs to create non-alcoholic drinks such as: Baby Sunrise; White Grape and Basil Spritzer; Raspberry Leaf Sangria; Passion Fruit Julep; Cosmopolitan; Cucumber Lemonade; Virgin Tom Collins, and more! The fundamental message of "Baby Proof: Mocktails for the Mom-to-Be" is that mothers-to-be don't need the spirits to enjoy the cocktail!
Critique: Beautifully illustrated with 50 color photographs, "Baby Proof: Mocktails for the Mom-to-Be" is unreservedly recommended for personal and community library collections -- and would be a thematically appropriate and highly appreciated Baby Shower gift giving! It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Baby Proof: Mocktails for the Mom-to-Be" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).
Essential Oils in Spiritual Practice
Healing Arts Press
c/o Inner Traditions International, Ltd.
One Park Street, Rochester, VT 05767
9781620553053, $16.95, PB, 226pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: Candice Covington is a certified aromatherapist, healing arts master, and energy worker. A former instructor at Ashmead College in Ayurvedic theory and aromatherapy, she is now the primary aromatherapist at the Chopra Center, as well as the founder of the essential oil company Divine Archetypes.
Using essential oils to influence your energetic make-up and karmic patterns. "Essential Oils in Spiritual Practice: Working with the Chakras, Divine Archetypes, and the Five Great Elements" by Candice details how to identify which tattvas (the Five Great Elements) are dominant in your energetic make-up; explores the energetic signatures of the essential oils associated with each tattva and chakra, including their archetypes, sacred geometry, sacred sounds, and colors; and explains how to identify your personal vibrational signature, purify your energy body, impart vibrational properties to jewelry, and work with yantras and mantras.
The tattvas, the Five Great Elements (earth, water, fire, air/wind, and ether/space) create and sustain not only the universe but also all of its inhabitants. Each of us has a unique combination of these elemental energies behind our personal characteristics which include everything from the color of our eyes to our behaviors and emotional temperament. What tattvas are dominant in our make-up can also be influenced by our surroundings and by karma. Essential oils, in addition to working biologically and chemically, also work at the energetic level, making them ideal for working with the tattvas.
Teaching you how to use essential oils to affect the very fabric of your being, Candice details how the Tattvas Method of essential oils allow access the deepest, most hidden aspects of Self, those beyond the reach of the mind, the very energetic causation patterns that set all behaviors and thoughts into motion. She reveals how the tattvas are the energy that animate each chakra and how we can use their archetypal energy to shape our inner life and align with our greater soul purpose.
Candice also provides energetic profiles of each tattva, chakra, and essential oil, explains their relationships to one another, and details how to identify what tattva or chakra is dominant at any given time. Exploring the energetic signatures of the tattvic essential oils, she details their elemental make-up, animal and deity archetypes, sacred geometry symbols, sacred syllables, and colors. Candice reveals how to discover the energy patterns responsible for directing unhealthy life patterns and explains how to identify your personal vibrational signature, purify your energy body, and craft your own unique ritual practice with essential oils.
Showing how essential oils are powerful vibrational tools for effecting change, Candice reveals how they allow each of us to deliberately steer our own destiny, fulfill our personal dharma, and be all that our souls intended us to be.
Critique: A complete and comprehensive course of essential oils instruction under one cover, "Essential Oils in Spiritual Practice: Working with the Chakras, Divine Archetypes, and the Five Great Elements" is a critically important study that will prove to be invaluable for both the novice and the seasoned professional wanting to utilize essential oils for the betterment of themselves and for others who could benefit from their application. Indeed, the use of essential oils to help individuals recover from opiloid addition is just beginning to be appreciated by the medical community. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Essential Oils in Spiritual Practice" should be a core part of every Metaphysical Studies collection in general, and Spirituality/Self-Transformation supplemental studies reading lists in particular. It should be noted that "Essential Oils in Spiritual Practice" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).
My Daughter's Legacy
Mindy Starns Clark & Leslie Gould
Harvest House Publishers
2975 Chad Drive, Eugene, Oregon 97408
9780736962926, $14.99, PB, 400pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: Virginia, 1864: Therese Jennings cannot abide the thought of owning slaves. When her widowed mother inherits a plantation, Therese flees to Civil War Richmond, where she works as a governess by day and tends to wounded soldiers at night. But when trouble befalls her family, can she reconcile her obligations with her beliefs? And will love - whether with an old beau or a handsome new suitor - ever fit in her broken world?
Virginia, present day: Nicole Talbot's life is back on track after years of substance abuse. Home from college for the summer, she's finally ready to share a shocking secret, one that raises new questions about a traumatic childhood experience. But when facts she uncovers cast doubt on her family's legacy, she must risk all that she's gained (her fresh start, her family's trust, and her growing relationship with a new man) to unlock the secrets of the past.
Critique: A deftly written and inherently fascinating read from beginning to end, "My Daughter's Legacy" is an original and skillfully presented novel by two authors with impressive storytelling talents. While very highly recommended and certain to be an enduringly popular addition to community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "My Daughter's Legacy" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99). Librarians should note that "My Daughter's Legacy" is available in a large print format as well (Thorndike Press Large Print, 9781432839062, $39.99, HC, 705pp).
The Murderer's Maid
c/o Yellow Pear Press
57 Post Street, Suite 913, San Francisco, CA 9404
9780997066449, $25.00, HC, 400pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: "The Murderer's Maid" by Erika Mailman deftly interweaves the stories of two women: one, the servant of infamous Lizzie Borden, and the other a modern-day barista fleeing from an attempt on her life.
Trapped by servitude and afraid for her own safety, Irish maid Bridget finds herself an unwilling witness to the tensions in the volatile Borden household. As Lizzie seethes with resentment, Bridget tries to perform her duties and keep her mouth shut.
Unknowingly connected to the legendary crime of a century ago, Brooke, the illegitimate daughter of an immigrant maid, struggles to conceal her identity and stay a jump ahead of the men who want to kill her. When she unexpectedly falls in love with Anthony, a local attorney, she has to decide whether to stop running and begin her life anew.
With historical detail and taut, modern storytelling, Mailman writes a captivating novel about identity, choices, freedom, and murder. She offers readers a fresh perspective on the notorious crime and explores the trials of immigrants seeking a better life while facing down fear and oppression, today and throughout history.
Critique: Deftly crafted by a master of the storytelling skills, author Erika Mailman presents an inherently compelling novel that will prove to be a riveting read from cover to cover. Also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.99), "The Murderer's Maid" will prove to be an enduringly popular addition for community library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections.
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
Inner Traditions International, Ltd.
One Park Street, Rochester, VT 05767
9780892819119, $14.95, PB, 178pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: Perhaps no figure in biblical scholarship has been the subject of more controversy and debate than Mary Magdalene. Also known as Miriam of Magdala, Mary Magdalene was considered by the apostle John to be the founder of Christianity because she was the first witness to the Resurrection.
Because of a misreading of the Gospel by a misogynist Pope, in most theological studies she has been depicted as a reformed prostitute, the redeemed sinner who exemplifies Christ's mercy.
But today's reader can ponder her role in the gospels of Philip, Thomas, Peter, and Bartholomew -- the collection of what have come to be known as the Gnostic gospels rejected by the early Christian church. Mary's own gospel is among these, but until now it has remained unknown to the public at large.
Orthodox theologian Jean-Yves Leloup's translation of the Gospel of Mary from the Coptic and his thorough and profound commentary on this text are presented here for the first time in English. The gospel text and the spiritual exegesis of Leloup together reveal unique teachings that emphasize the eminence of the divine feminine and an abiding love of nature over the dualistic and ascetic interpretations of Christianity presented elsewhere. What emerges from this important source text and commentary is a renewal of the sacred feminine in the Western spiritual tradition and a new vision for Christian thought and faith throughout the world.
This edition of "The Gospel of Mary Magdalene": Restores to the forefront of the Christian tradition the importance of the divine feminine; Is the first complete English-language translation of the original Coptic Gospel of Mary, with line-by-line commentary; Reveals the eminence of the divine feminine in Christian thought; Offers a new perspective on the life of one of the most controversial figures in the Western spiritual tradition.
Critique: A learned and erudite study of a long suppressed gnostic book, "The Gospel of Mary Magdalene" is an extraordinary work of scholarship that is as informed and informative as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking. An absolutely and unreservedly recommended addition to both community and academic library Christian Studies collections and supplemental studies lists, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of theology students, academia, the clergy, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Gospel of Mary Magdalene" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99) as well as a complete an unabridged audio book (Audio Literature, 9781574535686, $126.96, CD).
William Strickland and the Creation of an American Architecture
The University of Tennessee Press
110 Conference Center UT, Knoxville, TN 37996
9781621903468, $60.00, HC, 344pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: William Strickland (November 1788 - April 6, 1854) was, in his day, among the most notable architects in the United States. An erstwhile student of Benjamin Henry Latrobe and a contemporary of Robert Mills, Strickland first entered the world of architecture at a young age in Philadelphia. But given that many of Strickland's buildings have not survived, and considering the sparse and dispersed collection of primary sources Strickland left upon his death, little contemporary scholarship has appeared concerning Strickland's significant contributions to the built environment of the early nineteenth century.
In "William Strickland and the Creation of an American Architecture", retired architectural historian Robert Russell does much to rectify this under representation of Strickland's notable architectural contributions in contemporary scholarship. In this first monograph detailing Strickland's life and works since 1950, Russell examines the architectural production of Strickland during the first half of the nineteenth century.
Russell begins with the well-known Second Bank of the United States (Philadelphia) which was the project that launched Strickland onto the national stage, eventually bringing his analysis to the south with an examination of the Tennessee State Capitol Building (Nashville). These two monuments book-ended the American Greek Revival of the nineteenth century.
Russell's careful descriptions and insightful analyses of William Strickland's work highlight the architect's artistic skills and contributions to American material culture over the course of fifty years. Ornamenting his examination with more than one hundred illustrations, Russell takes readers on a comprehensive journey through Strickland's architecture.
Part biography, part architectural history, "William Strickland and the Creation of an American Architecture" is an invaluable resource for scholars and artists alike, illustrating Strickland's critical role in American architectural history and celebrating the icon behind buildings in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and beyond that are still admired and appreciated today.
Critique: A seminal work of original and impeccable scholarship, "William Strickland and the Creation of an American Architecture" is enhanced for academia with the inclusion of forty pages of Notes, and eight page Bibliography, and a five page Index. Illustrated with black-and-white period photography, "William Strickland and the Creation of an American Architecture" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to professional, community, and academic library 19th Century Architectural History collections and supplemental studies reading lists.
Charles Derber & Yale R. Magrass
University Press of Kansas
2501 West 15th Street, Lawrence, KS 66049
9780700622603, $24.95, HC, 280pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: It's not just the bully in the schoolyard that we should be worried about. The one-on-one bullying that dominates the national conversation, a timely study, "Bully Nation: How the American Establishment Creates a Bullying Society" by the team of Charles Derber (Professor in the Department of Sociology at Boston College) and Yale R. Magrass (Chancellor Professor in the Department of Sociology/Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth) reveals that it is actually part of a much larger and institutionally entrenched problem -- a natural outcome of the bullying nature of our national institutions.
The underlying message is that as long as the United States embraces militarism and aggressive capitalism, systemic bullying and all its impacts (at home and abroad) will persist as a major crisis.
Bullying looks very similar on the personal and institutional levels: it involves an imbalance of power and behavior that consistently undermines its victim, securing compliance and submission and reinforcing the bully's sense of superiority and legitimacy. The similarity, "Bully Nation" tells us, is not a coincidence. Applying the concept of the "sociological imagination," which links private problems and public issues, Professors Derber and Magrass argue that individual bullying is an outgrowth (and a necessary function) of a larger social phenomenon.
Bullying is seen here as a structural problem arising from systems organized around steep power hierarchies from the halls of the Pentagon, Congress, and corporate offices, to classrooms and playing fields and the environment. Dominant people and institutions need to create a culture in which violence and aggression are seen as natural and just: one where individuals compete over who will be bully or victim, and each is seen as deserving their fate within this hierarchy.
The larger the inequalities of power in society, or among nations, or even across species, the more likely it is that both institutional and personal bullying will become commonplace. "Bully Nation" reveals that despite the life-long psychological scars interpersonal bullying can bring, it is almost impossible to reduce such bullying without first challenging the institutions that breed and encourage it.
In the United States a system of intertwined corporations, governments, and military institutions carries out "systemic bullying" to create profits and sustain its own power. While acknowledging the diversity and savagery of many other bully nations, the authors contend that America, as the most powerful nation in the world (and one that aggressively promotes its system as a model) merits special attention. It is only by recognizing the bullying built into this model that we can address the real problem, and in this, "Bully Nation" makes a hopeful beginning.
Critique: Informed and informative, inherently compelling, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Bully Nation: How the American Establishment Creates a Bullying Society" is an extraordinary and groundbreaking study that is emphatically and unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary Social Issues collections and supplemental studies reading lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers that "Bully Nation" is also available in a paperback edition (9780700626526, $19.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.99).
Princeton University Press
41 William Street, Princeton, NJ 08540
9780691177175, $24.95, HC, 200pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: "Reverse Mathematics: Proofs from the Inside Out" by John Stillwell (Professor of Mathematics at the University of San Francisco and an affiliate of the School of Mathematical Sciences at Monash University, Australia) presents reverse mathematics to a general mathematical audience for the first time.
Reverse mathematics is a new field that answers some old questions. In the two thousand years that mathematicians have been deriving theorems from axioms, it has often been asked: which axioms are needed to prove a given theorem? Only in the last two hundred years have some of these questions been answered, and only in the last forty years has a systematic approach been developed. In Reverse Mathematics, John Stillwell gives a representative view of this field, emphasizing basic analysis?finding the "right axioms" to prove fundamental theorems?and giving a novel approach to logic.
Professor Stillwell introduces reverse mathematics historically, describing the two developments that made reverse mathematics possible, both involving the idea of arithmetization. The first was the nineteenth-century project of arithmetizing analysis, which aimed to define all concepts of analysis in terms of natural numbers and sets of natural numbers. The second was the twentieth-century arithmetization of logic and computation. Thus arithmetic in some sense underlies analysis, logic, and computation. Reverse mathematics exploits this insight by viewing analysis as arithmetic extended by axioms about the existence of infinite sets.
Remarkably, only a small number of axioms are needed for reverse mathematics, and, for each basic theorem of analysis, Professor Stillwell finds the "right axiom" to prove it.
By using a minimum of mathematical logic in a well-motivated way, "Reverse Mathematics" will engage advanced undergraduates and all mathematicians interested in the foundations of mathematics.
Critique: A seminal work of superbly crafted scholarship, "Reverse Mathematics: Proofs from the Inside Out" is an extraordinary and very special contribution to the growing library of mathematics and a critically important, unreservedly recommended addition to both college and community library Mathematics collections and supplemental studies lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Reverse Mathematics: Proofs from the Inside Out" is also available in digital book format (Kindle, $21.34).
Willis M. Buhle
Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party
University Press of Kansas
2501 West 15th Street, Lawrence, KS 66049
9780700625000, $34.95, HC, 448pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: Within eight turbulent months in 1974 Gerald Ford went from the United States House of Representatives, where he was the minority leader, to the White House as the country's first and only unelected president. His unprecedented rise to power, after Richard Nixon's equally unprecedented fall, has garnered the lion's share of scholarly attention devoted to America's thirty-eighth president.
But Gerald Ford's (1913 - 2006) life and career in and out of Washington spanned nearly the entire twentieth century. "Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party: A Political Biography of Gerald R. Ford" by Scott Kaufman (who is Chair of the Department of History at Francis Marion University, Florence, South Carolina) captures for the first time the full scope of Ford's long and remarkable political life.
The man who emerges from these pages is keenly ambitious, determined to climb the political ladder in Washington, and loyal to his party but not a political ideologue. Drawing on interviews with family and congressional and administrative officials, presidential historian Scott Kaufman traces Ford's path from a Depression-era childhood through service in World War II to entry into Congress shortly after the Cold War began. He delves deeply into the workings of Congress and legislative-executive relations, offering insight into Ford's role as the House minority leader in a time of conservative insurgency in the Republican Party.
Professor Kaufman's account of the Ford presidency provides a new perspective on how human rights figured in the making of U.S. foreign policy in the Cold War era, and how environmental issues figured in the making of domestic policy. It also presents a close look at the 1976 presidential election - emphasizing the significance of image in that contest - and extensive coverage of Ford's post-presidency.
Critique: Comprehensive, exceptional, insightful, detailed, impressively organized and presented, "Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party: A Political Biography of Gerald R. Ford" is the definitive political biography of Gerald Ford and a critically important addition to both community and academic library 20th Century American Biography and Political Science collections in general, and Gerald Ford supplemental studies lists in particular. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $24.07) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Tantor Audio, 9781541465817, $34.99, CD).
Brand Intimacy: A New Paradigm in Marketing
Mario Natarelli & Rina Plapler
c/o The Hatherleigh Foundation
9781578266852, $25.00, HC, 256pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: Consumers form emotional attachments or loyalties to particular brands when it comes to goods and services. Being able to form those emotional relationships can be worth billions to the corporations that successfully foster them.
The collaborative work of Mario Natarelli (Managing Partner at MBLM in New York and an established marketing leader to executives and their companies) and Rina Plapler (who is a Partner at MBLM and has built brands for over 20 years), "Brand Intimacy: A New Paradigm in Marketing" details ways to build better marketing through the cultivation of emotional connections between brand and consumer. "Brand Intimacy" provides lessons for marketers and business leaders alike who are seeking to understand these ultimate brand relationships and the opportunities they represent.
Critique: Comprised of both marketing theory and 'real world practical' tips, tricks and techniques illustrated with corporate marketing examples, "Brand Intimacy: A New Paradigm in Marketing" is an extraordinarily well written, organized and presented study that is especially recommended for corporate, community, and academic library Business Management collections and supplemental studies lists. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of business students, entrepreneurs, corporate managers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Brand Intimacy" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.74).
University of Wisconsin Press
1930 Monroe Street, Third Floor, Madison, WI 53711-2059
9780299314507, $34.95, HC, 336pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: When the late New Zealand anthropologist Derek Freeman (15 August 1916 - 6 July 2001) ignited a ferocious controversy in 1983 when he denounced the research of Margaret Mead, a world-famous public intellectual who had died five years earlier. Freeman's claims caught the attention of popular media, converging with other vigorous cultural debates of the era.
Many anthropologists, however, saw Freeman's strident refutation of Mead's landmark contribution to anthropology, "Coming of Age in Samoa", as the culmination of a forty-year vendetta. Others defended Freeman's critique, if not always his tone.
"Truth's Fool: Derek Freeman and the War over Cultural Anthropology" by Peter Hempenstall (Emeritus Professor of history, University of Canterbury, New Zealad) documents an intellectual journey that was much larger and more encompassing than Freeman's criticism of Mead's work.
"Truth's Fool" peels back the prickly layers to reveal the man in all his complexity. Framing this story within anthropology's development in Britain and America, Professor Hempenstall recounts Freeman's mission to turn the discipline from its cultural-determinist leanings toward a view of human culture underpinned by biological and behavioral drivers.
"Truth's Fool" successfully engages the intellectual questions at the center of the Mead - Freeman debate and illuminates the dark spaces of personal, professional, and even national rivalries.
Critique: An impressively informative and insightful study, "Truth's Fool: Derek Freeman and the War over Cultural Anthropology" is an extraordinary work of outstanding scholarship and a welcome contribution to the history of anthropology as a discipline in general, and the Derek Freeman/Margaret Mead controversy in particular. Enhanced for academia with the inclusion of a number of illustrations, thirty-two pages of Notes, a thirteen page Bibliography, and a twelve page Index, "Truth's Fool: Derek Freeman and the War over Cultural Anthropology" is unreservedly recommended for college and university library Anthropology and Biography collections in general, and Oceania History supplemental studies lists in particular. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Truth's Fool: Derek Freeman and the War over Cultural Anthropology" is also available from the University of Wisconsin Press in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.99).
Becoming the News
Columbia University Press
61 West 62nd Street, New York, NY 10023-7015
9780231183147, $105.00, HC, 280pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: We have all seen it. A small horde of television journalists sticking cameras and microphones in the faces of shocked and grieving people when there has been a disaster in their lives -- natural or man-made.
What does it feel like to be featured, quoted, or just named in a news story? A refugee family, the survivor of a shooting, a primary voter in Iowa -- the views and experiences of ordinary people are an important component of journalism. While much has been written about how journalists work and gather stories, what do we discover about the practice of journalism and attitudes about the media by focusing on the experiences of the subjects themselves?
In "Becoming the News: How Ordinary People Respond to the Media Spotlight", Ruth Palmer (Assistant Professor of Communications at IE University in Madrid and Segovia) argues that understanding the motivations and experiences of those who have been featured in news stories (voluntarily or not) sheds new light on the practice of journalism and the importance many continue to place on the role of the mainstream media.
Based on dozens of interviews with news subjects, "Becoming the News" studies how ordinary people make sense of their experience as media subjects. Professor Palmer charts the arc of the experience of "making" the news, from the events that brought an ordinary person to journalists' attention through the decision to cooperate with reporters, interactions with journalists, and reactions to the news coverage and its aftermath.
Professor Palmer also explores what motivates someone to talk to the press; whether they consider the potential risks; the power dynamics between a journalist and their subject; their expectations about the motivations of journalists; and the influence of social media on their decisions and reception.
Pointing to the ways traditional news organizations both continue to hold on to and are losing their authority, "Becoming the News" has important implications for how we think about the production and consumption of news at a time when Americans distrust the news media more than ever.
