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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 20, Number 6 June 2020 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Alex Phuong's Bookshelf Amy Friedman's Bookshelf Ann Skea's Bookshelf
Annie Burdick's Bookshelf Barry Fain's Bookshelf Bonnie Jo Davis' Bookshelf
Carl Logan's Bookshelf Carol Smallwood's Bookshelf Carole Giangrande's Bookshelf
Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf Charles Bogart's Bookshelf Clint Travis' Bookshelf
Elan Kluger's Bookshelf GHR's Bookshelf Israel Drazin's Bookshelf
Jack Mason's Bookshelf Jean Roberts' Bookshelf John Burroughs' Bookshelf
Julie Summers' Bookshelf Lana Kuhns' Bookshelf Margaret Lane's Bookshelf
Mari Carlson's Bookshelf Marj Charlier's Bookshelf Mark Walker's Bookshelf
Michael Carson's Bookshelf Molly Martin's Bookshelf P.J. Grath's Bookshelf
Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Stephen Jenkins' Bookshelf Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf
Susan Bethany's Bookshelf Susan Keefe's Bookshelf Susana Pacheco's Bookshelf
Suzie Housley's Bookshelf Sydney Anderson's Bookshelf Willis Buhle's Bookshelf


Alex Phuong's Bookshelf

Afterlife
Julia Alvarez
Algonquin Books
https://www.algonquin.com
9781643750255, $11.49 Kindle, $25.95 Hardcover, Audiobook on Audible, 272 pages

Afterlife Comes After Life Itself

Many people have a fear of death, but aging is, in a way, a gift. Everyone will die sooner or later, but some people merely exist rather than truly live. Time sometimes flies, but it also does not naturally go by faster even though it feels as if it goes by quickly. Clocks will always go tick tock, but time really is the enigmatic concept that it is. All people have a limited time on Earth, but this new novel suggests that there is no such thing as death; there is simply the "afterlife."

Julia Alvarez is one of the most celebrated authors in modern times. Afterlife is her newest contribution to the literary world.

Alex Andy Phuong
Reviewer


Amy Friedman's Bookshelf

Before the Fevered Snow
Megan Merchant
Stillhouse Press
https://www.stillhousepress.org
9780996981651, $17.00, PB, 110pp, www.amazon.com

Life is an Incurable Virus Megan Merchant: Motherhood in the Age of Collected and Collective Fear.

What a time to read Megan Merchant's new poetry collection, Before the Fevered Snow. I've been hunkered down in my house for five weeks now, waiting for the vicious COVID-19 pandemic to pass. Sacrificing for others. Doing my part in the face of fear, pain, and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Merchant's book addresses all these feelings through the lens of motherhood. To be a mother is to harbor collective and collected fear.

To be a person in today's climate requires the same. Life is an incurable virus, or rather its only cure is death. As humans in today's world, and those of us who are mothers always, we fight against this cure for as long as possible, to say nothing of all other predators aside from the virus. School shootings. Illness. Injury. Merchant's work assures us these worries never abate, and that they never should. That vigilance and concern keep us rooted in love. That motherhood requires it of us.

Generations of mothers are considered in this book, such as Merchant's own mother, suffering from dementia, "her brain stuttering memories," and of Merchant "unable to find /my mother in dreams." It's a forethought of profound loss during a profound loss of connection during her mother's life. What never leaves, even through the fog of mental decay, is the connection of mother to child: "My mother said the falling leaves were a crone tucking her children /safe before the snow sheets and turns them blue." The mother tucks in her child in some distant world while the child tucks the mother in this world. As Merchant's mother calls out for her own mother in fevered dreams: "...she screamed help mother help, my grandmother //years dead." This need is undying, even as she climbs ever closer toward her own passing.

Motherhood is about potential, the human manifestation of nesting dolls, of each next generation nestled inside the mother from the generation prior. "I read that I was an egg in her body, /when she was tucked and growing //in her mother," Merchant writes. "That to find my true /age, I'm to subtract 20 weeks /from the moment of her birth." This knowledge helps the author through miscarriage so many years later, the knowledge that "this means that she knew the specs /of daughters I carried short, /and I was never alone in their loss."

Merchant's poems mirror the endless rotation of seasons, of Mother Earth being whittled away under harsh conditions, and a world working to nurse its children back to health. All is fleeting; this book works to stem the tide. In "Opening My Third Eye to the World," the author's son ventures outside and finds his "stuffed owl...ravaged by our dogs." It's a heartbreak of proportions both small and great, a harbinger of losses to come, of the cruel and comforting cycle of pain and renewal. "What do I let him hold that cannot /be taken?" Merchant wonders. Of course, she knows the answer to this question is nothing.

"Bleuet" finds the speaker considering a new shade of blue crayon added to boxes of the waxy and vibrant drawing tools we offer to children and wondering if "there is a lapse in the tints of sad available /so that our children might draw the world." In the shadow of this minor development, Merchant considers her grandfather's life in Paris after WWII, "that there was enough of him left /to feel the rain and realize the lapse since he'd last // laughed." Loss is inevitable, and in the maelstrom of this human experience, we take small measures to offer expression of the human condition, "a way to //fluent tragedy." Something simultaneously breaks and heals with a permanent fissure when we mothers fully embrace the notion that our influence on our children and our world remains forever inadequate. Blue is the color of grief, and now, during the pandemic, the color of everything. We can only choose how, not if, to mourn. "Why not name the color /thoughts & prayers" Merchant wonders. In an age of national paralysis, that may be all that's left, to name what we cannot control.

The toll this grief takes is largely immeasurable, except in the small but tangible withdrawals Merchant's mother makes from this world, highlighted in the poem "Forget-Me-Nots":

Today, my mother forgot the word for bathroom
while she was in one. She said, Dry room, no - wet room, no -

tell me, then what are the others called? I'd like to walk them.

At one point, someone taught me a word I've forgotten.
A room I was already inside. A marriage. A country. A war...

I will hear the horses, in mourning, nip

at the electric fence, and I will not have the word for shock.

As Merchant's mother's death draws closer, the speaker decides to "practice motherlessness.Which cannot be perfected /because of memory - mine. //I will practice making my children shatterproof. /I have been given no other choice." This is the song of despair, of knowing this is impossible and must be attempted anyway, just as the speaker's mother attempts the same for her daughter: "She apologizes for being a mother-burden, for the water being too hot /when I unwind the rivers from her hands to prove there is still /some part that floats." As hard as this is to hold, there is some blessing in it too - some of us have no mothers to care for, mothers who have chosen an early exit from what's intended to be a lifelong responsibility. There is a grace in having people to care for, in having people to lose, in having people to mourn. There is a kind of luck in loss.

Following her mother's death, Merchant suffers awake through the "blue //hour of sleep." She addresses her mother who's no longer there, yet lingers in memory and heartbreak forever: Merchant "park[s] the car where you /are kept and wait for black smoke to rise. A candle-wish." Grief the color of black. Black the color of everything.

Amy Strauss Friedman, Reviewer
Tupelo Quarterly


Ann Skea's Bookshelf

An Alice Girl
Tanya Heaslip
Allen & Unwin
https://www.allenandunwin.com
9781760529772, A$32.99, paperback, 324 pages, 19 May 2020

An Alice Girl starts dramatically. The author, her youngest brother, Benny, her sister, M'Lis and her friend, are in a desperate race to stop cattle duffers stealing their father's cattle:

We knew that the cattle duffers had stolen Dad's cleanskins - young cattle that had not yet been branded - and were now driving them hard towards their own bush hide-out....And for all we knew, they had some of Dad's best branded steers, and were intending to cross-brand them too.

The chase, on horseback, is fast and dangerous, over 'long, low, flat mounds of red earth sweeping towards the glint of wire in the distance, potted throughout with rabbit holes, treacherous for horses'. Luckily, at the last minute, the cattle duffers are beaten. Luckily, too, it all turns out to be a game:

[W]e didn't need real cattle. They were as vivid and alive to us as if we'd had a full mob at our disposal. Our imaginations easily filled in the gaps....But I secretly thought Brett and Janie, Joanne and Matthew had played the baddies rather brilliantly this afternoon.

Such games were part of Tanya Heaslip's life on a remote cattle station north of Alice Springs until she went away to high school. She remembers her early childhood vividly, and with honesty for the relentless work, the harshness of the land, the heat, dust, bush-fires, storms, snakes (she tells some wonderful snake stories) and, especially, the isolation. But she writes with much love for the land and the people she knew as she was growing up.

She begins with the 'story' of her parents' pioneering adventures when, in 1964, they took up the Government-held lease of an isolated outback cattle property called Bond Springs. Both Janice and Grant were 26 years-old when, with three children under the age of 4, in the middle of a 10 year drought, they borrowed money to buy the lease of this 1813 square kilometer, failing, cattle station. And, to begin with, they ran it alongside Grant's parents' sheep property, Witchitie, 4 days drive south of Bond Springs. Grant travelled constantly between the two properties over 'red, deeply corrugated dirt roads'.

The first mob of cattle Grant bought to replenish the stock at Bond Springs, had to be taken there by train (a three-day journey to Alice Springs in a 'stinking hot 'goods carriage'), then overland through a huge storm and across a dangerously flooded creek. 'Hell of a journey', Tanya's taciturn father later wrote in his diary, 'Hard job. Horses had had it. Men had had it. But it looked as though we got most of the cattle'.

The second purchase of cattle entailed an equally hazardous, 500 kilometer droving trip to get them to Bond Springs. Tanya Heaslip's descriptions of both journeys bring home the unforgiving nature of the land, the heat, the exhaustion, the almost-disasters which the men overcame by sheer determination not to give in, and the ever-present danger of cattle breaking loose from the mob and the whole mob scattering and being lost. It is a story which could have taken place in the earliest days of Colonial Australia, but which happened within living memory.

Tanya's father's work running the station was a constant round of checking and fixing fences, bore-holes, tanks and yards, mustering cattle, sorting, branding and castrating them, and trucking them off to market. There were constant worries over money, and battles with what he called 'bloody bureaucrats, communists and socialists'. Her mother 'did everything else', and 'a bush woman's work was all consuming', especially on a property where bore water was undrinkable, drinking water came from tanks filled by the rare rainfalls, electricity was supplied twice a day by a tiny generator in the nearby tin shed, cooking for the family and the stockmen was often done in extreme heat, and red dust covered everything.

For the children, too, work was unremitting. From the time they could sit on a horse, their father would round them up to help with mustering or whenever he needed extra hands. Tanya describes one particular sheep-shearing occasion at the Witchitie, when the children were called on to help round up reluctant, fleece-heavy sheep on a day when the temperature exceeded 45 degrees. Water, which had been hung in bags on trees around the extensive property, was putrid and she couldn't drink it, consequently she suffered heatstroke. Her father responded as he usually did to any sickness or accident: 'You'll be right'. He clearly loved his children but he was a hard task-master, and the constant pressures made him 'as hard and unyielding as the red, dusty land he was seeking to tame'.

In spite of all the work, Tanya writes glowingly of the freedom they had as children; of the vast, beautiful expanses of land and the colours of sunrise and sunset (red, apricot, pink, purple and black) which made her 'heart sing'; and of nights out in stock camps where they would be sitting on swags, watching the crackling flames flicker up into the air and light the darkness as we listened to Ray [a 'good-natured Irish stockman'] sing to the stars. Someone would lift the billy off the fire and we'd all drink sweet black tea. Ray's gentle lyrics and guitar playing transporting us to different times and places.

Unlike her siblings, Tanya was never completely happy around horses and cattle and she would retreat into imaginative fantasies fuelled by the books that she read avidly. She loved school and learning, and she writes of the way The School of the Air became established. Adelaide Miethke, a retired school teacher, on a visit to the outback noticed that the children were excessively shy of each and that they relied on correspondence school for lessons. With the help of John Flynn, who had set up the 'flying doctor' service in the outback, and three other men, she managed to make and distribute pedal radios to outback stations, then she creating lessons which could be taught over the air in a way that allowed children to communicate with the teacher and hear the responses of other children. The scheme was launched in 1951, and this radio contact became a lifeline not just for children on remote outback properties, but also for adults, who used the radio to exchange news and information. And although radio conversations were limited to 5 minutes and often disrupted by static, it was especially appreciated by outback women, who were often completely isolated from the company of other women. 'School of the Air was the best thing, ever', says Tanya. So, 'Thank you Adelaide Miethke'.

There is much more to this book than just hard work, cattle and isolation. There are the long-term stockmen who became the children's friends; bush characters; horse-breaking; accidents; their father's purchase of a light aircraft and his pioneering use of it in fighting bush fires. And there are the occasional get-togethers on another station, like their first Christmas Party where Father Christmas arrived in 'a battered white ute' because, as Tanya's mother explained, the reindeer had to be left at the police station for 'a rest and a drink'. There is also the excitement of attending local Agricultural Shows, learning to prepare and show their prized cattle and learning how to ride in gymkhanas. Tanya's remembers, too, the four skilled aboriginal stockmen who, once Government alcohol restrictions for Aborigines were lifted, began to follow their women into town, and eventually stayed there. 'Within ten years', she reports, 'Dad's four top stockmen were dead', from alcohol poisoning and alcohol-fuelled car accidents.

The book ends with Tanya's departure for boarding school in Adelaide. A traumatic event for a 12 year-old who had never been away from her home and family for more than a few days, and was used to wide-open spaces and freedom. But she thought about her passion for learning and determined that she would go away and live in the places she had read about in her 'beloved books':

Then, one day, I will write about it and this land, so it's always with me forever.

An Alice Girl is written with love for the land and the people of outback Australia, and it is a fascinating account of a childhood most city-bred Australians could hardly imagine. Occasionally, it seems as if Tanya found everyone she knew beautiful and lovable, and sometimes her early immersion in Enid Blyton books leads her to eulogize a little too much, but this is what childhood memories are like and Tanya Heaslip conveys those emotions and impressions with imagination and skill.

Real Differences
S.L. Lim
https://slwritesbooks.com
Transit Lounge Publishing
9781925760286, A$29.99, paperback, 288 pages

Winner of the Premier's Literary Awards 2020 (UTS Glenda Adam Award for New Writing)
Nick, who tells this story, is a rather disengaged, young white Australian man who, as he tells us, 'graduated from high-school with all the trimmings' and, whilst at university became close friends with Andie, the daughter of Indo-Chinese refugees. Nick describes her as 'not a perfect person', but one who, when she 'had an idea what was right', would make 'no distinction between thought and action'. She assumed that everyone else did the same. Nick did not share this idealistic view and they did not talk about ideas or 'what to do right in the world', but they became best friends and shared a flat together. Then Andie got a 'proper' boyfriend, moved out, and married him. 'We were friends' Nick says, then she was gone and I drifted, then she came back and told me things and I wrote them down before her final disappearance. And now she's gone for good and here I am putting words in order ....curating these events for a beginning and end, conflict and catharsis and all the rest. Pimping out my own trauma for effect. So you must keep an eye on me, you must not let me get away with anything.

In Nick's account, we jump back in time as he remembers the way events unfolded, and each character expresses their own way of seeing the world. We hear their thoughts and ambitions, and come to understand their feelings as well as their doubts and certainties.

Andie works for a group called Real Difference which through 'work on the ground, review and research' seeks to identify ethically sound charities and persuade donors to support them. She is determined to make a difference to the lives of the poorest and most disadvantaged people, and she is obsessive about promoting this ambition. As part of her work, Andie travels to Indonesia, sees the sort of world her parents left, and experiences the very different standards and ways of living to what she has grown up to expect in Australia.

Benjamin, Andie's husband, has grown up in an old, affluent, well-established Australian family, and makes the comfortable, unquestioning assumption that everyone is basically decent. He is patient, trusting and 'nice', but he also believes that whites are superior to 'ethnics' who, 'if properly trained', could become part of mainstream society. In this process, Andie, 'through deft slight of mind, was expropriated from her skin and thus excluded from this category'. She, of course resents this view, and is offended by the casual, unintentional racism which Ben's friends sometimes demonstrate and which he declines to challenge. This, along with Andie's idealistic beliefs, eventually causes them to part.

In Nick, Andie and Benjamin, Lim, lays out common patterns of differences and conflict, but her most troubled and disturbing character is Andie's young cousin, Tony. His parents, who, ten years earlier had lost their home and livelihood in anti-Chinese violence in Indonesia, devote their lives to him but pressure him constantly to study hard, and get angry with him if he does not live up to their expectations. Nick, at Andie's request, first meets Tony at a school debating competition, where he excels. But he is troubled and cannot decide what to do with his future or how to respond to the pressure of his parents' demands. He is also critical of the casual way they call themselves Catholic but treat their religion 'like buying lotto tickets - they pray just in case it might help them win'.

Two years after Nick first meets him, sixteen-year-old Tony, discovers Islam through a Bangladeshi classmate who is also a member of the debating team. Hasan is an active and charismatic Muslim and organises a group of Muslim boys who meet for lunchtime prayer. 'The rest of the school mostly regarded them as harmless curiosities' and their classmates would 'form a united wall of derision and contempt' for the few students who expressed racist views about 'migration and immigration'. Nick, with his habitual wry cynicism, judges that

It wasn't that the children themselves were especially socially conscious - although most, being the offspring of migrants themselves were fairly receptive to concepts of tolerance and multiculturalism. Rather they felt that such words were unfitting for the atmosphere of intellectual refinement which ought to prevail at Eastern Boy's Selective High School.

Hasan befriends Tony and listens to his problems with his parents, and Tony comes to admire the way Hasan's certainties about his faith 'take precedence over everything else'. So, Tony agrees to attend a talk which Hasan's Islamic Society has organized, and there he hears an 'elder' American convert, Sheikh Walid Wasseem, talk about Islam and the Quran 'as a guide for all human endeavor'. Tony is so moved by the talk that he goes home and spends 'feverish hours' searching the internet endlessly trawling the same forums and websites and groups, trying to recreate the feeling of shocked illumination he had experienced in the hall.

....

Becoming a believer after sixteen years which were functionally if not nominally godless, changed everything for Tony.

It is Tony's conversion (reversion) to Islam which provides much of the religious theme in Nick's story. He buys a copy of the Quran, reads it constantly, and carries it everywhere with him. He changes his diet (his mother is initially furious), and begins to pray daily. Hasan goes overseas for a while and they lose contact, so in his first days at University Tony joins the Islamic Society ISOC. As a revert, he finds that there are so many small rules he must learn about such things as how to hold himself when he prays, and how to ensure that his prayer are valid, that those who have grown up in Muslim families constantly correct him. It is all much less satisfying than he had hoped. He does, however, meet Katherine, a white Australian, very committed, convert, with whom he discusses their faith. He admires the fact that 'her faith was utterly solid':

There was nothing metaphorical or vaporous about it. She had no fear of death: she was convinced she would be greeted by two angels who would roll back the grassy blanket of the grave and ask her questions to which she had prepared lifelong answers..

And it is the alliance between Tony and Katherine which finally brings about the climax of the book.

Lim immerses the reader in the thoughts and actions of her characters, so it is easy to forget that Nick is telling this story. But although he loses his highly-paid job and becomes apathetic and depressed, he still manages to present the beliefs which govern the lives of Tony and Katherine, Andie and Ben, impartially. And although Nick is the only character who does not have such strong beliefs (which makes him, as he agrees, 'a boring person'), he still manages to show, realistically, how they each consider and reject alternative ways of viewing the world and of living their lives. And the complexity of living by their beliefs is played out in a culture which is essentially agnostic and pays lip-service to tolerance but rarely examines its own beliefs.

Real Differences is Lim's first novel and her characters grapple with the serious and emotive questions of race, religion and culture. For them, and for their creator, this is a difficult and ambitious process. At times, the exposition of beliefs, especially those of Tony and Andie, hinders the smooth flow of the story, but Lim draws the reader into her story, and she does capture the ambitions, ideals, dreams and energy of a generation growing up in a world of change and uncertainties. Andie, unlike Tony, questions whether it is 'compulsory to be so flagrant about [your beliefs], refusing to compromise even one hair's breadth of your position'. But for Andie, and especially for Tony, 'integrity is the ability to wear the same face with all the people in one's life'.

In the end, the reader is left with questions about their own cultural assumptions and an awareness of challenges of peacefully absorbing different beliefs within that culture.

Ann Skea, Reviewer
http://ann.skea.com


Annie Burdick's Bookshelf

An Albatross Around the Neck of Albert Ross
Geoffrey Gatza
Lavender Ink
https://www.lavenderink.org
9781944884734, $18.95 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 134pp, www.amazon.com

This petite collection of stories for children breaches borders of age groups and interests with each of its six stories. Just as easily read aloud to young children as it would be read by an older child on their own, this delightful title for young readers is a natural pick for libraries or home bookshelves. The six short stories center mainly on children, though their circumstances vary. An unsupervised boy playing host to an albatross. A group of emotionally mature kids listening for ghosts. Siblings stuck in a strange predicament together. A boy and his mother and their neighbor, a tricky witch. A young rabbit learning to be a writer. A nightingale taken for granted, even despite his talent.

Each one is packed with subtle parables and messages, presenting unsuspecting children with wisdom about the ways of the world and how to be a positive part of it. We see, through the eyes of youthful protagonists, the value of family relationships, the importance of being original, the distractions of technology (even for parents), ways to be a good friend, and even, momentarily, our negative effects on the environment. The best stories draw their strength from their parable nature. Those lacking a clear arc and message or moral fall a bit short. Some stories soar (often literally, on the wings of an albatross or butterfly), but others feel less fleshed out and lacking the depth afforded their companions.

The titular story is the highlight of the collection, blending perfect amounts of childhood mysticism with lessons about the ways of adults. Through rich detail and imagery, we follow Albert as he becomes the willing bearer of a massive albatross, even as his family is too distracted to notice his antics and mid-air adventures. Soaring over water packed with rotting garbage and smokestacks spewing pollutants, Albert's story also briefly touches on human harm to the planet, the subtle final message being that remarkable interactions with nature are dependent on us taking care of it first.

Where it sometimes falls flat is where many books for children struggle - in the dialogue of the children themselves. Conversations between kids in more than one of the stories feel a touch stilted and overly formal, an adult's way of speaking seeping into the writing. This loosens, just for a moment, the grip a reader has on their mental imagination of the scenes laid out before them. However, in adult dialogue and youthful internal monologue, he maintains a more comfortable, natural groove.

The book is accented throughout with charming collaged artwork, adding to the visual effect the stories are already putting in effort to achieve through beautiful writing alone. Lush descriptions conjure imaginative daydreaming, but visual depictions only add to the pleasurable reading experience.

Ultimately, this is an approachable and fantastical collection, with enough variety in the topics and tone to hold interest throughout. It should be easily comprehensible for most under twelve, whether reading or being read to, and the occasional challenge words sprinkled throughout will add a bit of a learning element for curious readers. Gatza's The Albatross Around the Neck of Albert Ross is the perfect book for a sunny afternoon, packed with stories kids long for and adults won't mind hearing - plenty of whimsy, excitement, and magic to go around.

Annie Burdick
Reviewer


Barry Fain's Bookshelf

My Life as a Sperm: Essays from the Absurd Side
Gene Twaronite
Absurd Life Press
9780578640853, $12.00 PB, $3.99 Kindle, 262pp, www.amazon.com

"How appropriate that Gene has chosen to group together a wonderful compendium of his offbeat life events into one easy to read and entertaining volume. Whether he's digging for bones or in pursuit of the Rolling Stones, his bi-coastal adventures are packed with wry observations, and of course, his own unique infectious twists of humor. It was especially enjoyable to relive the chapters from when he was foraging in our area and I'm happy to report they remain as timely and as delightfully 'absurd' as ever."

Barry Fain, Reviewer
Providence Media


Bonnie Jo Davis' Bookshelf

The Top 10 Reasons the Rich Go Broke: Powerful Stories That Will Transform Your Financial Life... Forever
John MacGregor
https://www.johnmacgregor.net
RDA Press, LLC
9781947588097, $19.95, 240 pages

https://www.amazon.com/Top-Reasons-Rich-Broke-Transform/dp/1947588095

Why do the rich go broke? The news stories about people who inherited, made millions or won the lottery often ends with a heartbreaking story. Why does this happen and what can you learn from it?

The author, John MacGregor, takes everything he has learned from his twenty-five years in the financial world and gives you a book of stories that will explain why the rich go broke and what you can do to avoid that outcome yourself. His dream is to help as many people achieve their financial goals without the failures that happen all too often.

John's close friend, Robert Kiyosaki - International Best-Selling Author of Rich Dad Poor Dad wrote the foreword to this book and it is worth reading even on its own. The book is structured in three parts with seventeen chapters in all. That may seem like a long book but once you start reading the stories you can't stop. I blame the author for keeping me awake two nights in a row but I forgive him because his book is amazing.

