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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 21, Number 8 August 2021 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Alex Phuong's Bookshelf Allan Jenkins' Bookshelf Ann Skea's Bookshelf
Bonnie Jo Davis' Bookshelf Carl Logan's Bookshelf Carole Mertz's Bookshelf
Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf Clint Travis' Bookshelf Elan Kluger's Bookshelf
Helen Cook's Bookshelf Jack Mason's Bookshelf John Burroughs' Bookshelf
Julie Summers' Bookshelf Margaret Lane's Bookshelf Marj Charlier's Bookshelf
Mark Walker's Bookshelf Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf
Michael Carson's Bookshelf Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf
Susan Bethany's Bookshelf Susan Keefe's Bookshelf Suzie Housley's Bookshelf
Willis Buhle's Bookshelf    

Alex Phuong's Bookshelf

The Lost Apothecary: A Novel
Sarah Penner
Ballantine Books
c/o Penguin Random House
9780778311010, Kindle $14.99, Hardcover $13.99, 320 pages

A Delightful Concoction

Romeo and Juliet features Friar Lawrence as an apothecary. Despite the eighteenth-century setting, this novel offers a unique perspective on London as a city. Additionally, this novel combines humor with drama and thrills to redefine the dramedy. Additionally, this novel does have the potential to generate high ratings for a televised version of the story that Fox might produce. Finally, this novel is just as powerful as tales from the Bard, but Penner has a uniquely magical quality to her writing that is too ethereal to describe.

Alex Andy Phuong

Allan Jenkins' Bookshelf

Pull Up a Chair
Curt Smith
Potomac Books
9781597976619, $8.50 pbk / $8.07 Kindle, 264 pages

This book was written by Curt Smith it is biography of Vin Scully, it tells the story of the legendary broadcaster Vin Scully life. Smith has also written several other baseball books, these include Voices of The Game, what Publisher's Weekly called the "monumental" history of baseball broadcasting. It was adapted into a smash series at the Smithsonian Institution and an acclaimed three-part series on ESPN TV. Among Smith's other books is a book called, Mercy!, a tribute to Fenway Park, And Of Mikes and Men; Voices of Summer; What Baseball Means to Me. Smith lives with wife Sarah and two children in Upstate New York.

In 1950, the New York-born Scully broadcast his first major league baseball game for the then-Brooklyn Dodgers, and now Los Angeles Dodgers .Nearly sixty years later he still invites a listener to "pull up a chair," He has just completing a record fifty-ninth consecutive year of play-by-play. during the early years of his life as a broadcaster, he was recruited and mentored by the legendary Red Barber .It is very interesting to read about, how Red Barber was able to teach Scully how to broadcast. In early 1958, when the franchise moved to Los Angles, Vin Scully also moved to Los Angles. His instantly recognizable voice has described famous play by pall calls that involve players such as Duke Snider to Orel Hershiser to Manny Ramirez, with hundreds in between. And another thing that makes this book very interesting is that it mentions the play by play calls and that brings back memories of those games and when the games where and who was playing in the games. At one time or another, Scully has also been involved with other things regarding baseball broadcasting, The book also mentions that Vin Scully has aired NBC Television's Game of the Week, twelve All-Star Games, eighteen no-hitters, twenty-five World Series, and network football, golf, and tennis. He has made every sportscasting Hall of Fame; received a Lifetime Emmy Achievement award and a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; and been voted "most memorable [L.A. Dodgers] franchise personality." In 2000, the American Sportscasters Association named Scully the Sportscaster of the 20th Century. And the book is so good because in it. The author reminds you several times that Scully opens each broadcast by wishing listeners, "A very pleasant good afternoon AND Pull Up a Chair will provide a reader with the same. I remember as a kid Vin Scully was one of the first announcers who got me into baseball listening. And I still will and continue to remember that about Vin Scully, even when I listen as an adult.

In conclusion this book can help you remember what a great baseball announcer, Vin Scully has been . After reading this book it can help you remember how amazing it is that Vin Scully has been broadcasting for over 60 years. Mostly by himself, especially when he does the Dodgers games. The book also tells some great comments by announcers about Vin Scully. This book is a great one to read, If I Was ratting the book. I would give it an A+. It is a great book to read in my opinion.