Critique: An especially relevant and timely study when journalism and the new media are under concentrated political attack seeking to denigrate the Fourth Estate as a truthful, meaningful, and fundamentally necessary for the creation and maintenance of a healthy democracy, "Becoming the News: How Ordinary People Respond to the Media Spotlight" is an exceptionally well researched, written, organized and presented seminal work of outstanding scholarship that is whole heartedly recommended for both community and academic library Journalism collections and supplemental studies reading lists. It should be noted for students, academics, and the non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Becoming the News" is also available in a paperback edition (9780231183154, $35.00) and in a digital book format (eTextbook, $19.24).
American Horror Story and Philosophy
Richard Greene & Rachel Robison-Greene, editors
Open Court Publishing Company
70 East Lake Street, Suite 800, Chicago, IL 60601
9780812699722, $19.95, PB, 256pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: In American Horror Story and Philosophy, philosophers with varying backgrounds and interests explore different aspects of this popular "erotic thriller" TV show, with its enthusiastic cult following and strong critical approval. The result is a collection of intriguing and provocative thoughts on deeper questions prompted by the creepy side of the human imagination.
As an "anthology show", American Horror Story has a unique structure in the horror genre because it explores distinct subgenres of horror in each season. As a result, each season raises its own set of philosophical issues.
The show's first season, Murder House, is a traditional haunted house story. Philosophical topics expounded here include: the moral issues pertaining to featuring a mass murderer as one of the season's main protagonists; the problem of other minds?when I see an old hag, how can I know that you don't see a sexy maid? And whether it is rationally justified to fear the Piggy Man.
Season Two, Asylum, takes place inside a mid-twentieth-century mental hospital. Among other classic horror subgenres, this season includes story lines featuring demonic possession and space aliens. Chapters inspired by this season include such topics as: the ethics of investigative reporting and whistle blowing; personal identity and demonic possession; philosophical problems arising from eugenics; and the ethics and efficacy of torture.
Season Three, Coven, focuses on witchcraft in the contemporary world. Chapters motivated by this season include: sisterhood and feminism as starkly demonstrated in a coven; the metaphysics of traditional voodoo zombies (in contrast to the currently fashionable "infected" zombies); the uses of violent revenge; and the metaphysics of reanimation.
Season Four, Freak Show, takes place in a circus. Philosophical writers look at life under the Big Top as an example of "life imitating art"; several puzzles about personal identity and identity politics (crystallized in the two-headed girl, the bearded lady, and the lobster boy); the ethical question of honor and virtue among thieves; as well as several topics in social and political philosophy.
Season Five, Hotel, is, among other disturbing material, about vampires. Chapters inspired by this season include: the ethics of creating vampire progeny; LGBT-related philosophical issues; and existentialism as it applies to serial killers.
Season Six, Roanoke, often considered the most creative of the seasons so far, partly because of its employment of the style of documentaries with dramatic re-enactments, and its mimicry of The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. Among the philosophical themes explored here are what happens to moral obligations under the Blood Moon; the proper role of truth in storytelling; and the defensibility of cultural imperialism.
Critique: Comprised of sixteen erudite, informatively insightful, thoughtful and thought-provoking essays by knowledgeable contributors, "American Horror Story and Philosophy" is enhanced for academia with the inclusion of a four page Bibliography and an eight page Index, making it an unreservedly recommended addition to college and university library Popular Culture and Philosophy collections and supplemental studies lists. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "American Horror Story and Philosophy" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).
A Walk for Sunshine
27 West 20th Street, Suite 1102, New York, NY 10011
9780825308499, $15.95, PB, 303pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: In the pages of "A Walk for Sunshine", author Jeff Alt takes his readers along every step of his 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail in a compendium of humorous, frightening, and inspirational stories that includes bears, bugs, blisters, captivating characters, skunk bed mates, and hilarious food cravings.
As Alt walked more than 5 million steps through freezing temperatures, driving rain, and sunny skies, he was constantly buoyed by the knowledge that his walk was dedicated to his brother who has cerebral palsy. Alt's adventure inspired an annual fundraiser which has raised over $500,000 for Sunshine, the home where his brother lives.
This is the 20th anniversary edition of "A Walk for Sunshine", allowing a new generation of armchair travelers to go along with Alt and vicariously experience the success of turning dreams into goals and achieving them, as well as celebrating family, a stewardship of the earth, good health, and the American spirit.
Critique: An inherently fascinating, absorbing, and entertaining read from cover to cover, this new twentieth anniversary edition of "A Walk for Sunshine" is unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "A Walk for Sunshine" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.49) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Brilliance Audio, 9781531868147, $9.99, MP3 CD).
From Religion To Science
Lawrence H. Wood
c/o Author House
1663 Liberty Dr. Suite #300, Bloomington, IN 47403
9781532024573, $28.99, PB, 444pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: Specifically written for readers who are grappling with two seemingly diametrically opposed systems of explaining the world around us (Religion and Science), "From Religion To Science" maintains that the reason is that essentially that one explanation began before the other. The first explanation's development began thousands of years ago when our gradually evolving brains and minds awoke to an unknown, possibly threatening environment.
Unfortunately, attempts to explain this strange environment were frustrated by illusions such as the apparent motion of the sun, moon and stars around the earth, which clouded our limited observational capability, such as our inability detect constant motion, thwarting the developing human mind's ability to correctly explain observations. These limitations ultimately led to a totally incorrect explanation: we reside in a very small, young, unchanging universe revolving about us, created by a supernatural being (God) which is a belief system termed Religion.
About 500 years ago, the formulation of the second explanation was initiated when astute investigators such as Copernicus and Galileo, using improved new observation instruments such as the telescope and microscope, began to realize the existing illusion based religious explanations could not possibly be correct.
"From Religion To Science" introduces the brilliant investigators who resolved the illusions by developing radically new explanations of the illusions, an explanation system termed Science, many still cannot accept - hence, the coexistence of religion and science.
Critique: An inherently fascinating and informative read from cover to cover, "From Religion To Science" is especially recommended to the attention of anyone seeking to grapple with attempts to reconcile tenets of the Christian religion with the every increasing body of science-based explanations for explaining the world and universe around us. While highly recommended for both community and academic library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "From Religion To Science" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $3.99).
Michael J. Carson
The Case of the Stinky Stench
Josh Funk, author
Brendan Kearney, illustrator
Sterling Children's Books, New York
9781454919605, $16.95 U.S., $19.95 Canada, 40 pages
"[T]he fridge is in trouble! How would you like to decay?"
Something foul to the nose can really catch children's attention. The Case of the Stinky Stench is the second picture book to involve the characters Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast and does a great job of entertaining and educating through numerous ways, the biggest being fun. Of course Funk and Kearney don't only utilize a stinky fridge mystery to communicate lessons; they also utilize interplay of verbal and visual aspects to convey information and stimulation to catch children's attention.
The lessons in The Case of the Stinky Stench are about cooperation, neglect, forgetfulness, and cleanliness that are taught through animated food inside a refrigerator. Inspector Croissant is on a mission, and is accompanied by Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast who journey through the refrigerator in search of the stinky offender. All other food characters inside the refrigerator are also offended and support their search. When the stinker turns out to be an eight-month-old fruitcake who needs help, other food characters give the fruitcake a wash and shave. A nice lesson is given because instead of condemning him, they help him and make a difference. The case is solved and the refrigerator is fresh once more.
One way Funk and Kearney use verbal and visual aspect to capture children's attention is through first deciding to create a picture book. As a specialist on children's literature and professor of English at the University of Winnipeg, Nodelman explains "Children respond more readily to pictures than to words" (1). Picture books have been used for educational purposes since their very beginning. Pictures seem to "classify texts because they can indeed communicate effortlessly" (6). Most children enjoy looking at pictures and including a story about them captures their attention. There is more to picture books than just pictures with words however.
Language and placement of words make a difference on how children perceive each page and the whole book experience. Funk creates rhyming sentences and fun characters with names such as Inspector Croissant, Barron Von Waffle, Miss Steak, and of course Miss Pancake and Sir French Toast. He also is creative with areas such as Mount Everbean, Onion Ring Cave, Applesauce River, and Corn Chowder Lake. Where sentences are placed isn't haphazard. Sentences in the tale jump all over. They go from the bottom on one page to the top of the next, which really creates a feeling of action. There are pages with sentences at the top and bottom of the same page and even pages without words too. Goldsmith, in her work "Learning from Illustrators: Factors in the Design of Illustrated Books for Middle School Children" suggest that how pictures and words are placed in a picture book make a difference (111-21).
The placement of illustrations makes a difference in how children perceive each page and the whole book experience too. Kearney uses a media that seems similar to water color, which creates a lighter feel instead of an intense one. Each picture covers complete pages, which tends to focus attention on action and emotion (Nodelman 51-52). There aren't' boxes for sentences or illustrations. None of the pages are framed, which creates a more thorough experience, a view from within. Some pages however, do offer a picture within a picture that is boxed, such as on page five where Inspector Croissant realizes he must solve the case. A purple circle frame surrounds him. This creates a feeling of constraint that must be broken in order to solve the case. The color purple here could cause a feeling of darkness or of mystery (Nodelman 63). Most illustrations are a spread where one picture takes up two pages and add to the dramatic tension. When Funk and Kearny offer a last page that opens down, offering a small poster-size glimpse of inside the fridge as depicted in Inspector Croissant's journey, a mini refrigerator is brought to life. Actual parts of the inside of a refrigerator are never shown though. To do so might go too far and break the imaginative land Funk and Kearney bring to life as opposed to the reality of a commonly neglected household product.
Funk and Kearney incorporate lessons of cooperation can solve problems, and stink can be prevented through regular cleaning through using a lively picture book with strategically placed words and illustrations. Though recommended for ages 4-8 and Kindergarten through third grade, adults may enjoy the story too, or at least be made to wonder when the last time they cleaned out the refrigerator was.
Funk, Josh. The Case of the Stinky Stench. New York: Sterling Children's Books, 2017. Print.
Goldsmith, Evelyn. "Learning From Illustrations: Factors in the Design of Illustrated Educational Books for Middle School Children." Word & Image 2.2 (April-June 1986): 111-21.
Gombrich, E. H. Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation. Bollingen Series 35.5 2nd ed. New York: Pantheon, 1961.
Nodelman, Perry. Words About Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children's Picture Books. Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press, 1988.
INTERVIEW WITH CHILDREN'S PICTURE BOOK AUTHOR JOSH FUNK
Q: What does your writing process look like?
A: I write when I can, but I don't have a strict schedule. Whenever I feel like I've got a really good idea, I work hard on the project intensely until I finish it. And then I might go weeks before I write something else new.
Q: Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?
A: I do get some of my best ideas when I'm in the shower. Probably because my mind is clear and I'm relaxed. I also seem to have great brainstorms at bed time (or even in the middle of the night). I got the idea for Pirasaurs! at 2:30am on February 27th, 2013 when I woke up in the middle of the night with the word "pirasaurs" in my head. I texted it to myself, went back to sleep, and two days later I had a full first draft (and three and a half years later the book came out).
Q: What book do you wish you could have written?
A: Under a Pig Tree by Margie Palatini and Chuck Groenink. It's hilariously meta and pokes fun at the whole writing/editing/publishing process.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: I have no idea. I started writing for children in the summer of 2011 (so, less than seven years ago). If you told me ten years ago that I'd have written and published a book, I'd have told you that you were crazy. So who knows what I'll be doing in ten years? Teaching ballet? On the beach volleyball circuit? President? I could be anywhere.
Q: What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
A: I've written a 12-Step Guide to Writing Picture Books on my website in the Resources for Writers section here: https://www.joshfunkbooks.com/resources-for-writers . But my best advice is probably Lesson #11: Keep Learning. Getting published requires knowledge of both the art-form of writing and the business of the publishing industry. It takes a while to learn both. But it's important to continue improving your craft as you go. Keep taking classes and going to workshops and conferences. And most importantly, keep writing new things.
Q: What is your best marketing tip?
A: Whatever marketing you do, make sure you enjoy it. If you love Twitter, then great - have fun with it. But if you don't like Twitter, it'll show, so don't bother. The same goes for all other social media platforms.
Q: If you had a superpower, what would it be?
A: The power to stop time. There's not enough hours in the day. And sometimes I need a nap.
Q: What secret talents do you have?
A: If I told you, they wouldn't be secret. *wink*
Q: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
A: Do what you love. Go with your heart and your gut.
Q: What's up next for you?
A: I'm extremely fortunate to have four books coming out in 2018.
Albie Newton - 5.1.18
How to Code a Sandcastle (in partnership with Girls Who Code) - 5.15.18
Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience & Fortitude (in partnership with the New York Public Library) - 8.28.18
Mission: Defrostable (Book 3 in the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series) - 9.4.18
Thanks so much for inviting me to chat!
Bio: Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as books - such as the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series (including The Case of the Stinky Stench and the upcoming Mission: Defrostable), It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk, Dear Dragon, Pirasaurs!, and the forthcoming Albie Newton, How to Code a Sandcastle (in conjunction with Girls Who Code), Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience and Fortitude (in conjunction with the New York Public Library), It's Not Hansel and Gretel, and more coming soon!
Josh is a board member of The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA and was the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences.
Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes manuscripts.
Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.
For more information about Josh Funk, visit him at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks.
Christina F. Kennison, Reviewer
The Boy Who Really, Really Wanted to Have Sex
Elephant Rock Books
9780996864954 $16.00 pbk / $9.99 Kindle amazon.com
Synopsis: In his first memoir, John gives readers an honest and often mischievous look at his working-class childhood in Midwestern America. This intimate, biting look into John's transient family takes readers through two states, five grade schools, 210 pounds, and a lifetime of insecurity. Like Dickens's David Copperfield, he hopes to be the hero of his own story, but unlike David Copperfield, he is a fat boy who breaks kids' noses in karate and has fantasies of living in a nudist camp with his kindergarten teacher. He saves his family at age four but unwittingly commits a felony at age eight. From an explosive night living in an Illinois trailer park to tumultuous father-son bonding at the flea market, John gives the skinny on life being fat. Hilarious and poignant, John shows readers that, in the end, remembering one's bitter past can, in fact, be sweet.
Critique: Wit and the passage of years have lessened the sting of author John McNally's tumultuous childhood, in The Boy Who Really, Really Wanted To Have Sex: The Memoir of a Fat Kid. At times poignant, at times laugh-out-loud funny, The Boy Who Really, Really Wanted To Have Sex is thoroughly engaging from cover to cover and highly recommended. It should be noted for personal reading lists that The Boy Who Really, Really Wanted To Have Sex is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).
Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year, Volume 2
Sacchi Green, editor
101 Hudson Street, Suite 3705, Jersey City, New Jersey 07302
9781627782548 $16.95 pbk / $4.99 Kindle amazon.com
Synopsis: Looking for the steamiest stories of female-on-female passion? You've found them! Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year, Volume 2 showcases only the most lustful and orgasmic F/F stories, from one-night stands with two beautiful women, to a group of ladies who yearn to explore each other's bodies, to intense sexual trysts stemmed from overwhelming love. This collection is guaranteed to have your heart racing and your love-muscles pounding.
Critique: Risque, racy, and salacious, Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year, Volume 2 is a tantalizing anthology of carefully selected stories by a variety of authors, all crafted to stoke the flames of desire. Individual writings include "The Sale of Two Titties", "Strawberry Surprise", "Eat at Home", and many more. "Highly recommended, especially for connoisseurs! It should be noted for personal reading lists that Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year, Volume 2 is also available in a Kindle edition ($4.99).
Night Shade Books
c/o Skyhorse Publishing
307 West 36th Street, 11th floor, New York, NY 10018
9781597809047, $14.99, PB, 360pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: Izzie Lefevre was the newest investigator for the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit when she first came to Recondito, a coastal city that's been shrouded in mystery and legend for centuries. Local law enforcement had requested the Bureau's assistance in hunting a sword-wielding serial killer who'd left a dozen mutilated bodies in his wake. Patrick Tevake was a local homicide detective assigned to the taskforce, and together he and Izzie managed to track down and stop the killer before he claimed another victim.
Five years later, Izzie and Patrick remain haunted by what the killer said before he fell in a hail of gunfire. Izzie's ancestors were "mambos," voodoo priestesses who claimed to communicate with the dead and protect the faithful from evil spirits. Patrick's Polynesian great uncle told stories of Recondito's supernatural menaces that lurk in flame and shadow. The killer's last words have brought up a past both Izzie and Patrick thought they'd long since left behind, and neither has been able to shake the feeling that their case was never completely solved.
So when Patrick, now working with the vice squad to investigate a dangerous new street drug, discovers a connection between the street drug and the serial killer's victims, he realizes that their instincts were right: the threat is far from over. Reunited again, he and Izzie will discover that Recondito is a city of dark secrets, and their own pasts may be the key to unlocking them.
Critique: A deftly crafted gem of a suspense thriller novel, "Firewalk" keeps the reader riveted to the very end. "Firewalk" is clearly deserving of as wide a readership as possible, and is therefore unreservedly recommended, especially for community library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Chris Roberson's "Firewalk" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.99).
9780999361429, $9.99, PB, 200pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: At eighteen, Meadow Noone has endured more horror than most people witness in a lifetime. After escaping her captor's cellar, she realizes that this was not the end of her problems; it was the beginning.
Rescued from the lifeless tundra, she is arrested for a crime she didn't commit. Feigning amnesia, she is determined to hide her secret, a secret too terrible to reveal. In a place where nothing is as it appears, her trial in Thornbridge is unnerving, as the formidable interrogator, Quinn Cerpen, knows more than he is letting on.
Pursued by real and legendary demons, Meadow's enemies are closer than she could imagine for Aiden Rose, the monster of the tundra, is always watching. With no one to turn to, she relies upon her friends, Parker and Elizabeth, to retain her sanity.
Overwhelmed by anxiety she succumbs to Elsyn, a mysterious and addictive fruit. She wonders if the Elsyn is powerful enough to free her from the past that haunts her.
Before long, she realizes that there is more to this sinister plot than her abduction and that the Elsyn is part of the puzzle.
"Forgotten Violets" is the story of Meadow's journey through a psychological landscape of deceit and betrayal that causes her to question her relationships and beliefs. She knows that she is changing but changing into what?
Critique: An original, deftly crafted, inherently fascinating read from cover to cover, "Forgotten Violets" is a compelling novel that reveals author Martin Niewood's complete mastery of storytelling skills. A riveting paperback novel that is also available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99), "Forgotten Violets" is unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections.
In Wolves' Clothing
White Rock Press
9780990402947, $13.95, PB, 272pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: During his seven years on a team fighting sex trafficking, Zero's become quite good at schmoozing with pimps, getting handcuffed by cops and pretending not to care about the young girls he liberates. But the dangerous sting operations are starting to take a toll on his marriage and sanity. His affinity for prescription painkillers isn't exactly helping matters.
When the youngest girl the team has ever rescued gets abducted from a safe house in Cambodia, Zero decides to risk everything to find her. His only shot is to go rogue, and sink deeper into the bowels of the trafficking world than he's ever sunk.
It's the biggest mission of his life. Trouble is, it's almost certain death.
Critique: A riveting, fast-paced novel replete with unexpected twists and turns, Greg Levin's "In Wolves' Clothing" is an immensely satisfying read by an author that has a genuine flair for originality and narrative driven action. A non-stop suspense thriller, "In Wolves' Clothing" is unabashedly and unreservedly recommended for community library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "In Wolves' Clothing" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $3.99).
c/o Red Wheel/Weiser/Conari
65 Parker Street, Suite 7, Newburyport, MA 01950
9781932857849, $21.95, 400 pp + Appendices (2)
Graham Hancock explores the possible source of cave art that suggests ancient shamans used rhythmic dancing or plant hallucinogens as the source of "inspiration for the first religious ideas of mankind." (376). Hancock reports that "people from all times and places consistently and reliably report the same non-real ['spirit'] experiences..." (379). He asks: Are the spirits, essentially, teachers who wish to improve humans as a race? Research with subjects who experienced 'out-of-world' visions suggest the images and teachers are implanted in human DNA.
Lost Secrets of the Gods: The Latest Evidence and Revelations of Ancient Astronauts, Precursor Cultures, and Secret Societies
Michael Pye & Kirsten Dalley, eds.
New Page Books
c/o Red Wheel/Weiser/Conari
65 Parker Street, Suite 7, Newburyport, MA 01950
9781601633248, $14.95, PB, 229pp + Notes on Writers
The text is original essays by geologists and archeologists. Dr. Robert Schoch proposes secret societies held and preserved secret knowledge of technology in the culture before the end of the Ice Age. [circa 9,500 BC]. Other Essay Subjects: Spirit Warriors; Atlantis; Symbolic Time Concepts in Dogon and Egyptian Cosmology; Giants; Humans are Aliens; Atlantis in Spain; Ceremonial Shaft alignments date Great Pyramid base to 12,070 BCE; Indigenous 'Star People' traditions; an Ancient War (Cambyses); and ancient Bloodlines connect to the New World Financial Order.
A Man in Full
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
175 Varick Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10014
0374270325, $24.95, HC, 742 pp.
Wolfe creates believable, loveable characters: Charlie Croker [aka 'The Cracker'] who owns a plantation where his many black employees call him 'Cap'n Charlie.' And there is Conrad, 'the Hapless' who is laid off from his job hauling 80-pound blocks of frozen meat inside a Zero-degree freezer. His car is towed; he tries to ransom his car and finds himself reading The Stoics inside the County Jail. Conrad becomes an advocate of the philosophy of Epictetus (1st Century AD) and learns to trust his judgment and his sense of ethical righteousness. His beliefs come to influence Charlie Croker.
There are many characters in the world surrounding these two men: Martha (Charlie's 1st wife) Peepgas (a bank functionary) Serena (Charlie's new wife) Roger Two-White (lawyer) Fareek Fanon (Georgia football star) and others. Wolfe's novel is notable for the interplay between the characters. This is a story of two men who discover the real value of life and what it means to be A Man in Full.