The book itself is filled with illustrations and images and is laid out beautifully with pull quotes throughout. If you read only on a Kindle do not worry. You can buy the book in paperback or for your Kindle device or app.

My favorite story is about Nancy who is featured in Chapter 10 of the book. She married someone she thought was financially successful only to discover that he was concerned more about appearances rather than financial security. He reluctantly attended a meeting with his wife and the author John but seemed reluctant to change. Nancy discovered that her husband was too busy to fill out some simple forms and the outcome is tragic. Don't be like Nancy's husband. Buy this book and you will be prepared to overcome your financial issues so that you can enjoy financial security for yourself and your family.

The book ends with five free resources that will help you on your journey. Visit John's website to get The Top 10 Reasons The Rich Go Broke Supplemental Guidebook and print it out so you can use it while reading the book.

Bonnie Jo Davis, Reviewer
www.davisvirtualassistance.com


Carl Logan's Bookshelf

Touching the Jaguar
John Perkins
Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.
1333 Broadway, Suite 1000, Oakland CA, 94612
www.bkconnection.com
9781523089864, $26.95, HC, 240pp, www.amazon.com

Synopsis: When John Perkins was a young Peace Corps volunteer, his life was saved by an Amazonian shaman who taught him to "touch the jaguar", that is, to transform his fears into positive action.

He went on to become an "economic hit man" (EHM), convincing developing countries to build huge infrastructure projects that put them perpetually in debt to the World Bank and other US-controlled institutions. Although he sincerely believed this was the best model for economic development, he came to realize it was really a new form of colonialism.

Returning to the Amazon, he saw the destructive impact of his EHM work. But he also was inspired by a previously uncontacted tribe that touched its jaguar by uniting with its enemies to defend its territory against invading oil and mining companies.

Now in the pages of "Touching the Jaguar: Transforming Fear into Action to Change Your Life and the World" and for the first time, Perkins details how his experiences in the Amazon converted him from an EHM to a crusader for transforming our failing Death Economy that destroys its own resources and nature itself into a flourishing Life Economy that renews itself.

He also provides a strategy for each of us to change our lives and defend our territory (the planet earth) against destructive policies and systems.

Critique: An inherently fascinating and deeply personal story that is as informed and informative as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Touching the Jaguar: Transforming Fear into Action to Change Your Life and the World" is an extraordinary contribution to our on-going national dialogue and an especially recommended addition to community and academic library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, environmentalists, social/political activists, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Touching the Jaguar" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.28).

Editorial Note: John Perkins is an social/political activist and the author of ten books on global intrigue, shamanism, and transformation, including the classic Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. As a former chief economist at a major consulting firm, he advised the World Bank, United Nations, Fortune 500 corporations, and governments. He regularly speaks at universities, economic forums, and shamanic gatherings around the world and is a founder and board member of the Pachamama Alliance and Dream Change.

Communities and Consequences II
Peter Francese & Lorraine Stuart Merrill
Peter E. Randall Publisher
5 Greenleaf Woods Drive, Suite 102, Portsmouth, New Hampshire 03801
www.perpublisher.com
9781942155331, $14.95, PB, 128pp, www.amazon.com

Synopsis: Rebalancing New Hampshire's human ecology is critically important because intensifying workforce shortages threaten to cripple our economy and impede our ability to care for the rapidly growing numbers of elderly.

"Communities and Consequences: Rebalancing New Hampshire's Human Ecology" by Peter Francese (founder of 'American Demographics Magazine') and Lorraine Stuart Merrill (formerly the New Hampshire Commissioner of Agriculture, Markets & Food), along with a companion film by Jay Childs, describe how we came to be in this situation, and they show how visionary community leaders are crafting solutions to help us regain our balance.

New Hampshire is the nation's second-oldest state in median age. Northern New England shares this affliction as a region, with only Maine being older, and Vermont ranking third. Several New Hampshire counties are aging even faster than the state.

New Hampshire now has 29,000 fewer children than in 2010, but 67,000 more residents age 65 and older, due in part to generous property-tax exemptions for elderly homeowners and over 17,000 age-restricted housing units.

"Communities and Consequences: Rebalancing New Hampshire's Human Ecology" reveals how residents in towns and cities across the state are seeing the consequences of this imbalance, and how they are joining forces from across generations and walks of life to craft solutions for their own communities.

Critique: An original, impressively detailed and well documented demographic study, "Communities and Consequences: Rebalancing New Hampshire's Human Ecology" is enhanced with the inclusion of an Appendix (Resource Toolkit) and a seven page Index. "Communities and Consequences: Rebalancing New Hampshire's Human Ecology" is an especially recommended addition to personal, professional, community, governmental, college, and university Demography Studies, City Planning & Urban Development, Sustainable Business Development collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.

Carl Logan
Reviewer


Carol Smallwood's Bookshelf

The Truth about Our American Births
Judith Skillman
www.judithskillman.com
Shanti Arts
http://www.shantiarts.co/uploads/files/stu/SKILLMAN_TRUTH.html
9781951651268, $12.95, 94 pages, softcover

Judith Skillman is author of around twenty collections of poetry. She is the recipient of an award from the Academy of American Poets for her book Storm (Blue Begonia Press). Her work has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes, the UK Kit Award, Best of the Web, and is included in Best Indie Verse of New England. A faculty member at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle, Washington, Skillman also paints.

Smallwood: You hold a Masters in English Literature from the University of Maryland and have done graduate work in comparative literature at the University of Washington. When did you begin writing and was it poetry?

I began writing poetry as an undergraduate student and then, when I went back to get a master's in English Literature, I got it with an emphasis in creative writing. The MFA degree didn't yet exist. It was quite a privilege, as I got to hear the excellent poets who came to read at University of Maryland's reading series: Galway Kinnell, Tess Gallagher, Stanley Kunitz, and others. Actually, looking farther back, I wrote my first poem in fourth grade as an assignment, after Kennedy was assassinated.

Smallwood: your poem, "Blue Note" notes those holocaust stories told and later taken back, as the most difficult facts come to be handled by time and distance.

The Truth about Our American Births asks questions about a German Jewish heritage and of generations. Do you think it takes a certain time in one's life to really delve into family history?

Yes, I think the family history has to be somewhat removed by time in order for it to stand out as a subject matter. It wasn't until my children were in school - two of them even in college - that I began to have the detachment necessary to ask questions about how I'd been raised. I knew I'd felt like an exile in Prince George's County Maryland, where we lived when I was age six until twenty eight. I felt "different" than my peers, who had Christmas and other things I envied. The feelings were there, but I had no way to articulate any coherent questions about the past.

Smallwood: the collection shows your easy relationship with other languages. How did it come about and what use have to made of it?

Well, that is kind of you to say. I am not fluent in any language except English. But I do love the sound of other languages. My maternal grandfather was Russian born and spoke English and French with a Russian accent. And as it says in the poem(s), my paternal grandmother spoke five languages fluently. My parents talked to one another in Yiddish when they didn't want us to understand them.

Also, I spent three months in France as a high school student, and some time in Quebec, so I'm a definite Francophile. I think it is good for poems to employ foreign words where they make music, and not artificially, but from a memory of a conversation or having heard the particular words. This may be true even if one doesn't know what they mean.

Smallwood: reviewers have noted your figurative language and imagery in the 47 poems in the book. I particularly enjoyed these lines from "Rift:'

Hardened is the name of woman.
All hands and arms.
Hangnails come to tell.
Chores for the charwoman.
See her bend into soap.
Lean away from leisure.
In her stained rag a map of the world.
Countries never seen.

Why did you use a period at the end of each line?

I suppose end-stopping these lines seemed appropriate when I wrote it because the persona is angry. She is enraged at the misogyny that exists in society and culture and religion throughout history. And so the poem became deliberately choppy.

Smallwood: Agatha Christie is mentioned in poems. Please tell us why:

Well, as the story, goes my grandmother wasn't good at tending a house, or let's say, "housewifery". She would put a roast in the oven, and then she'd forget it entirely. The meat would burn because she went back to reading her Agatha Christies. She was an avid reader and loved mysteries.

Smallwood: In "Dahlias:"

Inside the kitchen
the woman who fed them
on manure, who would turn
their white shallot-heads
in shallow graves
once they finished

You express sharp contrast; please give readers another sample:

That's an interesting observation. I love to paint with oil, which is all about relative contrast.

from "Polish Mother"

She lights the apple orchard
with a lamp called moon
and then goes to bed
in a dirty housedress.

Smallwood: who is Marie Luise Kaschnitz you quote in the beginning of your collection?

A colleague introduced me to the work of Marie Luise Kaschnitz and I fell in love with her. The quoted poem is excerpted from her Selected Later Poems, published by Princeton University Press. She was nominated for a the 1967 Nobel Prize for Literature. Kaschnitz (31 January 1901 - 10 October 1974) was a German short story writer, novelist, essayist and poet, and is considered to be one of the leading post-war German poets.

Smallwood: what have you noted about the generational role of women?

This is a big question. Women give birth, nurture infants and children, and hold families together. I would say that from my own experience, women create in many ways, and provide a "generative" force as well as one that spans the generations. In addition, because we are trained to be verbal from an early age, we women often end up as the "storytellers" of the family. This is important role in that creating family certified "tall tales and legends" may enable those who are young to better understand their own origins.

But because ours is a patriarchal society, more often than not the work of women isn't recognized financially. My views are admittedly 20th century, but in fields where women abound, such as teaching, they are under compensated. In arenas where women compete, including the arts and sciences, still females often are the ones who take it upon themselves to provide for basic needs of family and offspring. There are so many strong women I admire, including my mother and sister. All have had substantial obstacles to overcome.

Smallwood: what are some magazines in which your work has appeared?

I've had poems in many journals, including Threepenny Review, Shenandoah, Midwest Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Seneca Review, Tar River Poetry, Poetry, Southern Review, Tampa Review, and elsewhere.

Smallwood: did you paint the cover of The Truth about Our American Births?

No, though I can't help but be flattered that you would ask such a question!
The cover art is "Rocky Beach, Appledore," by Childe Hassam. He is one of my favorite artists. I chose this piece because it depicts a shoreline and at the top - which is just a fraction of the painting, a relatively small couple, a man and a woman, stand together against sky. For me the rocky climb up represents immigration and assimilation.

Smallwood: what are you working on now?

I am working on a manuscript that pulls work from six books and contains poems written over the past couple of years. Also I'm co-editing an anthology on domestic violence http://www.persephonesdaughters.tk/submit/

Smallwood: readers can learn more about Judith Skillman on: www.judithskillman.com

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Denise David's Against Forgetting: War, Love, and
After War
Shanti Arts Publishing
http://shantiarts.co/uploads/files/def/DAVID_FORGETTING.html
1951651316, $15.95, Paperback, 78 pages, May 5, 2020

The year 2020 marks seventy-five years since the end of World War II; Against Forgetting: War, Love, and After War is a poetry collection about people living the war - a legacy of first-hand memories preserved by a researcher scholar, the daughter of a war bride.

Smallwood: What is your literary background, and education?

I am a teacher and a writer. I taught writing and literature for over twenty-five years at a community college in upstate New York. As meaning-making creatures, our stories help us understand who we are and allow us to make sense of the world. My formal education includes earning a Ph.D., but I have never stopped learning from my students and from my own writing. I have published a number of academic articles as well as poetry and narrative non-fiction.

Smallwood: Your preface shared you did research and interviews about World War II war brides. How did you get in touch with them?

Ever since I was a child, I have been fascinated with people whose mothers were war brides. My mother had several friends from England, women who had married soldiers during the war, but when I was a child, it did not occur to me that it was strange that all of these English women were living in a small town in upstate New York. As I grew older I was more and more fascinated with the experience of war brides. The estimates, while hard to verify, suggest that more than a million women married soldiers and left their homelands after World War II. As I began writing and researching the history of the times as well as my mother's experiences, I wanted to understand the fuller context of the experience for other war brides as well. I read anything related to the subject - history books, stories about war brides, accounts written by war brides, old newspaper articles. I drove to meet war brides or their children whenever I could to speak with them about their experiences. But the most important connection I made was when I discovered a national organization, the World War II War Brides Association, a group consisting of war brides from over fifty countries. My mother and I began attending the annual reunions held in a different American city each year.

Smallwood: Your forty-nine poems are divided into War: Love, After War. Please comment about the role of women then and now that you've observed:

The role of women during the war years is fascinating. It differed for women living in different countries, and I have tried to capture some of that in the poems, but since my grandmother and my mother lived in England during the war, I will speak a little about their experience. The war was fought in their back garden in a sense. My mother grew up in a large industrial city, Birmingham, England, which suffered nearly as much bombing as London, an enormous amount in other words. When we think of the Battle of Britain, we do not think of the women working in the factories that ran twenty-four hours a day building Spitfires, Hurricanes and bombs. So many of the men were away fighting overseas so it was left in large part to the women. I don't think we fully understand the tremendous burden on the women to hunker down in shelters with their children through long nights of bombing and then get up and go to work in the morning. When we speak of the home front, women were a huge part of that. And then, of course, for the war brides there was the issue of falling in love with a man from a foreign country and giving up all that was dear to them--country, family and friends to take a chance on the future. The war brides, women now in their eighties and nineties, were in so many ways creators of the peace after a devastating war.

Smallwood: Your poems includes such fascinating bits such as in "Tea Time" is noted: "In 1942, the British government purchased in order of weight: bullets, tea, artillery shells, bombs, and explosives." Please share with readers another:

Yes, my research has led me to all sorts of little stories, the smaller details that make history fascinating. For example, after the final bombing that demolished the British Museum, there were stories of ancient seeds stored inside the museum that sprouted into life after they were drenched with water used to put out the fires.

Smallwood: The era becomes so real by including such details as the wearing of lipstick (when available) in defiance of Hitler, and bombs in back gardens on Sunday dinnertime "against an azure sky." How were you able to select them?

The story of the plane in the back garden was told to me first by my grandmother and later by her son, my uncle. Neither of them ever forgot that story, and neither have I. My mother has talked often of how they all wore red lipstick to keep their spirits up in those days. To this day, my ninety-three year old mother does not go out without "a bit of lipstick." She is strong and resilient and carrying on.

Smallwood: In "Seeing the Same Place for the First Time" as a nine year old, you "see the enormity of my mother's decision." Please share with readers what you realized:

Until that moment, I had not realized how hard it must have been for my mother to choose between the love of her family, with whom she was very close and the love of a man, my father, an American soldier. When I saw my grandmother crying I understood a mother's sadness in a way I never had before. I knew this grief was something my mother always carried with her. In those days, America was a world away. It was not easy to get back to England, although in my mother's case, she was able to get back after about eighteen months when I was born, but many war brides reported that it was many, many years before they could return "home" for a visit, frequently as many as ten years. Air travel was very expensive and travel by ship was not cheap either and it took nearly a week one way. Phone calls were rare if people even had a phone. For so many years, my mother stayed in touch with her family through letters, which she often cried when she received. Now, all these years later, my mother has managed to remain close to her family, with weekly phone calls and daily emails, but she still remembers her devastating homesickness at first.

Smallwood: What are you working on now?

Currently, I am working on my mother's story, the life of a girl who grew up in the midst of a war and married a man from across the sea. Life would not be as she expected it, but she, like all of us, had to find her own strength. My book pieces together the shards of experience that connect to form a life. When I began the book, my question was whether or not my mother had made the right decision, but I have come to realize that the real story is who we become because of the decisions we make.

Carol Smallwood, MLS, MA, Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, is a literary reader, judge, interviewer; her 13th poetry collection is Thread, Form, and Other Enclosures (Main Street Rag, 2020).

Carol Smallwood
Interviewer


Carole Giangrande's Bookshelf

The Envy of Paradise
Jocelyn Cullity
jocelyncullity.com
Inanna Publications & Education Inc.
www.inanna.ca
9781771335898, $20.35 PB
9781771335911, $9.59 Kindle, 300pp, www.amazon.com

It often seems that there are too many terrible events in history for us to process and retain in living memory. On the other hand, events we choose to honour with memory should make us ponder the biases that inform this selection process. Jocelyn Cullity's new novel The Envy of Paradise is the sequel to her well-received Amah and the Silk-Winged Pigeons. Both books confront historical amnesia by dramatizing one such horrific incident: the British siege of the city of Lucknow, India in 1857-8. And like its predecessor, The Envy of Paradise conjures up vivid images of what colonialism values, and what it has destroyed and erased from memory.

Cullity is well-equipped to shape this story into fiction. Her mother's family lived in India for five generations, leaving when the country became independent in 1947. As a teenager, she read the diary of an ancestor who was barricaded during the siege of Lucknow in 1857. This discovery informed both her later studies and the ten years of research that preceded the writing of her novels. Like Amah, The Envy of Paradise speaks through vivid prose; without having to push the point, colonialism stands condemned by Cullity's beautiful evocations of what it has destroyed.

Lucknow was Awadh's capital city, wealthy and cosmopolitan, a centre of culture and the arts, a magnet for the British East India Company in its reach for economic and political power. Cullity's first novel told the story of the siege from the point of view of Amah, a royal bodyguard and member of the Rose Platoon, a women's militia of African descent which led the resistance to the British invasion. In The Envy of Paradise, the narrative is shared by Begam Hazrat Mahal (a friend of Amah, and, like her, of Ethiopian descent), the former wife of Wajid 'Ali Shah, the last king of Awadh in northeast India. Wajid shares the narrative with her in alternating chapters, a strategy which serves to contrast their characters.

The king is imprisoned by the British in far-off Calcutta where he's gone to protest the land-grab of Lucknow; alone and suffering from a hunger strike, he's haunted by the boyhood memory of a woman servant who molested him. By contrast, Hazra Mahal (his rejected wife) is in constant motion, funding the building of barricades to protect the city of Lucknow, then fleeing the British military invaders, bent on capturing her as the alleged leader of a rebellion. Along with the commander of the Awadh force (Raja Jai Lal Singh), Hazra Mahal is on the move, heading for hoped-for asylum in Nepal.

While this historical novel makes use of large-scale drama to propel the story forward, it also alerts us to the nuances of character and the upending of gender stereotypes. The use of the first person in Hazra Mahal's narrative adds to its immediacy and power; the king's third-person point of view serves to emphasize his distance from the unfolding of events. The contrasts between these "large and small" components of the story work well, and the rich description creates an immediate sense of immersion in a lost time and place, a sense of authenticity that is well-earned. Some readers might find difficulty with the otherwise-helpful list of characters; there are many individuals in this short novel, and one is advised to bookmark the page in order to reference unfamiliar names. That said, the reader is left unsettled by the awareness that Lucknow's ruin has been erased from our Western tally of tragic events. Yet it might be any beautiful and wealthy city in this uncertain world; such a loss could happen anywhere, again.

Editorial Note: Carole Giangrande is the author of ten books. Her most recent novel is The Tender Birds, Winner, 2020 IPPY Silver Medal for Literary Fiction

Carole Giangrande
Reviewer


Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf

Cold Vengeance
Tess Thompson (Sisters Charlene Tess and Judi Thompson)
Independently Published
ASIN: B087QSJVMV, $2.99 Kindle

Sons worried about their mother's disappearance cause their father, Detective Flores, to hire a private investigator as she is his ex-wife. Flores hires someone he trusts who happens to be Kris Eastman, sister of Roddy (an attorney). The two men have faced off during previous court cases.

This is book three in the Angel Falls Series, and we already know the characters well. It is always a pleasure to read a story continuation of characters we enjoy.

The case becomes a homicide, and Flores is accused of murder. Kris calls on her brother to help. She stakes her reputation to help save Flores and flush out the real murderer.

The Sangre de Cristo Mountains is the setting for the ending when the killer takes the boys to a campground there. The situation is perilous, and the outcome is a shock.

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland
Patrick Radden Keefe
Random House, Anchor Reprint, and Knopf Doubleday
9780307279286, $11.99 hardcover, $17.39 paperback, $8.49 Audio Book, 455 pages
B07CWGBK5K, $12.99 Kindle

Narrative nonfiction at its best!

This book is what would be the full text of Black Taxi Troubles tour in Belfast. Keefe researched this book for four years, took seven trips to Northern Ireland, and even interviewed more than one hundred people and gather information and write the book. He provides the most plausible version of events and also elaborates on possible popular alternative explanations.

A mother of ten is taken from her home and presumed to be dead, leaving the children to fend for themselves. When finally brought to orphanages, the children were abused. Now grown up, a few were willing to talk to Keefe. The reader learns a little more about what happened to the mother, although it is left to the reader to decide what to believe.

This is the story of a tangled web of lies, double and triple agents, and people who will not answer questions as they "say nothing." The reader learns how individual people change from first becoming joining the IRA to how they felt many years later. Some become discouraged, some become more political, and some continue paramilitary activities, although times change. Some IRA volunteers who went on hunger strikes had lifelong health complications or died. Burns Library at Boston College has many documents and tapes associated with Ireland, which are essential to this text.

The Troubles lasted over three decades and caused 3500 lost lives. Although the Sinn Fein political party is supposed to legally help people in Northern Ireland, there is an undercurrent of hostilities yet today. Now, still, more than 90 percent of children in Northern Ireland attend segregated elementary schools. Most people live in neighborhoods that are either Catholic or Protestant. Gates are still closed between the communities each evening.

Many times, I read books that seem actually to be written for film, and I object to that viewpoint coming across so strongly. However, this book did not seem written for film, but I do think it would be a great movie.

Carolyn Wilhelm
Reviewer


Charles Bogart's Bookshelf

The Defenders of Taffy 3
Byron G. Como
Independently Published
9781076442369, $49.95, www.amazon.com

The Defenders of Taffy 3: Analysis and Retelling of the Battle of Leyte Gulf by Byron G. Como (2018)

This print-on-demand paperback book is destined to be the benchmark against which all future accounts of the struggle of Taffy 3 to survive its encounter with the Japanese Navy will be measured. Taffy 3, the United States Navy's code name for Task Unit 77.4.3, was a part of the U.S. Navy participating in the 1944 Return to the Philippines Campaign. Taffy 3 consisted of six escort carriers, screened by 3 destroyers and 4 destroyer escorts. On 25 October 1944, Taffy 3 was attacked by 4 Japanese battleships, 8 cruisers, and 11 destroyers, led by the 18.1-inch gun armed battleship Yamato. This fight would be recorded in history books as the Naval Battle off Samar.

Using primary sources, the author, in riveting detail, tells the story of Taffy 3's struggle to survive the Japanese Navy's onslaught. Taffy 3 was both outgunned and at a speed disadvantage to the attacking Japanese ships. Fighting back against these overwhelming odds, Taffy 3 would survive this battle due to the bravery of its ships and aircraft.

With a free flowing but very descriptive text, the author tells the story of the naval battle. Both the air and surface components of the battle are covered. The main focus of the story is told from the American perspective by covering the actions of both U.S. Navy officers and enlisted men involved in the battle. The reader is thus drawn into the battle by these accounts, which are supported by very detailed charts showing the locations of the individual ships of both fleets involved in this engagement. These charts allow the reader to set the story in context and follow the change in relationships between individual ships and the two naval forces as the timeline of the action advances. The author includes an account of the part Taffy 1 and Taffy 2 played in this battle.

The story is supported by an excellent selection of photos and illustrations of the aircraft, ships, and equipment referred to in the story. This allows the reader to better visualize the various material components of the battle that form the heart of the story. This book is more than a worthy addition to the story of the Naval Battle of Samar, but it is also an example of how one should use maps, photos, and illustrations to reinforce and illuminate the story being told in a text. This book is a keeper.

Editorial Note: Mr. Bogart is a frequent contributor to NHBR.

Charles H. Bogart, Reviewer
Naval Historical Foundation


Clint Travis' Bookshelf

56th Street
James W. Haddad
Commonwealth Books
9781892986078, $22.00, HC, 147pp, www.amazon.com

Synopsis: "56th Street" by James Haddad is the story of a young girl growing up in the Liberty City ghetto of Miami who gradually adjusts to the daily hardships of ghetto life but finds herself hopelessly trapped in a waking nightmare as she struggles to survive in an environment where a girl should feel her safest: in her own home.

Her older brother is a pathological abuser who knows no limits employing his relentless torment on the most vulnerable family members. The young girl fights for her life; fights as hard as she could to protect her three younger siblings. she is troubled with family loyalties but with time, decides to save herself and marries the first man she meets.

Then the nightmare suddenly comes to a climax!

Critique: A gritty and emotionally direct novel by a novelist who with a genuine flair for the kind of narrative storytelling that will grab the reader's total attention from first page to last, "56th Street" James W. Haddad is directly and unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists, as well as community library Contemporary General Fiction collections.