Allan Jenkins

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

the shut ins
Katherine Brabon
Allen & Unwin
9781760879747, A$29.99, 256 pages

There is a world we live in, on this side, and another world, achiragawa, [the other side] that is a place of dreams, death and possibility. The other side may be our unconscious minds, our inner lives, the home of our deepest unspoken beliefs.

In the shut ins, Katherine Brabon explores the way achiragawa exists in the lives of four Japanese people - Mai Takeda, Sadako, Hiromi Sato, and her son, Hikaru, who has taken his desire for 'the other side' to extremes and has become one of the hikikomori. As the narrator's Japanese correspondent explains:

They choose another path, but there are not many ways for them to live differently, so they go to another place inside their very rooms. In the world I grew up in, it is hard to untie yourself from society.

The narrator, herself, as an Australian woman visiting Japan, is a fifth person experiencing achiragawa and her 'Notes', which link the chapters about each of the characters together, may be Katherine Brabon's own thoughts and experiences or may be those of a fifth character.

Mai Takeda is a young Japanese woman who, when we first meet her, has been married to J for three months. As a rather quiet, withdrawn woman, J offered 'what seemed like a chance to participate in life, in a marriage'. The reality, Mai finds, is that everyone expects her to conform to social norms, leave her job (which they regard as a hobby), support J in his corporate career and in the home, and, especially, to have his children. 'Mai, when are you going to have a child, hmm? It's about time', says her mother. 'It's important... Every husband and wife need a child', says her father. J keeps asking her if she is pregnant.

Mai 'doesn't have the urge...every woman is expected to have'. She likes her job and does not want to leave it, J is a good husband, industrious 'moulded' to his role of corporate businessman, but she does not want to take care of him and she does not want to have his child. She feels 'trapped in a current'. 'Each of us could be living an entirely different life', she writes to her old school-friend Hikaru, 'I have been thinking of it more and more lately'.

When Mai bumps into Hikaru's mother and begins to visit her, a strange relationship is formed with Hikaru, who has retreated from normal life and shut himself away in his room. She gladly becomes 'a rental sister', being paid by Hikaru's mother to write letters to him. For a time this is an important, almost secret, other life for her but she wants something more.

The second young woman we meet is Sadako. She works as a hostess and is paid to sit with customers, listen to them, tolerate their approaches and, occasionally, to act as an escort or as a 'pretend wife' for a businessman who needs to take 'his wife' to a company dinner. Sex is not included in her services.

Sadako meets J, Mai's husband, when she is working as hostess at a business-man's party in a glamorous hotel. J begins to seek her out when he is on business trips and wants someone to pretend to be the sort of attentive, compliant wife that Mai is not. In a hotel room with J, Sadako feels sad, knowing 'that she represented something this man wanted but did not have', and she feels pity for J's wife, who would either be carried along by the life expected of her, or live swimming against its perpetual current. Unless she was able to find another alternative altogether, an other side of herself, another life.

At the same time, Sadako is aware that she is always playing a false role, and she, too, dreams of something different. When her father has a heart-attack and needs her to visit him, she meets his second wife and her son and has her own experience of 'the other side'. For her, there seems to be the possibility of a new and 'real' life in her father's home.

Hiromi Sato's life, too, is full of restrictions, secrets and of guilt, because of her son's withdrawal from life. Her husband blames her and insists that she hides the young man's strange behavior. 'We must protect our name', he tells her. But when nothing changes he yells at her: 'This is a disgrace. You need to fix him'.

Hiromi, who also has responsibility for her elderly mother who lives in another town, is weighed down with shame and guilt.

A Japanese mother raises a little Emperor until he his four, and then brings a crushing weight down on his shoulders, forcing him into a mould that was waiting for him before birth. Hiromi Sato knows that she transferred this weight onto the shoulders of her son. But the act has not relieved her.

'Her failed son. She loves him'. She recruits Mai, who visits the house, writes letters to him, but never sees him. Hiromi is distraught when Mai disappears. Ultimately, she must put her son in care so that she can look after her mother: 'Like a second birth, her son must be cut from her'.