Marty Duncan, Reviewer
Make Your Voice Heard in Heaven: How to Pray with Power
Barry C. Black
351 Executive Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188
9781496429490, $14.99, www.tyndale.com
Barry C. Black, Chaplain of the United States Senate delivered a powerful message on prayer at the "2017 National Prayer Breakfast that sparked cheers and brought thousands" of government leaders "to their feet." That keynote address then became the foundation for his new book on prayer scheduled to release January 9, "How to Make Your Voice Heard in Heaven."
In the book, Chaplain Black uses "scripture, personal stories and practical insights" that show readers how to pray prayers God hears, powerful prayers that "release God's power and God's blessings."
Be sure to read the "introduction," which is a vital part of the fifteen chapters that make up the book. That's where Black explores his overall thoughts on prayer, why he believes prayer can and does change things and why he believes prayer is where "humanity cooperates with divinity." It's also where he explores what prayer is, why prayer is important and why praying with a sense of need is a vital aspect of prayer.
In the first chapter, "Pray with Assistance," Black writes about human weaknesses, trust, faith and fresh starts in relation to God's sovereignty. This chapter is also about excellence and why striving for excellence leads to a "superior path...to God's wisdom...to His divine assistance."
Chapter two, "Pray the Model Prayer," is based on the familiar "Our Father who art in heaven" prayer. I found it to be one of the best chapters in the book. This chapter provides a line-by-line blueprint for the "Our Father" prayer that teaches how to really pray the prayer as opposed to reciting it from memory.
Chapters three through fifteen begin with Scripture, explores that chapter's theme and ends with "How to Pray..." for the specific topic. For example, chapter four is about "how to pray fearlessly." The theme is in what way "perfect love casts out fear" from 1 John 4:18. This chapter touches on trust, hope, God's perfect love and how to make God your ally.
While Chaplain Black travels and works among the elites and the powerbrokers of Washington D.C., his writing is biblically sound and reveals he is a wise and humble man. His sense of humility shines brightly through his scripture choices, the personal stories he uses to illustrate important points and the practical insights he offers to readers. Because, he writes, God's powerful "...blessings hang on the silken cords of prayer." Black's wise counsel teaches readers how to make their voices heard in heaven and I consider it a must read!
Under a Cloudless Sky
Tyndale House Publishers
351 Executive Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188
9781414387789, $9.82, www.tyndale.com
Chris Fabry, award-winning author of the "War Room" takes "readers back to his Appalachian roots" in "Under a Cloudless Sky," a compelling mystery of murder, long-held secrets and greed. It's also the story of sex abuse, a mysterious massacre and the strong bond of friendship between two pre-teen girls from very different backgrounds; Ruby, the daughter of a mine owner and Bean, the daughter of a miner. The focus is on change, the small mining town of Beulah Mountain, West Virginia and the people who live there with a back story that weaves between 1933 and 2004.
The five-part story begins "in the summer of 1933...shortly before the massacre." Ruby and Bean, distracted by a beautiful deer with spotted fawns, were late for church. They reminded each other if they didn't hurry they would miss "Beulah," their favorite hymn.
Bean's mother sat in her usual spot inside the church and they slipped in beside her, one on either side just in time to hear their favorite hymn. Bean's mother, late in her pregnancy, would have been more comfortable without them, but she "spread her wings like a mother hen" and held them close as the singing ended. When the congregation quieted, and the pastor began his sermon a commotion was heard through the open windows, "...the audible voices of miners shouting for help."
Thus, begins a story of faith, guilt, forgiveness and corporate greed as the people of Beulah Mountain are forced to sell family-owned land to Coalman Coal and Energy because of rising property taxes, job loss and hardship they blamed on the government. However, Hollis Beasley is determined to hang on and he refuses mining executive, Buddy Colemans' terms. Even though Buddy claims he will increase coal production, provide jobs and revitalize the town, which will begin with the Company Store Museum's grand opening.
An invitation to the opening draws Ruby back to Beulah Mountain, a town she never thought she would return to, her fingers now "bent and gnarled from arthritis," her world threatened when her son and daughter conspire to take her car keys away. They said it was for her own good, but her independence would go out the door with the keys and she couldn't allow that because she "had to go back to make things right."
This feisty octogenarian's multilayered story of love, loss and forgiveness reveals cherished secrets and the cost of guilt and reconciliation. It's also a poignant story of innocence, good people in hard circumstances, misunderstood family relationships, deeply buried wounds and the healing of God's grace. A definite must read!
Refining Fire: New Healing for Old Wounds
Duane C. Eastman
c/o Thomas Nelson
9781512776669, $17.95, https://www.westbowpress.com
Pastor Duane C. Eastman, from Anacortes, Washington penned "Refining Fire" to encourage the healing of "wounded churches;" churches where conflict, division and spirits of criticism and complaint have become the norm instead of the ministry of God's grace. Where..." minor irritations become major issues and personalities, preferences and perceptions are elevated above love, understanding and patience." Because, he writes, the "church is ordained by God to be the body of Christ in the world" and that doesn't happen in wounded churches.
Since churches are made up of a body of believers this also means the people themselves are often wounded and in need of healing. As such they need to be transformed by trust, faith and God's grace. The process is essentially the same for people as it is for churches and that is why healing is the focus of this book.
The three-part book includes twenty-three chapters written in a first person style. The book begins with why people and churches "need healing" and then explores "the healing process" and "the healing impact." Pastor Eastman uses Scripture, personal stories and tested biblical principles to illustrate healing and restoration both personally and within the church.
I especially liked the story in chapter three about a monastery where only an abbot and four elder monks remained. The aged abbot visited a rabbi in a nearby hermitage to ask advice about what he saw was the "death of his order." After the monk and rabbi wept and prayed together, they spoke quietly about spiritual things and the monk asked for the rabbi's advice. He responded, "I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you."
On his return the monks asked what he learned, and he repeated what the rabbi had said, but then said, "I don't know what he meant." However, the rabbi's seemingly insignificant comment opened the monk's eyes in the coming weeks and they began to view one another through the eyes of God's grace "instead of the eyes of criticism." This resulted in renewed respect and the monks treating one another differently, just in case one of them "might be the Messiah."
This is just one of many stories that illustrates one aspect of healing involves letting go of pride and self-centeredness. We need to deny self, "take up the cross" and let Christ rule in our hearts, our emotions and our lives. When we do, that leads to Christ-like thinking and provides the "necessary wisdom to live a Christ-centered life."
This is a book to be savored and read slowly so that the Scriptures and illustrations have time to become part of your own story.
An Ocelot in an Underwear Drawer
Christopher Scott Ford
c/o Thomas Nelson
9781512775471, $24.95, http://www.westbowpress.com
"An Ocelot in an Underwear Drawer" includes thirty-one short stories written in first-person about the "adventures of a Profoundly Imperfect and Intensely Happy Man," the subtitle of the book. Penned by Christopher Scott Ford, the honest and often intimate memoir offers a collection of nostalgic and humorous true adventures that together form a mosaic of standalone short stories about growing up.
Most stories are set in Snohomish, Washington and some will make you laugh, while others will make you cry, however, all the stories will remind you of your own personal challenges and teachable moments as a child, teen and adult. What makes Christopher's book so unique is his profound, yet simple wisdom, his personable warmth, his faith and his intimate storytelling style. That makes this book very difficult to put down.
Some stories touch on difficult situations and issues many are all too familiar with, such as moving frequently which meant Chris was the "new kid" in school because his family moved so much. Each state meant a school transfer from first to second to third grade which made making new friends difficult and he would fantasize, Someday, I'll be a cool big kid... and I won't be bullied anymore.
The story, "Sorry for the Visual," about delivering newspapers to a nursing home where newspapers were left on patient's beds instead of in hallways is a memorable one. At that time, Christopher was a "shy fifteen-year-old who felt out of place" in a nursing home. What he found when he entered what he thought was an empty room will leave you gasping with laughter with a story all will appreciate!
Stories are designed to entertain and are not in any chronological order, yet together they relate a wise and heartfelt message that overrides their entertainment value, a message that is wrapped in an "Epilogue." With the final message wrapped in an tale of birds, french fries and a high-speed pursuit
While the book is a fun read, Chris has learned it's been a life-changing book for many readers and he's been invited to speak at many schools and churches. After reading the stories I certainly understand why and recommend "An Ocelot in an Underwear Drawer" to everyone, young and old alike.
Tyndale House Publishers
351 Executive Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188
9781496407900, $19.98, www.tyndale.com
Francine Rivers releases "The Masterpiece" February 6, an enchanting, romantic mystery artistically wrapped in fame, guilt, forgiveness and mercy that keeps pages turning long after lights should go out. It's about a graffiti artist with a destructive alter ego and an emotionally wounded single mother who struggles with faith, secrets, ghosts of the past and lost dreams.
The story opens with Roman Valesco, a handsome young man who despite fame as an artist, large commissions, living in a stunning mansion, and having his choice of beautiful women, still feels a gnawing emptiness inside. That sense of emptiness drives him to "tag" city buildings at night, which stops the nightmares that otherwise consume him.
This night Roman worked on a piece that could be "seen by anyone driving east," however he was visibly exposed. He knew the LAPD watched for him and he couldn't afford to be caught, he wasn't a teenager anymore. "He would do jail time." Absorbed in his work Roman didn't see the police car stop until the officer's flashlight beam "silhouetted Roman against the wall." That's when he heard the words he never wanted to hear, "LAPD! Stop where you are."
Enter Grace Moore, a desperate single mother who when she held her son for the first time knew she couldn't give him up, even though she had promised the family she lived with they could adopt him. Frantic, she interviewed with a temp agency hoping to earn enough to afford a small apartment and move out. The agency had one opening for a painter who had already gone through four temp workers. Although he said he needed "someone to field calls, and handle the details of correspondence, bills and scheduling" his rude, often caustic behavior drove temp workers away.
Neither one knows how their seemingly contradictory lives will intertwine when Grace puts her finger to Roman's doorbell and the sound of Westminster Abby bells chime. Half asleep, angry and frustrated Roman yanked open the door, glared at Grace and said, "What is wrong with you?"
Thus, begins a richly characterized story by award-winning, Christian novelist, Francine Rivers. She seamless weaves past and present together in this richly characterized and spiritually redemptive romance that includes angels, demons and stolen dreams. The complex and multifaceted story is a tale of consequences and grace, of abandonment and healing, of choices and spiritual battles that in time lead to the making of God's masterpiece.
Rivers never disappoints and as in many of her past works, the story will linger long after the last page is read, and I give it the highest recommendation.
High Treason (FBI Task Force)
DiAnn Mills, Book 3 of 3
Tyndale House Publishers
351 Executive Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188
9781496410993, $14.99, www.tyndale.com
Award winning author, DiAnn Mills releases "High Treason" February 6, book three in her "FBI Task Force" series. The action-packed, romantic suspense includes the FBI, the CIA, a Saudi prince and foreign intrigue wrapped in a mystery that keeps readers guessing until the last page is turned.
The story begins with FBI special agent Kord Davidson, his long-time friend's, "head Saudi bodyguard Zain," disguised as the Prince and Saudi Prince Omar bin Talal who requested Kord for his protection detail. On the way to Houston's MD Anderson's hospital from the airport the Prince reminded the driver, "...don't forget we're stopping at the Frozen Rock" ice cream shop.
Before his mother Princess Gharam joined the only clinical trial for her type of cancer the Prince insisted on taking his mother and sisters who traveled with them from Saudi Arabia to their favorite ice cream parlor.
Kord feared an assassination attempt and warned the Prince, however, Malik, the Prince's press secretary said, "I reserved the [entire] shop for 9 a.m. before we left home."
The Prince said, "We have eight armed men. This is a go."
No one knew that Zain, disguised as the prince would step from the car with Kord only to fall against the shops door seconds later...." blood oozing from the back of his skull."
Meanwhile, CIA special agent Monica Alden's "cell phone vibrated twice, then three more times." She knew it was her handler and she had two minutes to respond. Although her cover was serving, "coffee, specialty drinks and deli sandwiches" in a Houston coffee shop, she had told the owner family emergencies could call her away at any moment when she was hired. She ran to the restroom, locked herself in and read the message - "Safe House ASAP"
Thus, begins a well-crafted, clean read that delivers an action intense suspense with authentic political suspense and a message of faith. The steady pacing and well-done characterizations contrast different cultures, times and races with seemingly opposite operatives. Monica, a strong and compassionate female with trust issues and Kord, a dynamic, goal-oriented male who prefers not to work with women. Together they face growing danger, intrigue and treason as their relationship morphs from intense dislike to respect and possibly love.
Fans of clean read suspense, without explicit sexual content and bad language, will enjoy the romantic chemistry, the suspense and the conclusion.
Gail Welborn, Reviewer
BEST POETRY BOOK FOR 2017
Devotions: Selected Poems
Penguin/ Random House
9780399563249, $30.00 412 pages
At Blackwater Pond
at Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?
I wake earlier, now that the birds have come
And sing in the unfailing trees.
On a cot by an open window
I lie like land used up, while spring unfolds.
Now of all voyagers I remember, who among them
Did not board ship with grief among their maps? -
Till it seemed men never go somewhere, they only leave
Wherever they are, when the dying begins.
For myself, I find my wanting life
Implores no novelty and no disguise of distance;
Where, in what country, might I put down these thoughts,
Who still am citizen of this fallen city?
On a cot by an open window, I lie and remember
While the birds in the trees sing of the circle of time.
Let the dying go on, and let me, if I can
Inherit from disaster before I move.
O, I go to see the great ships ride from harbor,
And my wounds leap with impatience; yet I turn back
To sort the weeping ruins of my house:
Here or nowhere I will make peace with the fact.
BEST NON-FICTION FOR 2017
Where We Lived: Essays on Places
9781942134442, $16.95, 184 pages.
In my basement I have an ornate embroidered chair that stood at Julia Darmour's dining room table. From it I summon up her house on Amity Street, Victorian boiled - beef gloom with horsehair sofas, antimacassars, beaded curtains, and steam radiators that knocked in dry air. I could try to find the house and conjure up its ghosts but even if the owners let me in I think I'd find the ghosts had long since been driven out by the glare of the eternal present.
When we moved to Takoma Park, Md. In 1977 - Deborah, Hannah, Peter, and I, (Nicholas was yet to come) - it was a shabby little town of chain link fences and tire swings hanging from Oak trees. People liked it that way. It was a town where you called the druggist "Doc" and the downtown skyline was full of phone wires, like in February or in an old photograph, the kind of photographs it makes you wonder why somebody took it.
Steel Toe Books
9780986357534, $12.00, 90 pages
The Middle Ages
Red Mountain Press
9780998514024, $18.95, 89 pages
Two Books from Jim Daniels
What is left to reignite the fire but to read Jim Daniels. Each of his poems is a test of poetry's conscience; liberating an unalloyed past; forcing wild beauty through the cracked cement and pocked streets; sustaining language because this poet knows who he is, and takes every liberty to show it. This sounds like a lot but it's only the tip of the pyramid for Jim Daniels. He shares the poetic sphere with Philip Levine - authenticity of blue-collar life in the throes (at the end) of the industrial era. Every poem in each of these books is about remnants; and the message is that there's no turning back to fix anything. Instead Daniels extends outward making a mythology of broken lives and fine hopes. Because each poem is a whole, biting and cutting against the grain of reality, each book becomes an epic. I read The Middle Ages book and then I couldn't keep from reading Street Calligraphy immediately after. Vivid dramas, spatial thinking. This guy is a filmmaker as well as a poet/storyteller; open your arms to his work and you'll see what a writer's capable of - and why I'm a fan.
Changing the Name (from Street Calligraphy)
While his wife was at church
my great-grandfather let his son choke
on a chicken bone while he mopped out
his tavern's Saturday night stink
then drank himself out of the bar, dying
in a freight elevator filled with Uniroyal's rubber
stench. When I missed my plane in Grand Rapids,
too stoned to read the watch face, I had to stay
an extra night, lighting and blowing out
imaginary candles while my two babies
back home kept my wife up talking in tongues
about their stoned old man.
Great-grandfather Julius Danneels
got divorced, changed the name to Daniels,
gave away is pet monkey,
but nothing erased the boy turning blue.
I inherited the watch Julius won racing pigeons,
a fancy piece too complicated to fix,
yet I hear it ticking.
Small Talk (from The Middle Ages)
I screw the legs on the new kitchen chairs
backwards. My wife and I and our two teenagers
struggle to hold ourselves up during dinner's
weighted silence. No more sharing time,
silly silverware, or sippy cups.
We cannot force-feed them nostalgia's poison.
Under the table, our feet brace us against
this new burden pressing us down toward
each other. No one mentions the obvious.
We're on four failing rockets, nothing
to do but mumble last words to outer space.
They know everything, yet are descending
with us. I realize my mistake, but keep it
to myself. I grip the sides of my chair.
Well, I say. What did you kids do today?
D. Walsh Gilbert
9780998258843, $15.00, 41 pages
I don't know what it took to write this book but it's terrifyingly excellent and disturbingly elegant. The subject is a love bridging the distance between a sister and her suicided brother. The sister's compassion is the keynote as a brother tortures and mutilates small animals as well as himself. It's hard to read and yet the poet manages to keep us away from danger - the same danger she's unable to change - turning to sharp meaningful poetry. Gilbert's own invisible wounds supersede what she's witnessed but since art is a retooling of reality we come away from the theatre of tragedy to the victory of language - no small win - given what one overcomes to tell the truth when the bar is set so high. How do you uncover the soul? The poet makes peace by telling her story - limned through is a sense of helplessness in a damaged world. It's good for the reader that these are some of the best written poems you'll read this year. I can't believe this is the first we've heard from such a talent - it won't be the last.
I grew my breasts back at 59 years old
or should I say, they reappeared,
having been buried under fifty pounds
and five years of feeling for my dead
with my tongue and lips, my mouth,
my stomach and my hips. I was sure
my loved ones fit inside my hips like
snowy pillows, bolsters, buttress, brace.
I finally kissed mom, dad, and Bob up to God
as if I'd dropped a cookie on the floor.
I let them go. I let the cookie go.
And my breasts (rebuilt in '89
from silicone and plastic stitched onto
my ribs with nylon thread and blood),
those breasts softened by back fat
that melted and was shed like tossed
cremains, introduced themselves again
like long-lost friends who'd been
suffocated by an avalanche, and
suddenly uncovered, could breathe
fresh mountain air once more
even in the cold.
Church of the Robin's Ha-Ha!
9781944037789, $15.00, 79 pages
Richey is a devotee of the 19th century naturalist/essayist John Burroughs; and she keeps his legacy alive with poems dedicated/inspired by him. I'm glad because it sent me back to check him out from the power and enthusiasm of her poetry. Richey becomes ambassador to the natural world, noting its contrasting forces, using the care and preservation of language. The naturalist is a keeper of order in the world, observing formations and possibilities, the miracles of the earth. Birds are of particular interest with energy and passion here paying tribute. We get the feeling that Richey, walking in the Catskills, waited every day to write this book, and is now holding out her gift to us and he natural world. It seems most important - on a day when politics seeks to appropriate our public lands and reduce monuments - that poems like these restore the national conscience.
Be ye a seeker of trout, dark and obscure
but with wonderous tints. Thread your native streams
through the fat and marrowy places of field
and wood. Time yourself to their meandering -
stopping to gaze upon the spotted lily.
Blend with the trees and the shadows.
Mark the meadow brooks' every glance
and dimple, how they burrow under the roots
of great willows, pause and pool at the foot
of moss-covered rocks - how the trout tarry
under high cool banks, half hiding to lurk
and spring for prey. Press on through brush
and briars, past the whistling wings
of the 'dropping snip' into the deep woods -
where the trout are black, and blacker still
the shadows under the hemlocks, all gloom
and silence. Savage, uncompromising.
Yield ye to the fascination, penetrate farther
towards the center of the mystery. Sit ye hidden.
Hunger whetted, bait your hook with the quick
and the fresh. Bait it with your heart.
9780998258867, $12.00, 45 pages
A rollicking lustful loveful look at Cupid, and they don't call that first thing a "CRUSH" for nothing. These poems fly off the page fueled with remembered hormones and spirited fantasies. Schmeidler's words sing their way to the top as manifestos of indefensible emotions. It's pure theater of unrestrained heartfelt life before real life grounds us. AND REALLY GOOD POEMS, reimagining the world with bright places. If Cupid has a favorite arrow, this book puts a golden point on it.
I Invented This Universe to Put You in it
I'm touching your sleeve when the sun breaks
through. Everything concentrates to the thickness
of one hair. Around you air is curvaceous
so I orbit. Any moment now I'll become
noctilucent, my body will break open
and all the stars pour out. Every Monday
a new planet drops on my lap. I cannot
keep my body together. Oh beautiful
Death Star with your moony crags find me
in the forbidden room trying to return the rain.
A Language the Land is Inventing
Ann A. Philips
9781625492395, $19.00, 86 pages
We know dance is constant motion, but poetry can be too. Philips' poetry flows and sometimes cascades through meaning, each line perfect for the one before, the one after. Feels just right. She writes of other countries, other people, other time effortlessly, all alive now. Although this is contemporary poetry, there's a classicism that underscores experience. Every poet has the stated intent to make some sort of impact on the reader. Philips achieves this because her poems give us everything we need. You can't fake honesty. Get the book. She had me at the poem "My Steven" page 38. If this is her first book of poems, I don't know where she's been all my life.
The Barker Promised
The people gone, the fairgrounds
are lush in smells arching horses
kicked up: sawdust, spent clowns,
manure, candy and lard.