Clint Travis
Reviewer


Elan Kluger's Bookshelf

Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates
Harry V. Jaffa
University of Chicago Press
https://press.uchicago.edu/index.html
9780226391182, $24.00

https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/C/bo6950926.html

Crisis of the House Divided is an ingenious book, with a genuinely unique style. With its unique coverage of both Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, it is sure to change any previously formed thoughts on either of the leaders. Harry V. Jaffa wrote the book after studying with the erudite political philosopher Leo Strauss. While an understanding of Strauss's ideas is hard to enumerate in a shorter column, I have read Strauss's book Natural Right and History and the aspect that most made an impression on me was the subtle style of writing, with the message purposefully elusive. This is "esoteric writing," a strategy in which the true meaning of the text is hidden "between the lines" and the exoteric message is one simple to understand while the esoteric is for the learned few. Jaffa utilizes this enhanced skill of textual analysis in Crisis of the House Divided to get to the true meaning of many of Lincoln's speeches.

It is worth briefly digressing into who the Straussians are. Leo Strauss was a German-Jewish immigrant who came to the United States mainly because he couldn't return to Germany due to the Holocaust. Starting with the New School in New York and then the University of Chicago, Strauss built out a niche that involved reading the texts of mainly ancient philosophers (e.g. Plato, Aristotle, Aristophanes) and using his "esoteric reading" to find the true meaning that these philosophers passed down. Many prominent conservatives studied with Strauss, and his recondite teaching material and the obsession that his students had with him turned his students into a cabal of sorts. With the many Strauss students now professors, his ideas are still the subject of controversy in the political philosophy profession, with many of his interpretations of classical thinkers such as Xenophon, thought to be wrong. Columbia Professor Mark Lilla writes of "Those who enter the Straussian orbit follow fairly predictable paths," which involve deep philosophical study and then produce studies that "range from impenetrable exercises in esoteric analysis to solid interpretations of well-known classics...One puts most them down thinking: just another brick in the wall." While Lilla has a bleak attitude to the efficacy of a Straussian education, the result of Strauss's toil was many great students, including Harry Jaffa.

While Crisis of the House Divided is Straussian in its utilization of an esoteric reading of many of Lincoln's speeches, it is also Straussian in regards to the strange asides throughout the text. Ranging from Plato's Apology to Aristotle's Politics, the digressions seem to be "look at what I know!" rather than anything of use. Nevertheless, the book carries a philosophical weight that can only come from someone with immense knowledge of political theory.

Jaffa sets out what he intends to do with the book right in the introduction. Jaffa wrote the book 100 years after the Lincoln-Douglas debates. In the time that has passed, Jaffa says some historians have begun to say that the debates are of little importance. "If this were a mere dash of critical cold water upon a piece of folklore, it would perhaps not much matter...Yet this agreement of more recent opinion contrasts remarkably, not only with the folklore but with the more scholarly judgment of a more distant past." Jaffa saw the new scholarship on the Lincoln-Douglas debates as hiding the true meaning of the debates. The key target of the early chapters of the book is James G. Randall, an eminent Lincoln scholar. Randall says the debates are absurdly overrated because they were fundamentally only about the spread of slavery into the territories which was a small issue. Jaffa eviscerates that argument mentioning the vitriol between the two parties' followers of which would not exist over a "small matter of difference." After spending some more time criticizing modern historians, Jaffa finally delves into the heart of the matter: the debates. Stephen Douglas, the Democrat, supported the principle of popular sovereignty of which the new territories elect whether to have slavery or not as he saw it as the only constitutional option. Lincoln disagreed. He saw popular sovereignty as itself an illusion due to having "the people" vote on whether something was just, was itself not popular if the slaves couldn't vote.

Another fundamental aspect of the debate, was the Declaration of Independence, especially the claim of "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Douglas said all equal men are equals, while Lincoln retained a more expansive view: "Lincoln...treated the Declaration of Independence as if it insisted upon the universal leveling of the conditions of men everywhere."

The next part of the book is ingenious. Peter Thiel has an idea that he calls "steel-manning" in contradistinction to "straw-manning" in which someone attempts to create the best version of another person's argument and go from there, rather than purposefully creating a weak or "straw-man" argument so that it is easy to win the debate. Jaffa does exactly this. The name of Part I is "The Case for Douglas". He begins by quoting from both early and later Lincoln scholars who had tread upon the ideas of Douglas. A major point to Douglas's credit is the hostility Douglas had for the Know-Nothings, an early nativist party. According to Jaffa, "While Lincoln kept almost silent about them in public, expressing his strong hostility only privately, Douglas attacked the Know-Nothings openly, repeatedly, and vehemently." Jaffa summarizes Douglas's view as "Douglas did not wish to speak on the merits of the slavery question because he did not wish Congress to become the forum for policies he believed could properly and effectively be framed at the local level, state or territorial."

A critique often thrown at Douglas was that he was a personally strongly pro-slavery, and that his morally neutral policy of "Don't care" was an obfuscation from his real view, which was that slavery was a "positive good" as John C. Calhoun put it. Jaffa sees one key passage as a summary of Douglas's view: "I am not pro-slavery. I think it is a curse beyond computation to both white and black. But we exist as a nation by virtue only of the Constitution, and under that there is no way to abolish it. I believe that the only power that can destroy slavery is the sword, and if the sword is once drawn, no one can see the end." One reviewer calls Jaffa's skill in creating a defensible version of Douglas "a tour de force of hermeneutic skill.." I second that proposition. Jaffa clearly cuts out his work in defense of Lincoln to be much greater than necessary. Thus as the same reviewer notes, "Jaffa renders Lincoln's demolition of Douglas even more dramatic."

The sections on Lincoln are also remarkable. For years according to Jaffa, scholars had been tearing away at the brilliance of Lincoln and rendering him as a racist, who by happenstance made decisions that proffered him as an abolitionist hero. Through the careful dissection of Lincoln's Lyceum Speech and Temperance Speech, Jaffa notes that Lincoln had always been, from his early political career, a strong supporter of equal rights for blacks.

The nature of the book is to go against the grain. As Jaffa notes "More probably has been written of Lincoln in less than a single century than of any political figure of whom the records survive. Yet in some respects the vast accretion of Lincolniana has shrouded rather than disclosed the figure of the man within." Jaffa makes clear that historians do not have to treat every idea put forth by Lincoln with equal weight. Many things said on the campaign trail are meant to only garner votes. Yet the pervading notion in all of Lincoln's writing is that of appealing to the Declaration of Independence, in which "all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among those life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." He argues against Douglas's idea of tossing the slavery issue to the states because of a constitutional objection. Lincoln seeks to find the laws behind the laws, that of natural right, that people are "endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights" which supersedes the Constitution in its appeal to the humanity of men.

Another piece of the Lincoln tapestry is his character. From the time of antiquity, philosophers have grappled with an issue of democratic rule that those who seek election are of a very specific character, and are often of an ambitious type. The people are supposed to elect a man from among their ranks, yet inevitably there grows a distinction between the rulers and the ruled. Karl Marx certainly sees this dynamic play out, as do other theorists. A fact to be cognizant of though, is that Lincoln was of the brand of reluctant politicians. Lincoln was similar to the founders who saw campaigning as immoral, and much-preferred nomination by a friend to the ballot as to show a disinterest in politics. Yet he became involved in politics. As Jaffa shows, Lincoln saw that a true leader was one who could demonstrate the "capability of people to govern themselves." Woodrow Wilson said that by Lincoln removing that ambition and falling into the ruling class in the stead of a more traditional "striving type" like Douglas, "Lincoln had made it possible to believe in democracy."

With Lincoln as a gateway, Jaffa demonstrates the principles of natural law as set out in the Declaration of Independence, as fundamental to the functioning of our nation. Jaffa seeks to show the battle between Lincoln and Douglas as good vs. evil. Good wins yet our country suffers for 4 years.

Elan Kluger, Reviewer
Elan.Kluger.com


GHR's Bookshelf

The Dog Who Ate the Vegetable Garden & Helped Save The Planet
Margaret Hurley
Guernica World Editions
9781771834483, $20.00, PB, 106pp, www.amazon.com

Who better to speak on the importance (planetary and humanitarian) of a plant based diet than a vegan dog named Dori? The Dog Who Ate Vegetables and Saved the Planet is most likely, unlike anything you've read before. It is both a story and an appeal, in which the protagonist, a white boxer named Dori, asks her readers to remember what the truth of eating meat truly is; inhumane, unnecessary, planet-taxing murder. In captivating dog-honesty, stream of consciousness narrative, Dori meanders through dog speak; what she's learned in her life, what her human's Meg and Jack have shared with her, and what she thinks of how her fellow animals are treated. This book is not a diatribe on veganism. It is a book that implores readers to consider the real implications of our eating habits and questions the cost.

Author Meg, housemate of real-life Dori, is a gifted writer who expertly weaves her voice and the essence of her dog into a mesmerizing story of who Meg is, who Dori is, who animals are, and why it's imperative to speak on their behalf. Animal rights is another equal rights battle and all living sentient beings have rights that should be upheld.

The juxtaposition of snarky humor, sentimentality and jarring reality gives this book a different feel. Like a dog on a leash, the reader is lead through a landscape of both the beautiful and harsh; jerked from a nostalgic picture of puppyhood and into bleak scenes of animal cruelty. This book behaves much like Dori might if you had the chance to visit her; disarms you with sweet puppy dog appeal, charms you with pleasant memories, but then quite suddenly jumps all over you with dog directness and urgency, about the importance of changing our ways.

I would encourage people to read Meg Hurley's work, as Meg and her alter ego Dori invite you to experience and explore all spectra of emotions related to the urgency of animal and planet welfare. Hurley is a smart, passionate person who will have you questioning the way you eat and the way you live. This book challenges you to take stock of ethics, global responsibility and personal health by way of a rollicking adventure with a very charismatic white boxer. Will Dori change your mind? (less)

GHR, Reviewer
Goodreads
https://www.goodreads.com


Israel Drazin's Bookshelf

Ani Maamin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth, and the Thirteen Principles of Faith
Joshua Berman
Koren Publishers
https://korenpub.com
9781592645381, $29.95

An excellent revelation of the style of the Torah

Rabbi Dr. Joshua A. Berman is a brilliant scholar, writer, and speaker. In his new book "Ani Maamin," words that mean "I believe," he answers questions that bothered Bible readers - Jews, Christians, and Muslims - for centuries, and answers them in an interesting, readable, eye opening, and engaging way. Why was the Bible written? How do we explain the biblical writing style? How do we reply to Bible critics? And much more. The author is a professor of Bible at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. While his ideas are innovative, this Orthodox rabbi's views are accepted by educated observant Jews. For example, the "Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought" published the first 27-page chapter of this book "The 'Truth' vs. Historical Accuracy of Tanakh" in its Winter 2010 issue.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part shows with many interesting examples that one can only comprehend the Bible, which was composed for ancient Israelites, by understanding the thinking and practices of the ancient Israelites and the people of other culture they encountered.

The common misconception is that the Five Books of Moses, the Pentateuch, was composed in divine language in a style that was appropriate when the Torah was written and today. This, of course, is impossible. How then was the Torah written?

Rabbi Berman states that since it is unachievable in a single book to address all issues, he will examine those that concern most people. He will present the academic arguments in ways that laymen can follow and offer solutions that they can easily grasp. He will make it clear that lay people, rabbis, and secular scholars need to realize that "for too long [they] ignored the ways and the degree to which the Torah is a literary creation of the ancient world." The only way to fully reach the meaning of the Torah is to know how and why people wrote documents in the ancient Near East world.

For example, he says and demonstrates "that the way in which the legal texts were read and interpreted in the time of the Tanakh [Bible] is quite different from the way in which we read and interpret halakhic texts today....When we attain a greater understanding of the cultic practices of the ancient world, we can more fully appreciate how the Almighty accommodated Israel's spiritual mindset" at the time the Torah was composed. The great sage Maimonides (1138-1204) pointed this out when he discussed the laws of sacrifices which were only appropriate for the ancients. So too did Gersonides (1288-1344) and many other prominent Jewish sages.

Another example is how history was treated in ancient times. We assume that "history" existed since the beginning of time. But the term "history" does not appear in the Bible and the ancient approach to it even in Greece and Rome is far different than our modern approach. "Only by grasping that difference can we understand how the Tanakh relates to us the events of the past." He explains that "some aspects of the biblical accounts are not fully factual, but rather rhetorical." He gives many examples where what is stated as apparent history is designed to teach ideas not facts about events. One of the discussions is about the exodus from Egypt. Another is census figures which are symbolisms.

He discusses many subjects that critics raise to belittle the Torah such as why the Torah repeats the episode of the construction of the Tabernacle twice, how do we explain narrative inconsistencies as the difference between two animals entering Noah's ark and seven, why does the book of Deuteronomy differ in many ways from the prior four books even in the two versions of the Ten Commandments, how do we deal with the biblical version of the flood since other cultures gave similar yet in many ways unlike versions of the flood before the Torah was revealed, the differences between Torah and ancient political thought and, most significantly, did God reveal the Torah to Moses and, if God did so, did God also reveal the contents of the book of Deuteronomy.

The second half of this wise book focuses on Jewish beliefs. Maimonides wrote that there are thirteen principles of Judaism. But did he compose this list to aid the common people but did not himself believe all thirteen? What does each of the thirteen mean? Scholars and rabbis differ on this subject. There are scholars and rabbis on both sides ever since Maimonides published the list.

He discusses where and when did the idea of "fundamental principles originate, why were they developed, does the term "fundamental principles" suggest that there are other principles and, if so, what are they, what are the implications of a denial of one or more of the thirteen principles, what principles are mentioned in the Talmud, what does the Torah say, what was the debate between Sadducees and Pharisees regarding such issues as life after death and reward and punishment, what principles did Saadia Gaon (882-942) develop before Maimonides, was Saadia the first to list principles, why did he do so, did other ancient cultures have principles, did Christians develop principles before Jews did so, what kind of lists did other rabbis develop after Maimonides, and are the belief in the principles central to meriting the world to come as advocated by Rabbenu Hananel (965-1055)?

These are some of the many issues raised and answered by Rabbi Dr. Joshua Berman. Many are basic questions whose answers will help or detract from one's acceptance of Judaism, or, more likely, modify the current ideas of most readers and give them a better understanding of the Torah, principles, and Judaism.

Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife
Bart D. Ehrman
Simon & Schuster
https://www.simonandschuster.com
9781501136733, $28.00

Heaven and Hell are not ancient Jewish and Christian ideas

Many people today, Christians, Muslims, and Jews, as well as people of other religions, are convinced that good people go to heaven when they die, while people who acted improperly go to Hell. But the notion that these places exist is pagan and entered Judaism only in the late second temple period, probably round 320 BCE.

In his introduction to the tenth chapter of Mishnah Sanhedrin, called Chelek, the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides (1138-1204) describes five groups of Jews who have opinions about life after death. The first group believes that righteous people will go to an idyllic land called the Garden of Eden where no work is required and the people live a life of joy forever, while evil people go to hell, called Gehenna Hebrew, where their bodies are burned and where they suffer various types of agonies for eternity. The second group expect the arrival in the future of a messiah when good people will live in comfort forever. The third is convinced that people will be resurrected in the future and then join their family that died and live in comfort forever. The fourth group contend that the reward for observing the biblical commandments is physical pleasure while alive. The fifth group, which is the majority, combine the prior four as their expectation following death.

Maimonides states that these beliefs are deplorable and childish. It is like the need to reward a child by saying "If you do such and such, I will give you candy." A child who doesn't understand the value of proper behavior needs this incentive. But an adult does not. Maimonides refers to Ethics of the Father 1:3, from about the year 220, which teaches. "Do not be like servants who serve their master [God] in order to receive a reward, be like servants who serve their master without thought of reward."

Bart D. Ehrman addresses the question when and why did the notion of heaven and hell develop in his recent book "Heaven and Hell." Ehrman stresses that the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh, has no mention, not even a hint, of life after death and reward and punishment at that time. Rather than childishness, as suggested by Maimonides, Ehrman states that it is fear that causes people to believe in heaven and hell. It is also possible that both are correct, both led to the beliefs.

Ehrman notes that people feared death from the beginning of time. It is discussed in the ancient Mesopotamian epic known as Gilgamesh. Scholars date the book back to 2100 BCE, long before the revelation of the Tanakh. In this fascinating tale which tells of an ancient flood much like the one in the later book of Genesis, also focuses on Gilgamesh's fear of dying and his search for immortality. Later, in the eighth or ninth century BCE, Homer wrote the Iliad and Odyssey in which he tells of a non-tortured existing after death that is bleak, dreary, and completely uninteresting - not for some, but for everyone, without any reward or punishment. "For Homer and other ancient Greek authors, [a life force] goes to the underworld. Where souls (psychai) have the form [of a body] but not the substance of human life [no flesh and bones], and none of its goodness.... It is far better to be the lowest, most impoverished, slave-driven nobody on earth than to be the king of the dead in gloomy Hades."

Ehrman writes that the current notion of many today that after death people receive their due rewards is not in Homer. "It is not a view that originated in Jewish or Christian circles but in pagan ones." The great Greek philosopher Plato (c. 428 BCE- c. 348 BCE) endorsed "the notion of postmortem justice for both the virtuous and the wicked." He said in Phaedo and Laws that the body will die but the soul will live after the body's death. Later, the Roman author Virgil (70 BCE-19 BCE) wrote in his Aeneid that people are rewarded or punished after death and he added the idea of reincarnation. Jews most likely adopted the Persian idea of resurrection from the religion of Zoroastrianism when they came under Persian rule in 539 BCE.

Ehrman devotes many pages showing that the concept of life after death changed dramatically and repeatedly down through the centuries. There is not one view in Judaism and not one in Christianity; the ideas shifted from time to time in both religions. For example, "neither Jesus nor Paul appears to have taught anything about eternal punishment for the wicked" and it is not in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. Thus, even if one accepts that there is life after death, there is no way of knowing what it is.

The only solution to Maimonides' idea that the childish belief in reward and punishment - that people need to feel that they will be rewarded if they behave and obey the commands and will be punished if they fail to do so - is mature intelligence. Perhaps, Ehrman's revelation that these concepts are of pagan origin will help. He reminds us of Plato's magnificent solution to the fear of death in his Apology. He describes Socrates about to die saying there is nothing to fear about dying. One of two things is possible: either one lives after death or the person ceases. If the first, the time after death will be joyous. It is a chance to see people who had died before. If death causes the cessation of consciousness, it is no different than sleep, and one does not fear sleep.

Dr. Israel Drazin, Reviewer
www.booksnthoughts.com


Jack Mason's Bookshelf

Your Food My Adventure: One Farmer's Journey to Feed the World
Philip E. Bradshaw
Archway Publishing
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403-5161
www.archwaypublishing.com
9781480879508, $33.95, HC, 214pp, www.amazon.com

Synopsis: "Your Food My Adventure: One Farmer's Journey to Feed the World" is comprised of stories and recollections from a lifetime of farming in this memoir by Philip E. Bradshaw that celebrates a particular way of life.

Philip thoughtfully highlights the advancement of farming and reflects on his efforts advocating for agriculture, serving as a leader, and policymaker, and traveling to more than 53 countries and meeting seven U.S. presidents along the way.

Born on a family farm in Pike County, Illinois, Philip grew up during the turbulent 1940s and 1950s amid cows, chickens, and pigs-taking trips to Mexico and helping haul dozens of pigs at a time to the stockyards in East St. Louis in a truck.

In the pages of "Your Food My Adventure" Philip reflects on everything from the importance of international trade, starting his own career in farming, serving in the Army Reserves during the Cold War, managing his money, and meeting his future wife, Linda Bradburn, while speaking about farming at a meeting for young adults. He also provides a meaningful historical perspective on how food production has progressed and explores where it is headed in the future-all while celebrating the importance of good living and helping others.

Critique: A simply fascinating, informative, and thought-provoking read from beginning to end, "Your Food My Adventure: One Farmer's Journey to Feed the World" is a unique and extraordinary memoir that is unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary American Biography collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Your Food My Adventure" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781480879515, $19.99).

Dads for Daughters
Michelle Travis
Mango Publishing
https://mangopublishinggroup.com
9781642501322, $18.95, PB, 224pp, www.amazon.com

Synopsis: Basically, "Dads for Daughters: How Fathers Can Give their Daughters a Better, Brighter, Fairer Future" by Michelle Travis is a feminist book for fathers who are invested in the gender equality fight.

In its pages the reader will find: Steps you can take today in your workplace and community to create a better tomorrow; Inspiring stories from successful and empathetic fathers; Resources to help you take action in the women's movement.

"Dad's for Daughters" will have a very special appeal for men who love nasty women, and who know that Trump's America is not the future wanted for our next generation of girls.

Critique: Iconoclastic, insightful, informative, and thought-provoking, "Dads for Daughters" is especially recommended reading for any father wanting to effectively prepare his daughter to deal successful with what she will encounter (and have to deal with) in our contemporary society. Thoroughly 'reader friendly' in tone, commentary, organization and presentation, "Dads for Daughters" is a unique and extraordinary addition to both community and academic library Contemporary Modern Parenting collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Dads for Daughters" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.49).

Editorial Note: Michelle Travis is a law professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, where she is the Co-Director of USF's Labor and Employment Law Program. She is an expert on employment discrimination law, gender stereotypes, and work/family policy. She teaches courses on employment law and civil litigation, and she has won multiple teaching awards. She has a J.D. from Stanford Law School and a B.A. in psychology from Cornell University. Michelle has also published an award-winning children's picture book, My Mom Has Two Jobs, which celebrates working moms.

Jack Mason
Reviewer


Jean Roberts' Bookshelf

I am Cuba: Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution
Matthew Langdon Cost
Encircle Publications
http://encirclepub.com/shop
9781645990284, $16.99 PB, 294pp, www.amazon.com

Author Bio: Matthew Langdon Cost has a published historical on Joshua Chamberlain and an upcoming historical on Fidel Castro, as well as a mystery trilogy set in Maine soon to follow. Over the years, Cost has owned a video store, a mystery bookstore, a gym, as well as taught history and coached just about every sport imaginable. He now lives in Brunswick, Maine, with his wife, Harper. There are four grown children; Brittany, Pearson, Miranda, and Ryan. A Chocolate Lab and a Bassett Hound round out the mix. He now spends his days at the computer writing.

The Plot in Brief: This is the story of the Cuban Revolution from it's shaky disorganized beginning to it's ultimate success in overthrowing the government of Fulgencio Batista. This book covers the time period of 1951-1959.

The History: Clearly the author has put an enormous amount of research into this book. The narrative is filled with dates and times, places, and more names than I can recall. Battles are described in great detail and the reader gets a great sense of what it was like to fight a guerrilla war against an American backed government with tanks and airplanes at their disposal. It's also amazing to see how close they (the rebels) came to losing on multiple occasions. On one level the book reads almost like a non-fiction blow by blow of the revolution. Some readers may love this deep dive into military maneuvers others may not. I admit my eyes glazed over in some parts and I skipped over some of the graphic blood shed.

The Writing: The book is told from a 3rd person point of view, from multiple characters. The overall quality of the prose is pretty good, but I found it sometimes a bit uneven and overly wordy. Minor quibble: There are a lot of Spanish words and phrases thrown in and mixed with American slang and anachronisms. I sometimes wondered what language they were meant to be speaking.

Overall: I was surprised that in a book about Fidel Castro, his is not the main voice of the story. The predominant voice is a character called Vicente Bolivar, the book begins and ends with him. And it is this character which utters the phrase, 'I am Cuba.' Vicente grows from a young man unsure of his place in Cuba to a hardened revolutionary soldier. This fictional character humanizes the face of the fighters and also allows us to sympathize with a group of people we
would otherwise castigate as Marxists rebels, enemies of the American Government.

I was expecting a more Castro centered story, his view of the revolution, but the is narrative much broader and so his role in telling his own story is reduced to small bites. That being said, I did enjoy learning about the core group of revolutionaries like Che Guevara and Cecilia Sanchez, who may or may not have been Fidel's lover. I found the role of women in this revolution to be well, revolutionary. Women were respected leaders and commanders under Castro, who wisely used the talents of anyone willing to fight alongside him, irrespective of their sex.

Recommendation: Any one with a love of historical fiction, especially centered in New World, will enjoy this book on the Cuban Revolution.