Hikaru's story is more complex. 'When I was young my mother warned me about everything', he tells us. A school teacher is critical of his work, shaming his mother by directing her criticisms to her: "He is slow...not up to standard....lazy, or a poor listener'. At high school he becomes isolated and begins to think everyone is judging him. He feels something change inside him:

When I was a child it had been the small, light bubble inside me that disappeared. Now it was as though all the energy had been sucked out of me. If I didn't protect myself I would soon die.

We learn of his struggles to fit in, or his briefly-held jobs, of his retreat into his room, and how he copes there. We learn, too, of his time living with a support group among others who have with similar problems, and of a different, enforced method, which 'breaks the person out of their unhealthy lifestyle'. In the 'Note' prefacing this chapter, the narrator writes that a psychiatrist who specialises in the hikikomori condition blames the unhappiness of mothers and the war-traumatised parents of these mothers, who 'created fussy, meticulous households', and dutifully educated children into conformity. Hikaru himself writes 'I wish there was a place that doesn't scare me. I wish I was not obsessed by mistakes and their consequences'. He wishes, too, that Mai would come back and that he knew how to live another life.

This is a strange and unsettling book. Each of the characters wonders, as we all do, what their life 'this side' is about and what a different life would be like. Many of us, too, due to the Covid 19 pandemic have been 'shut in' and experienced solitude and strangeness. Katherine Brabon's book is timely and thought-provoking but also fascinating and vividly original and creative.

In an endnote, Brabon quotes the definition of the hikikomori condition as 'a coping strategy that is achieved in response to the excessive pressure of social realisation, typical of modern individualistic societies'. She also quotes Michael Zielenziger's research, which suggests that 'some people see the phenomenon as the ultimate expression of passive-aggressive behavior. It is a rejection of society by inaction, by refusing to participate'. Katherine Brabon's imaginative and sensitive exploration of achiragawa makes hikikomori a condition we all can understand.

I Know What I Saw
Imran Mahmood
Raven Books
c/o Bloomsbury
9781526627636, A$29.99, 384 pages

What can you do if you witnessed a murder but the police will not believe you? They have no report of anyone missing, they haven't found a body, and the scene of the alleged murder does not look anything like your description of it.

Xander, who recounts this experience, lives on the streets, but it is clear from the start of this book that he is no ordinary street-dweller:

Before. Before, when I was like you, I had your problems and your conveniences. I know you think that we spontaneously appear, caked in dirt, and that we just materialise on the street, but we don't. Remember, we bring ourselves here from some warm place. We only come when the balance weighs in favour of leaving, when the problems of staying outweigh the rest.

He tells, in the first pages, that his mother was an academic 'above all else'; his father a physicist who would set discussion topics for him and his younger brother, Rory, and 'hand out a prize for the best idea'; and he, himself, 'slid into Cambridge with four As to read maths'. His childhood seems to have been happy, and we can hear, too, from the opening sentence of his narration, that he is literate and imaginative

The sky is a bruised sea. It threatens to burst and split the night. There is a children's play park nearby. The gates are shut but unlocked and they push open easily with a gentle squeak. Of course at this time of night it's deserted and I know I can sleep here until light. Time as it ticks on a watch is not as useful to me as how the light looks when it waxes and wanes. For me the time is hidden in shadows and in the length they cast on the ground.

Xander beds down on the wood-chips under the children's slide but he is challenged and attacked by another street-dweller. He survives the threatening knife, because he is bigger and more sober than his attacker, but the vicious kick to his temple leaves in confused and in recurrent pain, and it is pouring with rain and bitterly cold. He needs somewhere dry to recover, so he consults the map which over the years he has created in his head, and which tells him of the relative safety and dangers of various London areas for street-dwellers like him. Red Zones are where 'the streets have been taken over by gangs'; Westminster, Chelsea and a few others areas are safe Green Zones; Vauxhall, Camberwell, Elephant and Oval are 'the neutral Blue Zone'.