Hot sugar spun up in clouds,
corn dogs, dusted funnel cakes,
pork rinds tossed from the crowd.
Echoing jangle and din, a heady
allure hangs in the arcade;
the games of chance, roulette still twirling,
bees drunk in the lemonade.
The barker promised extravagant pleasure,
thrills barred to ordinary
men. One Ferris wheel still turns;
the last lotus eater - unwary
mouth open - swallows the moon.
Sarah Ann Winn
Barrow Street Press
9780997318456, $16.95, 69 pages
There're some things in this book we can teach our students about symmetry and beauty. These are standards we rarely find so well defined in one work. Winn has written a book with a big personality because of its unifying elements. To the core of each poem is an essential piece of the entire book. The poems are like chord progressions that make up a symphony, all tuned up and showing its best. Is this Poetic Resolve? Talent? Luck? The lottery? When a poem can't make the wrong sound? The images are visuals unreported until now, fresh and new, complexity simplified, relatable, achievable, approachable, easy for the taking and the liking. When you buy the book don't miss the fabulous poem, "Morning Baking." Page 12.
This book won The Barrow Street Poetry Prize, and I can see why.
There is a sale at the night market. We put everything on credit, and
spend more time than we've got, strolling around looking through
windows at mannequins wearing moments from the past, perfectly
posed. I ask the cashier about size options. About a discount hour
of sixteen again missing its tag. She flips a page of her magazine
without looking up, and tells me Venus will one day come again
between the sun and the Earth. She says I should wait here, in line
beside the jellies and glam rockers for the '80s to reappear out from
behind Mars. She says the moon is just an overflowing ashtray with
butts buried in the dark side. She turns the sign in the window off,
and goes outside for a smoke.
Addendum to a Miracle
9781904130895, $15.00, 88 pages
I've liked this poet ever since I read his first Word Works collection. But this is the miracle itself - how few words do we need to turn the world upside down? Some of White's poems are quick as a dancer's pirouette, some are sun beams flashing on the wall - fast reading - giving us brevity that is technically amazing. What if every syllable were a valuable tool, with expert execution, proportioning meaning in tiny forecasts. All our lives are in minutes. White knows this and makes minutes into poems, each dramatic, each total. He takes a field of vision and wraps it up in a small sum. This poet holds out gift after gift to us time after time. This book is the winner of the Twelfth Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize.
Angels do not exist
At someone's say-so,
They fall from the clouds
They carry you off
You, who to them
The Small Door of Your Death
Sheryl St. Germain
Autumn House Press
9781938769276, $17.95, 86 pages
Alcoholism and drug addiction equal death. They follow in that order in this stunning heartbreaking fierce book of grief. No one should lose a son but if he dies after a light filled life it is tragic - if he dies after a life of formative pain and struggle, it's disaster and tragedy. St. Germain provides a platform for the bitter headwind of a mother's grief - of perseverance and lost reckonings. There's no sea change for addiction. There's only drowning. No poetic policies can set that right, but that this book could have been written at all means that somewhere a chorus of Angels is spurring the poet on - for no earthly ability could make her endure page after page of brutal tectonics. This book is epic in shaping a life and death where the coalition of drugs curse and ruin life's every opportunity. This is penetrating mesmerizing writing. A star shines through the ruin and rubble - evidence that this boy's spirit lives through his mother's brave hand.
In A Church Two Weeks After Your Death
Christmas, it's all lights and wreaths,
A life-size creche with a statue of the baby Jesus.
Above, a statue of Mary holding the infant in her arms.
I don't believe, but here I am lighting a candle.
She lost a son too, I suddenly remember,
could do nothing for his suffering.
Bird Flying Through the Banquet
9781942371236, $15.95, 93 pages
Making the complex simple is the gift of the great. Kronenfeld replaces facts that strangle truth with the images and insights that turn our daily actions into meditative practices. Jane Eyre says, "If I could behold all I imagine..." Judy Kronenfeld does.
Even the packaged kind -
twisty tie untwisted -
sends up its yeasty plume
to the nose, its celebration
of morning hunger...
And I think of truckers in a diner,
knuckles greasy, gathering up
the creamy yolks with a crust,
before each climbs alone into his cab,
of a student breaking a bagel
in half as she runs to an early
class to present her report, bits of garlic
pungent on her tongue -
all of us eager as a spaniel
under a table for that leftover rewarding
morsel of toast soaked in the perfume
of sausage or bacon -
how we take the new day
into ourselves, and it crosses
the barriers of our cells
and enters our blood,
how it may feed us,
To Be the Daylight
9781947465107, $17.00, 101 pages
Mandel interprets every part of our humanity with human decency. She gives meaning to ordinary moments that would escape public attention. In poem after poem she writes at the highest level of awareness and skill, thus answering poetry's toughest questions.
My father at Ninety-two, splitting the Days
It's five minutes to twelve and the sun
glares in our faces - quite a phenomenon,
he says, to see the windows full of light
and everyone going about - at midnight!
The clock plays second fiddle to his brain.
An hour's nap and he begins the day again,
washes, changes his shirt, and expects
his breakfast on the table. He respects
my worn explaining as a kind of busy
work, shrugs with courtesy. He is dizzy
with the earth's rotation spinning away
twenty-four to the dozen, each brief new day
a clone to the last. Like a match burning
meridians, he strikes his shadows turn.
The Moscow Poetry File
Finishing Line Press
9781635343359, $19.99, 135 pages
Huey has written a fascinating account of time in Russia after collapse of the Soviet Union. With a journalist's exactitude and a poet's heart, we find cultural changes, peril, love, and intrigue as the writer finds his way to truth.
This time last year as we
made the final border we
looked one to the other
Lost as we had been we
never lost sight of the
other and that strength
that went over with us.
Sometimes waivered or just waved
through we crossed resolute and
hid our fear.
Without the slightest doubt or
coward's hesitation we
looked straight ahead and
right in their dirty eyes.
The spring trees burst their winter
tightened buds and waves of pollen
roared across those old
seized lands of war.
We surged as well and tightened our
grip and took nourishment and
moved smartly and correctly.
Beat them at their own games good and proper.
Got the hell out of there to home.
BEST LITERARY MAGAZINE
Rattle: Volume 23, Number 4
Edited by Timothy Green
The Rattle Foundation
36 poets featured plus a 13-page interview with chapbook winner Diana Goetsch conducted by executive editor Alan Fox. The author's bios are, instead of credentials, interesting comments on the writers' lives. And here's a poem by New Mexico's Mary Morris:
It's the closest we have ever been -
slipping my jeans off, sliding into the shower
with my mother, washing the galaxy
of her back scattered with planets.
Once, she carried me behind that tumor,
emptied those breasts into my mouth.
The body remembers something primal.
I dress and feed her, tell her what to do.
She heeds me now.
It is late November. Outside,
three bronze leaves suspend on the ash.
My mother and I lied down, fragrant
with soap, wake with our bodies
spooned as lovers.
Forgotten Women: A Tribute In Poetry
Edited by Ginny Lowe Connors
Introduction by Marilyn Kallet
9780996280990, $19.98, 191 pages.
It's not so much that the poems are about women unknown or unsung - the book's beauty is because there're so many women we simply forget to honor - and these poems do that. There are also women figures not famous, maybe family members, in poems by such notables as Rita Dove and Ted Kooser. This book is a treasure chest of great poems; it just happens to be about women known and unknown. There's more talent in this book than stars in a jar, multiple voices representing the best of human values - each poem chosen is a well-made thing about a notable female. There's nothing we can't do with words, like bringing to life Susan Erickson's POW Nurses of Bataan or Maria Mazziotti Gillan's women in the factory 'where my mother worked;' or Vivian Shipley's Radium Girls. The book is divided into sections: Hard Work; Unknown to the World, the World to Someone; In the Shadows of Their Men; Making Herstory; Happy Is How I'll Look. I learned a lot about these women I should have known. And we love the book's epigraph, said by Ann Richards: "After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels."
Rainbow on Fire
Limited Edition. 124 pages.
Courage (A Personal Message On Living Well to D.C. Youth)
My Dreams are on stilts, tall and pretty,
itching at their corners, one by one.
So I will lift them higher, whole and sweet,
from shadows, storms, and refuse from the sun.
Personal Remembrance: Dolores Kendrick/D.C. Poet Laureate
September 7, 1927- November 7, 2017
Dolores Kendrick was one of the great poets of our generation. Dolores was the first black woman to teach and retire from Exeter, a private New England Academy. She became Washington's 2nd Poet Laureate in 1999, and was our Aretha Franklin, Gwen Brooks, Versace and Prada combined. Until almost age 90, she still wore "high heels" and went to Mass every Sunday. She was decorum and ceremony. But when we were alone she was a girlfriend and great for swapping secrets.
My husband, Ken, and I asked where Dolores wanted to meet for breakfast, one day, and she said, "The Mandarin Hotel." She rented a suite there several times a year one mile from her condo, as a place of seclusion to write. She took her meals there often. When we drove to the door, the parking valet started talking about a poem she'd helped him with, and all the staff swarmed around her as their personal celebrity. I called her Washington's "Poet of the People" and we tried to attend all her Fiestas over the years. That breakfast by the way was $150.00 and we thought maybe we'd pick the place next time - but maybe not - such fun to be with her in the palace of her choosing.
Dolores was on "The Poet and the Poem" several times, the most momentous was when her book Women of Plums was issued. That was the book of the decade. The poems are in the voices of women slaves, and the narratives were also set to music and mounted on stage. And it was worthy of the Pulitzer if anything ever was.
One time. in the radio studio with Dolores, WPFW, I had a number of things to accomplish before taping, not the least of which was to find my engineer, get release forms signed, and find her voice levels, and I thrust a paper to her in a hurry to get the signing done - and she stopped cold in the chair and said "I will do THAT after I do THIS" and then carefully and slowly took her time with each chore presented.
For the rest of our lives, when Ken or I would try to rush the other, the reply was always "I will do THIS after I do THAT."
She would call friends night or day. And if one didn't answer immediately, they'd get rung up on another phone and they'd better have a good excuse for not being available. There'd always be classical music in the background as she spoke on the phone. Then came her intensity, her genius, her gossip.
She helped hundreds of poets toward actualization and confidence in her tenure as Laureate.
Dolores Kendrick was waiting monthly for her new book of poems, Rainbow on Fire, a few years in the coming. It was issued the day of her funeral, November 29, 2017.
All That Makes Life Bright
Josi S. Kilpack
Shadow Mountain Publishing
P.O. Box 30178, Salt Lake City, Utah 84130-0178
9781629723419, $15.99, PB, 336pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: When Harriet Beecher marries Calvin Stowe on January 6, 1836, she is sure her future will be filled romance, eventually a family, and continued opportunities to develop as a writer. Her husband Calvin is completely supportive and said she must be a literary woman. Harriet's sister, Catharine, worries she will lose her identity in marriage, but she is determined to preserve her independent spirit. Deeply religious, she strongly believes God has called her to fulfill the roles of wife and writer and will help her accomplish everything she was born to do.
Two months after her wedding Harriet discovers she is pregnant just as Calvin prepares to leave for a European business trip. Alone, Harriet is overwhelmed-being a wife has been harder than she thought and being an expectant mother feels like living another woman's life. Knowing that part of Calvin still cherishes the memory of his first wife, Harriet begins to question her place in her husband's heart and yearns for his return; his letters are no substitute for having him home. When Calvin returns, however, nothing seems to have turned out as planned.
Struggling to balance the demands of motherhood with her passion for writing and her desire to be a part of the social change in Ohio, Harriet works to build a life with her beloved Calvin despite differing temperaments and expectations.
Can their love endure, especially after "I do"? Can she recapture the first blush of new love and find the true beauty in her marriage?
Critique: It is clear when reading "All That Makes Life Bright" that as an author, Josi S. Kilpack is a complete master of the romance genre and a giftedly original novelist able to fully engage her readers from cover to cover. While unreservedly recommended, especially for community library Historical Romance collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "All That Makes Life Bright" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Shadow Mountain, 9781629723563, $39.99, CD).
Peace at Last
Deborah L. Grassman
PO Box 149, St. Petersburg, FL 33731
9780918339720, $19.95, PB, 272pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: During her two-plus decades as a hospice nurse at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Deborah Grassman has often heard the comment, Isn t your work depressing?
Like many others, she had begun her hospice career with that same prejudice. She feared death itself, and because of that fear, she was unaware that she could find peace, joy, and fulfillment in caring for people at the end of their lives. She had no special training in caring for veterans, and she had no reason to think that veterans needs were any different from nonveterans. With time and experience, however, she began to realize that these veterans had experiences and training that made them different from other hospice patients.
Likewise she began to understand that she could learn lessons about peace from people who were trained for war; that warriors often have wisdom that, paradoxically, shows us how to live in peace with each other and within ourselves.
While caring for thousands of veterans in a hospice setting over a 25-year career in a VA hospital, Deborah gathered the veterans stories of pain and redemption, personal awakening, and peace. Then she crafted these stories into an unforgettable book specifically designed to help caregivers, family members, and veterans themselves understand the impact of war and military culture on lives and emotions.
Critique: "Peace at Last: Stories of Hope and Healing for Veterans and Their Families" is comprised of authentic veterans stories, illustrative hospice experiences, and a series of appendices providing sample materials that can assist with healing. In "Peace at Last", Deborah takes the reader on a journey of understanding and growth making it an impressively engaged and engaging read from beginning to end. Exceptionally well organized and presented, "Peace at Last" is unreservedly recommended for both community, military base, and academic library collections, as well as the personal reading lists of service members and their families.
Eat Less Water
Red Hen Press
PO Box 3537, Granada Hills, CA 91394
9781597090391, $17.95, PB, 264pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: Experts predict two-thirds of people living on this planet in 2025 will experience water scarcity, a situation expected to result in the deaths of millions and an unprecedented rise in military conflicts. Can we as individuals hope to have any effect on the global scale of water misuse?
In the pages of "Eat Less Water", author and trained researcher Florencia Ramirez argues that we can make a significant difference with our food choices.
Florencia traveled across the nation to interview farmers and food producers. "Eat Less Water" traces her tour of American water sustainable farms from rice paddies in Cajun Louisiana, to a Hawaiian coffee farm, to a Boston chocolate factory, and beyond.
"Eat Less Water" also tells the story of water served on our plates: an eye-opening account of the under-appreciated environmental threat of water scarcity.
"Eat Less Water" offers useful water-sustainable recipes that accompany each chapter, as well as a fascinating personal narrative that will teach the reader how they, too, can eat less water.
Critique: Exceptional, unique, impressively informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Eat Less Water" is an extraordinary and life-changing read that is very highly recommended, especially for community and academic library Contemporary Environmental Issues collections, as well as the personal reading lists of anyone concerned with the conservation of water in a changing global climate.
Shelved: A Memoir of Aging in America
Sue Matthews Petrovski
Purdue University Press
504 West State Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2058
9781557537898, $25.95, HC, 186pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: Sue Petrovski has always been capable, thoughtful, and productive. After retiring from a long and successful career in education, she published two books, ran an antiques business, and volunteered in her community. When her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and until her death eight years later, Petrovski served as her primary caregiver. She even cared for her husband when he also succumbed to dementia.
However, when Petrovski's husband fell ill with sepsis at the age of 82, it threw everything into question. Would he survive? And if so, would she be able to care for him and manage the family home where they had lived for 47 years? More importantly, how long would she be able to do so? After making the decision to sell their house and move into a senior living community, Petrovski found herself thrust into the corporate care model of elder services available in the United States.
In "Shelved: A Memoir of Aging in America", she reflects on the move and the benefits and deficits of American for-profit elder care. Petrovski draws on extensive research that demonstrates the cultural value of our elders and their potential for leading vital, creative lives, especially when given opportunities to do so, offering a cogent, well-informed critique of elder care options in this country.
"Shelved" provides readers with a personal account of what it is like to leave a family home and enter a new world where everyone is old and where decisions like where to sit in the dining room fall to low-level corporate managers. Showcasing the benefits of communal living as well as the frustrations of having decisions about meals, public spaces, and governance driven by the bottom line, Petrovski delivers compelling suggestions for the transformation of an elder care system that more often than not condescends to older adults into one that puts people first -- a change that would benefit us all, whether we are 40, 60, 80, or beyond.
Critique; An extraordinarily well written, organized and presented memoir, "Shelved: A Memoir of Aging in America" is an inherently fascinating and consistently absorbing story of an exceptional life that will have echoes of familiarity for all readers. While highly and unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary American Biography collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Shelved" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.70).
Anxiety Relief for Kids
Bridget Flynn Walker
New Harbinger Press
5674 Shattuck Avenue, Oakland, CA 94609
9781626259539, $16.95, PB, 152pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: "Anxiety Relief for Kids: On-the-Spot Strategies to Help Your Child Overcome Worry, Panic, and Avoidance" was specifically written by Bridge Flynn Walker (whose private practice has focused exclusively on assessing and treating children, adolescents, and adults with anxiety disorders, and on training other mental health professionals to do the same using cognitive behavioral therapy) for parents who have a child suffering from chronic anxiety and require quick, in-the-moment solutions help that child face their fears and worries.
"Anxiety Relief for Kids" provides quick solutions based in evidence-based CBT and exposure therapy -- two of the most effective treatments for anxiety disorders. Parental readers are provided with a background and explanation of the different types of anxiety disorders and will learn how to identify their child's avoidant and safety behaviors -- the strategies a child uses to cope with their anxiety, such as repeatedly checking their homework or asking the same questions repeatedly, as well as anxiety triggers that set your child off.
"Anxiety Relief for Kids", provides a wealth of information regarding the specific anxiety disorder of children, and how to respond to it. For example, if a child has obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), the skills used to help them are different than other anxiety disorders. No matter your child's specific symptoms or diagnosis, "Anxiety Relief for Kids" will have tailored interventions any parent can use to help their child thrive.
Critique: Impressively informed and informative, 'real world practical' in scope, tone, and presentation, "Anxiety Relief for Kids: On-the-Spot Strategies to Help Your Child Overcome Worry, Panic, and Avoidance" is highly and unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Parenting instructional reference collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Anxiety Relief for Kids" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).
A Terrifying Grace
c/o Thomas Nelson Publishers
PO Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214
9781512780895, $22.95, PB, 330pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: In the pages of "A Terrifying Grace", Rob Yule (a retired New Zealand Presbyterian minister and a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand) looks at a fascinating selection of romantic relationships from throughout Christian history, ranging from Augustine, Abelard and Heloise, and the Luthers, to Billy and Ruth Graham and Pope Saint John Paul II. Illustrating how challenging and far-from-straightforward the relationship of men and women is in real life, "A Terrifying Grace" draws many insights for relationships and marriage today.
Exploring the romantic relationships of leading Christians throughout history and how they handled sex and marriage, "A Terrifying Grace" addresses such questions as: What were their relationships and marriages like?; What did they believe or teach about sexuality and marriage?; Did their marriages - or celibate lives - live up to their professed beliefs?; How did they handle the joys, pains, temptations, and responsibilities of their intimate relationships, alongside their public life and witness?
Even great Christians have struggled to handle their intimate relationships. All members of the Christian community can learn much from them how to live with integrity in today's hypersexualised and secularized culture.
Critique: A deftly written, inherently absorbing, thoughtful and thought-provoking read from cover to cover, "A Terrifying Grace" is highly recommended for personal reading lists, as well as community and academic library Christian Studies and Martial Relationship collections.
Islands of Grass
Trevor Herriot, author
Branimir Gjetvaj, photographer
9781550509311, $39.95, HC, 160pp, www.coteaubooks.com
Synopsis: Before the arrival of European settlers, the Great Northern Plain sprawled across the center of the continent that rivaled the African savannah for wildlife, with herds of bison and pronghorn antelope numbering in the millions. This was also the home for species of birds and animals that lived nowhere else.
Today that great prairie land range is threatened by human incursion and in some areas there are only pockets of unadulterated prairie grassland left, small islands of a unique environment. In those small plots of grasslands species cling to survival, unable to thrive in any other environment.
In presenting the irreplaceable beauty and the complexity of the grasslands in the pages of "Islands of Grass", author Trevor Herriot and photographer Branimir Gjetvaj ask the reader to both admire its majesty and consider its value. Full of extraordinary photos supported by the thought-provoking prose "Islands of Grass" brings the wonder of the grasslands to a new generation of appreciative readers.
Critique: Beautifully informative and exceptionally well organized and presented, "Islands of Grass" is decidedly and unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists, as well as being an enduringly popular and valued addition to both community and academic library Nature and Conservation collections and supplemental studies reading lists.
A Dweller on Two Planets
Phylos the Thibetan
Adventures Unlimited Press
PO Box 74, Kempton, IL 60946
9781939149893, $16.95, PB, 448pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: "A Dweller on Two Planets" is one of the most important texts of the 19th century Atlantis canon. Attributed to a being called Phylos the Thibetan, "A Dweller on Two Planets" was 'channeled' to Frederick Spenser Oliver (1866-1899) at his Northern California home near Mount Shasta over a period of three years, beginning when he was seventeen.
Oliver claimed not to have written any of the text, asserting that he was merely transmitting what Phylos revealed to him. In fact, professed Oliver, the manuscript was dictated to him out of sequence (much of it backward) so that he could not interfere with the outcome.
Phylos was also Walter Pierson, a prospector in northern California during 1863-1866 who is the reincarnated Phylos from Atlantis. As Phylos/Pierson dictated the book to Oliver, Oliver produced the text in a form of automatic writing.
"A Dweller on Two Planets" begins with Phylos' lives in Atlantis and the wonderful technology that those people had, including electricity and airships. In part two of the book, Phylos reincarnates as Walter Pierson and is taken inside Mount Shasta by a Chinese Master named Quong. During his time inside Mount Shasta Pierson is taken in his astral body to Venus; hence the title of the book.