Reviewers Note: I rate this book 4 Stars. I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Jean Roberts, Reviewer
The Books Delight
https://www.thebookdelight.com


John Burroughs' Bookshelf

All This Marvelous Potential
Matthew Algeo
Chicago Review Press
814 North Franklin Street, Chicago, IL 60610
www.chicagoreviewpress.com
www.highbridgeaudio.com
9781641600590, $28.99, HC, 304pp, www.amazon.com

Synopsis: In early 1968, then Senator Robert F. Kennedy ventured deep into the heart of eastern Kentucky to gauge the progress of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. Kennedy, already considering challenging Johnson for the Democratic presidential nomination, viewed his two days in Kentucky as an opportunity to test his anti-war and anti-poverty message with hardscrabble white voters. Among the strip mines, one-room schoolhouses, and dilapidated homes, however, Kennedy encountered a strong mistrust and intense resentment of establishment politicians.

In "All This Marvelous Potential: Robert Kennedy's 1968 Tour of Appalachia", author and historian Matthew Algeo meticulously retraces RFK's tour of eastern Kentucky, visiting the places he visited and meeting with the people he met. Algeo explains how and why the region has changed since 1968, and why it matters for the rest of the country. The similarities between then and now are astonishing: divisive politics, racial strife, economic uncertainty, and environmental alarm.

"All This Marvelous Potential" provides a new portrait of Robert Kennedy, a politician who, for all his faults, had the uncommon courage to stand up to a president from his own party and shine a light on America's shortcomings

Critique: An impressively researched and detailed combination of biography and political history, "All This Marvelous Potential: Robert Kennedy's 1968 Tour of Appalachia" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to 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 "All This Marvelous Potential" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99) as well as a complete and unabridged audio book (HighBridge Audio, 9781684577750, $34.99, CD).

Bluffing Texas Style
Michael Vinson
University of Oklahoma Press
2800 Venture Drive, Norman, OK 73069
www.oupress.com
9780806164953, $45.00, HC, 250pp, www.amazon.com

Synopsis: In 1989 a woman fishing in Texas on a quiet stretch of the Colorado River snagged a body. Her "catch" was the corpse of Johnny Jenkins who was found to be shot in the head. His death was as dramatic as the rare book dealer's life, which read, as the newspaper, Austin American-Statesman, declared, "like a bestseller."

In 1975 Jenkins had staged the largest rare book coup of the twentieth century -- the purchase, for more than two million dollars, of the legendary Eberstadt inventory of rare Americana, a feat noted in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. His undercover work for the FBI, recovering rare books stolen by mafia figures, had also earned him headlines coast to coast, as had his exploits as "Austin Squatty," playing high stakes poker in Las Vegas. But beneath such public triumphs lay darker secrets.

At the time of his death, Jenkins was about to be indicted by the ATF for the arson of his rare books, warehouse, and offices. Another investigation implicated Jenkins in forgeries of historical documents, including the Texas Declaration of Independence. Rumors of million-dollar gambling debts at mob-connected casinos circulated, along with the rumblings of irate mafia figures he'd fingered and eccentric Texas collectors he'd cheated. Had he been murdered? Or was his death a suicide, staged to look like a murder?

How Jenkins, a onetime president of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, came to such an unseemly end is one of the mysteries Michael Vinson pursues in this spirited account of a tragic American life. Entrepreneur, con man, connoisseur, forger, and self-made hero, Jenkins was a Texan who knew how to bluff but not when to fold.

Critique: Combining the elements of antique book collecting, high stakes gambling, underworld contacts, Native American religious beliefs, Christian missionary work, with a larger-than-life but true biography, "Bluffing Texas Style: The Arsons, Forgeries, and High-Stakes Poker Capers of Rare Book Dealer Johnny Jenkins" is a deftly written and impressively documented study that reads with all the compelling qualities of a finely scripted novel. Certain to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to both community and academic library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Bluffing Texas Style" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9780806165424, $21.95) and in a digital book format (eTextbook, $11.99).

Editorial Note: Michael Vinson is a rare book dealer specializing in Texas and the West. He has appraised rare books for the Antiques Road Show and has been interviewed by the New York Times about rare book thefts. He is the author of Edward Eberstadt & Sons: Rare Booksellers of Western Americana.

John Burroughs
Reviewer


Julie Summers' Bookshelf

Be Kind: A Year of Kindness, One Week at a Time
Melissa Burmester & Jaclyn Lindsey
Rock Point
c/o Quarto Publishing Group USA
400 First Avenue North, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55401-1722
www.quartoknows.com
9781631066849, $19.99, HC, 240pp, www.amazon.com

Synopsis: Each of the 52 weeks of kindness comprising "Be Kind: A Year of Kindness, One Week at a Time" by the team of Melissa Burmester and Jaclyn Lindsey includes inspiration in the form of stories about when a small act of kindness, as well as an authentic personal gratitude letter that had a big impact, a Q&A or a quote from a notable thinker.

Also included are fascinating statistics or facts about kindness that have been researched by Kindlab, the research arm of kindness.org (e.g., Kindness improves the well-being of both the giver and the receiver.); and a suggestion for an act of kindness to do in one of the following areas: Kindness toward those around you (service workers, colleagues, neighbors); Kindness to self; Kindness with kids; Kindness as a group; Kindness to the environment; Cyber-kindness.

Fully illustrated, engaging, and inspiring, the intent and purpose of "Be Kind" is to enable changing not only the reader and but also the readers communities and the world -- one week at a time!

Critique: Thoroughly 'reader friendly' in tone, composition, organization and presentation, "Be Kind: A Year of Kindness, One Week at a Time" is an inspiring and unreservedly recommended addition to community library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Be Kind" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $18.99).

Editorial Note: Melissa Burmester, co-founder and chief product officer of kindness.org, loves asking questions and building teams to solve complex problems. She is an author, keynote speaker, and start-up advisor. Throughout her career, she has produced content from eight different countries, conducted countless interviews, and amassed over 160 million video views.

Jaclyn Lindsey, co-founder and CEO of kindness.org, believes that kindness is humanity's greatest asset. It was this ethos that inspired her to launch kindness.org, a global non-profit building evidence-based programs for kinder classrooms, communities, and workplaces. Jaclyn has spent over a decade in the nonprofit space, where she's helped raise more than $100 million for domestic and international missions. An author and keynote speaker, she sits on the board of Children in Conflict and is an advisor to Creative Mint and Expectful.

Up, Not Down Syndrome
Nancy M. Schwartz
Modern History Press
c/o Loving Healing Press
5145 Pontiac Trail, Ann Arbor, MI 48105
www.lovinghealing.com
9781615994632, $32.95, HC, 124pp, www.amazon.com

Synopsis: "Up, Not Down Syndrome: Uplifting Lessons Learned from Raising a Son with Trisomy 21" by Nancy M. Schwartz candidly reveals to the reader the experience what it feels like to think your life is over after having an unlovable baby.

At first the loss seems impossible to overcome. But her son Alex becomes Nancy's greatest teacher with the clarion message that Love is stronger than Fear -- that everyone has gifts.

"Up, Not Down Syndrome" is comprised of three parts: the story, the lessons Alex taught the writer, and Alex's unique perspective. "Up, Not Down Syndrome" is a promise to stay positive, no matter what: up, not down. Nancy's journey gets to the core of what it is to be human:

Critique: Inherently fascinating, impressively informative, inspired and inspiring, "Up, Not Down Syndrome: Uplifting Lessons Learned from Raising a Son with Trisomy 21" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community and academic library Contemporary Parenting collections in general, and Down Syndrome supplemental curriculum studies in particular. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, parents and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject tht "Up, Not Down Syndrome: Uplifting Lessons Learned from Raising a Son with Trisomy 21" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781615994625, $21.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $6.95).

Editorial Note: Nancy Schwartz has taught in Pennsylvania for twenty-six years. She holds certificates as an ESL program specialist, reading specialist, and elementary and early education educator. She maintains a website at www.UpNotDownBook.com.

The Sisterhood
Paul Fuller
Independently Published
www.facebook.com/Dr-Paul-Fuller-374854095904771
9781079752984, $41.78, PB, 286pp, www.amazon.com

Synopsis: "The Sisterhood: A Forgotten Minority: Power and Influence of Black Women" by Professor Paul Fuller is a tribute to African and African American women who contribute to, exert power in, and influence the societies they live in. Their presence has been apparent since antiquity, despite ostracism, marginalization, and oppression in male-dominated societies.

Since ancient times in Africa, black women have contributed to and influenced their nations in a variety of ways such as governmental leadership, commerce, and have appreciated more freedoms than women have on other continents despite facing relegation.

In modern America, black women continue to face disregard, though have made their presence known by exerting power and influence in politics, economics, education, civil rights, military service, religion, media outlets, and other aspects of society. They truly are a force worth reckoning, although they still have a long road to travel!

Critique: Impressively informative, exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "The Sisterhood: A Forgotten Minority: Power and Influence of Black Women" is an extraordinary history that will prove to be an immediate and enduringly appreciated and valued addition to community, college, and university library Women's History collections and Black Studies supplemental curriculum lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Sisterhood" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $20.00).

Editorial Note: Paul Fuller has taught African American Studies, Criminal Justice, Criminology, and Sociology for over forty years at Morristown College and Knoxville College. Dr. Fuller has written a number of articles and has conducted follow-up studies of graduates and is the author of three books: "From Africans to African Americans: A Sociological and Historical Analysis of the Black Experience"; "Black Methodists in America: A Success Story of a Model Minority Group"; and "MAJOR IMPACT: [From A Minority Group] African American Contributions to American and World Civilizations".

Julie Summers
Reviewer


Lana Kuhns' Bookshelf

Gourmet Rhapsody
Muriel Barbery
Europa Editions
www.europaeditions.com
1933372958, $15.00, 141 pp

In Muriel Barbery's Gourmet Rhapsody, the great food critic, Pierre Arthens is dying. His doctor informs him that he has less than 48 hours to live due to "cardiac insufficiency". Faced with death, the gourmet concludes that before he expires there is one last flavor he must taste, a flavor he can't quite recall, but one he absolutely must have. His life has been a waste. He crushes his wife, his children, even his mistresses with callous disregard.

So what will finding one lost flavor bring to his heart of stone?

This life examined is explored in light, airy chapters narrated by Arthens, his friends, relatives and even his cat. Ms. Barbery's writing is sensitive and clear, but mostly sensuous depicting precisely the flavors she describes. "Sugar, water, fruit, pulp, liquid or solid? The raw tomato, devoured in the garden when freshly picked is a horn of abundance of simple sensations, a radiating rush in one's mouth that brings with it every pleasure. The resistance of the skin - slightly taut, just enough the luscious yield of the tissues, their seed filled liqueur oozing to the corners of one's lips, and that one wipes away without any fear of staining one's fingers, this plump little globe unleashing a flood of nature inside us: a tomato, an adventure."

At only 141 pages this slim volume couldn't be more different from the heavier, more dramatic novels that portray family destructiveness. Rhapsody is serious without being depressing. Each character has or her own turn to speak, offering their perspective on their relationship with the dying man. Jean, his son freely confesses his anger at his father, and the conundrum of both hating and loving him despite everything. Laura mourns the father she never had, but has moved on to something other than terror and hatred, and discovers the right to be herself. Anna, the incompetent wife and mother keeps vigil at Arthens' bedside, begging him not to die and leave her alone. She doesn't understand why her children are distant, why they all aren't happy together, why there is so much misunderstanding.

The only one the Maitre managed to connect to in a loving and affectionate way is Rick, the cat, who tells us there were other cats, but he is the only one left, the favorite, to whom Pierre allows any transgression without recourse. Rick reminisces about the times they've shared together and grieves the end is near, for both of them. They will die together as Rick has always known they would. Rick's character lets the reader know that the Maitre did have a generous side; he was capable of love.

"What is writing, no matter how lavish the pieces, if it says nothing of the truth, cares little for the heart, and is merely subservient to the pleasure of showing one's brilliance?" Heart surges through Barbery's version of Arthens' wasted life, although it is not his obvious addiction the reader is meant to enjoy. It is the sense that the lack of humanity that pervades Arthens' relationships could happen to any successful person, at least if that person has a passion for the culinary arts.

Ms. Barbery tells this story in healing mode, emphasizing the obsessive ruminations that made the city-dweller critic a self-absorbed snob. Would he have been a happier person if he had grown-up in the countryside surrounded by greenery? If he could tangle himself in wildflowers and lay among the tomatoes and peas, swooning with pleasure? "Oh, magnificent memories of a time when I was the sovereign of a realm without artifice..." If he could remain sprawled on the bench beneath the linden tree, napping to the murmuring of the leaves would he have learned kindness?

Gourmet Rhapsody presents Pierre purely as a victim of desire. And Barbery's way of moving his story past the purely circumstantial is to describe it in beautiful but uncomplicated detail. The above quote about writing would seem to prove Arthens has some awareness of the damage he has caused. But the insight contained in it could have come from anyone. There are many characters in Gourmet Rhapsody and the book favors the feminine turn of phrase. When George, the young critic, describes Arthens he is "resplendent," "leonine," "majestic." The book's resident cat is a tomcat who can be found "basking in my basket," or "sprawled on the sofa feeling feline..."

This book argues that we should enjoy the simple pleasures in life and not take ourselves, or our successes too seriously. Muriel Barbery is an exceptional writer with a gift for optimism. Gourmet Rhapsody is a simple pleasure everyone should enjoy.

Copyright 2009 by Lana Kuhns for Curled Up With a Good Book

Lana Kuhns, Reviewer
Curled Up With a Good Book
https://www.curledup.com


Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

Reconnecting with Your Estranged Adult Child
Tina Gilbertson
New World Library
14 Pamaron Way, Novato, CA 94949
www.newworldlibrary.com
9781608686582, $17.95, PB, 288pp, www.amazon.com

Synopsis: Parents whose adult children have cut off contact wonder: How did this happen? Where did I go wrong? What happened to my loving child? Over time, holidays, birthdays, and even the birth of grandchildren may pass in silence. Anguish may turn into anger. While time, in and of itself, does not necessarily heal, actions do, and while every estrangement includes situation-specific variables, there are practical, effective, and universal techniques for understanding and healing these not-uncommon breaches.

Psychotherapist Tina Gilbertson has developed these techniques and tools over years of face-to-face and online work with parents, who have found her strategies transformative and even life-changing. In "Reconnecting with Your Estranged Adult Child: Practical Tips and Tools to Heal Your Relationship" Gilbertson cuts through the blame, shame, and guilt on both sides of the broken relationship. Parents will feel heard and understood but also challenged (and guided) to reclaim their role as "tone setter" and grow psychologically.

Included in "Reconnecting with Your Estranged Adult Child" are DIY exercises, illustrative examples, and thoroughly 'user friendly' sample scripts empower parents who have felt powerless. Gilbertson shows that reconciliation is a step-by-step process, but the effort is well worth it. It is never too late to renew relations and experience better-than-ever bonds.

Critique: An ideal and comprehensive instruction manual and guide, "Reconnecting with Your Estranged Adult Child: Practical Tips and Tools to Heal Your Relationship" is recommended as essential, practical, and inspiring reading for any parent wanting to reconnect with an estranged member of their family -- especially with respect to their adult children. While especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, and academic library Self-Help/Self-Improvement and Family Relationship collections, it should be noted that "Reconnecting with Your Estranged Adult Child: Practical Tips and Tools to Heal Your Relationship" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Tina Gilbertson, MA, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor specializing in family estrangement. She has been quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including Fast Company, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and Real Simple. She also hosts the Reconnection Club Podcast.

Parable of the Brown Girl: The Sacred Lives of Girls of Color
Khristi Lauren Adams
Fortress Press
P.O. Box 1209, Minneapolis, MN 55440-1209
http://fortresspress.com
9781506455686, $18.99, PB, 200pp, www.amazon.com

Synopsis: The stories of girls of color are often overlooked, unseen, and ignored rather than valued and heard. In "Parable of the Brown Girl: The Sacred Lives of Girls of Color", minister and youth advocate Khristi Lauren Adams introduces readers to the resilience, struggle, and hope held within these stories. Instead of relegating these young women of color to the margins, Adams brings their stories front and center where they belong.

By sharing encounters she's had with girls of color that revealed profound cultural and theological truths, Adams magnifies the struggles, dreams, wisdom, and dignity of these voices. Thought-provoking and inspirational, "Parable of the Brown Girl" is a powerful example of how God uses the narratives we most often ignore to teach us the most important lessons in life. It's time to pay attention.

Critique: Informative, inspiring, and exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Parable of the Brown Girl: The Sacred Lives of Girls of Color" is a unique and unreservedly recommended addition to community, church, and academic library Racism & Contemporary Christianity collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists of seminary students, clergy, social activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Parable of the Brown Girl" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Khristi Adams is an ordained Minister with American Baptist Churches USA. She is the Firestone Endowment Chaplain and instructor of religious studies and philosophy at the Hill School in Pottstown, PA. She also works as co-director of Diversity at the Hill School. Previously she worked as Interim Protestant Chaplain at Georgetown University Law Center & Georgetown University, Associate Campus Pastor for Preaching & Spiritual Programming at Azusa Pacific University in Southern California and former Director of Youth Ministries at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, NJ. Khristi is also currently an Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens.

Margaret Lane
Reviewer


Mari Carlson's Bookshelf

The Bridge of Little Jeremy
Indrajit Garai
https://booksbyindrajitgarai.wordpress.com
CreateSpace
9781987423617, $9.00 paperback amazon.com

Little Jeremy, of Indrajit Garai's latest novel, The Bridge of Little Jeremy, may have a weak heart, but it is full of love for his family. When he is twelve, he and his mother learn they might lose their home due to taxes they owe and can't pay. Regardless of his heart troubles, Jeremy has a plan to save their house with his painting and restoration skills.

The initial chapter takes place on a quiet April night and introduces all the central characters in a close knit world. Jeremy, who can't sleep, thinks of his overworked mother, their German shepherd, Leon, Mathilde, a musician neighbor who cares for Jeremy when his mom works, Jeremy's friends, Paolo, a painter, and Robert, a zookeeper. He worries about a pervert spying on them from across the courtyard. Alone a lot, Jeremy is introspective. He talks to himself and his dog. His many questions show his infectious curiosity as well as guide the action. Jeremy's inquisitive determination is put to the test by all the forces against him. The plot becomes steadily more urgent, as eviction threatens and Jeremy's heart remains frail.

Paris keeps Jeremy company. Impressionistic descriptions of the cityscape - seasonal festivals, quaint neighborhoods, underground canals, and Notre Dame - balance out weighty subjects of tax codes and social justice via social media. Artistic bits of wisdom offered by wise-beyond-his-years Jeremy, and by older friends he meets on his jaunts around town, also counter quotidian concerns. Animals feature prominently, betraying both a ferocity and a playfulness at the heart of the story. Communing with art and nature, Jeremy becomes a talisman for all that's precious and deserves to be protected amidst life's struggles.

The Bridge of Little Jeremy is a beautiful and sincere blend of imagination and reality, combining otherworldly charm with work-a-day grit.

Rising Above Shepherdsville
Ann Schoenbohm
Beach Lane Books
c/o Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division
https://www.simonandschuster.com/kids
9781481452854, $17.99

Some things are best left unsaid until the time is right to speak.

Dulcie hasn't spoken since her mother died the day she was gone for a spelling bee. Her father figure, Ray, brings Dulcie to live at her Aunt Bernie's place, out in Shepherdsville, Ohio. There, Dulcie meets Rev. Love, a runaway named Faith, youth Bible study participants, Evangeline, the new choir director, and, best of all, a family of swans, mute just like her.

The story addresses timeless subjects in the specific context of middle America, 1977. An energy crisis, race inequalities, harsh moralism, and poverty mark the time period. Dulcie's personal trauma brings the era's troubles home. The pastoral setting creates a respite in which to tackle woes.

The swans act as a powerful link between the natural environment and abstract ideas. To Dulcie, the regal swans provide a comforting protectiveness of the soul as she struggles with remorse and other adult concepts. Calling to mind an otherworldly presence, they remind Dulcie of her mother, who gives her strength to face foes in the town. The swans imbue the narrative with dignity.

Each chapter is titled by a spelling word. Episode by episode, the words introduce big ticket ideas through experience. Treated one at a time, the individual words point to the delicateness of silence, giving time and space for grief to run its course. Dulcie's first person narration, addressed to her mother, couches words like forgiveness, metamorphosis, dogma, pilgrimage, and others, in intimacy. Dulcie breaks her silence without breaking her bond with her private memories.

A tender coming of age story set in rural Ohio connects with contemporary audiences through natural beauty and brave characters.

They Lived They Were At Brighton Beach
Ivan Brave
https://ivanbrave.com
Self-published
9780998036434, $14.99 print / $4.99 Kindle, amazon.com

After Ilya, an Electronic Dance Music DJ, gets dumped, he attempts to win back his girlfriend with a special summer performance for the release of his first EP. But a new woman and other unforeseen forces have their own plans for Ilya.

"Beauty begs to be repeated," Ilya's roommate quotes. Using music as a metaphor, the novel lays bare an improvisational process to cull beauty to be repeated from life's dregs. Conceived of as the offspring of an old couple who never has kids, the book is a story within a story. The couple is present in the novel, dialoguing through footnotes. Their story, and more ancient tales inform Ilya's story. Contemporary circumstances tied to classic references create a universal appeal.

Ilya, part mom and part dad, strives for his own identity from layers of sources he mixes into his own sound. The immediacy of his feelings shapes the text into a series of vibrant and conscientious vignettes. Reading is a soul-full glimpse into the inner workings of an artist's heart.

The book resides in points of change. Ilya finds renewed motivation after losing his girlfriend, who is on the verge of fame. Julia, Ilya's new lover, is on the verge of divorce. The club where he DJs is on the verge of closure. Legends and myths alluded to throughout the story feature protagonists proving themselves when the world assumes they have nothing more to give. Looping within a circle of neither now and not yet, here and there, both dream and real, high and sober, ethereal and earthy, the book's groove is liminal, while also moving ever forward, toward creation and freshness. The twists and turns of Ilya's on-the-edge existence make for an on-the-edge-of-the-seat read. The pacing is fluid, flowing between genres, time periods and perspectives seamlessly.

Cyrillic words and Russian culture add an exotic flavor.

Ivan Brave's second novel is a collective space where music, a diverse cast, and timeless ideas dance together on that line that connects dots into a beautiful, moving, one-of-a-kind composition.

Mari Carlson, Reviewer
https://marisbookreviews.wordpress.com


Marj Charlier's Bookshelf

The Magdalen Girls
V.S. Alexander
Kensington Publishing
https://www.kensingtonbooks.com
9781496706126, $15.00 Paper, $9.99 Kindle, 292 Pages

The Magdalen Girls is one of those novels I've been meaning to read for some time, but until COVID-19 made me cut off my book buying for a few weeks, it sat on the back of the end table by my reading chair, just patiently waiting for me to plow through more recent purchases.

It turns out that it was a perfect book for these times, and I enjoyed it very much. The girls who were sent to the Catholic laundries from 1750s to the end of the 20th century for reasons ranging from unwed pregnancies to prostitution to thievery to the crime of just being too pretty were sequestered like most of us are these days. The differences are: most of us don't our fingers raw in a laundry run by cruel nuns; most of us are still able to eat decent meals; and most of us know this detention will come to an end soon and we'll go back to whatever "normal" life will look like.

But comparing their incarceration to our relatively cushy sequestering makes light of the plight of these young women. As this novel powerfully shows, thousands of lives were crushed by isolation, misery and despair when they were put to work for the Catholic institutions in England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada and the U.S.

V.S. Alexander's story is told through the eyes of three girls who become friends, confidants and co-conspirators in a Catholic laundry in Dublin in the 1960s. Nora's impoverished life with alcoholic parents was anything but comfortable, but little did she know how much worse it could be until her father hauls her off to the Sisters of the Holy Redemption. Teagan's father, also an alcoholic, blames her for seducing a new priest, and her father delivers her to the laundry to avoid a scandal, abruptly ending her comfortable, middle class life and plans for college. Lea, a ghost-like and odd girl, not quite like the others, befriends them both, and together they plot an escape. What the girls discover is how limited their options are, escape or not, once they've become laundry girls.

The story Alexander has created, though, isn't one of transformation. None of the girls saves herself. Even the one who eventually escapes the laundry isn't the agent of her own salvation. A much stronger story would have been one in which the young woman discovered some strength in herself, something that allowed her to transcend the evil, and something that taught us all something about how to save ourselves. Maybe that's too much to ask of a young woman put through such a brutal experience, but without an example of agency, the girls remain purely victims, and there's not much we can learn from victimization.

Conversations with Friends
Sally Rooney
Hogarth
c/o Penguin Random House
https://penguinrandomhouse.com
9780451499066, $17.00 Paperback, $8.99 Kindle, 307 Pages

I ran out of new books to read this month, and loathing the thought of the UPS guy leaving his coronavirus along with books I order from Bookshop, I decided to dig into my I'll-get-to-it-someday pile of books I have bought but haven't been eager enough to bust into. This was one of them. Conversations with Friends was published a couple of years before the author's more celebrated Normal People, which garnered far more praise, and I think, deservedly so.