He is still confused, cold and in pain when he finds shelter under the stone steps of a house near the park, then, although knowing that it is illegal, he pushes open a half-open basement door and steps inside. He calls out, planning to explain that he was just passing and thought to warn the occupiers about the open door. There is no answer, so, when the pain in his head begins to be unbearable he creeps up the stairs and into a large room, where he falls asleep on the carpet. A noise, voices and footsteps wake him so he hides behind a large chesterfield sofa next to the wall. From there he sees a slightly tipsy couple and an argument unfolds and escalates until the woman hits the man and he reacts by punching her. She falls and hits her head on the edge of the table. The man realizing that the woman is dead, panics, rearranges the scene so that it looks like a drunken accident, then flees. Xander goes and checks the woman's pulse. There is no sign of life:

I look around just as the man did, and suddenly I am in this loop riven with his urgency and guilt. I have to escape. I cannot be here with a dead body. I mean, look at me. I'm a homeless man. I'm an easy person to point fingers at. I run back to the sofa and pick up my coat and shoes...I race through the hallway...then run back into the room to wipe down the things I have touched.... The police, I think, if the guy called the police and I am found in this state, I will be undone. I'm sure I can hear a siren in the distance. I must move.

The pain in his head makes him confused but he is certain about what he saw and feels guilty for not stopping it. He gets far from the scene and eventually falls asleep in a doorway. When a policeman wakes him, he is sure he will be accused of murder. Instead the policeman sees his head injury and calls paramedics who, although he objects, take him to hospital. He has given his name to the police, they know where he was attacked, and when in a moment of disorientation and guilt he burbles out to the nurse 'I let her die. I watched as she was murdered', the police get involved again.

From that moment on, Xander's story becomes a roller-coaster of accusations, misunderstandings, tangled events, fear and confusion. It is clear that he has gaps in his memory, some of which are due to his head injury, but some are a deliberate suppression of memories related to trauma surrounding the death of his brother, the subsequent break-up of his relationship with his much-loved partner, Grace, and to a large sum of money which Xander had withdrawn from their joint bank-account and left, for safe-keeping, with a mutual friend. This money turns out to be of major importance in a murder trial but it has gone missing.

I Know What I Saw turns into an intense, gripping thriller as Imran Mahmood immerses the reader in Xander's thoughts actions and, especially, his shock and his doubts as seemingly impossible things are revealed to him and it becomes clear that his memory cannot be trusted.

'I can't distinguish the truth from the patches I manufacture', he says when a fragment of memory about Grace comes back to him.

Those days are like stones rubbed smooth from years of worrying at them. But they are like relics on a hill - whole but broken off. Even the good ones are fragments of something visual, pulled or glued together with my own brush. I can't distinguish the truth from the patches I manufacture. This must be true of all memory.

He feels 'adrift' and the thought that in the times he can't remember he 'did things - could have done things -' terrifies him. He is still certain about what he saw, but proving it seems impossible. He has help from an old friend, from a young boy who helps him navigate computer searches, from a lawyer and from a policewoman who, although carefully professional, feels sorry for him, but the problems seem insurmountable. On Waterloo Bridge the river's muddy faces swell and shift but they are still impassive, inscrutable. Tourists and workers in suits and coats pass behind me but don't give me a second glance. I don't want to be seen. I could climb over this low barrier and slip into the water without so much as a turned glance.

This seems to herald a predictable ending, but nothing in this book is predictable and the final twist in the story comes as a shock.

Fox & I: An Uncommon Friendship
Catherine Raven
Spiegel & Grau
9781954118003, $28.00 hc / $12.99 Kindle, 287 pages

I needed to be thinking of how my relationship with the fox began and why we rendezvoused every day at 4:15 p.m. We were meeting, after all, under odd and uncomfortable circumstances. Foxes are supposed to avoid people, free spirits are supposed to avoid schedules, and everyone except a person with the wit of a nit is supposed to avoid humanizing wild animals.

Yet, a wild fox visits Catherine Raven's isolated mountain cottage every afternoon at about 4:15, stays there within arm's-length of her while she reads to it, and shows interest in her 'show-and-tell' of found objects. Clearly this wild fox is choosing to turn up, on schedule, every day, and interacts with Catherine Raven, who certainly does not have the wit of a nit.