While some have called the book brilliant speculative fiction (if somewhat disjointed), believers in reincarnation cannot help but think that there is some sort of reality to this strange book that goes into great detail about antigravity, mass transit, the employment of 'dark-side' energy (which today would be called 'zero point energy'), and devices such as voice-operated typewriters.
The cigar-shaped, highly maneuverable Atlantean flying machines, or vailx, have an eerie resemblance to 19th and 20th century UFO reports. Phylos also speaks of personalized heavens, almost like virtual realities, something very compelling.
Critique: An inherently fascinating and absorbing read from beginning to end, this timeless classic is once again available to a new generation of appreciative readers. While highly recommended for both community and academic library Metaphysical Studies collections, it should be noted for students and non-specialist general readers that "A Dweller on Two Planets" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.10).
The Hawkesbury River
Paul I. Boon
c/o Stylus Publishing, Inc.
22883 Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, VA 20166-2012
9780643107595, $89.95, HC, 584pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: The Hawkesbury River is the longest coastal river in New South Wales. A vital source of water and food, it has a long Aboriginal history and was critical for the survival of the early British colony at Sydney. The Hawkesbury's weathered shores, cliffs, and fertile plains have inspired generations of artists. It is surrounded by an unparalleled mosaic of national parks, including the second-oldest national park in Australia, Ku-ring-gai National Park. Although it lies only 35 km north of Sydney, to many today, the Hawkesbury is a "hidden river" - its historical and natural significance is not understood or appreciated.
Until now, the Hawkesbury has lacked an up-to-date and comprehensive history describing how and when the river formed, how it functions ecologically, how it has influenced humans and their patterns of settlement, and, in turn, how it has been affected by those settlements and their people. With the publication of "The Hawkesbury River: A Social and Natural History" by Paul I. Boon (Professor in the Institute for Sustainability and Innovation at Victoria University, Melbourne) fills this gap.
With individual chapters on the geography, geology, hydrology, and ecology of the river and discussions of its use by Aboriginal and European people and its role in transport, defense, and culture, this highly readable and richly illustrated study paints a picture of a landscape worthy of protection and conservation.
Critique: In addition to being of enduring value to those anyone who lives, visits, or works in the region, "The Hawkesbury River" will prove to be of immense value to those interested in Australian environmental history, as well as professionals in biology, natural resource management, and education. Impressively informative, exceptionally well organized and presented, extraordinarily comprehensive, and very highly recommended, especially for community and academic library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Hawkesbury River" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $85.45).
Devaleena Das & Colette Morrow, editors
Rutgers University Press
106 Somerset St., 3rd Floor, New Brunswick, NJ 08901
9780813587851, $95.00, HC, 298pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: In "Unveiling Desire: Fallen Women in Literature, Culture, and Films of the East, academicians Devaleena Das (a lecturer in the Department of Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Colette Morrow ( an Associate Professor of English at Purdue University, Northwest in Hammond, Indiana) show that the duality of the fallen/saved woman is as prevalent in Eastern culture as it is in the West, specifically in literature and films.
Using examples from the Middle to Far East, including Iran, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Japan, and China, "Unveiling Desire" is an anthology of fifteen erudite essays by experts in the field that collectively challenge the fascination with Eastern women as passive, abject, or sexually exotic, while also resisting the temptation to then focus on the veil, geisha, sati, or Muslim women's oppression without exploring Eastern women's sexuality beyond these contexts.
The individual contributors cover mind/body sexual politics, patriarchal cultural constructs, the anatomy of sex and power in relation to myth and culture, denigration of female anatomy, and gender performativity. From Persepolis to Bollywood, and from fairy tales to crime fiction, the contributors to "Unveiling Desire" show how the struggle for women's liberation is truly global.
Critique: Enhanced for academia with the inclusion of an informative Foreword by Nawal El-Saadawi, and Introduction and Afterword by Devaleena Das and Colette Morrow, a listing of the contributors and their credentials, and a six page Index, "Unveiling Desire: Fallen Women in Literature, Culture, and Films of the East" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to college and university library Women's Studies, Asian Studies, Literary Studies, Film/Media Studies collections. It should be noted for students, academics, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in any of these subjects, that "Unveiling Desire" is also available in a paperback edition (9780813587844, $34.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $34.95).
Tomoko Fuse's Origami Boxes
364 Innovation Drive, North Clarendon, VT 05759-9436
9780804850063, $12.99, PB, 96pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: Origami (ori meaning "folding", and kami meaning "paper" is the art of paper folding, which is often associated with Japanese culture. In modern usage, the word "origami" is used as an inclusive term for all folding practices, regardless of their culture of origin.
Tomoko Fuse is a leading origami artist, teacher. She is also a prolific author who specializes in boxes and other forms of geometric, three-dimensional design. She has been writing books on various forms of origami for over 35 years.
In "Tomoko Fuse's Origami Boxes" she draws upon her professional expertise and experience in box-folding and other origami paper craft styles to provide a thoroughly 'user friendly' instruction manual and guide using the simple flat box, or tato, in an excellent introduction to the art of beginner origami that allows readers to "start small" then go on to build to more intricate pieces.
Step by step instructions and diagrams make "Tomoko Fuse's Origami Boxes" ideal for creating: Flat boxes in several different shapes; Boxes with multifaceted tops; Box tops with spiraled flourishes; Easy liners for boxes of all shapes and sizes, -- and so much more!
Critique: Simply stated, "Tomoko Fuse's Origami Boxes" is an ideal introduction into the Japanese art form and craft of making origami boxes. Profusely illustrated and thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "Tomoko Fuse's Origami Boxes" is very highly recommended for personal and academic library do-it-yourself craft collections. Origami box folding is a relaxing and satisfying craft for all levels of expertise and - with a little practice and this easy origami book - gift-giving will never be the same.
Creating Moments of Joy Along the Alzheimer's Journey
Purdue University Press
504 West State Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2058
9781557537607, $25.00, PB, 376pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: Jolene Brackey has shared her message of joy and inspiration with families and caregivers across North America for over twenty years. Now a sought after voice in the health care community, Brackey maintains an active speaking calendar that can be found at www.enhancedmoments.com. Passing on all she has learned from her travels and from her work with families and loved ones, her passion is to change the way people see people with Alzheimer's and dementia.
Now in a newly updated and expanded fifth edition, "Creating Moments of Joy Along the Alzheimer's Journey: A Guide for Families and Caregivers, Fifth Edition, Revised and Expanded" Jolene Brackey continues to promote a vision: that we will soon look beyond the challenges of Alzheimer's disease to focus more of our energies on creating moments of joy.
When people have short-term memory loss, their lives are made up of moments. We are not able to create perfectly wonderful days for people with dementia or Alzheimer's, but we can create perfectly wonderful moments, moments that put a smile on their faces and a twinkle in their eyes. Five minutes later, they will not remember what we did or said, but the feeling that we left them with will linger.
The new edition of "Creating Moments of Joy" is filled with more practical advice sprinkled with hope, encouragement, new stories, and generous helpings of humor. The underlying message of "Creating Moments of Joy" is that our greatest teacher is having cared for and loved someone with Alzheimer's -- and that often what we have most to learn about is ourselves.
Critique: A true classic that has been impressively updated and is one of the most 'user friendly' instructional guides available today in the area of caregiving for those who are dealing with Alzheimer's in the lives of their family or friends. Impressively informed and informative, exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Creating Moments of Joy Along the Alzheimer's Journey" is a truly extraordinary work by an evident expert that should be a part of every senior citizen center, adult day care center, sheltered living facility, community library, and academic library Alzheimer's collection and supplemental studies lists. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of Alzheimer's caregivers and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Creating Moments of Joy" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.99).
Making Research Matter: A Psychologist's Guide to Public Engagement
Linda R. Tropp, editor
American Psychological Association
750 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242
9781433828249, $34.95, PB, 219pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: Compiled and edited by Linda R. Tropp, (who is a Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, from which she received the Distinguished Academic Outreach Award for excellence in the application of scientific knowledge to advance the public good) "Making Research Matter: A Psychologist's Guide to Public Engagement" gathers together the contributions of well known experts in order to discuss how researchers can impact a broader audience, by lending their scientific expertise to pressing social issues, current events, and public debates.
The landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, in which the Supreme Court cited psychological evidence in overturning school segregation, is just one example of the positive and noteworthy impact social science research can have on the world beyond academia. But many researchers today have trouble communicating with non-academic audiences and engaging the broader society.
With pointers on talking to the media, testifying as an expert witness, dealing with governmental organizations, working with schools and students, and influencing public policy, "Making Research Matter: A Psychologist's Guide to Public Engagement" will material and effective help social scientists in general, and psychologists in particular, to forge the vital link between scholarship and social engagement. Contributors include prominent experts from a wide range of specialties, such as academic psychologists, Harvard Business School professors, directors of organizations, and government officials.
Critique: Expressly and impressively 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, "Making Research Matter: A Psychologist's Guide to Public Engagement" is an extraordinarily practical and unreservedly recommended addition to professional, college, and university library Contemporary Psychology collections and supplemental studies lists. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, researchers, and non-specialist general readers in the subject that "Making Research Matter: A Psychologist's Guide to Public Engagement " is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $29.92).
3441 North Ashland Avenue, Chicago, IL 60657
9780829446432 $12.95 hc / $8.79 Kindle amazon.com
Synopsis: Pope Francis has a simple, life-changing message for you: God's love can grace each of us with a lasting and sustaining hope, no matter how dark or confusing our situation. On Hope is Pope Francis at his most intimate and most inspiring.
"Life is often a desert, it is difficult to walk, but if we trust in God, it can become beautiful and wide as a highway. Never lose hope; continue to believe, always, in spite of everything. Hope opens new horizons, making us capable of dreaming what is not even imaginable."
Critique: The first official writing on hope by religious leader Pope Francis, On Hope examines how hope, interconnected with faith in God, can grant incalculable strength and perseverance even in the most trying of natural and man-made disasters. Provocative, inspirational, and deeply spiritual, On Hope is worthy of extended reflection regardless of the reader's personal religion. Highly recommended. It should be noted for personal reading lists that On Hope is also available in a Kindle edition ($8.79).
9781609453817, $18.00, 464 pp
Clara's death, described in the first gripping scene of this Strega Prize winning novel by Nicola Lagioia, marks an end and a beginning. Labeled a suicide, her death is understood as the end of a long string of tragedies - depression, drug use and infidelities. But to her half brother, Michele, a wayward writer with a history of psychiatric difficulties, her death is a question, the beginning of an investigation of Clara's life since he moved away from their hometown Bari, on the Adriatic coast of southern Italy. Michele returns after her funeral suspecting Clara's death may have been less a willful act than the natural consequence of circumstances beyond her control. Clara becomes "a game of mirrors with nothing at the center" (350) reflecting nature's deadly ferocity, reflected in turn by her father's fierce business dealings, particularly surrounding his latest housing development threatened by environmental inquiries, which in turn his underlings reflect in their shady treatment of everyone they encounter. When "no one has any awareness now of their own worst actions," (427) where does the truth end and the lies begin? Is there a way to affect the cycle or are we doomed to repeat others' mistakes again and again?
Lagioia's novel is as epic as such existential questions. Yet, his writing is anything but abstract or lofty. He builds the narrative from the bottom up. He describes a spider eating a mite and the flight path of flamingos and a cat/rat attack with as much detail as he describes hand gestures at the family dinner table or the bus route in and out of Bari. On the other extreme, he plumbs the depths of sibling love and rivalry with chapters from each family member's perspective. Peripheral characters, such as the truck driver who encounter's Clara the night she dies, Michele's newspaper editors, the medical examiner who pronounces the suicide, her father's engineers and cronies, as well as her husband and lovers, fill out the story of power run afoul.
The narrative approach is as complex and layered as the plot itself. However, we aren't left with a meaningless jumble of endless reflections; time provides a new chapter. "Empty, terrifying space, an immense blank page... The future. As magnificent and ferocious as the yawning maw of the tiger he'd [Michele] read about as a boy" (442). Is it an escape from the game or simply a new strategy?
0006542565, $TBA pbk / $9.99 Kindle amazon.com
Offshore's characters, residents of Battersea Reach on the Thames in London, are diehard inbetweeners. Loyal boat owners, each is also tied to the land. Nenna is unwilling to give up her houseboat to live with her wayward husband on shore, yet she still loves him, she thinks. Willis hides the leak on his craft in hopes of selling, yet, he has no place to go if he does. Richard keeps his boat more shipshape than any of the others, but his wife would prefer to live in town. He's torn. Maurice, too, is torn between all those he loves and some who take advantage of his kindness. They're all a little off kilter. They are artists, mistrusted, set askance by conventional society. Fitzgerald's descriptions are far from off kilter, however; her care for her characters, and their care for each other, is impeccable. We can't but love each one as they toggle, like the tides, between temporary resting places.
Fitzgerald's unsettled characters reveal the heart of the human condition. She catches them at the height of uncertainty and holds them, and therefore us, there, gently. When Willis' boat catches fire, he's welcomed in by a neighbor. The inhabitants of the little colony take turns shepherding Nenna's two daughters, Tilda and Martha while they take a break from school. While these characters build community, outsiders refuse to visit. Neither Nenna's sister nor her husband will come near the boats. It is as though they won't journey into their own hearts. In the final scene, a storm knocks the boats around while the "immoveables" in the city are less able to weather the winds. Likewise, the boats' inhabitants are equipped to go with the flow as time and circumstances change. Fitzgerald invites us to join them on a tumultuous adventure we would miss if we'd stayed safely on shore, unscathed by our own soul searching.
Vividly Diverse Haikus
9781554839964, $15.95 pbk / $9.99 Kindle amazon.com
In this collection of over one hundred short poems (haikus), Canadian poet Tanya Bailey speaks from the heart of the human experience. Politics, gender, culture and ancestry, anger and love, protest, healing, music and art - all these touch her deeply. Her poems are enigmatic and suggestive. She barely hints at a storyline and context, rather, sings us rhythmic refrains. Taken as a whole, a picture of Tanya's life emerges, but each poem individually speaks for itself, a glimmer of power. Think expressive not descriptive. Recommended for readers who like their prose raw.
Compassion for the victims
Cries from broken souls."
Return to the Dark Valley
9781609454258, $18.00, 424 pp
"That Man should labour & sorrow,
& learn & forget, & return
To the dark Valley whence he came,
To begin his labours anew"
Santiago Gamboa's Return to the Dark Valley is a journey into the "dark valley" of hell and back out again. It begins during the 2004 terrorist attacks on the Irish embassy in Madrid where Consul, a Colombian diplomat-turned-writer and the primary narrator of the novel, is mysteriously summoned from Rome, where he'd been living, by a Juana, an ex-lover. Upon his departure to Madrid, we switch narrators to Manuela, a young poet from Cali recounting to a psychiatric Doctor her tale of abandonments and betrayals, first by her father, then by her mother and subsequently friends and lovers. Then, the Argentinian, Tertullian, as he's called by his followers, narrates to Consul how he became Master of the Universal Republic, a new world order he conceives of, borrowing from Nazi and other principles. Recovering from a bar fight, in the same room in a Madrid hospital, Consul meets Ferdinand Palacios, a fellow Colombian and freedom fighting priest. Palacios becomes the catalyst bringing Consul, Juana, Manuela and Tertullian traveling together back to Colombia, to right wrongs done to Manuela. Rimbaud, the infamous French poet of the late 19th century, known for being explosive, gay and always on the move, whose biography Consul is writing, serves as background to this collective search for revenge and redemption, and inspires the characters' final adventure.
This is not the magical realist Colombia of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, rather, it explores the modern urban grit beneath the country's enchanting landscape. There are layers to this underbelly; first is the Madrid terrorist attack, and other bad news, going on in the present. Next, are the individual tragic stories of Consul and his subject, Rimbaud, with whom he identifies, Manuela and Tertullian. In the first half of the book, the heavy story lines of Consul, Manuela and Tertullian are as disconnected from each other as the citizens of Madrid seem to be from the news of the attacks. We have no idea what these characters have to do with each other. Going from one character to the next is like disparate news stories reported one after the other with no connection, no hierarchy of importance. We experience them like an endless barrage of news with no commercial break. Consul's own chapters get interrupted by headlines: BREAKING NEWS, POLICE ATTACK EMBASSY... BREAKING NEWS, POLICE ATTACK EMBASSY. Through these intrusions in the text, Gamboa suggests that the real intrusion to the story is not the headlines, not the news, but the evasion of the news, the ability to turn it off or ignore it, like the Madrid citizens seem so quickly to forget the attacks and return to their normal lives. "Despite the crisis and embassy siege, there were streams of people in the streets, an incredible hustle and bustle" (95).
Gamboa doesn't let us turn away from his crew. Instead, he draws us further in. Just when it all seems too much - Manuel's drama, Consul's waiting for Juana and Tertullian's battle cries - Gamboa brings the story lines together in the second half of the book. Through Palacios, the characters all get wrapped up in Manuela's goal to get back at the source of all her pain. Gamboa's straightforward prose (the second sentence reads "I wanted to write a book about cheerful, silent, active people") and informal tone (the characters speak in first person), flies in the face of NEWS, the way it shouts and stimulates. His story compels us to stay with the characters in their search for some kind of closure.
Gamboa's story subtly criticizes the "Republic of Goodness" Colombia becomes after the peace agreement between FARC and the paramilitary, simultaneous with the group's arrival in Bogota. As the novel comes to a close, as the characters reach resolution, there's a discord between the forgiving sentiment abounding in Colombia and the justice our heroes and heroines have served on behalf of Manuela. Is the peace to be trusted? Or is there something to be said for, some security to be found in, fighting and war, like the one Manuela and her advocates waged? The characters have come through hell, but where do they arrive? Like Blake says, the dark valley is where labours begin anew. Consul says "it's good to write in the middle of a storm" (23). As a diplomat, like Gamboa himself, he seeks the eye of the storm for material, and he finds it in the people he meets during his stay in Madrid. Manuela tells herself, "write to invent another world for yourself, because this one isn't any good" (111). Traveling in Germany, Tertullian finds a politics rooted in spirituality, ideals rooted in practicality, which often involves violence (257). These characters' stories incite them, spur them on to action. Their pasts give them a reason to overcome, to keep searching - to create. Rimbaud, in their collective past, provides creative fodder. As a traveller and poet, his yearning for new experiences, whether good or bad, and his constant quest for truth sets an example for the characters and for us, too. Gamboa leaves us with a lifting off point, not an easy landing.
The Lords of St. Thomas
Green Writers Press
0999076682, $19.95, 184 pp
This first novel by Jackson Ellis, inspired by the real Hugh Lord in the lost town of St. Thomas, Nevada, imagines what it is like to lose your home and discover it again. Fictional Henry Lord grew up in St. Thomas, as did both parents, his grandparents and great grandparents, who settled there, following Joseph Smith. In 1936, during the building of the Hoover Dam, when the government tries to relocate the Lord family, Henry's father and grandfather disagree how to respond. Grandpa won't budge, but dad takes work in the city to save up for a new home in safer territory. Until then, Henry, his mom and grandpa stay in their family home while the town is all but deserted. Finally, they're forced to leave. Will Henry ever return?
Jackson, a long time writer and editor from Vermont, masterfully couples a historic event with a classic coming of age story. In Henry's own voice, Jackson begins with the hasty and tragic departure from home, then fast forwards Henry at age 76, recognizing the dried up remains of his old town in the newspaper. The rest of the short book connects these two dots in time through vivid scenes of father and son playing baseball and grandpa and grandson fishing, school ground fights, and a mother's love, as well as the tamarisk and creosote studded desert of the Moapa Valley. History comes alive as characters relate differently to the verdict cast down from on high, that their valley would soon flood with re-routed river water. Meanwhile, Henry, a child, believes what he wants to be true, that he'd never have to leave (49). But he does leave, first by necessity and then by choice. In a poetic twist, an older Henry returns to St. Thomas in extreme dry conditions, where a storm and ensuing flood had sent him packing at age twelve. The story is heart warming, but not sentimental, and well told (it won the Howard Frank Mosher First Novel Prize in 2017), a glimpse into the past and a glimmer of hope for the future.
Mari Carlson, Reviewer
American Exceptionalism in Crime and Punishment
Kevin R. Reitz, editor
Oxford University Press
198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016-4314
9780190203542, $65.00, HC, 584pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: Across America, there was an explosion of severity in nearly every form of governmental response to crime from the 1970s through the 2000s. Knowledgeably compiled and expertly edited by Kevin R. Reitz (who is the James Annenberg La Vea Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota) and "American Exceptionalism in Crime and Punishment" examines the typically ignored forms punishment in America beyond incarceration and capital punishment to include probation and parole supervision rates-and revocation rates, an ever-growing list of economic penalties imposed on offenders, and a web of collateral consequences of conviction unimaginable just decades ago.
Across these domains, American punitiveness exceeds that in other developed democracies-where measurable, by factors of five-to-ten. In some respects, such as rates of incarceration and (perhaps) correctional supervision, the U.S. is the world "leader." Looking to Europe and other English-speaking countries, the contributors to "American Exceptionalism in Crime and Punishment" shed new light on America's outlier status, and examine its causes. One causal theory examined in detail is that the U.S. has been exceptional not just in penal severity since the 1970s, but also in its high rates of high rates of homicide and other serious violent crimes.
With leading researchers from many fields and national perspectives, "American Exceptionalism in Crime and Punishment" shows that the largest problems of crime and justice cannot be brought into focus from the vantage point of any one jurisdiction. Looking cross-nationally, "American Exceptionalism in Crime and Punishment" deftly addresses what it would take for America to rejoin the mainstream of the Western world in its uses of criminal penalties.