Not that Conversations didn't catch anyone's attention. Named "Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year" for 2017, Rooney has been lionized (so early!) as a millennial writer for millennials. She gets it, in other words. "It" meaning what it's like to be one of that economically precarious, sexually non-binary, mobile and culturally agnostic generation (or two?). Her protagonists meander in and out of jobs and beds and conversations, smoking pot and drinking wine (even beer sometimes), and weaving nets of friendships and animosities that are as flimsy, complex, and doomed as spider webs. Their dialogues are peppered with swearwords and sexual frankness that would probably mortify their grandparents and great-grandparents - even those who lived through the free-love and profanity punctuated sixties - if they should somehow, by some accident, pick up such a novel.

Conversations is about two women - sometimes friends, sometimes enemies, sometimes lovers, sometimes a duo who perform poetry readings. They're fiercely competitive and, while quick to bed others in their orbit, jealous and possessive of each other. They meet a writer and her actor husband, much older (as in their thirties!) and successful, and a menage-a-quatre of sorts forms the backbone plot of the novel, but the theme is insecurity: that is, lack of faith in one's talents, one's performance in bed, one's looks, one's future. The two friends, still in college through much of the novel, accept all manner of financial and emotional support from others while avoiding building any such scaffolding for life themselves. Rather, the protagonists wear their myriad perilous insecurities - emotional, sexual, financial, occupational - as badges of authenticity. How can you be truly creative unless you're standing on a cliff on one foot, refusing to pull the other away from the brink?

In the novel, conversations between friends and enemies are debates, confrontational and competitive, and as Rooney was a college debater of some renown, she's brought that experience to her dialogue. It reminded me a bit of my own impatient, testy, intense college self, when I took every encounter as an opportunity to argue and try to come out on top of every exchange. I once blew a job interview by not knowing the difference between a discussion and an argument. But now, I find such debates tedious and unproductive. Perhaps that's why I struggled to finish the novel - a bit of "been there done that" and a bit of "oh, don't remind me!" However, readers who are in that stage of life - somewhere on the path to maturity, dangling in the suspended animation of college years - will likely identify with the characters and their conundrums and ambiguities. And there are already plenty of books and writers out here for us oldsters. So I'm happy the millennials have Sally Rooney.

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived
Adam Rutherford
Originally published in London by Hachette
The Experiment
https://theexperimentpublishing.com
9781615194940, $16.95 Paper, $15.95 Kindle, 380 Pages amazon.com

Another of my "reach back into the pile" books of the month, A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes. is a purchase I made as soon as it came out in the US in paper in 2017. But at nearly 400 pages of tiny type and appearing vaguely academic, it intimidated me, and I didn't pick it up until I needed it. As I am writing a novel that involves mass migrations, pandemics, and the problem of consanguinity, I realized it was just the book I needed to gain just enough knowledge on the subjects to keep myself out of trouble.

Rutherford starts with a discussion of how we read our genetic codes, how DNA research is conducted and the new technologies that made it possible for scientists to finish the Human Genome Project on schedule and under budget. There's a little more than you might want to know about how genes are inherited and how tiny differences in them (single nucleotide polymorphism) end up mattering in evolution. But that first chapter is one of only two in this otherwise compelling read that I found a bit hard to slog through. (Mind you, I did slog through them anyway.)

But once he started to discuss the Out of Africa theory of mass migration, I was hooked. His is a story of "horny and mobile" mankind, walking, slowly, little by little across the Levant and into Europe, Asia, the Asian subcontinent and eventually to the Americas and Australia in waves. Even though those movements were little like today's world-spanning mass migrations, the newcomers who arrived after populations had already settled had just as disruptive an effect, even though they were stretched over longer periods. Neanderthals, settled in Europe before the arrival of homo-erectus, -habilis and -sapiens, were eventually wiped out, but inbreeding with the new humans left their legacy - about 3% of our modern DNA.

Through descriptions of the variety of the world's episodic and continuous diasporas, he helps us understand the differences in the duration and severity of disruption from mass movements. They range from the slow and incremental first migrations out of Africa, to the stop-and-start Beringian migration into the Americas, to the empire-ending flood of people out of Germania and the steppes of central Asia in late antiquity, to the political arguments over those escaping tyranny, violence and climate disasters of today.

Along the way, Rutherford develops fascinating side stories, such as how unbridled intermarriage (endogamy) killed off the Hapsburgs and how we're all related to Charlemagne and the Vikings, with which you can entertain your cocktail hour friends - once we can meet for afternoon adult beverages once again. He also tackles the serious, timely topics of the genetics of race (there is no such thing, he argues) and our genetic response to the Black Plague and more recent pandemics.

The second slog, in my opinion, was his long and not-so-persuasive argument (at least it did not persuade me) that while a gene can determine a physical characteristic in an individual such as blue eyes, there is no genetic cause of behavior, such as the difficulty managing anger or tendencies to violence. He's happy to discuss how a handful of genes that occur, often not side-by-side, on your chromosomes interact to give you red hair or a tall physique, but he argues against the idea that a handful of genes scattered up and down on your double helix can determine how you behave in the society. His reluctance to go from physical determination to behavioral determination shows up in his distaste for its uses in criminal defense in court. I didn't find his argument dispositive, and in reading this section - longer than it needed to be - I found myself thinking he protests just a bit too much.

That section however, is not representative of the entire book, and I am no expert on any of this. So I hope my skepticism doesn't discourage you from picking up this book. For one thing - and I didn't expect this - much of it is funny and clever in a subtle, bookish sort of way. An example: "Often it's asserted that IQ only measures how good you are at IQ tests, which is glibly true, in the same way that running the hundred meters only really tests how good you are at running as fast as you can over a hundred meters." Much of his humor appears in his asterisked footnotes. Don't miss them.

Marrying George Clooney: Confessions from a Midlife Crisis
Amy Ferris
Seal Press
c/o Perseus Books
https://www.perseusbooks.com
9781580052979, $17.99 Paper, $3.49 Kindle, 285 Pages

If you are one of the nearly 10,000 people who follow Amy Ferris on Facebook, you already know something about what to expect from this book. Since I didn't run into her (on Facebook), until a year ago, I didn't know about Marrying George Clooney, hence, I read it more than a decade after it was published. But the good news: it holds up well.

In 59 short passages and a longer epilogue Amy records her after-midnight wanderings and musings as she wakes with night sweats while going through menopause. She's frank and funny about her failings and those of her equally flawed and equally compassionate husband, who comes across as the most patient and easygoing partner a menopausal woman could ask for. She deals with her addiction to Ambien, her husband's gardening obsession, and her mother's advanced dementia. She looks up old boyfriends on Google and battles writers block and her desire to smoke again. There are real laugh-out-loud passages here, and I won't ruin them by quoting them out of context.

As followers of Amy already know, she is profane. If the "f-word" bothers you, don't buy this book. But one of the endearing lessons from reading the profanity-laced exchanges between Amy and her husband and between Amy and her friends is how loudly and passionately people can argue with and curse each other, yet remain in love and loving in the long run.

Eleven years have passed since the book came out, but the subjects are still wonderfully contemporary. Of course, there's nothing about the coronavirus or Donald Trump's presidency in Marrying George Clooney, but she reveals herself in such a way that you get pretty good idea how she would be responding to those two disasters. Or you can catch up by following her on Facebook.

Marj Charlier, Reviewer
https://marjcharlier.com


Mark Walker's Bookshelf

The Adventures of Mr. Puttison Among the Maya
Victor D. Montejo
Quaking Aspen Books
9781886502383 $TBA

I read this book years ago in Spanish and decided to obtain the English version to review in order to introduce it to a broader audience. I have interacted with the author during my research for the production of a documentary on immigration, "Guatemala: Trouble in the Highlands." He is a distinguished Anthropologist, author, poet and a native speaker of the Maya Popb'alti language.

The principal character, an American traveler turns up in a remote Maya village in the Department of Huehuetenango in the 1930's. Initially the community assumes that he's a missionary and assume he'll lead their religious ceremony since the Catholic Priest hadn't visited them in quite some time.

Over time the American (known as "Dudley") begins to get to know their culture. The author describes how the locals make brown sugar, "panela" and ask him to chew the sugar cane and make himself at home. Then they go to a bucket of sugar water and offer a gourdful of sugar water when Dudley tastes the sweet liquid a few slivers of cane got caught in his teeth. He thanks them when asked to drink more with, "Oh no, one is enough..." I remember being offered a cup of this sugar water as well and thought my teeth would dissolve it was so sweet! And naturally the locals also introduce him to their local moonshine "chicha", which also led to other interesting situations.

But this is both a satirical as well as a historic one and reflects much of the local Maya traditions and the local population's worldview. Dudley meets the local "healer" after writhing in agony and "emitting spine-chilling cries" at being bitten by a snake. The healer, Don Kux Ahawis utters an inaudible prayer and makes a sign of the cross over the wound with ocote (from the pine tree - pitch) slivers, then washed it with his concoction of medicinal herbs. Then he blows several times on the wound grinds up tobacco and bark of the tree they make marimba keys out of (hormigo) and "began to implant the curative spirit with three strong puffs of air." Once he applies the concoction on the wound the treatment is complete.

After a difficult night when Dudley was bathed in perspiration and hallucinating and his cries woke all of those around him and in the morning, he describes a strange dream in which a woman in traditional Maya clothing beseeches him to return a skull Dudley had taken from a ceremonial cave of the local community which he doesn't consider a "problem" but the family he's staying with says, "Well, maybe it's not a problem for you, but it is for us because we respect the memory of our ancestors, and we know that they watch over and protect us from wherever they are, if we respect them and remember them every moment of our existence" reflecting a very different world view as well as the historic problem of outsiders stealing their relics and religious items.

When the healer returns later that morning, he removes the medicinal herbs he'd applied, muttered something nobody understood and blew nine times on the wound after which he gave instructions which would lead to Dudley's full recovery. To which Dudley replies, "Many thanks, my dear friend Kux Ahawis. You are a magnificent doctor, a living testimony to the great medical knowledge of the Maya."

Dudley learns about the customs and traditions of the Yulwitz people by their elders, including the central role of corn in their society, "A family may lack salt, sugar, chile, beans and even clothing, but corn, never, because it is the sacred food indispensable to the family. For example, a jug of posol sustains you and fills you up more than any other food. One may lack anything except corn, which is every peasant's wealth."

The author reveals many of the injustices the Maya population endures such was their being considered beasts of burden and were used as horses to carry heavy cargo and even individuals. Forced labor would also take its toll: "When the day of the men's return (from forced labor mandated by the Guatemalan government), they were received with great joy in every home. The men, however, returned with an air of sorrow and despair. Some were ill. Their provisions had run out sooner than expected, and they had gone hungry, lacking the necessary nourishment to keep themselves strong and healthy for the heavy work of breaking up rocks, and digging with picks, shovels and hoes..."

At the end of the book, Puttison's "Adventures" takes a very dark and tragic turn as he invites two friends to stay with him and they pillage the local cave where many artifacts and religious items are kept, "The three foreigners then dragged the sack into the bushes and, unseen by Xhuxh Antil, divided up its content. Each one carried his own share, and suddenly bidding a hasty farewell to Xhuxh Antil, they headed up a shortcut through the mountains to the Mexican border. Like souls possessed by the devil, the three thieves began to run like crazy, trying to get out of Guatemala as quickly as possible. The book is beautifully written, comical in places and yet reveals much about the Maya people and injustices they've endured over the centuries.

The two translators, Susan Giersbach Rascon and Fernando Penalosa are veteran translators of Maya literature. The author is a Jakaltek Maya and an internationally recognized author, scholar, and intellectual. As a young schoolteacher in Guatemala in 1982, Montejo was forced to flee his home to escape being murdered by the Guatemalan Army during that country's decades-long civil war. After a period in a U.N.-sponsored refugee camp in Chiapas, Mexico, he managed to make his way to the United States, bringing his family shortly thereafter. Once in the United States, he received a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Connecticut in 1993. He later taught at the University of California-Davis in the Department of Native American Studies, eventually becoming its chair. In 2004 he returned to Guatemala to serve first as Ministro de Paz [Secretary of Peace] in the cabinet of Guatemalan president Roberto Berger, and then as a member of Guatemala's National Congress from 2004 to 2008. He was a Fulbright Scholar in 2003. He formally retired from UC-Davis in 2011, and currently lives in his hometown of Jacaltenango

Table of Contents

Mr. Puttison comes to Yulwitz
Communal laws
The rabid dog
The sugar mill
The snake bite
The spirits of the ancestors
The Llorona at the spring
Hunting legends
Mr. Puttison's friendship
Witz, the Lord of the Hill
Wonderful, wonderful!
Farewell to Yulwitz.

American Dirt
Jeanine Cummins
Flatiron Books
https://www.flatironbooks.com
c/o Macmillan Books
https://macmillan.com
9781250209764 $27.99 hc / $14.99 Kindle amazon.com

As someone who has traveled through and around Mexico multiple times, I was attracted to this number one blockbuster for Hispanic Literature. Recently, I reviewed Paul Theroux's, "On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey," and that, plus the brutal murder of the defenseless Mormon family by the cartel in the northern state of Sonora made this a must read for me.

The story begins in Acapulco, which was one of Mexico's key resort centers, although over the years it has become increasingly violent. Lydia owns a bookstore there and she has a son, Luca, and a husband, Sebastian, who is a journalist. Mexico also has one of the highest murder rates of journalists in the world, so the setting had potential for a true cartel-oriented disaster. According to the author, being a journalist is "....no safer than an active war zone. No safer even than Syria and Iraq. Journalists were being murdered in cities all across the country. Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua..."

Lydia experiences bliss stocking her all-time favorite books until she meets and develops a relationship with a charming erudite customer who happens to be the "jefe" of a new drug cartel, and when her husband writes a detailed and not very complimentary profile of Javier, their lives are changed forever. Personally, I found the depiction of the "jefe" as a literary poet questionable, but it tied all the key characters together in an interesting way.

For those who want a more hard-core, realistic depiction of the "sicario," I recommend, "He was One of Mexico's Deadliest Assassins: Then He Turned on His Cartel," by Azam Ahmed and Paulina Villegas in the February 28th edition of the New York Times. In this case, the assassin said, "They took away everything left in me that was human and made me a monster."

After the cartel murders her husband and most of their family, both Lydia and Luca are traumatized as reflected in this passage, "She will list them and repeat them and remember. Sebastian, Temi, Alex, Yenifer, Adrian, Paula, Arturo, Estefani, Nico, Joaquin, Diana, Vicente, Rafael, Lucia, and Rafaelito. Mama. Repeat....Lydia will not stop saying their names."

One might ask why she didn't purchase airline tickets and take Luca to Canada, but then we would have missed the transformation from a middle class family into migrants riding the infamous, and very dangerous, "Bestia" to the U.S. (Also, she was afraid of being intercepted by members of the Cartel who were looking for her). And, of course, one must wonder - what are they running to?

One compelling scene on the Bestia, when they meet up with some fellow migrants, depicts the circumstances of the journey as well as the nebulous destination, "Whatever happens, no one else in their lives will ever fully comprehend the ordeal of this pilgrimage, the characters they've met, the fear that travels with them, the grief and fatigue that eats at them. Their collective determination to keep pressing north. It solders them together, so they feel like an "almost family" now...Lydia closes the ugliest box in her mind, and instead allows herself to think forward to Estados Unidos. Instead of Denver, she thinks of a little white house in the desert with thick adobe walls. She's seen pictures of Arizona: cacti and lizards, the ruddy red landscape and hot blue sky. She pictures Luca with a clean backpack and a haircut, getting on a big yellow school bus and waving at her from the window. And then she conjures a third bedroom in that house for the sisters..."

Maureen Corrigan of NPR sums up what most impressed me about this literary novel, "... its narrative hurtles forward with the intensity of a suspense tale ... American Dirt's most profound achievement, though, is something I never could've been told about nor anticipated. Of all the 'What if?' novels I've read in recent years - many of them dystopian - American Dirt is the novel that, for me, nails what it's like to live in this age of anxiety, where it feels like anything can happen, at any moment. Cummins' novel brings to life the ordeal of individual migrants, who risk everything to try to cross into the U.S. But, in its largest ambitions, the novel also captures what it's like to have the familiar order of things fall away and the rapidity with which we humans, for better or worse, acclimatize ourselves to the abnormal. Propulsive and affecting, American Dirt compels readers to recognize that we're all but a step or two away from 'join[ing] the procession.'

Yet, at least as fascinating as the book itself has been, the polemic that broke out around this novel after Oprah selected it for her "Book Club." Although the author considers herself a "bridge" between some of the brutalities of Mexican society and the reader, she has been accused of "peddling the very same racism and stereotypes she is claiming to deride." And according to Concepcion de Leon of the New York Times, "After a scathing review by the writer Myriam Gurba, who said it relied on racist stereotypes, other Latinx writers and community members expressed similar criticism. And although the novel became a best seller, its publisher, Flatiron Books, canceled a planned book tour and more than 100 writers signed an open letter asking Winfrey to reconsider her pick."

One Latino author in the article claimed that writers of color are expected to write only about issues such as race and immigration, while white writers have much more liberty. Others would go on to say that Ms. Cummins was not "Latino" enough (although her grandparents are from Puerto Rico). And on more than one occasion, I've heard the criticism that the author is taking the space of "legitimate" Latino authors.

As someone who writes about people from around the world, my feeling is that I've seen a lot of things most people don't. In the case of Guatemala, for example, I've probably seen more isolated places than over 90% of the population, including many places most Guatemalans wouldn't want or couldn't get to. So, should I wait for a local author to tell my story? In most cases, I try to tell the stories told me from the locals I meet along the way.

When Paul Theroux tells about the free writing courses he offered in Mexico City to some excellent local authors, he didn't just tell them how to write, but recommended that they act like a "Peace Corps Volunteer" and get out into the rural areas where most of the poorest, most isolated people make a living, and stay with them and listen to their stories. I'm amazed at how few books written in Latin America and other parts of the world, focus on the culture and reality of the most downtrodden and isolated groups within a population - they're just not represented in many country's' literature.

In regard to getting published, writing does not include citizenship requirements. Authors must identify the publications that are most apt to consider their work. The latest "Poets & Writers" has an article, "A Prize for New Immigrant Writing," which is the focus of an independent publisher, Restless Books. I do my research and avoid the growing number of publications that are focused specifically on "diversity" in regard to gender, race and sexual orientation, among other things. Still, I'm turned down way too often than I should be, from my perspective, but that's life in the literary publishing world, and good writing is the great equalizer, to a degree.
And yet, possibly the greatest dilemma represented by this novel is the growing impact that advances and publicity campaigns have on the success of a book. In this case, the author received an advance of some $600,000. Then you have the marketing power of Flatiron Books, a division of Macmillan, making the publishing field less than even.

Despite its flaws and the issues this novel raises, New York Times bestselling author of "The Border," Don Winslow, considers it the 'Grapes of Wrath' of our times". Ms. Cummins has introduced many readers to the human element behind the existing immigration crisis and helped them accept their humanity, which deserves the public's compassion and understanding.

Speak from Your Heart and Be Heard
Dr. Kixx Goldman
https://drkixxgoldman.com
Independently Published
9781099162640 $12.95 pbk / $3.99 Kindle amazon.com

I've known the author for several years through our involvement with several writing groups including the Phoenix Writers Club and the Phoenix Writers Network because she's bringing her considerable experience as a psychologist to help her readers deal with the complicated realms of truth, emotion, trauma and healing. Fortunately, she followed Tony Morrison's challenge,"if there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it" a valuable mantra for any writer.

The author often reiterates one basic tenant which drives much of her work, "Simply put, to heal, you must speak from your heart." As a therapist, she made every effort to give good advice and she went on to say, "I want to share the wisdom I've gained n my life and lifework. I hope to inspire you to find something inside that you've been wanting to say for years, and to say it." A most ambitious and challenging goal indeed!

The author explores the nature of intuition and resilience and advocates that one listen to your "little voice" and speak openly about your feelings. Through this process one can claim your power ton control the mental and emotional lives. Dr. Kixx presents eight fictional stories which are drawn from her considerable life experiences.

One of my favorites was when therapist Abigail's modern view of sexuality clashes with the conservative Catholic couples' perceptions about marriage and intimacy. She defies the Church hierarchy in order to protect her clients and confronts her detractors in order to regain her standing as a teacher and therapist.

Abigail's involvement in a research project I Madagascar adds additional insights as well as some humor to this story. She was studying banded mongoose who live in colonies with "a complex social structure, and we have much to learn from their behavior and mating habits." When several of the women in the group reported rather boldly back to the group Abigail observes, "The men nodded and clapped. Some of the men look sheepish and I was reminded of the matriarchal nature of the mongoose pack. The males defer to females, perhaps because the females make the greatest genetic and parenting contribution to the group by "breeding the nearest hungry pup," even when it's not their own."

The story takes a real life and rather dark turn towards the end of the story after one of the Priests overseeing the program reprimands Abigail, "What I understand is that you violated our precepts." Abigail then reveals a far more serious issue, one of the priests from the retreat center was accused of sexually assaulting parish boys.... "Bishop Murphy removed the priest from his teaching position. Powerful forces stepped in and prevented his name from being published. The diocese decided to give the priest another chance, but stipulated he not work with boys."

In the end, the Priest in question took a leave of absence and the new priests informed Abigail, "We have reviewed your unblemished record and devotion to the Devine Retreat Center and intend to recommend that you retain your Most Valuable Trainer Award." So ends a very touching, but realistic scenario in the life of a professional therapist.

All of the author's stories tell stories of courage which leads to triumph over their challenges and they heal and grow. The stories offer the reader a guided tour of unique and powerful approaches to healing trauma. A section at the end of the book is most useful by revealing the sources of the stories, "Behind the Scenes" which I highly recommend.

The book is well written and the descriptions flow well and put you in the middle of the scene such as this description of group arriving to one of my favorite places on earth, Sedona: "...The lush landscape and rainbow rocks gave way to craggy sandstone monoliths, which emerged from the shadows and rose in rarefied shapes, as if stretching toward the brilliant sky. The stark red rocks beckoned and I could feel energy following into my body from the vortex."

The book has received rave reviews such as the following:

In a series of skillfully constructed stories, Dr. Kixx Goldman presents us with the kinds of personal dilemmas any of us might encounter in everyday life. Should I speak out? Should I compromise my beliefs? Should I act on my convictions? Should I confront painful situations? Should I speak honestly? In these fictional settings, each character resolves their own personal dilemma through introspection, guided by a skillful therapist to Speak from Your Heart and Be Heard. Dr. Goldman's years of experience as a psychotherapist are reflected throughout, giving the reader a rare glimpse of a successful therapeutic process. Each story is powerful in its own right. The reader cannot help but wonder about applying this simple principle of speaking from the heart to effect change in their own lives. Easy to read, this little book packs an important message. I recommend it without hesitation. It might even change your life.

About the Author:
Dr. Kixx Goldman is an author, psychologist and coach who loves to read and always dreamt of writing fiction. This book is her debut collection of short stories, Speak from Your Heart and be Heard: Stories of Courage and Healing.

Kixx is a graduate of the University of British Colombia and earned graduate degrees in educational and counseling psychology. She's a member of the Arizona Psychoanalytic Society. In her private practice, she helped couples untangle fight cycles and recreate emotional intimacy. She also did individual and family work and taught workshops on personal empowerment and conflict resolution. As a consultant in the public schools, she helped students overcome learning problems and develop social skills.

Kixx has published non-fiction articles in psychology journals and feature articles in trade magazines under her given name of Audrey before she adopted the name of "Baby Kixx," conferred by her husband. She soon shortened it to Kixx. She actively involved with several professional writing groups and is taking on a leadership role at Phoenix Writers Club.

Mark D. Walker, Reviewer
www.MillionMileWalker.com


Michael Carson's Bookshelf

To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence
James M. Olson
Georgetown University Press
3240 Prospect Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
www.press.georgetown.edu
9781626166806, $29.95, HC, 248pp, www.amazon.com

Synopsis: Under the Trump administration, the United States is losing the counterintelligence war. Foreign intelligence services, particularly those of China, Russia, and Cuba, are recruiting spies in our midst and stealing our secrets and cutting-edge technologies.

In "To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence", James M. Olson (who is a former chief of CIA counterintelligence) offers a much needed wake-up call for the American public and our elected officials. It is also a guide for how our country can do a better job of protecting its national security and trade secrets.