Raven has a Ph.D in biology and is a member of Mensa and of Sigma Xi. As a biologist, she is trained to examine facts objectively and she is desperate not to anthropomorphize and attribute human characteristics to this fox. 'I wanted to believe that Fox and I were meeting every day because we had followed a logical and inevitable path', she writes:

Anthropomorphizing describes the unacceptable act of humanizing animals, imagining that they have qualities only people should have, and admitting foxes into your social circle. Anyone could get away with humanizing animals they owned - horses, hawks, or even leashed skunks. But for someone like me, teaching natural history, anthropomorphizing wild animals was corny and very uncool .

So, she tells the story of her relationship with Fox in the same way that she tries to divert her students' attention from it. She digresses into scientific facts; writes about her life and about the plants and animals around her Montana mountain home; describes in gruesome detail confrontations between animals and their prey; discusses the way wild animals and solitary human (like herself) appear in books ranging from The Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupery, through Melville's Moby Dick and Shelley's Frankenstein, to Dr Seuss's Horton Hears a Who!; explains hunting and fire-fighting techniques; and, occasionally, rants about such dissimilar things as academic scientific research and fox-hunting. All to no avail.

Fox steals the show and I, like her students, just want to know more about him. We want to know how she and Fox met, how their relationship developed, where he was when he suddenly vanished, how they dealt with the deadly fox-mange, and whether he survived the fires which destroyed his habitat and almost destroyed Raven's cottage. Raven does tell us all this, but, in spite of the imaginative and humorous way in which she writes, her memoir can be a little frustrating when you are just waiting for more fox-news.

Fox, however, is not the only wild animal in this book. Raven has spent almost her whole career working with and observing wild animals and she firmly believes that some do exhibit individual traits which could be called 'personality'. Fox, unlike all the other foxes Raven had observed over the years, was less timid about approaching her. She saw, too, how, as a young fox, he seemed to pretend to hunt when his mother was watching him to make sure that he 'didn't expose himself needlessly' and would stay alive.

She would see him posing between spring and vole, water and food; his upright ears tilted forward as if listening to prey. Raising his rump, he rocked back over his heels. He looked like a normal fox preparing to pounce. Like any one of her ordinary offspring...He had fooled her. He was not hunting. He was spying on someone, wasting time watching another animal that wasn't food or foe.

Raven's 'roof-thumping' magpies also seem to display personality. They wake her early every morning by thumping on the steel roof and portico of her cottage. Knowing that 'none of their biological obligations' required the use of her roof, she concludes that they are thumping simply to annoy her. She arbitrarily gives the two largest magpie's names and gender: 'Tennis Ball had a big round belly; her mate, Torn Tail, crossed his wings behind his back like he was handcuffed'. A brief digression into Darwinian evolutionary theory explains why Raven's efforts to appease the magpies by placing egg-yolks in empty egg-shells under their favourite roost never works. TB, the matriarch of the group, seems to croak 'Don't trust...Don't trust the hand that baits you'. It is the egg-yolks, however, which first attract Fox, and Tennis Ball (TB) seems often too accompany him and, even, to help him hunt. When a wild cat stalks Fox, Raven watches as TB sees it and tries to distract it.

Raven also tells us much about her own life, which has been challenging and unusual. She admits to being claustrophobic, socially incompetent, and to having a problem recognizing people: she sees herself as similar to Ishmael in Melville's Moby Dick - she doesn't ignore people, she just 'has trouble focusing on them'. She writes of being an unloved child, of enrolling at the age of 15 in a university summer school, then waitressing and washing floors to pay her way through more university education. She did voluntary work for the National Parks Service, became a fire fighter, a hunter, and a Park Ranger before earning her doctorate. Teaching allowed her to buy the land on which she built her cottage, then she juggled her wild-life observation with part-time teaching and writing. Until she decided to document her relationship with Fox, she had written academic textbooks and scientific journal articles. Imagination, she came to believe, is destroyed by scientific insistence on objectivity.

I had taught from dozens of college-level biology textbooks. All of them introduced students to natural history by keeping them inside memorizing facts and formulae about chemicals and molecules and energy. They could have been written by Victor Frankenstein.