Critique: Featuring a listing of the individual contributors and their credentials, as well as an informative introduction (American Exceptionalism in Crime and Punishment Broadly Defined), and a thirty-eight page Index, the eleven erudite and deftly crafted essays comprising "American Exceptionalism in Crime and Punishment" are divided into three major sections: American Exceptionalism: Perspectives; American Exceptionalism in Crime; American Exceptionalism in Probation, Parole, and Collateral Consequences of Conviction). An impressive work of simply outstanding scholarship, "American Exceptionalism in Crime and Punishment" is unreservedly recommended for professional, community, and academic library American Criminal Justice collections and supplemental studies lists. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, members of the judicial system, judicial and prison reform advocates, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "American Exceptionalism in Crime and Punishment" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $55.26).
Public Spaces and Urbanity
c/o Actar Publishers
355 Lexington Avenue, 8th Floor, New York, NY 10017
9783869226132, $69.95, HC, 272pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: Karsten Palsson has been an architect for 35 years, working initially with regional, municipal and local planning. For the past 30 years, he has had his own architecture firm with focus on urban redevelopment, infill, restoration, planning and the transformation of housing areas and buildings. Karsten Palsson works internationally, primarily through teaching collaboration with Latin American Countries, as well as teaching international students in urban renewal and modernization at the Danish Technical University.
Drawing upon his years of professional experience, research, and expertise, Karsten Palsson's "Public Spaces and Urbanity: Construction and Design Manual: How to Design Humane Cities" is about renewing the city with room for people, about historical overlay and respect for the building traditions of the past, and about new architecture on a human scale.
"Public Spaces and Urbanity" takes its departure in the European tradition of the dense classic city. Focus is on physical and spatial relationships, development patterns, access principles and their connection to public streets and squares: the elements that make for a rich urban life.
Rooted in European traditions, "Public Spaces and Urbanity" is envisioned as a professional "instruction manual" that offers examples of a more humane direction for urban conversion. The examples in "Public Spaces and Urbanity" come from major European cities and are set in a broad conceptual framework. An historical outline reviews urban development over time. The chapters are organized into tool-oriented themes that help urban planners and architects put the concepts into practice and relate them to their respective challenges.
Critique: An extraordinarily informed and informative study that is particularly well written, thoroughly reader friendly in organization and impressively presented throughout, ""Public Spaces and Urbanity: Construction and Design Manual: How to Design Humane Cities" is an essential and core addition for professional, governmental, college, and university library Urban Development collections and supplemental studies reading lists.
Friends of Aron Baron
370 Ryan Avenue, #100, Chico, CA 95973
9781849352963, $18.95, PB, 250pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: Named after Aron Baron, a Russian revolutionary hunted and haunted by the Bolshevik terror who was executed on August 12th, 1937, Friends of Aron Baron is a group of radical thinkers who are critical of the role Lenin's influence has had on the theory and strategy of social change.
On the centenary of the 1917 Russian Revolution, paeans to the conquering Bolsheviks will be sung. Compiled and edited by the Friends of Aron Baron, "Bloodstained: One Hundred Years of Leninist Counterrevolution" highlights the darker echoes coming from that event, with a mixture of classic and new essays that expose a murderous dictatorship as it developed, paving the way for Stalin, Mao, Castro, and others to slaughter and starve their opponents.
The defense of this criminal enterprise, later categorized as "actually existing socialism," ends here. No more velvet-gloved hagiography. No more Lenins.
"Bloodstained" features essays by Mark Leier, Barry Pateman, Alexander Berkman, Iain McKay, Herman Gorter, Rudolf Rocker, Luigi Fabbri, Maurice Brinton, and others.
Critique: Thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Bloodstained: One Hundred Years of Leninist Counterrevolution" is an extraordinary and invaluable contribution to the growing library of Soviet political histories and unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Bloodstained: One Hundred Years of Leninist Counterrevolution" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).
The Naked World
Eli K. P. William
c/o Skyhorse Publishing
307 West 36th Street, 11th floor, New York, NY 10018
9781940456522, $25.99, 480pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: In a world stripped bare of digital images and promotainment, unveiled with the audiovisual overlay of the ImmaNet, in an exposed world, a naked world, Amon Kenzaki awakens, lost and alone. He must now travel deep into the District of Dreams in search of Rashana Birla, the one person that might help him unravel the mystery of jubilee. But deprived of the apps and informational tools he's depended on his entire life, traversing the largest bankdeath camp on Earth is no easy task.
Inside an ephemeral labyrinth of slowly-dissolving disposable skyscrapers clogged to the limit with the bankdead masses, Amon soon finds himself face to face with two dangerous groups: a cult called the Opportunity Scientists, who preach bizarre superstitions about economic salvation, and a supposedly humanitarian organization called the Philanthropy Syndicate, whose mandate of serving the poor conceals rapacious motives.
Amon takes refuge in Xenocyst, a community that genuinely strives to improve conditions in the camps, where he begins to work towards its cause and reconciles himself to his newfound poverty. But when political forces threaten the community's existence and the lives of its members, he is forced to team up with a vending-machine designer, an Olympic runner, a fertility researcher, a corporate tycoon, and many others to expose the heinous secret festering at the heart of the action-transaction market he once served.
Critique: "The Naked World "is book two of the Jubilee Cycle series by Eli K. P. William and delves beneath the surface of his cyber-dystopian Tokyo to unearth the fate of outcasts trapped in its depths and shine a light on the financial obstacles blocking one individual's efforts to help them. A riveting read from cover to cover, "The Naked World" demonstrates Eli Williams as having a genuine flair for originality and imaginative, narrative driven storytelling of the first order. While "The Naked World" will prove to be an enduringly popular addition for community library Science Fiction collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of dedicated SF fans that it is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $20.79).
Grist Mill Road
Christopher J. Yates, author
Read by Dan Bittner, Will Damron, Graham Halstead, and Saskia Maarleveld
175 Fifth Avenue, Suite 315, New York, NY 10010
9781427290366 $39.99 www.macmillanaudio.com
Synopsis: Christopher J. Yates's cult hit Black Chalk introduced that rare writerly talent: a literary author who could create a plot with the intricacy of a brilliant mental puzzle, and with characters so absorbing that listeners are immediately gripped. Yates's new audiobook does not disappoint.
Grist Mill Road is a dark, twisted, and expertly plotted Rashomon-style tale. The year is 1982; the setting, an Edenic hamlet some ninety miles north of New York City. There, among the craggy rock cliffs and glacial ponds of timeworn mountains, three friends?Patrick, Matthew, and Hannah?are bound together by a terrible and seemingly senseless crime. Twenty-six years later, in New York City, living lives their younger selves never could have predicted, the three meet again?with even more devastating results.
Critique: Brought to life with the superb performance of four talented voice actors, Grist Mill Road is the unabridged audiobook rendition of a tense thriller about cruelty in the past haunting lives in the present. In 1982, three teenaged friends' lives were changed forever by a horrifying flare of nearly-lethal violence. Decades later, repercussions and trauma from that terrible day linger. When the three meet again, old wounds that never fully healed are torn open once more. Taut and suspenseful, Grist Mill Road keeps the reader riveted to the end, and is a worthy collection to personal and public library mystery/suspense audiobook collections. Highly recommended! 9 CDs, 11.5 hours.
An Accidental Profession
Daniel S. Jones
0998562009 (print) $TBA
0998562017 (digital) $6.99 Kindle amazon.com
Why can novels about people at work be so pleasurably captivating? Undoubtedly, it's rather nice to think that others are toiling away while we read about them, and the similarities and differences with our own working lives emerge with unusual clarity: occupations do not have to be exotic or abstruse for us to find them fascinating. An Accidental Profession is all about work: its organization and administration, what it does to people, the power of the corporation, our ambivalent relationships with our co-workers.
Author Daniel Jones makes some strategic stylistic decisions in telling his story, which takes place over a few days of diegetic time and involves layoffs, corporate restructuring and a trip to a conference, where the interestingly analytical narrator turns out to be less above the things he describes than we might have thought. Significantly, the company for whom everyone works, the Canterbury Education Company (CEC), provides products and services to institutions of higher education; this rather vague and vaguely parasitic corporation strikes just the right postmodern note in a narrative given over to the opaque manoeuverings of executives and staff alike.
The first-person narration works extremely well: descriptions of past events are sufficiently numerous to avoid the potentially soporific effect of all those third-person singulars in the here and now. Another important decision is that no one is named; instead, they are alphabetized and anonymized: A - - , B - - , C - - etc. Shades of Kafka's Joseph K - - are immediately evoked but, more significantly, the suggestion of interchangeable productive units is never far off, as is the peculiar blend of distant friend and intimate stranger that co-workers can constitute for each other.
An Accidental Profession is concerned with how hard it is to preserve our specificity, our uniqueness, our interconnectivity in a modern work environment:
People here have a habit of disappearing - either they are fired or quit or get transferred, in which case we never see them once they are gone from the office. Or they get absorbed into their job and become something else entirely. Either way, the struggle is to keep something of yourself alive before it is entirely deleted. We spend the years in pursuit of similar goals, being around other people without having to get close to them. Sharing in the illusion of having friends, but in fact not really knowing these people with whom we spend the majority of our waking hours.
It's in this awkward, near-impossible non-space of the heart and head that the aspiration for something real and nourishing struggles to be articulated, appropriately and inappropriately:
What I cannot reach, what I have not been able to shed, is the idea that there is something more than compensation, that work should be worthwhile in and of itself, rather than for its rewards. Somewhere, we are told, is an office in which employees are excited to work, enjoy their jobs, collect their pay with happiness. A place, it seems, where they do not plan their days as a series of time-wasting exercises in fifteen minute chunks, taking long walks around the work spaces, taking smoke breaks even though they have quit smoking, riding the elevator one floor to use the bathroom, reading novels tucked beneath their desks or falling in love when one shouldn't or having anonymous sex in the stairwells. And yet the promise of business, not of this or that particular business, but the promise of business itself, is that somewhere people can take meaning from what they do to earn their pay. This is the elusive promise, the unanswerable question. In any case, as an employee, as a businessman, my purpose in life is not to find answers to these questions, ultimately, but to survive, a process that must admit this stark reality.
There are many references to truth in An Accidental Profession: the narrator frequently asserts in passing that he is speaking it; it is a precious commodity buried beneath an avalanche of corporate-speak and ungrammatical inter-office emails; it has to be gleaned from the gossip of co-workers, via observations of their movements. There is a kind of corporate aphasia that stifles true feeling which, when it does emerge, can be shy and painful:
When F stands to leave I come out from behind my desk and lean to shake his hand. It is not the typical handshake for our office, a contest of strength, a who-can-squeeze-whose-hand hardest, but a more friendly connection: handshake, fingers clasped, fists, and then a one-armed hug that alarms me for a moment but not enough to pull away.
It is touching that the narrator keeps a copy of Wallce Stevens' Harmonium on his office bookshelf, sandwiched between 'The Ultimate Corporate Strategy Resource and The Fundamentals of Accounting.' It is an act of resistance - perhaps merely a gesture at resistance - from someone who has survived in his job and part of whose job it is to fire others.
The central controlling metaphor of An Accidental Profession is of the red-crested cardinals that peck and flutter at the office window of the nameless narrator. Dead ladybugs (UK: ladybirds) accumulate along the edge of the windowsill every spring, and the birds attempt to reach them through the glass. The significance the birds hold for the narrator - his attachment to them, the distraction they provide - codes him as different, as 'ours', enabling us to enter comfortably into his reasonings and observations. However, we are also invited to regard the behaviour of the birds - particularly the complex interactions of males and females - as correlative with the behaviour of the office workers distributed at their work stations in a large open-plan office. One may be less convinced by this than intended: zoological comparisons only extend so far; culture - human and office - is an anamorphic lens that splays nature in myriad dazzling ways.
An Accidental Profession is a little too long and is occasionally marred by typos; it could certainly do with more action and fewer contemplations; ultimately, the pledge of its journey is not sufficiently redeemed by its conclusion. Nevertheless it is enjoyable and comforting in ways that books about people working usually are; it has a quiet anguish about the indignities of work that many will recognize; it is an act of resistance.
You Will Grow Into Them
ISBN 9781907389436 pbk 9.99 Brit. pounds
ISBN 9781907389443 ePub 6.99 Brit. pounds
Metamorphoses sudden and brutal characterize many of the stories in Malcolm Devlin's excellent collection of - what? Speculative fiction? Horror? Gothic? Supernatural? Dystopian? I am happy to say I don't know what it is precisely, for, like a lot of good writing, Devlin's eludes definite classification and description, and to pigeon-hole it as one thing or another would be to diminish and distort its achievement. It evokes genre without being bound by it; its ideas and metaphors speak of larger things beyond genre expectations; its departure point is ordinary life made extraordinary by the seepages and eruptions of the inexplicable, the unknown and half-suspected, the fearful and the beguiling.
Devlin's prose is polished to a bright colloquial sheen that rarely dulls; his characters speak as if they have just thought what to say. It is confident stuff that puts the reader immediately at ease: it is reassuring to sense one is in the hands of a writer who knows exactly where they are going and how to get there.
The collection traces a nervous line that leads from adolescence to adulthood, from isolation to community. In 'Passion Play', the opening story, Cathy McCullough, a schoolgirl, has gone missing; her 'best friend' is chosen to re-create Cathy's last known journey, a walk that leads through dense thickets present and remembered to something very dark indeed. Here and throughout, one of the most interesting themes of the collection is revealed: power, a subject rarely written about with any seriousness in the current cultural moment. Devlin writes about power in its various guises: the power of the past over the present; the power of the unknown and inexplicable over daily life; the power that exists in unequal measure between people. Power is exercised, revealed, in these stories both casually - a conversation in Betty's Tearooms, for example ('Songs Like They Used to Play') - and ominously - societal reaction to 'Lunar Proximity Syndrome' ('Dogsbody'), the dark magma of unliveability in 'The End of Hope Street'.
Paradoxically, 'Passion Play' sets the tone for the collection despite a certain confusion of tone: for me, the interior voice of the young girl is intermittently endowed with the vocabulary and imagination of her creator, which undermines the premise of the story. The tone of 'Two Brothers', on the other hand, is perfect, its dissection of the effects of public school, the internalization of the worst Victorian values and its disdain for honest feeling, is chilling. This is power again, but this time that of institutions, of upbringing, of tradition over the natural and spontaneous.
The spontaneous outgrowth of unstoppable transmogrification in 'Breadcrumbs' has venerable antecedents in classical myth - one thinks of all those dryads, especially - and also in fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty and the tales of Angela Carter. This is an amoral transformation that just happens - one doesn't know what to think of it, which is perhaps the point. One suspects that even the author was taken aback by the fecundity of this story, which, in common with 'The End of Hope Street', is a little too long for its own good.
Elsewhere, the abnormal continues to pullulate and ramify, overwhelming the normal:
In her turbulent world, any island of normality, no matter how small, stood little chance of remaining a sanctuary. ('We All Need Somewhere to Hide')
The monster within - literally, beneath the skin - prowls this story and 'Dogsbody', where he is 'uncomfortable, under his human skin'. Here, ideas connect in Jekyll and Hyde fashion via Leopard Man to a particularly unsettling fear: 'It's frightening, isn't it? That sense that you're not quite in control of who you are?', a resonant insight that could stand as epigraph - and epitaph - for the entire collection, as Tom in 'Songs Like They Used to Play', understands:
Tom imagined his life as a transplant operation. The fictional world he'd lived in was being cut out of him and a weighty reality was being wired into the hole it had left behind. But transplants were dangerous, and Tom found himself living at one remove, convinced his body would rebel at any arbitrary moment, rejecting the reality he had been forced to accept.
This is how many persons in existential anguish can feel, day in, day out. 'Songs Like They Used to Play' reads like something out of Twin Peaks, complete with weird nightclub at the end of a hidden passage behind shimmering curtains (shades of Blue Velvet), with strange music and even stranger habitues - Lynch's signature grotesques would not have been out of place in this place of dread, where time seems poised on the brink of revelation. I suggest these linkages, not to belittle You Will Grow Into Them, but to illustrate its depth and power.
And in 'The End of Hope Street' (a gloriously ambiguous title):
This was how it started, he thought. In corners. In clefts. In alcoves where the shadows conspired and bred like spiderwebs. As he stared into the corner of the room, he imagined how the darkness might creep across the contours of the ceiling tiles, snaking across the room like tangles of long black hair.
The same story has this intensely human gesture of rebellion:
There would be a Christmas that year in Hope Street, no matter what happened, no matter what it represented. It would be both spiritual and secular, and in its own peculiar way, it would be an act of rebellion. Because even joy and companionship could be subversive under the right conditions.
This spark of hope is probably a good place to end: reviews can only do so much, and this one has left much that is interesting out of account. If it has left you with a wish to discover these stories for yourself, you will not be disappointed. Prepare yourself for the genuinely unheimlich.
Jack Messenger, Reviewer
9781938758171, $9.99, 220 pages
Mark Rosendorf's Status Quo introduces The Reader to a number of intriguing characters.
When the top-secret government body funding astronomer Gordon Maxwell's research into a mysterious wormhole withdrew its support; the lab was abruptly closed and the research staff including Dr. Maxwell's intern college student Alexander Copeland suddenly found themselves out of a job.
Seven years later Alex, now a junior high school science teacher, is more than a little nonplussed and IS wholly suspicious when he is contacted by the same self-important governmental operative who closed down the research appears at his school.
The project is being resumed, and Alex is invited to part of the team.
During the time the research was first conducted; Dr Maxwell had sent a probe through the wormhole in hopes an answer would come back to earth from whatever entity must have formed the worm hole.
Now after nearly a decade the probe HAS RETURNED.
Soon Alex and a diverse crew find themselves nearing the wormhole aboard a space ship in search to locate the home of whatever beings who must have formed the wormhole.
Aboard ship is a youth with no flight experience to pilot the craft, a life prison inmate who murdered a man with his bare hands, a female psychic recently widowed, Dr Maxwell's daughter who has spent the past seven years in an asylum, Dr Maxwell has died during the intervening time. Alex, his adopted daughter and his cat as well as an ill prepared medic who has extensive medical prowess according to his test results and the government director round out the unlikely crew.
It doesn't take long before Alex and the others realize little is as first appears. The trip becomes a life and death struggle before they puzzle out what is really afoot.
Travel through the wormhole, facing the perfidiousness of their situation, concern regarding the sturdiness of their space vehicle and hoped for return to earth, meeting the entity who did create the wormhole, making a life changing decision all are found on the pages of Status Quo.
I enjoyed reading this offering by writer Rosendorf, unlike his Rasner Trilogy, Status Quo is a fantasy/sci fi written for the middle grades and older Reader.
While the narrative is fanciful; it is a joy to read. The fast paced tale keeps the reader turning the page. Peopled with a psychic who calls upon her experience as a Mom when caring for an injured crew member when the inept intern sent as medic aboard the flight has no clue what to do; The Reader begins to unravel the mystery underlying the tale.
Characters are well fleshed, the teens, Eve's son Brandon and Alex's recently acquired adoptive daughter Gilda, talk and behave as do many teens I have known during my years as a public school teacher. Eve and her digital camera as well as her mothering nature is a fun, easy to like character.
Max, Alex's cat is one of my favorites, he behaves as cats do, screeches, wails, hides, and snuggles. Alex is both smart and at times a little overwhelmed with the situation in which the 'crew' find themselves. Ernie, the gentle murderer, is a pleasant, clear thinking individual. Reynolds, the government operative is easy to dislike.
I like that Writer Rosendorf adds enough details to clearly describe people, places, and all.
Target audience is middle grade and teen readers; I am happy to recommend for the home and school library. I think the book will appeal especially to the target audience, and for anyone who enjoys a well written, page turner offering more than a little twist and turn, mystery and even a little gentle romance.
Teen language at time is a tad gritty, but fits the narrative.
All in all a very enjoyable read! I would like to see a sequel with more of these characters and situations.
Absorbing Read ... Happy to Recommend ... 5 stars
Ten Speed Press
c/o Crown Publishing Group
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
1745 Broadway, 17th floor, New York, NY 10019
9781580088619, $9.95, 144 pages
Experienced restaurateur and author, Michael Turback presents 136 pages of recipes, graphics and text centered on Mocha.
The Writer indicates Mocha was written with help from a good many people sharing his interest in chocolate, coffee and deliciousness.
Turback points out that chocolate and coffee, while dissimilar, do actually have a good bit in common; both cultivars are grown in tropical and subtropical locales, seeds produced by the cacao as well as coffee trees furnish fundamental elements for the drink or other comestibles relished by so many the world over.
The volume opens with a Table of Contents featuring Acknowledgments, About the Author, Chocolate & Coffee, Mochalogue, Italian Lessons, Drinks, Cocktails, Desserts, Resources and Index.
The first 14 pages before the pictures and actual recipes begin includes descriptions and explanations regarding just what coffee, chocolate and mocha are.
Italian Lessons is a brief section detailing the passion of the Italian people for chocolate and coffee.
Most recipes offered on the pages of Mocha include espresso and bittersweet chocolate, delicately shaved, as basis for the drink or dessert. Mokato adds hazelnut paste.
The section labeled as Drinks provides a range of 27 drinks including a 2 serving version of La Mocha Loca, 6 serving version of Cafe de Olla con Jarabe de chocolate Mexicano in addition to a number of instructions for single serving potables.
Turback indicates the restaurant where featured and purveyor of the recipe for each of the drinks featured.
Jam-packed with 27 recipes for Drinks beginning with Triple Chocolate Maple Passion and ending with Mocha Frappe, is followed with 10 formulas for Cocktails having provocative titles including Pharisee, Ressurreccion, Caribbean Rum Truffle, and My Breakfast with Vermeer, The Reader's interest is piqued for what comes next.