In "To Catch a Spy", Olson takes the reader into the arcane world of counterintelligence as he lived it during his thirty-year career in the CIA. After an overview of what the Chinese, Russian, and Cuban spy services are doing to the United States, Olson explains the nitty-gritty of the principles and methods of counterintelligence. Readers will learn about specific aspects of counterintelligence such as running double-agent operations and surveillance.

"To Catch a Spy" also analyzes twelve actual case studies to illustrate why people spy against their country, the tradecraft of counterintelligence, and where counterintelligence breaks down or succeeds. A "lessons learned" section follows each case study.

Critique: Impressively informed and informative, "To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence" is an expertly written, organized and presented study that should be a part of every community, governmental, college, and university library National & International Security, Political Intelligence, and Espionage collection and supplemental curriculum studies lists. Enhanced with the inclusion of an Appendix (The Counterintelligence Officer's Bookshelf), sixteen pages of Notes, and a fourteen page Index, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, national security policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $19.47).

Dublin Zoo
John Mitchell
Independently Published
9781076266941, $19.99, PB, 457pp, www.amazon.com

Synopsis: "Dublin Zoo" by John Michell is a three-part thriller comprising three distinct stories seamlessly deftly woven into one compelling narrative.

Firstly is the story of the parents of Harold Bradshaw (who is the book's main character); then secondly the account of Harold's time in London as a young adult in the aftermath of his parents' death; and thirdly the story of Harold's insertion into France as a British agent during World War Two.

"Dublin Zoo" employs a notable "teaser text" technique, whereby the narrative's first and second stories are dotted with Harold's reflections from the book's third story, ahead of this third limb taking the narrative through to its gripping conclusion.

Harold's parents, Albert and Rita Bradshaw, are an Englishman from Newcastle upon Tyne and a Frenchwoman from Marseille. As a World War One soldier, Albert meets and marries Rita while in France. The family (Albert, Rita and baby Harold) returns to England after the war where Albert embarks on building a business empire. This part features Harold's growth into adulthood in Scunthorpe in England's northeast midlands during the inter-war years (and also explains the Dublin Zoo title).

"Dubin Zoo" is a tale dominated by Albert's rise from rags to riches and back to rags again, and concurrently, Rita's slide into mental illness. It also introduces the young lawyer who represented Albert at a court martial hearing during the Great War, saving his life, and who later becomes the guiding hand behind the establishment of Albert's business empire. This segment graphically depicts the global recovery from the First World War, the period of prosperity following, and the world's subsequent decline into economic catastrophe, capturing the latter event by reference to Britain's return to the Gold Standard in 1925 and four years later in 1929 the advent of the so-called Great Depression.

The first part concludes with the death of Harold's parents, murder in his mother's case and his father's related suicide, and Harold as a young adult taking revenge for their deaths. With that, Harold is forced to flee from Scunthorpe to London, beginning the novel's second story. Once there, he embarks on a series of action-packed exploits as he seeks to find his place in the world.

Harold's destiny is shaped by a unique ability to calmly and calculatedly inflict violence and his ever-present worry of being called to account for taking matters into his own hands when avenging the death his parents. Shortly after arriving in London, Harold encounters Katrina, an older woman with whom he falls in love. But his affair with Katrina is as brief as it is intense. It comes to an end in 1937 when Harold kills two mafia hoodlums in self-defence, only for British justice to miscarry and convict him of dual murders.

In an ironic twist, the judge who hands down his lengthy prison sentence (in fact in the book's opening scene) is the very same young lawyer who years earlier saved Albert's life at the court martial in France and later guided the birth of his business empire. This second story concludes with Harold incarcerated and facing at least eighteen years in prison, while at the same time war clouds begin to build over Europe.

The final stanza opens with the advent of World War Two. Harold is released from prison when he is recruited by the British Special Operations Executive to undertake a mission in France, in Marseille his mother's birthplace, in part because of his flawless French language skills learnt at his mother's knee as a child in Scunthorpe. But Harold is in fact an unwitting pawn in a higher stakes game. Thus ensues a gripping story of intrigue, double cross, Harold's involvement in another brief love affair with an older woman, one who reminds him of Katrina, and the development of an unshakable male friendship. Events come to a head in a tense, powerful, edge of your seat climax in Marseille when among other things Harold is reacquainted with a hostile member of his mother's family.

Critique: A veritable saga of a deftly scripted and generational spanning suspense thriller of a novel, "Dublin Zoo" showcases author John Michell's impressive storytelling talents in a complex and narrative driven epic that will hold the reader's rapt attention from first page to last. Simply stated, "Dublin Zoo" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to personal reading lists, as well as both community and academic library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections.

Michael J. Carson
Reviewer


Molly Martin's Bookshelf

Lightscape: The Lightscape Trilogy (Book 1)
Emily K. Karlewicz
https://www.emilykkarlewicz.com
Independently Published
9798633465563, $11.99 Paperback: 278 pages, April 2, 2020
B086PPJC9F, $4.99

Emily K. Karlewicz ' Lightscape The Lightscape Trilogy Book 1 introduces Readers to eighteen-year-old Selkie Reid, former foster child who has recently transitioned along with her friend Tabitha from Health Dept dependent child care to living on her own as an adult.

Selkie and Tabitha work as clerks in small local grocery store, while it is not a job either wants to do forever Selkie is pleased to have found work, have spending money and lots of free time to indulge her passion for sketching. Her sketch book is always near by.

The disenchanted teen has always felt her abandonment by her parents when just a baby must mean she does not quite measure up to having someone who loves her wholeheartedly. Years in foster care has left Selkie longing for someone to fill the void she feels in her heart.

It is during one of Selkie's after work sketching sessions, she meets a most handsome fellow, Aidan, when the frisbee he and three others have been flinging nearby suddenly bops her on the head.

Selkie cannot believe the young man really appears to have regret for hitting her, and, even more momentous; he seems to be genuinely interested in her. Heady stuff for a girl who moments before felt herself unable to actually attract the notice of a fellow who might truly be one who wants to spend time with her.

From that opening the narrative flows a tale filled with Aidan, an intriguing character having a fascinating mission in life.

The tale is filled with Selkie and troubled dreams, troublesome Shadows, Lightscapers, Protectors, a mysterious something that frightens her terribly when it first appears in the chronicle, an understanding that her sketching's are more than just pictures on the page, growing emotional ties with Aidan, opportunity for meeting a clan of folks she has not realized existed in the area, the truth behind her parents 'abandonment' as well as comprehension that Aidan is more than just a young man with a growing romantic crush on her.

Writer Karlewicz has penned an enjoyable work sure to please the upper middle grades, high school young adult readers and even adults who enjoy a tale filled with a touch of 'perhaps', a jiff of fantasy, mysterious entities, a bit of romance and a dollop of religious interest.

Characters are nicely depicted, I would like to see more personal elements regarding each in future works, dialog between characters is credible, settings are detailed, narrative pulls readers into the tale and holds interest from opening to final paragraphs.

Vocabulary used is dandy for the work, mystery, fantasy, really dangerous 'bad guys', battle, human emotions and family dynamics all done without resorting to profanity, overt sexual activity or horrifying chronicle which might cause parents pause or prevent recommendation for the school library shelf.

I found Emily K. Karlewicz ' Lightscape Book 1 of the Lightscape Trilogy to be a Thought-provoking Read happy to Recommend for school and public library, classroom book shelf, for gifting a back to school young teen and for the home library.

Author Biography

Emily K. Karlewicz was born in King George, VA, and grew up in an extremely theatrical family.

In 2008, she graduated from Shenandoah Conservatory with a BFA in Musical Theatre, and spent three years traveling with the world renowned Missoula Children's Theatre.

While on the road, she was inspired by the landscape outside her window, and began writing her first novel, Lightscape.

With the encouragement of her husband and mother, she completed Lightscape in less than a year, and is now busy at work writing the second installment in her Lightscape Trilogy.

Payback: Passaic River Trilogy (Book 2)
Steve Bassett
https://stevebassettworld.com
Self Published
9781641841818, $26.99 hc / $1.99 Kindle 384 pages

Steve Bassett's PAYBACK Book 2 of the Noir Passaic River Trilogy Tales of Love, and Hate, and Revenge opens by noon on a sunny Saturday in October 1946 in New Jersey where two men seemingly are unaware of the shirtsleeve warmth. The pair have finished their grisly work of butchering the corpse of a Hitler loving swine.

With the pieces neatly packaged the duo set out for the back entrance of a local dump where the packages will soon be added to the blazing incinerator.

From this opening Readers are propelled along on a fast moving, narrative filled with former Nazis, former soldiers, manipulation, confiscated lands, football, homicide chief Lieutenant Nick Cisco and his partner Detective Sgt Kevin McClosky as they juggle their personal lives and a growing pattern of disappearances and morgue filling with whole or partial body parts.

This well written narrative is filled with well detailed characters, readers can almost believe the tale just may be based in fact and is not fiction built around the feelings of many during the 1940s.

Characters are very believable from sordid romantic liaisons, threats of divorce and ruination, mob involvement, solid police investigation methods of the era and errant behaviors of many of society of the time.

Writer Bassett has managed a number of seemingly incongruent threads including; murder, Priests who are a 'likely more than meets the eye' group, police officers who are human with human foibles as are found in most of society then and now. How other threads centering on a child protective services client, a pretty six-year-old with a broken arm, a family of high society dentists and the strange head of the revenge element being wreaked are fully explained and each disparate strand is finally revealed as absolutely important to the plot line is accomplished with excellent skill.

Vocabulary is gritty without being superfluous, romantic encounters are fiduciary to the moment and not added as a shock situation to simply sell the book.

Dialogue between players is believable, settings are depicted in manner to propel the Reader into the conspiracy and carry along in this fast paced, never boring narrative.

Storyline is plausible, Readers may wonder if the tale just might be taken from life.

Watch the red herrings, they are worked into the chronicle with skill; you may find yourself homing in on one character as 'the bad guy' only to learn a page or so later, couldn't be.

I don't save all books I receive for review; Steve Bassett's Payback is a keeper.

I found Payback to be a Dandy Read, Happy to Recommend for those who enjoy a good thriller type mystery filled with action and first-rate writing.

Payback will be a good fit for the high school and college library catalogue, as well as Young Adult Reader shelf as an excellent addition to public library and personal library collection.

Author Biography

Steve Bassett is a multiple award winning author.

He was born, raised and educated in New Jersey, and, although far removed during a career as a multiple award-winning journalist, he has always been proud of the sobriquet Jersey Guy.

He has been legally blind for almost a decade but hasn't let this slow him down. Polish on his mother's side and Montenegrin on his father's, with grandparents who spoke little or no English, his early outlook was ethnic and suspicious.

Molly Martin, Reviewer
http://www.AuthorsDen.com/mjhollingshead


P.J. Grath's Bookshelf

When Truth Mattered
Robert Giles
Mission Point Press
www.missionpointpress.com
9781950659395 (hardcover) Retail: $28.95, 353pp
9781950659425 (softover) Retail: $18.95, 354pp
ASIN: B086L2LFND, $9.99, www.amazon.com

"Kent State seems like such an ordinary place ... until you try to reckon with its meaning as a battlefield of the Vietnam War."

"The students were defenseless. Still, even against the advancing soldiers, they believed they were safe to speak out on their campus. They were exercising three of the basic freedoms protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: freedom of speech, the right to peaceably assemble, and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances."

- Robert Giles, When Truth Mattered

Passages above are taken from the first chapter of Robert Giles's book. The subject of his book, however, is not about the shootings per se but about the way the Akron Beacon Herald covered the events at the time. Giles was then managing editor, the paper was part of the Knight chain, and Giles had responsibilities all the greater that spring because the executive editor and publisher was out of the country.

What does it take to get a story "right"? To cover truth from all important and relevant perspectives? As second-in-command thrust into #1 position by his superior's temporary absence, Giles felt his responsibility for the newsroom keenly. "The proverbial buck," he writes, "would stop with me."

Here and now in the year 2020, with cries of "Fake news!" from many different quarters (including our own White House), with foreign and domestic "bots" masquerading as American individuals at the grass roots and fomenting discord among us, the questions posed and answered in this account of one particular news story half a century ago provide perspective to a contemporary national conversation that could not be more vital to our country's future.

Campus demonstrations were nothing new in 1970. The year 1968 had brought demonstrators and university administrations into conflict across the U.S., with protestors agitating against the draft and against the Vietnam War and demanding more socially relevant courses. Both Students for a Democratic Society and the Black United Students had demonstrated at Kent State in 1968. Fifty-eight students were arrested in 1969, SDS subsequently banned from campus.

Campus demonstrations were not new to the Beacon Journal, either. Because Kent was an Akron suburb and the campus only 12 miles from the BJ offices, the paper had reported campus unrest carefully and in detail in 1968 and 1969. Moreover, the paper's president and editor, John S. Knight, had been following developments in Vietnam back as far as the French occupation. (Many believed, Giles tells us, that Knight's 1968 Pulitzer was "a lifetime award for his perceptive and forceful commentary on Vietnam.") When President Richard Nixon announced on nationwide television that he had sent combat troops into Cambodia, not only was the "smoldering center of protest" at Kent State primed to erupt, but the Beacon Journal was well situated to cover student reaction.

Wednesday, April 29, 1970. Secret infiltration of Cambodia ordered by President Nixon began.

Thursday, April 30. Nixon announced the Cambodia infiltration and rationale to Americans on national television.

Friday, May 1. Students assembled on campus to protest the invasion of Cambodia. Some went on a destructive rampage through downtown Kent.

Saturday, May 2. Kent mayor announced a state of emergency, with curfew from dusk to dawn, and a batallion of National Guard was ordered to the campus. During the night protestors set fire the ROTC building.

Sunday, May 3. Ohio governor James A. Rhodes arrived and took charge of the university, determined to prevent a student rally scheduled for Monday. The governor's more inflammatory remarks, calling the students "worse than brownshirts" [Nazi storm troopers], appeared only on page 2 of the Sunday paper.

Monday, May 4. It was unclear whether the student rally scheduled for noon would take place. Kent State journalism student and part-time weekend Beacon Journal reporter Jeff Sallot, on campus by 11 a.m. to report on the situation and thinking daylight would keep things calm, expected a peaceful rally. Events proved otherwise.

When Truth Mattered is about journalists putting together a particular story, but for that very reason it must also be a story about the events. Jeff Sallot, with his dual role of student and reporter, and because he was on campus when events unfolded, with an open line to the newsroom 12 miles away, was crucial to the communication of facts to managing editor Bob Giles. Photographer Paul Tople, another student and part-time Beacon Journal staffer, was also where he needed to be. Giles writes of the "potentially combustible tableau" Sallot witnessed with these short, poignant sentences:

The Guardsmen were clearly outnumbered. The students were entirely outgunned.

The bloody tragedy unfolded quickly - within a mere 13 seconds, 61 shots were fired, four students killed, and 11 others wounded - but the newsroom had to get the story straight before going to press. Truth, accuracy, facts. Names and numbers.

United Press International (UPI) first reported two dead Guardsmen. Associated Press (AP) was reporting four dead students. Which was it? Should the Beacon Journal go with UPI or take the word of their own student staffer who had been on the scene, Jeff Sallot, who believed there were four students killed? They went with Jeff. He was there. Other newspapers and radio stations went with the erroneous UPI report and had to correct their stories later. The Beacon Journal was also first to list names of those killed and injured.

The technology of newspaper work was different 50 years ago, with reporters admonished never to leave the office without a "pocket full of dimes" for pay phones. Only the telephone company had mobile "car phones." (Thanks to secretary Margaret Brown, secretary in the KSU School of Journalism, Sallot had the only open telephone line out from the campus during the critical time period.) Back in the newsroom, writers banged away daily on typewriters, not computer keyboards, and a serious city newspaper published several editions in a single day, which offered an opportunity to amplify and correct earlier reports but was a far cry from today's minute-by-minute online publishing.

Giles calls the daily newspaper of the Sixties a "ponderous" institution, one he and editor Pat Englehart "were pushing ... to be nimble enough to do what we wanted it to do," i.e., to dig out and put together the complete story of what had happened and how and why. Former reporting on the Vietnam War and Kent State University helped, but it was imperative that Beacon Journal reporters ask questions of anyone who could shed light on the tragedy. Questions, questions, and more questions. Interviewing Guardsmen who were on the firing line was of paramount importance.

Also crucially important, Giles realized, as the story continued to unfold following the shootings, was acknowledgment of team effort in reporting. He cites one time he authorized a single byline, i.e., one name only given credit for a day's story, and writes candidly that his decision for the single byline was a poor judgment call. He did not repeat his mistake.

Giles devotes an entire chapter to photographic evidence, images that captured the truth moment by moment. We are more skeptical today, aware of how digital images can be manipulated. Fifty years ago exposed film was processed in a darkroom and provided to the newsroom as quickly as possible, and there was no arguing with what the images showed. "The camera did not lie." But the best images came from student photographers, and one of the best was taken by the photographer to a newspaper other than the Beacon Journal, as a result of the BJ print lab having lost some of his earlier work. Errors can be costly in journalism in more ways than one.

In the weeks following the tragedy, as theories, speculations, brickbats, and calls for investigations circulated throughout the public, the media, and every level of government, the Beacon Journal worked tirelessly to stay on top of it all. Giles tells us that the newspaper staff put together a multidimensional story --

...under the pressure of deadline. They did it in the face of powerful opposition from the military, the Nixon administration, the state of Ohio and the university itself, as well as strong currents of negative public opinion.

Because that is the job of the Fourth Estate: to tell the truth fearlessly, regardless of whose oxen are gored. It is not the job of journalists to serve as mouthpieces for those in power but as gadflies assuring that what is done by the powerful will be exposed to public scrutiny, especially during times of conflict and uncertainty.

In 1970, as now, the United States was deeply dis-united.

In many ways, the Kent State story was about a nation at war with itself.

And because the country was so divided, there was no quick final resolution to the tragic events at Kent State. Giles tells how the Beacon Journal continued to follow the story for years through various reports, grand juries, and civil suits, as families sought answers and justice for the deaths of their children. In searching for the meaning to his story, the author also outlines lessons to be learned from it."The Meaning" is an important chapter in the book.

With every cell phone possessor a potential reporter and anyone who can access the Internet able to disseminate an instant opinion, truth can be harder to ascertain today. Giles cites "urgency" - and also impatience - as "the enemy of accuracy and care."

But truth will always matter, because it will, in the realest possible way, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, determine whether "[our] nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure."

I recommend this book most highly to all readers.

P.J. Grath, Reviewer
Dog Ears Books


Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

Crescas: Light of the Lord (Ohr Hashem): Translated with Introduction and Notes
Roslyn Weill, translator
Oxford University Press
http://www.oup.com
9780198724896 $70.00

The Light Of The Lord

This book is the first translation in English of "The Light of the Lord" ("Or Hashem") a masterpiece of medieval Jewish philosophy by Hasdai Crescas (1340 -- 1410). Roslyn Weiss, Clara H. Stewardson Professor of Philosophy at Lehigh University, prepared the translation together with an introductory essay and notes on the text. Weiss is a scholar of both Greek philosophy and Jewish philosophy, both of which are crucial to understanding Crescas.

Crescas wrote his book near the end of his life to combat what he saw as the unfortunate influence of Aristotelianism on Jewish philosophy in general and on Maimonides in particular. The "Light of the World" explores questions of philosophy and belief and critiques Maimonides' "Guide for the Perplexed". Crescas planned to write a second volume critiquing Maimonides' restatement of Jewish law, but this project was never completed. Crescas' book is daunting and difficult. It is written in a concise, sometimes cryptic, style with many allusions to Aristotle, to Jewish and Arabic philosophical predecessors, and to the Bible and traditional Jewish commentaries.

Weiss' translation and Introduction help guide the reader through Crescas and also help the reader understand why Crescas is worth knowing. Her Introduction offers a brief summary of Crescas' life and work and of the structure and content of "The Light of the Lord". Weiss writes: "[b]ecause in his view Aristotelian physics and metaphysics deform and distort Judaism, Crescas dares to question the adequacy of the "Guide's" arguments and to challenge its unflinching determination to place God beyond human conception and understanding and to remove from Him all anthropomorphism and anthropopathism. If there is a single driving aim of "The Light of the Lord" it is to restore to Jewish thought its Jewish soul."

Weiss encourages the reader to focus on love as the key to understanding Crescas. She writes:

"Crescas is one of the great systematic philosophers: all lines of thought in 'Light of the Lord' are interconnected, converging on the single unifying theme of love. Love is at the heart of every issue: creation, infinity of space and time, providence, free will, prophecy, the end of Torah and of human existence, and the soul's immortality. Anything that cannot be subsumed under love, anything that lies outside or obstructs this central theme, is rejected. Of the three components of Torah -- deeds, beliefs, and love and fear of God -- it is the last, Crescas asserts, which though smallest in quantity, is greatest in importance."

"The Light of the Lord" consists of an Introduction, a Preface and four large sections called "books" subdivided into parts. Broadly, Crescas identifies what he understands to be key beliefs of Judaism and shows how these beliefs have been considered and in his view distorted through Aristotelianism and Maimonides' philosophy. Crescas offers extensive philosophical arguments of his own to rebut Maimonides. He works to draw the reader back to the Jewish Bible and traditional Jewish commentaries and to show the wisdom and tenability of their teachings in the face of critiques. Although it isn't clear what role he assigns to philosophy and "speculation", Crescas tends to argue that proper philosophy is consistent with the teachings of the Torah but is insufficient to attain these teachings through its own lights.

The first book of "The Light of the Lord" is the most difficult section of the work. Crescas analyzes Maimonides' proof of the existence of God and Maimonides' discussion of what humans can know of God. This is done,in part to a discussion and refutation of twenty-five claims Maimonides draws in Part II of the "Guide" from Aristotle that he uses to prove God's existence. Crescas attacks Aristotelianism as a basis for religion. In the process he develops a concept of infinity that ultimately become important to the rise of the scientific world outlook and that is still discussed. Crescas' God is infinite, the source of all knowledge, and deeply involved in what happens in the world. Some of his attributes are known to people in an analogical way, contrary to Maimonides' teaching.

But what most spoke to me in Crescas, and what I think will speak to most readers, is part of his discussions of the "cornerstones" of the Torah in Book II. This is a long, difficult section, but Crescas takes issue with what he sees as the overly-intellectualized character of Maimonides' thought which gives precedence to the intellect in understanding God and religion. Crescas focuses instead on love. For Crescas, there is an "end" (meaning) of human life in developing the love of God through practice and in understanding that God loves man and individual persons. This is done for Jews through adherence to the Torah, but Crescas extrapolates his teaching. at least to an extent, to all humanity. The lengthy concluding section of Book II, in part VI is eloquent in exploring the theme of love and seems to me at the heart of Crescas' philosophy. Over-simplification is treacherous, but much of Crescas speaks to the heart rather than to the narrowness of the intellect. It is this part of the book that is the focus of the whole, including the treatment of infinity in the first Book. Crescas finds that in terms of space, most of the Torah appears to be given over to developing right views and right deeds. Yet Crescas finds a third quality much more important. He writes:

"When we investigated the Torah and its parts, we found in it one part small in quantity but large in quality that concerns neither views nor deeds absolutely. This part is the love of God and the true fear of Him. I say that this is what guarantees this end in every respect, both according to the Torah and the tradition, and according to speculation." (214-215)

In the third book of "The Light of the Lord" Crescas develops and explains a number of "true beliefs" that are necessary for those who believe in the Torah but that are somewhat less fundamental than the beliefs discussed in the second book. In the fourth and relatively short final book, Crescas discusses additional thirteen additional matters of belief that are not explicitly decided in the Torah and uses philosophy and Scripture to work towards what he deems the preferred resolution of each.

"The Light of the Lord" will appeal most to readers with a deep interest in Jewish and religious philosophy. It is a book that requires sustained reading over time. Weiss writes that she endeavored in her translation "to render 'The Light of the Lord' accessible to many readers -- scholars, students, and the interested public. I have not simplified the text or offered a comprehensive commentary on it. 'Light of the Lord', even in English, remains exceedingly demanding. What I have provided is a text to be wrestled with. It is my hope that it will spark renewed engagement with a thinker who merits far more attention and study than he has hitherto received."

Weiss' fulfilled her goals with her translation and introduction of Crescas' "Light of the Lord". Although demanding, her work is, in every way, a treasure. Weiss has performed a mitzvah in making Crescas' book available to readers.

Reclaiming Patriotism
Amitai Etzioni
University of Virginia Press
http://www.upress.virginia.edu
9780813943244, $19.95

Towards A Patriotic Movement

Amitai Etzioni is a scholar and public intellectual who has written extensively on sociology and on the political philosophy of communitarianism. He is the director of the Institute of Communitarian Policy Studies at George Washington University where he also serves as University Professor and Professor of International Affairs. In September, 2019, Etzioni launched a new organization called the Patriotic Movement which aims, as stated in the organization's opening press release "to encourage people to publicly pledge their commitment to core American ideals." The organization's web page includes a way for people to endorse publicly the ideas of the Patriotic Movement, and I have done so.