So, in Fox & I, she lets her imagination shape the text. There are chapters in which she imagines things from Fox's perspective. He reacts to unexpected danger with the expletive 'Weasle piss!'. Hunting strategies are 'On plan!' or 'Off plan'!'. He watches 'Hurricane Hands' wield 'gimpy tools' in a 'battle between person and plant' as she tries, unsuccessfully, to clear a weedy thicket. Sometimes she descends to Fox's height and sees the world as he would: tumbleweed balls blocking his favourite paths; tall weeds obscuring his view.

'Russian tumblers' (tumbleweed), she writes, while characteristically offering a detailed botanical identification of the various weeds around her cottage, accidentally entered the United States in the 1880's in a bag of seed sent from Russia. Since then, tumblers have 'interloped' into an area the size of North and South Dakota:

Rolling across sets of iconic Hollywood Westerns, they have accumulated a substantial number of fans eager to believe that any dueling facade is real if tumbleweeds and dust blow between the shooters.

Raven writes fluently and evocatively, and she has a dry sense of humour. Fox & I has charm and depth, and there are some beautiful descriptive passages. As a story teller, Raven has tried hard to balance scientific objectivity and imaginative empathy, but when Fox gazes into her eyes trustingly at arm's-length; and when one moonlit night he brings his four bouncing fox-kits down to her cottage and leaves her to watch them whist feigning sleep - well, what could she do but regard him as a friend?

Ann Skea, Reviewer

Bonnie Jo Davis' Bookshelf

Advocate to Win: 10 Tools to Ask for What You Want and Get It
Heather Hansen
Post Hill Press
9781642936636, $22.80

Heather Hansen is the best-selling author of The Elegant Warrior: How to Win Life's Trials Without Losing Yourself and Advocate to Win is a great follow-up.

Heather is the premier expert on how to advocate for your big ideas. She is the CEO and founder of Advocate to Win and has given thousands of clients the knowledge and tools they need to become better advocates and win support, attention, loyalty, and engagement for their big ideas.

The book opens with a powerful statement "Life has so much to offer. Some of us go after it and get it. But for the vast majority of us - we just dream about what we want. Or worse, we're afraid to even admit we want anything beyond what we have. We just shuffle through the status quo, knowing there's more out there, but not knowing how to ask for it, get it, or even define it."

These are truths that cannot be ignored if you want to live the life you want and deserve. Heather uses personal stories of her time as an award-winning trial attorney, media consultant and coach and many of them will strike a chord with you. Her goal is to help you become your own best advocate and she gives you the tools you need to do just that.

This book is arranged beautifully. Each chapter includes a precedent and summary so that there is a smooth flow throughout the book. The Table of Contents include:

Introduction: You Are Your Best Advocate

Chapter 1: Elegance
Chapter 2: Words
Chapter 3: Perspective
Chapter 4: Questions
Chapter 5: Credibility
Chapter 6: Evidence
Chapter 7: Reception
Chapter 8: Presentation
Chapter 9: Negotiation
Chapter 10: Argument

Conclusion: Ending with Elegance

My overall favorite part of the book are the stories. It is so much easier to learn from the experiences of others if you are willing to listen with your heart and your head. My favorite chapter is Chapter 4: Questions because it begins with a story that is about Heather herself as a child. She takes a brave step even though she is nervous and when she did, she discovered the power of questions.

This is an excellent book for anyone to read but I think it would be particularly helpful to people starting high school or college so they can become brave and make their dreams come true while they are still young. This book also makes a great gift for a birthday or holidays because everyone should read it.

Bonnie Jo Davis, Reviewer

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

Jesus Christ Movie Star
Phil Hall
BearManor Media
PO Box 71426, Albany, GA 31708
9781629336992, $32.00, HC, 176pp

Synopsis: The life of Jesus Christ has challenged and inspired filmmakers from the pioneering works of the late 1890s through today's digital cinema. No other life story has been the subject of so many films, with so many wildly different interpretations.