Desserts beginning on page 88 rounds out the instructions with 15 recipes including Mocha Java Cheesecake; Affogato, Southeast Asian-Style; Chocolate Espresso Walnut Brownies; PB & J Mocha and ending with Moka Pots de Creme, the chocolate, coffee delights may tempt even not chocolate lovers to try a few of the offerings.
Rounding out Mocha is a section tagged Resources, with online urls for Chocolate, Mexican Chocolate, Syrups and Coffee Equipment as well as Serving Ware to mention but a few.
An index opening on page 130 culminates on page 136.
All in all, Mocha is a pleasance for the eyes with photos to stimulate even the most indecisive to whip up a recipe or two, and provides formulas to tempt the palate for all who even sort of like chocolate and coffee whether unconnected, collectively and/or blended with lots of other delicious ingredients.
What a toothsome read!! Happy to recommend.
Note: for those with walnut allergy I found the brownies made with pecans taste just dandy.
Ava and Pip
9781492601838, $6.97, Paperback, 224 pages
Carol Weston's Ava and Pip begins a new series of middle grade novels produced by a talented writer who really has a finger on the pulse of the 9 -12 age group.
Ava is an outgoing fifth grader who loves words, writing in her diary and her family. It is through Ava's diary that The Reader comes to understand Ava and the problems she stumbles into in an effort to 'right the wrong' she considers has been perpetrated against her sister Pip.
We discover how Ava and her family enjoy palindromes and word games, realize that Ava, as many kids in this middle grade age group, wonders if her family is nutty, more than other families, or perhaps it is that all families are a bit nutty.
Ava is deeply concerned with her older sister Pip's shyness. Pip was a preemie, is smaller than Ava and seems to be getting more than her fair share of their parents attention.
School is a fun place, most of the time, for the extroverted Ava who does well in most classes, has many friends, spends lunch time with a group of friends while Pip sits alone, is tormented at times by a group who call her pipsqueak and make squeaking sounds.
Following an awkward embarrassing situation perpetuated by Ava; Ava finds a surprising and unexpected ally in her quest to help her sister.
The pages of her diary allows The Reader to follow along as Ava learns important life and social lessons, begins her first steps away from little kid and starts the maturation process that will mean success for her future as an older kid and finally as an adult.
During my long, 36 year, tenure as a public school educator I spent most of my classroom time in the K 1 setting. However, after a hiatus following a move from California to Oklahoma I again entered the public school setting; this time as a fourth grade teacher for two years, before returning to K 1.
Carol Weston's earlier Melanie Martin series was very popular with my two fourth grade classes. Each day I read a chapter after lunch before the books were made available for students to take home, I was a little surprised, and pleased as well, that the boys in class opted to take Melanie home to share with sisters and Moms.
I like this new series every bit as much as, if not more, than the Melanie series.
The diary style of writing, the palindromes and the situations Ava finds herself rushing headlong into are all very persuasive for the 9 - 12 age group. Were I still teaching today, I would be introducing Ava during an after lunch reading period, and, am confident that students would find them as provocative and intriguing as did my first students here in Oklahoma.
Middle grades is a time of many emotional ups and downs, mood swings and, at times tilting at windmills. This age tends to see everything as right or wrong, good or bad, and why, how, when.
I like palindromes, and have found kids; whether 9-year-olds, or 6-year-olds, to be fascinated with them. I like that Writer Weston tosses in a good bit of just plain educational learning as well as good and newsworthy writing and a tale worth writing on the pages of Ava and Pip.
I actually read the second book in the series first, but when I realized Pip was first went back and read before beginning the reviews. While the series can be picked up at any point, I believe, reading Pip first does set the scene for future books in the series; I would introduce Pip first in the classroom.
Dandy book for promoting student discussion regarding everyday happenings, drama and drama as seems to be part and parcel of the middle grades Ava and Pip will allow students exploration of their own behaviors and hopefully further understanding that working on problem solving is likely to be more productive than jumping to conclusions and perhaps causing grief to self and others.
I like this series and have every expectation middle grade students will as well.
Happy to recommend for classroom, public and school libraries and as a gift for a middle grader, or an end of third grade ready for fourth student.
Engrossing Read ... Warmly Recommended ... 5 stars
Ava and Taco Cat (Ava and Pip Book 2)
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; Reprint edition
9781492620808, $6.99, Paperback 240 pages
Carol Weston's Ava and Taco Cat is the second in the Ava Series.
Over again we find our dauntless Ava Wren forwarding her exemplary middle grade kid voice and philosophy to a groupof incidents oftentimes existing with members this 9 - 12 age group.
Ava is once more opening a brand new diary.
She will be penning ideas, daily occurences, anticipation and ruefulness on the pages of her journal.
One evening, as the family is eating dinner Ava is anxious upon learning that a man brought a young cat he had noticedshivering, injured and sitting solitary in a tree. Ava's Mom, Eve, works for veterinarian Dr. Gross.
Ava's wonder regarding the cat and his status develops and increases until she is convinced she cannot live unless she can bring the cat home. Problem, Mom is not really a pet in the home type individual.
When Mom does soften and Taco, he is the color of Tacos, becomes a member of the family; Ava and her conversation, thoughts and narrative writings are all occupied with tales pertaining to Taco.
Presently information regarding Taco is dispersed far beyond the town where Ava lives, with a foreseeable result. Before long a lady toting a cat carrier arrives at the Wren home.
Will Taco be taken away, or has he found his forever home?
Author Weston writes with the perceptiveness derived from having raised middle grade age youngsters in her home, thewitticism that permitted her to move through that period with joyfulness and the savvy for what it takes for a narration tocharm the middle grade student.
Present in this volume are several of the participants The Reader met earlier on the pages of Ava and Pip. Pip is now in seventh grade, no longer so shy as she was AND she has a boyfriend! He is eighth grader Ben, whose family own the local Book Store, and, is brother to Bea who became friends with both Pip and Ava in the first book.
Ava is now a fifth grader and is just recognizing that some long time relationships continue and grow beyond the 'little kid' phase and into middle grade and perchance even beyond, and, some may not. Moreover, much as families do as they add children family members; it is possible for friendly relationships to develop and elements to the unit can endurewithout losing the nucleus friendships.
Once more emblematic disquieting relationships, immature impulsiveness and natural middle grade anxiety work together to create a spirited narrative under Weston's adept utilization of linguistic material. Palindromes abound, words such asferal and neutered and abbreviations, UTI is one, are presented to furnish approach for linguistic communication building and student discussion later after reading.
I relished reading Ava and Taco Cat very much. The tale is a cracking good follow-up to Ava and Pip; were I teaching middle grades today I would take both books to use for teacher reading aloud to class during the half hour following lunch. During my two years spent as teacher in fourth grade classrooms, I found middle grade students savor being read to aloud as much as do primary age students. Spirited give-and-take were stimulated during the reading periods I did with my students.
Basic cognitive process regarding taking part in give-and-take communication, sharing opinions, taking turns, realization and acceptance that others may have some other point of view antithetical than our own; are all part of the language acquirements honed during middle grades.
The Middle Grade students I taught were spirited, led by curiosity regarding words; where they have originated and how they are used. Adult sounding words exchanged for the little kid words utilized for mundane chatter is an essentialcomponent of the expression used by this age group. Writer Weston taps into this sensitivity and emotions with sprightliness.
Every student I have taught, whether 6 or 12, have been captivated with palindromes. I like them too, and enjoy them very much as used in Weston's Ava series.
All in all, I find, Ava and Taco Cat to be a spot on contribution for the 9 - 12 set, Happy to recommend for sharing with middlers, for the classroom book collection, the public and school library shelves as well as for a beginning of thenew school term gift for students to give to their self-contained classroom or English teacher.
Kid pleasing Read ... Recommended ... 5 stars
9780439893619, $TBA print / $9.99 Kindle, 40 pages
Reading level: Ages 4-9
READ TO 4 AND 5'S
READ WITH 6 AND 7S
READ ALONE STRONG PRIMARY READERS
Children's Author Nick Bruel's Bad Kitty was another of Osage County First Grade's best-loved feline themed books.
-She wasn't always a bad kitty. She used to be a good kitty,-
And, one day, it happened, there was no food in the house for the kitty; there was only healthy, delectable STUFF.
Beginning with Asparagus and moving right on to various yummies including eggplant and leeks and parsnips, watercress and zucchini, much to Kitty's chagrin, we read our way through the alphabet.
And, that was the moment Kitty decided she would become a bad kitty, but, not just any old bad kitty of course. She would become a very bad one. Starting with Ate my homework, and continuing right through the alphabet again A to Z including hurling hairballs, loitering under the no loitering sign, writing on the walls, and you get the idea ...
Bad Kitty includes 4 contrasting, complete alphabet series as the food, poor behavior, and then, new, luscious, kitty food is purchased, and a return to first-class kitty conduct results.
Each school term, Osage County First Grade howls of laughter rang from the first reading during the initial days of the school term, and continued to the end of the school year.
Bad Kitty is one of the Alphabet books kept in our ABC book bag for Little Learners to use during alphabet work time. It was always one of the first removed and used, and was often chosen for DEAR reading time too and for taking home to read with family over night.
I enjoy the witticism and humor Writer Bruel offers with his Kitty series, whimsical graphics and tasty kitty treats including chicken cheese cake, goose goulash!, an order of opossum, turtle turnovers, an eXcess of Tyrannosaurus ReX !and baked Zebra Ziti! all serve to pique Little Readers' interest and fosters Little Learners' gales of giggles.
As the school term proceeds it is always a pleasure to observe Student discernment of humor as comprehension began to commence and develop until Little Learners not only relish, but really, grasp the joyousness and gleefulness the author is conveying.
Bruel has a whole series of Kitty themed works, Osage County First Grade enjoyed them all, nonetheless Bad Kitty was always the hands down number one Osage County First Grade favorite.
Happy to recommend Nick Bruel's Bad Kitty.
Bad Kitty is an Osage County First Grade classroom library edition.
Danny and Life on Bluff Point
Mary Ellen Lee
Four Seasons Publishers
9781891929205, $TBA, Paperback, 180 pages
Mary Ellen Lee's Danny and Life on Bluff Point, steeped in history set in upstate New York, the narrative opens with Ma admonishing Danny to eat his breakfast.
Small for his age, Danny is often the focus of his sisters' teasing. It is December in the 1890s New York State, and Danny and his father are readying to go to the woodlot where they will get a load of logs to take to the family mill.
The woodlot with stacks of seasoned logs prepared for cutting into stove lengths, a cougar in a tree, working at the mill, using a windmill to run the buzz saw, splitting wood into kindling with a hatchet and stacking wood for use during the winter, are all part of a day's activities.
Berkshire hogs, listening to Pa read aloud after supper in the evening, chores to do even on Sunday, one full bath a week, Sunday church services held in the school house, and spending time with family after services, are simple activities enjoyed by the family. A red fox seen hunting in the snow on the ground, and a boisterous team hitched to the cutter, sleigh or carriage, can spell catastrophe should the horses 'spook.'
Tramping the 'long way round' in the snow, Ruthie, Mary and Danny go to school where Billy Marshall roils with choler because lucky Danny gets to go to school every day while Billy must work on his family's farm and can attend only periodically. Great Uncle Jerome and his narrative of the 'war of the rebellion,' horse care lessons, skating on the frozen pond, family dog Buster attacked by a cougar, and a panicked scream from an anxiety stricken horse are all part of this spell binding chronicle.
Danny and Life on Bluff Point is a persuasive read rooted in the author Lee's Grandfather's childhood journal musings. Author Lee relates that the various family persons mentioned in the narratives are factual persons. Danny himself is based on the author's father. The locations noted are existent, and many of the houses mentioned continue to be used today.
Farm life in New York state during the 1890s was filled with hard work, few amenities as we know them today were available, kindred trust and belonging, and joyous times were the spirit of the era. The warmth of family life and life values exhibited by the characters depicted are all brought to life under the skilled pen of writer Lee.
Readers will relish meeting Clara the cat, Buster the collie, sisters Ruthie, Mary and Carolyn, along with Ma and Pa, Uncle Jerome and Aunt Liz, Uncle Henry and Aunt Mertie, and Cousin Jay. Family and extended family were all important to feelings of security and happy times during the era just before the turn of the century.
Readers will learn something of Cousin William Fenner, bully Billy Marshall, Doc and Uncle Ed, along with big Belgians Kit and Bess, and Jim and Dan the big draft horses hitched to wagons or bobsleds or moving family or materials over distances before automobiles became common.
Cooking and heating the house with wood is not often found in homes, even ones with small decorative fireplaces today. Wood burning stoves downstairs, stove pipes and registers carry heat to the rooms upstairs. Eggs and butter to sell, machine threshed beans sold by the bushel, cows getting loose and needing to be found, rounded up and brought home, Christmas shopping and gifts often made at home along with the whole community meeting at the school for a community Christmas social will delight middle grade readers.
Before radio or TV, before computers or video games, and few 'store bought' goods all speak of a time and place today all but forgotten when clothing including the cloth for sewing and yarn for knitting were often produced at home.
That these anecdotes found in the Danny books are based upon true events and real people are a pleasure for teachers as they endeavor to bring 'social studies' alive in the classroom. Many situations presented in the narrative; conflict resolution, dealing with bullies in an affirmative manner, getting the better of demands, cooperation within family and community, old time family fun and caring are values valued then and valued today.
Danny and Life on Bluff Point is a book I used in my classroom; I read it aloud a chapter a day for a period after lunch and made the book available for student reading. My experience with the book was very good, students enjoyed hearing it read aloud and took pleasure in taking it to read again for themselves at home and for DEAR reading. Pencil drawings sprinkled throughout the work adds much to reader understanding and enjoyment and prompted drawings to illustrate stories and writing done in the classroom.
Danny and Life on Bluff Point is a dandy addition for the personal reading list for the 9 to 12 set, classroom and school library shelves, home reading shelf and Public library. Danny and Life on Bluff Point provided a focal point for discussion groups regarding life in the United States a century ago.
I found Danny and Life on Bluff Point to be a middle grade gem for stimulating and maintaining interest among the 9 - 12 age student. A persuasive read founded on the childhood journals kept by author Mary Ellen Lee's grandfather and set down for modern children by Lee; ten-year-old Danny hopes one day to be tall and strong like his father.
The elaborately illustrated journals writer Lee utilized for her Danny series render the grist for the Danny books. Danny's life during the 1890s is occupied with the selfsame daily tasks and responsibilities as was experienced by youngsters across the nation during the late 1800s.
Crammed with perceptiveness into an era that is all but gone today; the Danny books provide teachers and youngsters alike with a valuable 'social studies' tool for use in the classroom.
As my fourth grade class excitedly prepared for a daylong trip to a one room school located in our area where the students experienced long dresses and bonnets and knee pants with long socks, slates, pens to dip in ink, dinner buckets, old time desks set on runners with seat section of one providing the desk top section for the behind, and a school setting very different from the one we face each day; the Danny books I had read earlier in the school year were now read and re-read, discussed, talked about, taken home and all but devoured as we prepared for our day to be be 1890s students.
The pencil drawings found on the pages were studied in detail.
The Danny books proved to be a boon with their well written sequence of events, interesting drawings and readable narrative.
Enjoyed the read, and am happy to recommend for the middle grade reader and adults who enjoy historical tales.
Compelling Read... Highly Recommended... 5 stars
Molly Martin, Reviewer
The First Man
c/o The Random House Publishing Group
1745 Broadway, 17th floor, New York, NY 10019
9780679768166 $16.00 pbk / $10.99 Kindle amazon.com
There are many philosophical similarities between Albert Camus' The First Man (Le premier homme), his last published work, and his first novel, A Happy Death (La mort heureuse). In A happy Death, which Camus completed in 1938 at the age of twenty-five, the author develops an interesting line of reasoning that can be summarized as the protagonist attempting to capture the essence and immediacy of death by seeking happiness.
This idea may not be original to Camus. Yet, Patrice Mersault, the young protagonist of A Happy Death confronts life in the same manner as other Camus literary characters: as a proto-first man. Mersault must come to terms with the reality of being a concrete, flesh and blood person. While the order of the universe may seem coherent, Camus wonders about the nature of man, a being capable of self-awareness. How is this possible? Because for Camus and other existentialist thinkers - Walker Percy is a fine example of this; the American writer describes man as being lost in the cosmos - human existence is not encountered as a theoretical abstraction, but rather informs man's lived experience as a differentiated being. This means that Camus is not interested in erecting ideological collective structures.
Camus' philosophy of existence is guided by the desire to reflect on the nature of singular and differentiated experience. Unless we are poised to embrace the thought of an existentialist thinker on an intuitional and temperamental equal footing, we risk deforming a thinker's work. This is why teaching Camus is such a hazard, a delicate task that many people who venture to teach his work bungle. Incidentally, Camus did not think of himself as an existentialist.
Lived existential concerns do not fall, say, in the same category as Kafka's self-indulgent and sophomoric "existential" science fiction. In A Happy Death, the young protagonist is concerned with living a good life in order to have a happy death. This is the aspiration of a young man. This entails a process of self-discovery and the necessary autonomy to implement wisdom in the service of life.
In other words, Camus' main contention has everything to do with the Socratic notion that philosophy is a preparation for death through a conscious readiness to embrace the finality of the self. We encounter the latter preoccupation in Marcus Aurelius, Montaigne and Pascal, but to name a few thinkers who address this most practical of human concerns. A Happy Death is a meditation on the values forged by man's future-oriented existence, which is aware that the future is imbedded in a vitally lived immediacy: the present.
The passage of time is a central and unifying theme in these two works. In A Happy Death, Mersault arrives at the realization that to possess time can be an exulted but also dangerous experience. The rallying point of this contention is that idleness is a fatal condition that fosters existential stagnation and mediocrity. Camus' protagonist learns that existential inquietude is nourished through engagement with the world, even when this relationship seems unsavory at times.
In The First Man, a work that was published posthumously in 1994 by Editions Gallimard, Camus followed up with the same concern that he entertained as a younger writer in A Happy Death, a novel that was also published posthumously, in 1971. In A Happy Death, the death of Mersault's father signifies the horror that the passage of time poses for a reflective soul. Mersault and the autobiographical protagonist of The First Man, Jacques Cormery, desire transcendence. In both cases, the consensus is that happiness originates from a pure heart, and the stamina to implement the virtues that good will promotes in the lives of people who lead a contented existence.
Camus' situation as a philosopher and writer was precarious. He was awarded the 1957 Noble Prize in literature. He was blacklisted by the French Communist Party; a witch hunt that was inspired by Jean-Paul Sartre. As a result of this, Camus found it next to impossible to publish his books and put on his plays in the theater. The Catholic existentialist, Gabriel Marcel, was another victim of Sartre's character assassinations.
Camus was a stoic. Being a poor boy from a miserable neighborhood in French Algeria, and losing his father in World War I, Camus seemed ideal fodder for communist propaganda about the proletariat, all except for his moral and intellectual integrity. Camus' thought eschews radical ideological group-think.
His idea of metaphysical rebellion proposes courageous engagement with reality that leaves no room for external blame or sentimental rationalization. In The Rebel, Camus explains that nihilism is the modern plague. Nihilism - the denial of objective values, meaning and purpose in human existence - is a corrosive disease that afflicts man's ability to attain contentment. This did not sit well with Jean-Paul Sartre's bloated relativism.
Camus does not permit metaphysical rebellion the indiscretion of becoming the basis and escape valve of radical ideology. Metaphysical rebellion cites cosmic contingency, limitation and difficulty as its main sources of contention. This perspective on human reality makes Camus a refreshing twentieth century thinker, a time during which many intellectuals were eager to serve as a mouthpiece for Marxism.
As a stoic, Camus did not shun the world. He never retreated into an insular existence. This is evident in his engagement with the French resistance during World War II, and his concern for the victims of Soviet-bloc, communist atrocities. Camus' October 1957 speech "The Blood of the Hungarians" is a rebuke of the Soviet Union's occupation of Hungarian.
There is a also a reserved side to Camus the man, which he found to be at odds with Camus the public intellectual. Against nihilism, Camus promoted the thought of thinkers who labor to bring coherence to what Kant calls the "chaos of sensations" in human experience. For Camus, sincere thinkers augment man's understanding of human reality. A strong indication of the respect that he felt for other thinkers and writers is manifested in the scant number of negative references that Camus makes about the work of other thinkers and writers.
For instance, in The Myth of Sisyphus Camus writes about Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, and Kafka's The Trial and The Castle in a positive light. His references to Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Chestov serve as praise that enables Camus to develop his ideas on the nature of what he calls the "absurd." The Myth of Sisyphus is an exploration of the nature of life and death, and the Socratic question of what constitutes a worthwhile life, even though human existence may appear absurd at times.
In the first part of The Rebel Camus reflects on man's place in what he considers an absurd universe. Part of what makes the universe absurd is man's innate ability to engage in self-reflection. While the universe is cold and impersonal, man is a being who seeks meaning. In Camus' later work, he moved away from his view of existence as absurd. The second part of The Rebel is one of the most devastating refutations of Marxism offered by any twentieth century thinker.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Raynal & Hitchcock
No ISBN, $3.50
French writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who is best known as the author of The Little Prince, was lost at sea off the coast of Marseille on July 31, 1944. In 1988 a French fisherman dredged up the writer's identification bracelet. Not long after, the Lockheed P-38 that Saint Exupery perished in was discovered.
Saint-Exupery was one of the early airmail pilots of Aeropostale. He wrote about many of his flying experiences in three books: Wind, Sand and Stars, Night Flight and Flight to Arras. Airman's Odyssey is a compilation of the three works.