The goal of Patriotic Movement is to cross party lines and other divisions in order to end the polarization which plagues our country and to identify and work towards the common good, shared ideals. The Patriotic Movement is still in its early stages but it has articulated the following draft statement of principles.

"As patriots, we love our country. We are not blind to its flaws but refuse to allow these to define who we are, as we dedicate ourselves to work for a "more perfect union."

We strongly favor candidates for public office who are committed to supporting the common good while they advocate for the special needs and interests of the various constituents or social groups they represent or speak for.

We are troubled by the polarization that prevents effective government. We hence strongly favor candidates for public office who do not consider working with the other party a betrayal, who do not demonize their opponents, and who compete fairly. (The Patriotic Movement will not endorse any specific candidates)

We strongly favor candidates who are seeking some form of campaign finance reforms that limit the role of private money in public hands.

We hold that respect for international law and institutions does not entail giving up on national sovereignty.

(The phrase "strongly favor" is used to indicate that the extent to which a candidate is patriotic cannot be the only factor determining one's support. However, it should be a major consideration.)"

The Patriotic Movement's goals include encouraging a year's national service for all Americans, restoring the teaching of Civics, finding volunteers to teach English to new immigrants, and conducting local and national dialogues on ways to identify and advance the common good.

Etzioni's most recent book, "Reclaiming Patriotism" was released in conjunction with the founding of the Patriotic Movement and sets forth the background and thought underlying the movement and why Etzioni finds it important. The book seeks to separate patriotism, which speaks of love of country and of its people, from the forms of nationalism with which it is too often confused which promotes the hatred of others. Love and respect for the United States, or one's homeland, does not require hating other people. This is my understanding of the core insight of the book and the Patriotic Movement.

Etizoni argues that a public movement, as opposed to a political party or mere private reflection is required to form a purpose and promote a shared moral understanding by Americans of various political, religious, ethnic, and other persuasions. The goal is not to end identity but to broaden vision by striving to find what is common and shared among Americans together with the particular and varied identifies of each person.

The book consists of eleven chapters, most of which set out the broad foundations for what Etzioni envisions as a Patriotic Movement while some chapters focus on specific issues. Thus Etzioni discusses the need for moral dialogue to find commonalities among differences, the importance and limitations of communities, the nature of the common good, the relationship between rights and responsibilities, the need for self-restraint in advancing and pressing one's position in a public forum, ways of finding unity in diversity, and perhaps most importantly finding purpose and meaning in a culture and in one's life separate from sheer affluence once basic human needs are met.

Etzioni writes well and passionately about these goals and positions and has a great deal to teach. Portions of the book, however, particularly those dealing with broad but particular policy issues tend to lose focus. For example Etzioni writes a lengthy, highly detailed chapter on issues involving the Internet on delicate balance between national security and individual rights. This issue, and other discussed in the book, are important and well-treated but are perhaps beyond the scope of what should be fundamentally addressed at the early stages of a Patriotic Movement.

I was glad to learn of the Patriotic Movement and to read "Reclaiming Patriotism". The communitarian character of the movement and its view of the importance of patriotism parallel my own thoughts developed from reading the American philosopher Josiah Royce and the late Richard Rorty in his book "Achieving Our Country" together with the works of historian Jill Lepore. These sources all encourage, in my mind, a devotion to American ideals while not turning a blind eye to our country's shortcomings.

I am also gratified to see a public non-partisan movement devoted to overcoming polarization and to supporting American patriotism. I encourage others who are interested to reflect on these goals and to read and reflect upon Etzioni's book which has been made available publicly online at icps.gwu.edu..

Hellmira: The Union's Most Infamous Civil War Prison Camp -- Elmira, N.W.
Derek Maxfield
Savas Beatie
https://www.savasbeatie.com
9781611214871 $14.95

A Study Of The Elmira Prison

Nearly twenty years ago, my companion and I drove through Elmira, New York, en route to a vacation in the Finger Lakes region. There was little indication when we passed through of the notorious civil war prison in Elmira. The tour book we brought with us said that all traces of the prison had been erased.

Today that situation has changed with a local volunteer group, Friends of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp, working vigilantly to restore a portion of the prison site and to educate the public about what the Union knew as Camp Chemung, after the river running alongside the camp, and the Confederate prisoners called "Hellmira". There has also been increased writing about the prison including this new book "Hellmira: The Union's Most Infamous Civil War Prison Camp -- Elmira N.Y" written by Derek Maxfield, associate professor of history at Genessee Community College, Bavaria, New York. The book is part of the Emerging Civil War Series which aims to offer brief, popular introductions to important events and places in the American Civil War.

The Elmira prison operated from July, 1864 to July, 1865. It held about 12,000 Confederate prisoners during its operation with 2,950 dying in captivity. The mortality rate of 24% was the highest among Union prisoner of war camps and was in the range of the 29% mortality rate in the Confederate prison at Andersonville.

Maxfield's book offers a good discussion of Elmira together with an overview of the way in which POWs were treated through the course of the Civil War. Places such as Andersonville and Elmira arose when the cartel system used earlier in the war had broken down. POWs became pawns in the system as the leadership on both sides fought intensely to win the war.

Elmira was created to ease overcrowding at a large Federal prison in Maryland. It was located on a railroad with plentiful resources. Maxfield describes how the camp was set up at minimum expense and in a hurry. A pond in the middle of the camp was used for latrines and spread disease throughout the camp. The prisoners were ill-fed and ill clothed. Most of the prisoners lived in tents and were exposed to brutal cold in the New York winter. An attempt was made to construct barracks, but this effort was not completed until January.

Maxfield discusses the administration of Elmira, both on the ground and in relationship to superiors in Washington, D.C. He suggests, consistently with the work of some other scholars on Civil War prisons, that conditions in Elmira were in part due to an attempt by the Union to retaliate against the Confederacy for the conditions of the Andersonville prison. While raising this possibility, Maxfield points out that his goal is not to cast blame or provoke argument between one side or the other but rather to educate people about the brutalities of the Civil War and to see that the treatment of POW's in the conflict is not forgotten.

The book describes more than the conditions in the camp. Maxfield shows how tragedy struck early when on July 15, 1864, a train full of prisoners from Maryland crashed into an oncoming coal train near Shohola, Pennsylvania, resulting in many deaths and injuries of the prisoners and their Union guards. The book also describes the daily life of the prisoners at Elmira and the various activities some of the men found to avoid boredom. The book includes many images of the camp, the prisoners, and the administrators which help bring Elmira to life for the reader.

A series of appendices to the book offers additional discussion. They include a driving tour of the prison, a discussion of the former slave who was charged with burying the dead Confederates in the local cemetery, and a treatment of the Shohola train wreck. Additional appendices discuss Mark Twain in Elmira, offer a short comparison of Andersonville and Elmira, discuss attempts by some intrepid prisoners to escape, and, outline the ongoing efforts made by local preservationists to restore and teach about Elmira prison.

This book fulfills the goals of the Emerging Civil War Series to teach the interested reader about an important aspect of the Civil War. Readers will learn not to romanticize the conflict. They will see instead the harsh, hard nature of the Civil War and the wretched conditions endured by many of its POWs.

Robin Friedman
Reviewer


Stephen Jenkins' Bookshelf

The Library Book
Susan Orlean
Simon and Schuster
https://www.simonandschuster.com
9781476740188, $28.00 hard cover, 2018

Compelling" "thrilling " "mesmerizing" and "unique" are just a few of the words used to describe the Library Book by Susan Orlean. Based on these descriptions, I was excited about reading a crime mystery that put me on the edge of my seat. Unfortunately that did not happen-in fact,I found myself bored at times while reading this book.

This book has many story lines all centered around the Los Angeles Public Library.These include the history of the library, staff profiles, social issues, and a fire investigation. The author Susan Orlean, often switches back and forth between these issues making this book hard to follow in sports.

That being said it is not really a bad book. For one thing it is well researched and you can learn a lot about the diverse directors of the Los Angeles Public Library over the years. As a former library staff member. I will also give the author, Susan Orlean, credit for giving what seems like an accurate description of the inner workings of an urban public library system. The book also includes many interviews with current staff members,providing a first hand account of what it is like to work in a library.

The book does include some moving and humorous stories . Orlean writes about her exciting childhood visits to her hometown library with her mom. As I read these pages, I was filled with a warm feeling as I thought about my own similar childhood library visits. Her vivid descriptions of the fire itself helped fill me with a deep sense of sadness as I thought about thousands of treasured books going up in smoke. She did a good job of portraying the emotions of the library staff as they watched the library fire.. I laughed out loud as a I read about some of the unique patrons that visited the library.

Despite the good points, the book really did not live up to my expectations.For one thing, I thought the book would include more information about the investigation into the library fire.

Reading this book also became a very tedious experience for me,especially at the end. Orlean shared a lot of information about what it is like to work in the library-but as a former library staff member this was not new information to me. As I got further and further into the book, I kept wanting to learn something new about library life-but I never did. Her account of investigation into the fire isn't really thrilling as the publisher's description promises. Instead it includes a lot of rehashing of testimony, depositions and legal facts.

Many experienced reviewers have called this a great book. As much as I would like to agree with them, I simply can't share this view. It was just an average book for me. That being said, those that have not worked in a library or enjoy reading a bit of history may still enjoy it..

Stephen Jenkins, Reviewer
https://serousreader.blogspot.com


Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

Evvie Drake Starts Over
Linda Holmes
Ballantine Books
c/o Penguin Random House
https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/57084/ballantine
9780525619246, $26.00, June 25, 2019

I read this book because I was in the mood for something a little fluffier than what I've been reading. Almost a year ago, Evvie's husband was killed in a car accident - on the very evening she was going to leave him. Since then she's isolated herself from the tiny seaside town she's lived in since she was born. Everyone assumes grief keeps her housebound, but it's not. When Andy, her best friend, suggests she rent the apartment attached to her house to a friend of his, she agrees only because she needs the money. Soon, a former MLB pitcher, Dean, is underfoot. The two develop an awkward friendship.

This is women's fiction with a heavy shot of a slow-burn romance. This is a love story about loneliness, grief, and healing. The writing characters are well-executed with flaws and relatable. The writing is acute and avoids sentimentality in dealing with the heavy emotions here. The best part - and why I categorized this as women's fiction - is that Evvie makes the changes she deems necessary in her life, not for a man, but for herself, not with a man's help, but on her own. A delightful light read.

How Fires End
Marco Rafala
https://www.marcorafala.com
Little A
https://amazonpublishing.amazon.com/little-a.html
9781542042970, $24.95, October 15, 2019

How Fires End is Marco Rafala's debut novel, and a stunning one it is, all about families and secrets and trauma. Told in reverse chronological order, How Fires End begins with the story of David, the son of a Sicilian immigrant in Middletown, CT. David's mother died when he was very young, leaving him in the hands of an emotionally-damaged, reticent father. Though his father, Salvatore, tried to erase his own past and his wife's presence from David's life, his son nonetheless inherits the aftereffects of that history with its family rivalries reaching back generations. These events culminate in the small Sicilian town of Melilli during World War II, and the repercussions are carried forward when the families involved immigrate to America. Like a delectable lasagna, the story is revealed in layers, starting from the present and working backwards.

The book brought to mind the stories in the news about a year ago in which studies supported the idea that the effects of trauma can reverberate down the generations through epigenetics. These epigenetic changes modify the expression of our genes without changing our DNA code itself. In response to changes in the womb, genes are turned on or off by tiny chemical tags are added to or removed from our DNA, affording a method of adapting without a permanent shift in our genome. How Fires End is a fascinating fictional study of how intergenerational trauma may be psychosocial in nature, but I promise it may be part epigenetic.

The prose is gorgeous, particularly that involved in describing gardening or cooking. The descriptions of Sicily were delightful. I look forward further works from Marco Rafala.

Life in Translation
Anthony Ferner
Holland Park Press
https://www.hollandparkpress.co.uk
9781907320842, $16.00, May 15, 2019

I had always thought translations of literary works to be somewhat cut and dried. This book expresses beautifully that translation is also an art - finding just the right word with the right connotations to convey the original author's intent. This book enlightened me while also being fun, intellectual, and occasionally sexy. As a world traveller, I loved seeing places I'd been in my younger days through new eyes (Paris, Madrid, Lisbon, Leiden). The author's style is elegant. I enjoyed reading as the protagonist hid himself behind his translations as his personal life and love life went nowhere.

Little Voices
Vanessa Lillie
http://www.vanessalillie.com
Thomas & Mercer / Amazon
https://amazonpublishing.amazon.com/thomas-mercer.html
9781542092265, $15.95

Little Voices is Vanessa Lillie's debut novel. It's a murder mystery, political thriller, and psychological suspense wrapped into one. Then throw in a blazingly intense family drama of a new mother suffering from postpartum psychosis. Devon, the protagonist, is a strong woman who is also a white-collar crime lawyer. Despite problems with herself, her husband and their marriage, Devon still manages to investigate the murder of one a friend while trying to save another friend from being charged with that killing.

Little Voices is full of plot twists and has a twisted and surprising ending. Devon's back story is slowly revealed, and its ramifications color her present. Overall, a fast-paced, unputdownable book.

The Sisters of the Winter Wood
Rena Rossner
Redhook
c/o Hachette Book Group
https://www.hachettebookgroup.com
9780316483254, $27.00, September 25, 2018

I read this book because I love fairy tales, especially modern retellings. Starting from its magnificent evocative cover, this book does not disappoint. The story is beautifully written in alternating points of view, in a prose-poem style. The prose shows the POV of Liba, the dark, thoughtful sister while the poetry with its short lines and swift changes of subject matter depict that of Laya, the flighty, fanciful sister. The family home, in a dark forest, is set apart from the neighboring village of Dubossary because the villagers refuse to accept the girls' mother, who converted to Judaism in order to marry their father. These girls are raised by loving parents until a family emergency calls the parents away. This "abandonment" by their parents is the inciting event that sets off the sisters' new experiences. Each sister has a romance, Liba with the local butcher's son, and Laya with a goy, a non-Jewish young man. With these love interests, the sisters gain a new awareness of their bodies as they discover their sexuality. For the first time, they don't have to repress their feelings as their parents (who represent the children's religion, standards, and judgment) have deserted them.

This book is one of the most atmospheric I've ever read. It blends shapeshifting with Ukranian and Jewish folklore while reimagining Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market. Its gorgeous prose tackles some of the most heartbreaking moments in world history. Author Rena Rossner has expertly crafted the setting and sense of magic while weaving in true stories of antisemetism in the Ukraine at the turn of the 20th century.

Were We Awake
L. M. Brown
Fomite
https://www.fomitepress.com
9781947917330, $15.00, November 20, 2019

Set in the late 20th century Ireland and Boston, Were We Awake is a collection of inter-related short stories. Melancholy runs like a ribbon through these stories, as does (it seems strange to say this of a book filled with words) silence. The writing is stark, poetic, with far more beneath the surface than the words indicate.

In "Hidden," when Hazel discovers her father and her aunt are having an affair, it's only the start of finding other hidden secrets. The fourteen - year-old daughter of an alcoholic narrates "What It Means to Be Empty-Handed." She pretends to be the lost baby in an article she read, and her carefully-built world starts to disintegrate when she lies to the wrong person.

Like characters in Brown's prior work, Treading the Uneven Road, these people are blunt, taciturn to a fault, even with loved ones - so silent that what dialogue there is resonates. There's a paucity of visible emotion, but underlying loneliness, rage, love, grief, depression. The desire to escape conflicts with the desire to remain. In each story, characters' isolated lives consist of empty moments strung together like beads, yet the world they inhabit is not as it seems. These are small folks, with small, ordinary lives, befuddled by life's circumstances. Read as a whole, these stories reveal much of human strengths and frailties. While many of the stories are sad this is a strong collection which I'd wholeheartedly recommend.

What's Left Untold
Sherri Leimkuhler
http://www.sherrileimkuhler.com
Red Adept Publishing, LLC
https://redadeptpublishing.com
9781948051507, $16.99, May 19, 2020

Two girls with totally opposite personalities, Anna and Lia, find an unlikely friendship in high school, one that survives even their interest in the same boys. They have a falling out in college - and Lia walks out of Anna's life without further word. That event reverberates through their lives, with each wondering what happened to the other. Twenty years later, Anna finds a letter she'd tucked away in a book. In it, Lia writes an enigmatic post-script asking Anna to meet her, but Anna fails to keep the rendezvous.

At their twenty-year high school reunion, the two women reconcile and begin to make amends to each other for past hurts. As breaches of trust and misrepresentations unravel and the final truth is revealed, earth-shattering events are set in motion that resound through their families. Anna, forced to question everything she believes, has to forgive the one person who hurt her in the worst conceivable way.

What's Left Untold is women's fiction in the best sense - women's foibles and egos working both for and against them. Also, this book deals with a taboo topic, one I can't reveal without spoiling the plot. But Ms. Leimkuhler handles the forbidden behavior deftly, blending fact with social, religious, cultural attitudes, legal ramifications, and sanctions against what many deem a sin. I'd love to see a sequel to this book in which the consequences of this taboo further play out.

You Beneath Your Skin
Damyanti Biswas
Simon & Schuster India
https://www.simonandschuster.co.in
9789386797629, $10.19 pbk / $2.99 Kindle amazon.com

You Beneath Your Skin is Damyanti Biswas's debut novel, and it's a prime example of a murder mystery with plenty of twists and turns in a complex plot. Set in a smoggy New Delhi winter, the book brought to mind my travels through that part of the world - cities teeming with people, traffic jams, markets bustling with shoppers, slums where human beings live desperate lives.

The characters are well-developed, even the most minor having a character arc that changes them. The city of New Delhi is itself a character as Biswas reveals its sordid underbelly where the poor are manipulated by ambitious politicians seeking ever-increasing power. Misogyny, greed, caste prejudices, and corruption are endemic. Anjali is an Indian-American psychologist who ran from a dominating mother in the United States and settled in India where she is a single mother to Nikhil, her teenaged son who's on the autism spectrum. Jatin is the married police chief with whom she's carried on a ten-year affair. When a series of raped then murdered woman are found with their faces burnt off by acid, Jatin attempts to solve the crimes - and opens a can of worms with devastating aftereffects.

Biswas's voice is lucid and taut, written in a no-nonsense manner. The dialogue is realistic and engaging. She neither minces words nor sensationalizes the most horrific moments in You Beneath Your Skin. It's well worth reading this book because of the insights Biswas gives into Indian society.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer
SuanneSchaferAuthor.com


Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

Finding Mother after Five Decades: A Story of Hope
Grace Lajoy Henderson
Inspirations by Grace Lajoy
https://www.gracelajoy.com
9781734186833, $12.99, PB, 82pp, www.amazon.com

Synopsis: Dr. Grace LaJoy Henderson is the author of over thirty books. Her foster care story, A Gifted Child in Foster Care: A Story of Resilience, Classroom Set and her children's book series, The Gracie Series, are currently being used in public and charter schools. Pearson Higher Education published two chapters from her foster care story in a college textbook.

Dr. Henderson has earned a Doctorate in Christian Counseling, a Master's of Education in Guidance and Counseling, and a Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction. She has also earned a Bachelor's degree in Social Psychology. Dr. Henderson managed a contract with the Missouri Children's Division, in which she provided court ordered mentoring for foster youth, supervised parent-child visits and parent education.

She has served as psychology and college success instructor as well as academic coach. Outside of higher education, she is a keynote speaker, workshop leader and guest author at schools, libraries and other organizations. Newspapers, radio and television has featured her publications and her story.

Having been adopted and seeking to find out more about her biological heritage, Grace LaJoy's determination pays off when she finally finds her mother who had abandoned her at age two. "Finding Mother after Five Decades: A Story of Hope" is a personal yet universal story replete with the specific details about her intriguing journey of discovery. Book 1 of 4 in the author's Finding Mother Series, "Finding Mother after Five Decades: A Story of Hope" includes questions that can inspire mental health discussions, as well as questions teachers can ask to increase reading comprehension skills are included in the back of the book.

Critique: Candid, detailed, thought-provoking, inspiring, "Finding Mother after Five Decades: A Story of Hope" is especially and unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Finding Mother after Five Decades: A Story of Hope" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $5.99). Also very highly recommended are the other three volumes comprising Dr. Henderson's 'Finding Mother' series: "Reuniting with Mother: A Story of Tenacity" (9781734186840, $12.99 PB, $5.99 Kindle, 88pp); "After the Reunion: A Story of Acceptance" (9781734186857, $12.99 PB, $5.99 Kindle, 134pp); "Diary of Emotions: Thoughts and Feelings" (9781734186864, $12.99 PB, $5.99 Kindle, 114pp).

Thirties: The Album in Portrait and Prose
Jill Andrews
Dexterity
www.dexteritycollective.co
9781947297166, $25.00, HC/CD, 112pp, www.amazon.com

Synopsis: The stories of a woman often go untold. Her struggles are kept as secrets. Her victories, discreet. Her pain, polite and unobtrusive. History records the ones who break her heart and the ones who mend it, yet it forgets the life and truth born in between. In "Thirties: The Album in Portrait and Prose", acclaimed singer-songwriter Jill Andrews gives these unsung moments the voice and vision her music has always wanted.

Tenderly, hauntingly, and without fear, the thirteen sections in "Thirties" deftly chronicle Andrews's journey through a decade rife with both beauty and brutality. Each song-inspired vignette is further enlivened by thoughtfully curated photos, revealing experiences that are at once both universal and intimate. Andrews explores the isolation and the joy of motherhood, the loss of a lover and partner, and the experience of growing older in a world that expects you to stay young forever. "Thirties" resists contemplating the big, loud questions of the world, and rather, invites readers to find rest in knowing and loving themselves.

The track titles of the accompanying CD related the vignettes comprising the book include: Sorry Now; Sold My Heart; Forces; The Party; Gimme The Beat Back; Call It Even; Back Together; My Own Way; River Swimming; The Kids Are Growing Up; Falling For; Wherever I End Up; The Way To Go.

Critique: Entertaining, thought-provoking, "Thirties: The Album in Portrait and Prose" by Jill Andrews is an extraordinary and unique combination of literary and musical experience for the reader/listener. While especially and unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Composer & Musician Biographies, Photo Essays, and Contemporary Actor/Entertainer Biographies collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Thirties: The Album in Portrait and Prose" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Jill Andrews has collaborated and shared the stage with countless celebrated artists including the Avett Brothers, Langhorne Slim, Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors, and the Secret Sisters, and her music has been featured on Grey's Anatomy, The Good Wife, Nashville, Wynonna Earp and American Idol.

The Ayurvedic Guide to Fertility
Heather Grzych
New World Library
14 Pamaron Way, Novato, CA 94949
www.newworldlibrary.com
9781608686803, $16.95, PB, 264pp, www.amazon.com

Synopsis: Creating new life is a natural part of being a woman, but it doesn't always come as easily as commonly expected. With high-stress modern lives, many women's bodies are not prepared to nurture the growth of a child, and they may find it challenging to become pregnant.

Ayurveda is a system of medicine with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent. Globalized and modernized practices derived from Ayurveda traditions are a type of alternative medicine. In countries beyond India, Ayurvedic therapies and practices have been integrated in general wellness applications and in some cases in medical use.

Heather Grzych discovered firsthand that the practice of Ayurveda, and its deep teachings on the Four Fertility Factors, could help her and other women create the optimal conditions for conception. She shares that understanding (which led to the birth of her son) in "The Ayurvedic Guide to Fertility: A Natural Approach to Getting Pregnant".

Ayurveda teaches rejuvenating mind-body-spirit practices and herbal remedies that will help the reader and her partner align with nature for a healthy conception. The reader can safely explore this holistic approach as they plan for their pregnancy. With Heather's guidance, the reader will discover and learn to enhance the factors that contribute to fertility and overall well-being, including the spiritual, emotional, and environmental dimensions of conception.

Critique: Enhanced for the reader's benefit with the addition of a four page Glossary, six pages of Notes, and a sixteen page Index, "The Ayurvedic Guide to Fertility: A Natural Approach to Getting Pregnant" is a complete, comprehensive, and practical instructional reference and guide that is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Human Fertility collections and supplemental studies lists. It should be noted for women (and their spouses) that "The Ayurvedic Guide to Fertility: A Natural Approach to Getting Pregnant" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.56).

Editorial Note: Heather Grzych is a board certified Ayurvedic practitioner who bridges the worlds of conventional and alternative medicine to help women and men heal their physical and emotional lives. She is on the board of directors for the National Ayurvedic Medical Association and has consulted with doctors, governments, and insurance companies.