Saint Exupery saw flying as an extension of the human imagination. A romantic poet, the French writer thought of flying as the natural purview of dreamers and those who, as adults, attack life with awe and wonder. Flying offers man a view of the earth that few people ever experience. For Saint Exupery, the airplane enables the pilot to soar beyond the commonplace reality of earth-bound pettiness and lack of vision of the essence of the human person. How people interpret reality is as much a function of vision and temperament as it is of imagination, for "what a space between men their spiritual natures create!"
In Wind, Sand and Stars Saint-Exupery writes that the airplane "has unveiled for us the true face of the earth." Inspired by thoughts that only the solitary, existential reality of flight engenders, Saint-Exupery's writing concerns itself with what he calls the "scaffolding" of traditions. He worries about what happens when this suddenly collapses.
Flying heightened Saint-Exupery's understanding of the nature of man, "the spiritual patrimony of traditions, concepts, and myths that make up the whole difference between Newton or Shakespeare and the caveman." Piloting an aircraft offers an already poetic soul the added perspective of viewing life afresh.
Night Flight tells about flying airmail in the Andes mountains, delivering mail for Aeropostale, the company that would eventually become Air France. This was highly dangerous flying, but the pilots who flew this route enjoyed a close bond. Saint-Exupery is adamant that airmail pilots trusted themselves more than they did anyone else. While the author animates his flying adventures with the men and dangers of flying, he is poetic in describing the beauty and perils of flight, like the anxiety of flying through a storm at night.
Much of Saint-Exupery's writing pertains to the solitary plight of thoughtful people. Language, he believes, often acts to drive a wedge in the communication between people. Saint-Exupery's writing is about emotion; how to make the heart of a poet be known by others. He offers a heartfelt testimony of the death of his friend and legendary pilot, Jean Mermoz.
Saint-Exupery was a stoic. Life for him was a battle with place, time and existential inquietude. He thought of life as unpredictable, and often cruel, yet he believed the strong of mind and pure of heart are best equipped to deal with difficulties:"The strong are strengthened by reverses; the trouble is that the true meaning of events scores next to nothing in the match we play with men." The author is not optimistic that human difficulty is a good teacher for many people.
In Flight to Arras, one of his longer works of non-fiction Saint-Exupery reflects on the trajectory of becoming a man. From school days to facing life as an adult, the author ruminates about the aspects of life that make it worthwhile:"For in the end man always gravitates in the direction commanded by the lodestone within him."
The combination of pilot/writer is always a fascinating one. When the writer is a romantic poet/idealist, writing about flying becomes an exercise in describing a world that only a few will ever know.
Pilot/writer is a unique vocation that only twentieth-century visionaries like Saint-Exupery can attest to.
Dr. Pedro Blas Gonzalez
Wrath of the Revenant
B074SYRGPM, $2.99, Kindle, 115 pages
The Wrath of the Revenant, or literally the "The Wrath the Ghost" or "The Wrath of the One that Returned" is a younger YA novel perhaps appropriate to younger teens and older tweens. It is a challenging adventure, but more than that, it is an awakening of the lead character, the young Christopher, to the world of thinking for himself, for adding two plus two getting four more often than not...and to his developing attraction to girls...in this case Celeste.
Christopher's father is missing and has been presumed dead for years. His father figure is Tremain, his uncle, a brilliant scientist even though a bit scattered and pre-occupied. Conveniently, when Celeste, a popular girl from Christopher's school, confesses to needing help with math and chemistry Tremain has just met Alice. Tremain and Alice's growing friendship becomes an unconscious model for Christopher's growing friendship with Celeste.
Wrath of the Revenant is preceded by two other books in The Adventures of Tremain and Christopher Series, The Missing Yesterdays and The Purloined Pictograph both of which deal with the either the New Earth Colony's past or the colonized planet's past. In this book, Book 3 of the Series, Sen is not really a ghost, nor has he really returned. He is merely a remnant...all that remains of the original inhabitants of the colonized planet. He alone lacked the courage to transcend the material universe to the spiritual plane with the rest of his people. The result is chaos for Christopher, Tremain, Alice, Celeste and Christopher's mom...but, as they say, "all is well that ends well"...and from chaos comes new beginnings.
The Wrath of the Revenant is an enjoyable book for younger teens and tweens. There is enough adventure and challenge for entertainment and enough age-issue challenges to allow youthful readers to identify with the characters. 5-Stars
This book was provided free by the author in hopes of receiving an honest review. The above review represents my honest opinion of the book.
Silently in the Night
Silently in the Night, an anthology of sixteen short thrilling tales of unusual, extraterrestrial and conspiratorial stories, is the latest compilation of Graham Clayton, author of Milijun and the soon to come Saving Paludis. The characters in Silently in the Night are mostly ordinary people whose reactions to their fears and to unexpected events range from suicide to disbelief. The stories in this anthology are:
"Silently in the Night, England 1979" - What does a man do when his wife disappears unexpectedly?
"Watering Down" - An example of the principle of unintended consequences.
"The Sixty Minute Warning" - Does anyone know anyone's time of death?
"Sacrifice" - Isolation...could it drive both humans and machines to madness?
"Excerpt from Milijun, The Novel" - Who really contains the alien presence and what does it want?
"Old Times Sake" - Could Wendy's grandmother have steered her to Tom Reynolds' shop?
"Numan Fred" - Beware of a numan scorned!"
"The Last More-Human" - Someone had to be first; Elya is the last.
"Vanguard" - Speculation of alien presence on the dark side of the moon takes a bizarre twist.
"It's only Me" - Fear of alien abduction? Is it really just a fear?
"Except from Saving Paludis, the novel - Braving lizards and isolation in the remote regions of Paludis to consult the Seer.
"The Generation Gap" - Yeah...what we have here is a failure to communicate!
"Floating" - Dead...but not too dead for revenge.
"Daniel's Revolution" - Trapped on an alien world controlled by tyrants...caught in a revolution...evolving into alien ways.
"Trapped" - There two sides to every story; one imprisoned by age and circumstances, the other longing to fly free.
The stories in Silently in the Night are relatively short and the book is a quick and entertaining read that should appeal to sci-fi, thriller and mystery fans. 4-Stars
This book was provided free by the author in hopes of receiving an honest review. The above review represents my honest opinion of the book.
Clabe Polk, Reviewer
S. Craig Zahler
9781946487001, $11.00, PB, 266 pages
B074KLHMRF, $9.99, Kindle, www.amazon.com
A newly arrived baby with a feral scream becomes the most abhorred -- and the most unique -- resident in a small orphanage with the very word "unwanted" in its title. And thus does tiny, misshapen Hug Chickenpenny begin his stay at the Johnstone's Home for the Unwanted.
In this wonderfully macabre story by skilled writer S. Craig Zahler, the anomalous infant, terribly deformed at birth, and named "Hug" by a doting caretaker, terrorizes the orphanage with his piteous demands for attention and hideous appearance.
Therefore, it is with a collective sigh of relief by all but the outnumbered caretaker, that Hug is soon adopted by the curious Dr. Chauncy Hartfordshire Hannersby -- a teratologist of some repute.
What's a teratologist? You'll find out as you explore this terrific tale of the unfortunate baby who grows dutifully over the next four years into his destiny as Dr. Hannersby's adopted son and acolyte.
Fate intervenes in the forest one day, however, as Hannersby and two other aging scientists ingest some not-so-mellow mushrooms. This forces Hug, as a displaced minor once again, to take up temporary residence back in the Johnstone's Home for the Unwanted. It's not a happy return.
The new headmistress is the former sullen receptionist, and she joins many of the normal children in making Hug feel the weight and scope of his deformities. Then, miraculously, salvation arrives in the form of another adoption -- this one with a much better outcome. In fact, this placement leads to many unexpected -- and unpredictable -- adventures for Hug and an important new friend as he continues to grow up.
This absolutely unique book is part Cider House Rules and part Elephant Man, with a dash of The Hardy Boys thrown in for good measure. Again, it defies easy categorization.
Mostly, it's just a superb story about surviving tall odds to ultimately triumph over unspeakable adversity -- even if you're riddled with deformities and periodically expectorate glittery vapor and brightly colored amethysts (outlandish as it seems, this makes perfect sense in the book, so skilled is the author at making the outre highly believable.)
Complex, well-drawn characterizations, compelling imagery and a well-ordered story arc complete a trifecta of literary accomplishment here that is achieved by few elsewhere.
Five-plus stars to Hug Chickenpenny. It takes the reader on a highly implausible -- yet eminently readable -- journey through an imaginative and poignant narrative that is well-told from beginning to its surprising end.
Encounter With ISIS: Tales of MI7
9781519077363, $11.99, PB, 343 pages
In one of the most entertaining books we've seen this year, a Brit MI7 Intelligence Officer takes on the challenge of forestalling a fourteen-year-old girl's terroristic ideals, solving the kidnapping of a government official's son, and unraveling the mystery behind a corporate cyberattack.
And somewhere along the line, a love story breaks out for good measure.
In Encounter With ISIS: Tales of MI7 by J.J. Ward, agent John Mordred, droll, keen-witted and uber-resourceful, receives his latest assignment with aplomb aplenty. And this book -- sixth in a series -- affords him the opportunity to showcase his abundant sleuthing skills and rapier repartee to best advantage.
In a dizzying bit of deductive reasoning, Mordred and his associates at MI7 come to the startling conclusion that two of the three players in the disparate conundrum outlined above are collaborating. Exactly why, and where they might be headed remains unknown.
But this is just the sort of spiderwebbed situation that causes mystery and spycraft lovers the world over to rub their hands together and gleefully cry, "Game On!" Mordred et al fill the remaining chapters with remarkably cinematic dialogue detailing Mordred's hunt for the minor miscreants -- fourteen-year-old Aisha Sharif and sixteen-year-old Sebastian, the bucktoothed, homely son of the founder and director of Chewton Black, the private security company whose firewalls were allegedly breached.
The characterizations in this first-class piece of fiction are deep and absorbing, as is the byzantine plotline that forces the reader to pay close attention, lest a critical twist slip by unnoticed. And, in the end, it's just this kind of diligence that provides a payoff as the literary drapes are pulled back in a revelatory last chapter reveal.
Accomplished author J.J. Ward outdoes himself in this combination detective slash international intrigue tale -- written with style and skill. Readers will find John Mordred to be one of the most appealing characters in fiction today. Very well done and roundly deserving of its five-plus star rating. Read the entire series, including Mordred's next adventure: World War O.
I Can Find You (Emma Willis Book 2)
Book Beatles LLC
9780996044127, $18.99, PB, 287 pages
B0716X5TZG, $4.99, Kindle, www.amazon.com
Wizards, aliens and humans square off in an inter-dimensional battle for dominance of Earth in this highly imaginative sequel to the first book in the Emma Willis series by standout author Joss Landry.
Be ready to have your mind boggled as Emma, now fifteen and experiencing teenaged troubles of her own, must find time to help police captain Hank Apple and other law enforcement agencies fight black marketers intent on harvesting human organs to feather their business in the new illegal trade du jour sweeping the continent.
Emma uses her prodigious paranormal powers to try and stop the insidious invasion. But she soon finds it won't be easy, as the evil wizards who have come to prey on today's populace are ruthless in their single-minded quest.
One saving grace: there's also a counterbalancing force for good from yet another dimension who align with Emma in an epic struggle to restore the status quo. But in the process, Emma and other important cast members are thrown into mortal danger as the conflict rages on.
And in between trying to save the world and avoiding extinction herself, Emma learns some hard lessons about first loves and the true meaning of forever friendships.
Five-plus stars to I Can Find You. It's a tale with a truly intergalactic scope that sends it soaring high above others in its genre. Readers are already desperate for the third book in this singular series and we join them in hoping the wait won't be long.
99 Creative WOWs Words of Wisdom for Business
9780985403515, $18.95 pbk / $12.95 Kindle, 119 Pages
The author of this highly motivational book at the age of 14 knew she was 'Going to be in charge of something,' and sure enough she has been in her own words 'in charge of several "somethings" since then.'
Randi Brill received a BFA in Graphic Design from Carnegie Mellon University, and then her education really began in the real world! The experience she has gained so far in her working career through, hard work, forward thinking, the determination to succeed, and real guts made her the woman she is today. She admits to using personally, and sharing as Chief Creative Officer of QuaraCORE, WOWs or Words of Wisdom every day. It is her belief in the power of these that instigated her to produce this inspiring book so others can be energised and learn by them too.
The WOWs are categorised into Business, Personal and Creative, although the author says that they may well overlap for the reader. The whole book is so bright and attractively displayed that it is quick and inviting to read, yet the WOWs are so motivating that they stick in your mind.
Whether you are launching a new business, resurrecting an old one or looking to change your career or direction, these words of wisdom will not only inspire and motivate you, they will also give you food for thought. What I really loved about this book is that many of the words of wisdom come from experience and for me, and I am sure for you, they will either ring a bell straight away or if not, I am sure they will come to mind at some time in the future when you are in a particular situation.
The amazing achievements of this author in themselves are an inspiration, and in reading this fantastic book we are fortunate enough to gain from her words of wisdom, derived from her vast experience. This little book is a gold mine of tips and one I shall treasure for always and re-read frequently!
Dasharajna: The Battle of Ten Kings (Harappa Trilogy Book 3)
Indus Publishing Group
B075YSWTCC, $2.68 Kindle 362 Pages
Yet again Shankar Kashyap has combined thorough and detailed research, with his amazing ability to tell a fantastic story and written this the third book in the Harappa trilogy - Dasharajna - Battle of Ten Kings.
Traditional history books are sometimes difficult to get into, however the author has overcome this by using in this Harappa series the character of Upaas, originally a trainee physician, his friends, and wife Lopa. These characters and the people they meet, rich and poor, give the reader a real insight into what it was like to live in this period of history.
Set in the third millennium BCE, the legend of the Battle of Ten Kings can be easily determined to have taken place on what is now the banks of the River Ravi, in what is now the Punjab, Haryana and north-east Pakistan. The traditions, laws and everyday lives are fascinating to read as a wonderful background to the epic story which is the Battle of Ten Kings, a battle between King Sudas and the alliance between ten to twelve kings. The alliance was forged because the descendants of King Yayathi were unhappy that the central part of Bharatha was given by the king to his youngest son Puru, and not to one of his elder brothers.
The years have passed and Upaas now moves with Lopa and their baby Atreya to Ila to become the Royal Physician to King Sudas. Ila is a great capital city known as the centre of the world and stories of Upaas the physician of Harappa are well known, and he and his family are warmly welcomed by Sage Visishta.
However it is soon apparent that there is great unrest, the opposing forces are grouping together, and adding in numbers. There are rumours in Ila that the enemy has sixty thousand soldiers, fired by their rulers united sense of past injustice, intent on winning the battle over King Sudas.
As the opposing forces gather on the banks of the River Parushni (Riva) it is apparent to all that this is going to be no ordinary battle. Then begins this epic war with soldiers and the king fighting bravely, and Upaas tending the wounded. All would seem to be lost until man is taught an important lesson, one they should never forget....
Wow, is all I can say to this amazing story. Whether you are interested in Indian history, enjoy reading about life in times gone by, or are just looking for a totally fascinating story, this is the book for you, and I highly recommend, it.
Sunshine's Excellent Adventures
Reggie and Anita Hill
Christian Faith Publishing, Inc.
832 Park Avenue, Meadville, PA 16335
9781640282131, $13.93 pbk / $9.99 Kindle amazon.com
This is an absolutely enchanting little story which my granddaughter adored, about a real kitten and some of his adventures.
Sunshine is a really special kitten in lots of ways. Now I can hear you thinking that all kittens are special, however Sunshine really is special, he has something about him which is different from all other kittens, but I'm not going to spoil the story by telling you what it is.
He had a very happy kittenhood living under a pier on Topsail Island with his mummy, called Mama Motley, and all his friends. It was there that he learnt how important it was to treat others kindly, and discovered the first of many important messages which he passes on to the boys and girls who read about his adventures.
One day Sunshine was adopted by his human parents Reggie and Anita and they took him to live at their beach house called Summerhill where he is very happy. It isn't long before he has made friends and quickly learns how to make Anita laugh with his antics, he decides it's fun to make people happy!
However, Sunshine also learns that sometimes he has to go to the animal doctor and be checked out, but he takes it in his stride, he knows his human parents will keep him safe. Whether he is having Christmas at his human parent country home called Lakewood, or meeting new animal and human friends, for Sunshine life is just one excellent adventure, each day bringing new experiences and fun things to learn about.
As I read this lovely story to my granddaughter I was impressed at how many little life messages are woven in the story, and how beautifully written and illustrated it is. That Sunshine was a real cat doesn't surprise me at all, for it is only when people have a close loving relationship with their animal friends that the true characters of the animals shine through, and we can enjoy not only them but the life lessons they teach us.
I would highly recommend this wonderful story for young children for their parents, grandparents and caregivers to read to them, and slightly older children to read themselves.
Susan Keefe, Reviewer
Understanding the Patterns of Your Life: Take Charge of Your Destiny!
George Pan Kouloukis
9780764353208, $17.99, 192 pages
Do the events in your daily life follow patterns? It is usually easy to find math patterns. What about nature? Is there a pattern in examining pine cone? The mathematician Fibonacci certainly saw that pattern. Are there other patterns?
Are there good years and bad ones or is that just a balance of life? Obviously, not every second of each day is good or bad, but what about the overall year? Of course, every day is not typically all good or bad.
Think about the major shifts you have experienced. Examine your health issues, your money situations, your career ups and downs, and your love life. Do any patterns appear?
When you analyze your results in chronological order, surprisingly you are likely to see a pattern. Could this help each of us begin to predict our own futures? Would it help each of us with our family, relationships, career, or life issues in general?
George Kouloukis analyzed the lives of twenty-two well-known people who lived in the last five-hundred years, a few still living today. He quickly found the not many ordinary peoples chronicle and publish their lives. Due to this, he chose famous people in various parts of the world with different careers who experience their own good and bad years.
He studied the lives of Ludwig van Beethoven, Giusepppe Verdi, Pablo Picasso, Mikhail Gorbachev, The Dalai Lama, Margaret Thatcher, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Christopher Columbus, Queen Elizabeth I, Napoleon, Victor Hugo, Winston Churchill, Aristotle Onassis, Nelson Mandela, Maria Callas, Sarah Bernhardt, Napoleon's wife - Josephine, King Henry VIII, Jimmy Carter, and John Glenn.
Surprisingly, the author, George Kouloukis discovered a pattern in their lives, a sixteen-seventeen year cycle.
The short biographies of these famous people help every reader to properly assess the good and bad seasons for each individual. Naturally, not everything is good in the good season and bad in the bad, but the major overall events are the focus. The author examined the health, wealth, their positions or careers and love.
Kouloukis researched other findings of patterns identified by other researchers. The Universe by Time-Life Books explained how the magnetic poles of the sun alternate every eleven years. Strangely, this pattern seemed to have little to no relevance to human behavior. Another consideration was The Seasons of a Man's Life by Daniel J. Levison explained the four seasons of every life with each lasting round twenty to twenty-two years. Again, George Kouloukis found no normal correlation with his life or those he studied.
These resources appealed to Kouloukis but seemed slightly flawed.
Lacking few biographies of ordinary people or regular people, he began to study these famous people throughout the world, varying the time periods, the gender, the situations, and delving into their personal lives focusing on their wealth, health, love, and successful or failed careers.
He discovered the patterns through these people and allows you to examine your own life to discover the season you are now experiencing so that the author's realizations can assist you with your life in the future.
Reading the book, Understanding the Patterns of Your Life allows you to learn to examine your own life to allow you to make choices for yourself. George Pan Kouloukis has opened his wisdom to read your own personal crystal ball.
The Last Mrs. Parrish
9780062667571, $25.99, 393 pages
Who doesn't want to be richer, thinner, blonde with blue-eyes, tanned, better looking and more successful? This seems to be the American dream for many women. Most wealthy people appear to have it all. With money, they can recreate themselves into almost the perfect person. Think of the numerous women and even many men who spend enormous amounts of money to achieve their vision of perfection.
The problem is often what appears in public is quite different than reality or in the privacy of a home.
Amber Patterson is tired of being normal. She is thin, but plain. Mousy brownish hair, dowdy, ambitious but in a career with no future for making real money. She just makes enough to get by with her paycheck to paycheck existence. How can she change her life?
Amber finds a new friend, Daphne Parrish, who seems to be everything she could want. Daphne is beautiful, rich, blond, blue-eyes, married to a gorgeous husband and two young daughters. Amber wants Daphne life, but slightly changed without the children. She doesn't enjoy young ones at all.
Coincidentally, both Daphne and Amber had sisters who dies due to cystic fibrosis. This is the foundation of their friendship.
Will Amber ever have a life like Daphne's?
What Amber really wants is Daphne's husband, Jackson and unfortunately, she seems blind to Amber's ambitions. A story of manipulations and lies to achieve your goals keeps you turning each page constantly wondering about each character.
The Last Mrs. Parrish is a fascinating debut novel from the perspectives of Daphne and Amber while peals back the story of their relationship as an onion with multiple layers. The characters are easily envisioned with what initially appears as shallowness while unveiling the story into the immense depth of each one.
The storyline easily flows in this enthralling page turner. Each page almost bewitches the reader to read faster and faster. Unquestionably, this is a page turner.
The author Liv Constantine is really two people. Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine, who are sisters who wrote this novel by communicating through FaceTime and e-mail. They were inspired by the long dark tales their Greek grandmother told them as children lasting hours.
The Last Mrs. Parrish is a fascinating, fast-paced read that is an addictive novel that is a psychological thriller with constant intense suspense. Reading The Last Mrs. Parrish is like being on a roller coaster with constant ups and downs as the story continues with even a final twisted curve at the end.
The story is a memorable fast-read.
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
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Oregon, WI 53575-1129
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