Susan Bethany
Reviewer


Susan Keefe's Bookshelf

Book Title Generator: A Proven System in Naming Your Book
Scott Lorenz
Independently Published
9798646120022, $6.99 pbk / $3.99 Kindle, 78 Pages amazon.com

https://www.amazon.com/Book-Title-Generator-Proven-System/dp/B0892HRS3R

Revealed! The secret behind choosing a great title for your book can be found in Book Title Generator... it's essential reading for authors... before they title their book!

The author of this book, Scott Lorenz, is the owner of Westwind Communications a successful book marketing company which has, over the years helped authors realize their dreams and catapulted their books into the eyes of the public. His vast experience in this field has given him unique insights into many aspects of book realization and marketing, and in this compact book, he shares these gems with his readers.

We all know the well-known phrase, "to judge a book by its cover," however, first you have to find the book, and it is by the title that this is achieved. Search boxes are brilliant however, it is what you put into them which matters, and it is by understanding the types of keywords you should (or shouldn't) use in your title, that you will get your book seen by your target audience. The importance of an eye-catching title cannot be overemphasized.

Therefore "How to Title Your Book" is one book every author should read, even if your book is already published, title changes are possible, and with the knowledge, you will acquire within these pages you will discover that a clever author doesn't just come up with a title, they take advantage of examples out there from well-known authors, and do thorough research first.

However, the really smart author, or would-be author, will take advantage of this book, because within its pages are all the information you will need, complete with examples, crafty tips and many more things most authors just don't consider. From lengths of titles and subtitles to alliteration, the use of numbers, and pen names, a myriad of topics are discussed. In each section, the advantages and disadvantages are clearly explained, and the impact they could have, which enable you to make informed decisions, and give your book the best chance it can have of standing out.

In conclusion, this enlightening book is, in my opinion, essential reading for authors. As author's, we are not only extremely proud of our work, but we also want it to be read by our target audience. Let's be honest we want to sell a lot of our books, for many reasons, fantasy author's I am sure (even if it is in secret,) dream of becoming the next J. K. Rowling, and many children's book authors who love animals fantasize that Disney will want to make a film of their book, I know I do. Whatever your reason for writing your book, you owe it to yourself to give it the best chance it can have to shine, and this book will help you achieve this.

The Lost Gospel of Donald
Preston Coleman
https://prestoncoleman.com
BookBaby
9781098306007, $9.99 pbk / $4.99 Kindle, 132 Pages amazon.com

https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Gospel-Donald-Preston-Coleman/dp/1098306007

An extremely entertaining, ingenious work of fiction. This irreverent, clever, and witty book is just what we need! I think it will become a classic.

Preston Coleman, the author of this extremely witty book is a professor of communication with a doctorate in media studies. Anyone reading this clever story will not be surprised that he has won awards for his teaching, research, and satire.

At a time when many Americans, and indeed the rest of the world are frustrated and concerned about the words and actions of Donald Trump, through this clever work of historical fiction, the author gives his readers a satirical look at the life and times of this egotistical world leader.

The recent discovery of a previously unknown gospel in the basement of a Russian Orthodox church in Weehawken, New Jersey, written by Donald of Gaul has opened the eyes of the world in a revolutionary new way.

In this gospel, Donald Trump is Donald of Gaul, a wealthy entrepreneur with a hospitality empire. Forward-thinking he is always looking for new talent and acts, and having seen John the Baptist baptize Jesus he thinks they are magicians of the best caliber and admires their ability to draw crowds, just what he is looking for! And so the story continues bringing forth from me a stream of giggles as I read this talented author's work.

With Donald of Gaul taking us through the four gospels, the New Testament, and the history of Rome from Julius Caesar to Nero, in his own unique 'business speak' he gives his reader his tongue in cheek take on the holy book and the teachings of its prophets.

Whilst the Lost Gospel of Donald is an extremely entertaining, ingenious work of fiction, it also, at the turn of every page, give its readers an interesting wealth of discussion topics, and copious material for debate. With clever comparisons, the author has highlighted some of the terrible career decisions which Donald Trump has made, and which have caused untold frustration to many people both in America and throughout the world.

In Conclusion: This irreverent, clever and witty book is just what we need! It sums up the worrying mind and makeup of this current world leader precisely, and I think it will become a classic, and afford talking points for years to come.

The Last Gun Shark
Joe Corso
https://www.corsobooks.com
Amazon
B087HP57SD, $2.99, 180 Pages

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B087HP57SD

In this exciting Wild West adventure, Joe Corso displays his incredible writing ability to the full, as he brings to his readers the life, sights, and sounds of the Wild West.

His protagonist is Brazos Kane, a gun shark who at the beginning of this adventure learns of the death of his uncle, Texas Jack Kane, the man who has taught him all he knows. Immediately he leaves for Kansas City to attend his funeral and settle his affairs. However, Bazos is very aware that he is wanted in various jurisdictions, and so, before leaving he takes a quick trip to the barbers to change his appearance.

His uncle, who was once known as Killer Jack Kane, was in later years known as the best trickshot artist in the world and traveled with circuses and sideshows showing off his talent. Brazos was very delighted to discover that he had been willed his beautiful leather conch-embossed gun-belt with two ivory-handled 45-caliber 1st generation single action Colt 1873s, which his uncle used when he performed, his handsome painted horse Wizard, and also $15,975.

However, there was also another legacy which his uncle had handed down to him, a commission which he had taken on, but unfortunately, he had died before it he could fulfil it.

It is to facilitate the safe passage of Amanda Collins. She is the niece of the owner of the Grand Hotel in town, and having spent the summer visiting with her aunt and uncle, she now needs to return to her home in North Dakota. Her father, Governor Collins wants someone to get her home safe.

Bazos accepts the commission and is pleased to discover that Amanda is not only a beautiful young woman but also a good rider. Saddled up they begin their adventure, however, it isn't long into their journey before Bazos realizes that they are being followed. When it happens again shortly after, a shocking revelation from Amanda unveils the reason why. Suddenly the stakes are so much higher! Not only are they traveling through dangerous Indian territories where the natives are keen to kill the white man who has invaded their lands, but also interested parties are pursuing them for an entirely different reason.

Throughout this exciting story, the hard lives of the early settlers is clearly portrayed, along with the utter disrespect for life, at a time when people took what they wanted and killed indiscriminately anyone in their way. However, in the telling of this story the strength, fortitude, and comradeship which also developed can be seen as Brazos and Amanda unite with a wagon train and are joined by other cowboys as the follow their intrepid trail to North Dakota. Through this story, those of us who have never visited this vast country truly get a flavor of the courage and fortitude of these settlers who despite all odds managed to stand their ground against the natives, build towns, and railways, and establish methods of communication.

This book has so many facets, it is an excellent Wild West adventure, it portrays the history and lives of the people in those times, and it is also a romance, with twists and turns which will keep you guessing until the very last page.

Let's Talk About Egg Donation: Real Stories from Real People
Marna Gatlin and Carole LieberWilkins
https://letstalkabouteggdonation.com
Archway Publishing
https://www.archwaypublishing.com
9781480877597, $19.99 pbk / $8.99 Kindle, 300 Pages amazon.com

https://www.amazon.com/Lets-Talk-about-Egg-Donation/dp/148087759X

Marna Gatlin became a patient of John S. Hesla MD in 1999 when she attended ORM Fertility. He was immediately impressed with her intelligence, warmth, thoughtfulness, and candor. Marna has since founded a large non-profit making organization, Parents via Egg Donation (PVED) which has for many years become an important source of information for people who want to become parents via egg donation.

Carole LieberWilkins became one of the first women in the world to become a mother through egg donation. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist at a private practice in Los Angeles, she is a specialist in the field of reproductive medicine, and family building options. She is PVED's Mental Health Director and was a founding member of Resolve of Greater Los Angeles in 1987.

In the last 30 years the process of egg donation has changed a lot, and the reasons for needing egg donation are many. Marna Gatlin and Carole LieberWilkins the co-authors of this book, call upon their own experience, and those of others to provide their readers with an essential resource which explains the journey 'real families' experiences when building a family built through egg and embryo donation.

Within its pages the processes are explained and true accounts given by those who have used this process. Questions are answered, fears calmed and doubts expressed, allowing the reader to fully understand that they are not alone, others have been through the experience. I really love the quote from Marna which says "Don't get too hung up emotionally regarding your egg donor selection because at the end of the day, the baby you have is the baby you were meant to have."

There are no subjects glazed over in this frank, honest, no-holds-barred book. I had to smile at the questions asked, especially about hair color, simply because my sister comes from a family who all have blue or grey eyes and yet hers are dark brown. These things don't matter, and shouldn't be worried about, having a happy healthy child is all that matters.

Uniquely, this is the first book which provides its readers with age-appropriate scripts to allay the fears of parents about how to talk to their children and explain the special way they were conceived. There is also a list of resources which contains organizations and books which you may wish to read.

In summary: This book is an essential resource for those who are considering building a family through egg and embryo donation. Highly recommended!

Susan Keefe, Reviewer
https://www.susan-keefe.com


Susana Pacheco's Bookshelf

MAGI: Commencement (Magi Quintet Book #1)
D. M. Borne
Aurora Book Company
9781732928435, $15.00 PB, $2.99 Kindle, 346pp, www.amazon.copm

"Would you save a life if all you had to do was Believe?
In 'the realm', Belief is a requirement.
Belief is powerful, and Belief is dangerous.
Simply put, Belief is everything.
Belief is also the driving force in this magical young adult novel: MAGI: Commencement.

When fourteen year old Louisiana native Rowan Dupard falls into 'the realm', he learns that he is a member of the magi community. In this new world, Rowan faces many challenges. However, his greatest challenge is learning to believe in himself."

What Made Me Read It
I was sent a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. The synopsis sent by the author sounded interesting: a teenage boy who discovers he belongs to a community of people with magical abilities, where belief is the key to make it all happen.

The Plot
Rowan Dupard is a 14-year-old boy who just wanted to enjoy a fishing trip with his father in the Saint Malo Bayou river. Having his younger brother Nathaniel tag along was bad enough, but when he falls into the river after seeing a shimmering light in the water things just get a lot worse.

Rowan suddenly finds himself in the realm, unwillingly admitted to Camp Tituba where young migi learn to develop their magical skills. Rowan never thought magic was real, but for the next 13 weeks of summer he and his new group of friends - Rashi, Zinnia, Ikki and Tempest - will learn to mine their core stones, care for their paired seahorses and study fascinating courses that one day will turn them into fully-fledged magi.

But Camp Tituba proves to be an even bigger challenge. As an assimilator, a rare breed of magi incapable of producing their own magic who must assimilate other magi's powers instead, Rowan is treated with suspicion and distrust by Baba, the intimidating director of the Realm Security Service, and the other students. And when a rogue magus breaches the camp with the intention of capturing Rowan, being careful not to touch his fellow students and bonding with his fearsome temperamental seahorse Ceffyl Dwr become the least of Rowan's problems.

The Good
"Magi: Commencement" is the first book in a 5 volumes young adult fantasy series. Set in modern days in the realm, a magical district of virgin forests and canyons in the United States that only magi (magicians) can access, it follows the journey of a 14-year-old Luisiana boy through his first year at Camp Tituba, a summer camp where young migi learn to develop their magical skills.

Fast-paced, with vivid descriptions of all the elements that make up this imaginary world, an engaging mystery and an unexpected plot twist, the book explores Rowan's 1st academic course at Tituba Camp as the teenage boy learns of his abilities, meets new friends (human and magical alike) and confronts a dangerous rogue magus. The world building is incredibly complex and wildly imaginative: the 5 core families (Collier, Horticulturist, Mariner, Physicist and Esoteric) with unique magical skills and specific core stones; Wolo, the favorite water sport of the magi community; moving trees and magical creatures the size of horses; bonding with seahorses and syncing with core stones; the natural beauty of the realm; a Great Tipi that is bigger on the inside than the outside; rucksacks that always provide what a young migus most needs; the tainted power of the assimilators... few authors manage to find a good balance between giving just the right amount of background information and drop an info dump on the readers, but D.M.Borne nailed it successfully and we get to explore and know this immensely rich world in a matter that feels natural - the right amount of info delivered in the right place by the right character.

The characters, from the young students to the adult counselors and regents of the magi camp, are 3-dimensional and complex, with realistic behaviors and believable motivations: Rowan, who must learn to believe in himself and take his rightful place in the realm, despite all the mistrust his magical core elicits; Ikki, a young migus ostracized for his unstable magic that caused his core to separate from his body and manifest in the form of a familiar (a raccoon dog named Tanuki), who finds himself accepted and welcomed by his new friends; Magus Bell, a wild rambunctious bus driver a little on the crazy side, with an inert magical core; Baba, the intimidating director of the Realm Security Service, hard as marble and terrifying but just and loyal...

"Magi: Commencement" feels like Harry Potter in Native America, sharing many similarities with the latter, but with enough differences to be a fresh and unique world that fully stands on its own. If you've read and enjoyed the Harry Potter books you will surely love the Magi series; if it's your first time in a magical school, then this will be an excellent opportunity to visit a world that is incredibly complex, wildly imaginative and very compelling, you will want to join the magi community of the realm at Camp Tituba... as long as you keep away from temperamental giant seahorses and wear enough bug repellent to keep those horseflies (the size of an actual horse) at bay.

"Magi: Commencement" is the first book in a 5 volumes young adult fantasy series, set in modern days in a concealed magical district of virgin forests and canyons in the United States, with a fast-paced plot, vivid descriptions, an engaging mystery and an unexpected plot twist.

Final Rating (5 out of 5 Books): Recommended for those who enjoy fantasy stories with magical elements in a school setting.

Susana Pacheco
Reviewer


Suzie Housley's Bookshelf

The Power of Your Past & the True Calling of Your Soul
Angelika Schulze
https://www.liwago.net
Amazon.com
B087RNFBF9, $2.99, April 27, 2020, 21 pages

"You are a light," she replies gently. "And when you shine, you shine bright."
? Marie Lu, The Midnight Star

The time has come to put your past behind you and start living the best life possible!

Often, our past exposed us to situations that have caused us to doubt ourselves from the negative experiences we have encountered. These life-changing situations we endured left jagged scars upon on mind, body, and soul.

This book allows you to discover techniques that will heal your inner being. It provides detailed exercises and affirmatives that will cleanse your soul from the toxic substance that has been robbing you of living a life where you love and believe in yourself.

What are you waiting for? The time to rebuild yourself as a stronger and more confident person has arrived. Learn how you can turn this dream into a reality, you owe it to yourself to invest in the knowledge and guidance that will reprogram your past and start living for the future.

Angelika Schulze has masterfully crafted a book that has the power to change your life. With the use of beautiful illustrations and in-depth advice, you can feel yourself evolving into a better person as you complete each exercise. The words she uses are ones that penetrate deep into your soul and holds a lasting memory.

The Power of Your Past & the True Calling of Your Soul is a book is a book that will allow you to heal the past, and transform yourself into a beautiful and radiate soul that shines a bright light into the world. This book will allow make peace with your past, and learn how to rebuild your life to the greatest potential.

I Choose You: A Journey of Life, Laughs and Love
Carlos Garcia III
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
9781490326818, $10.00 Paperback, 82 pages

"Love doesn't make the world go round.

Love is what makes the ride worthwhile."

~Franklin P. Jones

The moment that you discover love is one of the best feelings that you will ever experience in your life. Often, the journey to find love is one that is complex and has many roads. Many people try to rush and find the person that's not their soul mate.

Patience is the key to finding true and lasting love. Once found your heart will find the beauty of being fulfilled. In your hand, you hold one man's journey to find love. Once heartbroken, he found that writing poems allowed his shattered heart to find a way to mend.

He put his faith in God and allowed him to guide him to the one that would be his soul mate. Finding this person, was like a beam of sunlight lit up his soul and repaired his heart. Let his beautiful poems penetrate deep within your heart.

I Choose You: A Journey of Life, Laughs, and Love radiates so much love and compassion. I found myself rereading several of the poems over just because of the emotional impact I felt when I read them. Carlos Garcia III is a very talented poet and should be proud of this offering to the literary world.

Suzie Housley
Reviewer


Sydney Anderson's Bookshelf

Royal Heir
Traci Hunter Abramson
Covenant Communications, Inc
www.amazon.com
9781524411282, $16.99 pbk / $5.49 Kindle / $29.99 audiobook, 304pp

Royal Heir is a fantastic kick off to a new series for author Traci Hunter Abramson. The story is set in the beautiful Mediterranean and has royals, suspense, and romance. In this story, Abramson has an excellent plot with characters that readers will love. And the story builds upon itself with the turn of each page. Readers will love the chills that this book gives them, whether from the spine tingling excitement of stolen gems to the thrilling romance. This story will immediately grab the attention of readers, keeping them turning pages and wanting more. An excellent and fast-paced novel, readers will not want to set this one down.

Sydney Anderson, Reviewer
www.singinglibrarianbooks.com


Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

The Incredible Adventures of Vic Challenger
Jerry Gill
Ann Darrow Company
https://aerbook.com/store/ann_darrow_co
www.amazon.com

Harkening back to the Golden Age of pulp fiction, "The Incredible Adventures of Vic Challenger" uniquely features a young female heroine in a new series of nine (and counting!) novels by Jerry Gill that combine action/adventure with elements of classic science fiction in the kind of narrative storytelling style that associated with such legendary authors as Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. Rider Haggard, and Robert E. Howard. Thoroughly entertaining, each of the nine deftly crafted and original volumes that currently make up this simply outstanding series is unreservedly recommended for personal reading lists, and is certain to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to highschool and community library collections.

This inherently fascinating and 'pitch perfect' adventure series is comprised of:

"Vic: Time Doesn't Matter": Visiting Africa in 1919, Vic brushes shoulders with death on more than one occasion and everyone around her concludes she is uncannily calm and proficient in the face of the most horrible threats. Vic understands their awe but to her, it is second nature. She seems to have been born with the facility for adventure, yet when she turned thirteen her skills did magnify and that's when the eerie dreams began - dreams so vivid that she would wake with her body feeling their impact. She still had those dreams when she visited Africa and there nature conspired to solve their mystery. Yet the solution was not a conclusion but a beginning. It evoked a monumental quest which might take a lifetime and would likely lead Vic into every dangerous corner of Earth. The first hurdle was to simply design a plan to make the quest successful and Vic had no ideas. How was she going to find something she lost - on the day she died, 100,000 years ago? (9781889823386, $10.99 PB, $3.99 Kindle, 266pp).

"Vic: Mongol": On the second trip of her quest to find her soul mate, the reincarnated cave girl visits Outer Mongolia. En-route, she and friend Lin Li save the life of a young lady detective and become embroiled in a murder case which leaves port with them. In Mongolia, they learn to play shagai games with their guide's 5-year-olds and consistently lose They do some hunting and decide maral steak is the bee's knees. Unfortunately, the trip is not all fun and games. They must deal with hordes of olgoi-khorkhoi, Chinese Red Beards, White Russians, hungry wolves, a lost species of human, sub-zero weather and a wind storm. One lesson learned: not everyone who first looks like a bad guy is a bad guy. (9781889823607, $11.99 PB, $3.99 Kindle, 212pp).

"Vic: Never Give Up": Vic and her friend Lin Li plan a two or three night camp out at the Grand Canyon before they head for Britain. They didn't plan on the Dine' who want to hang them, the madman, the mysterious cavern, and the slavers (now more commonly called 'human traffickers'). 48 hours before their ship is to leave New York, they find themselves in San Francisco. Historical note: They could not hop a plane and zip over. It was "impossible" for them to make it. However, never underestimate the ingenuity of a farm girl with 2 degrees and an indwelling cave girl persona. En-route they meet a survivor of the Titanic and eventually make it to the Scottish highlands where they expect a more restful trip than what they experienced in Arizona. They do learn to play peever and shinty and to love Squash. However, they didn't plan on the descendants of Christie Cleek or and the herd of beasts which the Picts were petroglyping about .a millennia ago. And Vic realizes even a heroess can have tragedy in her personal life. One lesson learned: don't wait until it is too late. (9781889823614, $12.95 PB, $3.99 Kindle, 207pp).

"Vic: Terror Incognita": Vic is preparing for a work related trip up the Amazon river. Vic and her friend Lin Li don't think this will be a picnic. They expect tough conditions, hot weather, mosquitos, wild animals. They can handle it. It's what they do. Readers love to hear about visits to rugged locales. But do they really know what to expect? Over 50,000 miles of savage waterways course through the brutal jungles of the Amazon! Who knows what secrets might lie within an uncharted area as vast as all of Europe? Of course Vic will also have her senses attuned for signs of Nu, her soul mate from 100,000 years ago.Lethal encounters begin before the trip begins! Plus, Vic finds her friend Emma has a serious personal problem, two in fact. Vic can't help with one but the other leads to some un-ladylike conduct in the streets of Beatrice. She and Lin both decide that fighting bad guys and monsters is easy compared to social and personal problems. When Vic and Lin Li finally get to the Amazon, Vic has a chance to taste some great local food including rock grilled pirarucu, roasted favolus, and anona fruit. The trip has a good start. Their greatest worry is whether they may run into headhunters. Turns out there is more to worry about. Vic is delighted to learn that her favorite book of all time was not strictly fiction. It sets Vic and Lin on a search into terra incognita, which should be labeled terror incognita! They discover people who need help and Vic does not hesitate.. Enroute they deal with giant snakes, caimans, piranha, a greedy guide, but those are unworthy of mention compared to what awaits them in Terror Incognita! Among the lessons learned, it is better to be prepared and not need to be than to be unprepared and dead; anyone can make a mistake and one mistake does not a bad person make and of course, keep your weapon with you! (9781889823638, $12.95 PB, $3.99 Kindle, 308pp).

"Vic: Fast!": The reincarnated cave girl visits family in Australia and it starts off a swell trip. She and her friend Lin Li learn a ton of information about survival in the outback which ought to make great reading. Before their readers get it, though, they need it themselves - to stay alive. Bad guys rob everyone at a party Vic's Great Aunt has thrown in her honor. They also take a barrette which Vic's mother gave to her for her 8th birthday. Will she get it back? What about the treasure map that is stolen? It shows the way to a mysterious grotto where legend says a horrible monster guards a family treasure. Vic wants to get the map and retrieve the treasure for her aunt but along the way she must face desperados, legendary beasts and a deadly environment! (9781889823621, $12.95 PB, $3.99 Kindle, 223pp).

"Vic: Event": Vic is going to visit the site of the 1908 Tunguska event. An attempt to stop her is made before she leaves. Why? When she gets there, she finds something from far, far away. Vic gets a clue to her lost love - finally. Then O, who runs a special military unit does her a favor and she reciprocates. It will just be a quick trip to observe and study the site of a powerful event. However, she is ambushed before she leaves D.C., and there is no let-up! (9781889823775, $11.99 PB, $3.99 Kindle, 218pp).

"Vic: Bloody Reprisal": An old enemy tries to kill Vic and her friend Lin Li. Vic goes after him. She meets a family who is being hounded by what they call a demon from hell. They ask Vic for help and she can't refuse. Now 2 enemies are after Vic and she is after them! Vic learns the man is planning something that will kill tens of thousands and gets a surprise from the "demon" Plus, Vic's search for her love from the primitive past takes on a new sense of urgency! (9781889823805, $11.99 PB, $3.99 Kindle, 210pp).

"Vic: Mystery & Magic": Vic and her friend Lin are invited to spend Christmas in Washington state. Their friend Evelyn is visiting family to help with a haunting. None of them believe in ghosts but something is going on. Also, hairy monsters were seen in the woods. Evelyn thinks Vic might be a big help with that. Things get complicated by the blizzard. The owner of the property Vic visits doesn't want word to get out that strange beasts are there - hunters will overrun his land. Then there is that big hole in the ground and the unexpected visitor. While Vic deals with all that, Lin Li and Evelyn must read thousands of pages of old correspondence in Chinese to find the answer to the mystery of the ghost. This can well turn out to be the most unusual Christmas Vic may ever have! (9781889823843, $11.99 PB, $3.99 Kindle, 206pp).

"Vic: A Savage Place": Vic reads about a man-eating plant in Madagascar. She doubts it is true but the search will make a good story. Pirates try to kill her on the way. She is thrown into a wilderness without supplies. Thugs attack her in the street. She finds a mysterious canyon where there are things that should not exist. By the time she squeaks out, the geography of Madagascar has been altered! Has the world become one continuous deadly challenge? How does Vic survive the attack at sea, wandering in the wilderness, bad guys in the streets of Tamatave, killer primates, and a man-eating tree? She does what needs done!

Willis M. Buhle
Reviewer


James A. Cox
Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
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