The big screen Jesus has traveled through multimillion dollar epics and microbudget underground films, recreating the miracles of the Gospels while also advocating for modern political issues. Moviegoers have seen Jesus walk on water and conquer death, and also break into show tunes and play straight man to a zany Bette Midler.

Films about Jesus have inspired a diverse range of controversies, ranging from a groundbreaking copyright infringement lawsuit brought by Thomas Edison to an intellectual scandal that rocked the 1964/65 New York World's Fair to accusations of anti-Semitism against Mel Gibson's distinctive interpretation of the New Testament.

Critique: "Jesus Christ Movie Star" by cinema historian and expert Phil Hall is exceptionally well written, impressively informative, and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Cinematic History collections and supplemental studies reading lists. It should be noted for students, academia, film buffs, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Jesus Christ Movie Star" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781629336985, $22.00).

Editorial Note: Phil Hall is also author of "The History of Independent Cinema" and "In Search of Lost Films", and host of the award-winning podcast The Online Movie Show.

Carl Logan

Carole Mertz's Bookshelf

Audubon's Sparrow
Juditha Dowd
Rose Metal Press
9781941628218, $15.95 Paperback

Dowd's literary Audubon's Sparrow: A Biography-in-Poems is as delightful and colorful as the famous avian sketches of the renowned bird watcher. The poet records the lives of Lucy and John James via facts and imaginings, told mainly through Lucy's viewpoint. Actual journal entries by Audubon are set in italics to distinguish fact from fiction. Dowd conveys other narratives through poems and imagined diary entries, as if written by Lucy.

"Monsieur," the opening poem, (p.3) describes Lucy Bakewell's first meeting of Audubon, recorded as a diary entry, as if from Norristown, Pennsylvania in 1804.

Today our neighbor at Mill Grove paid us a welcome call.
Belatedly, I add. Had not my father met him Monday
hunting in our woods, would he have come at all?

John James's French father has placed him in the care of a Quaker family who runs the plantation next door to the Bakewell household. The couple are married in 1808. Dowd's poetry traces their successes and failures up to the point of their setting sail, in 1830, for England, where together the two will supervise the production of the engraved bird sketches and the promotion of the forthcoming The Birds of America.

Both face many hardships in the two decades leading up to their 1830 departure. After multiple childbirths, only two sons, John and Victor, survive. Lucy is often left alone with them as her husband, whom she calls La Forest, hunts and travels, leaving behind the care of their general store to Lucy and their other partners and / or Bakewell family members. Often, throughout the marriage there is insufficient money, compounded by the fact of the collapse of the economy during the Panic of 1819. The Audubons, as business owners, were directly affected.

In poems rendered simply and generally expressed in the fewest possible words, Dowd conveys the fears and struggles experienced in frontier life. Some of the poems are aided by notes given at the back of the book. Added to these notes are four other useful items of printed matter at the back of the book: A Chronology, a Bakewell-Audubon family tree, a list of works cited, and a list of Image Credits. (Copies of five plates from The Birds of America are interspersed throughout the hundred-page volume along with a copy of the 1826 John Syme portrait of Audubon and a photograph of a miniature of Lucy from ca. 1831.) All of these elements, along with the beautiful cover produced by Rose Metal Press that uses a special font styled after Colonial America-type print, make this an outstanding volume.

The chronological listing parallels events occurring in the nation or the world simultaneous to local events in the Audubon and Bakewell families. The report of the eruption of Mount Rainier in 1820, for example, sits beside the Audubons' move to Cincinnati where 'La Forest' will be assistant to James Mason in the Western Museum, another venture that is to fail. Lucy will be left with the task of collecting back payments while John James departs promptly for New Orleans.

I found Dowd's poem "A New Season" (p.95) one of the finest in the volume. The last eight lines of the poem follow:

It's cooler among the trees.
I'll dismount and take my time
my ease

as may any woman left
to her own care and devices.

Sunlight sparks the trees
their needles on the wind-
let it suffice.

In it, the lines do a bit of wandering on their own, just as Lucy does, and the author's use of white space serves well to heighten the poem's carefree quality. This so appropriately accommodates the mood the poem describes.

I am a piano teacher by profession. I found it delightful to consider how, in the early part of the 19th century, Lucy might have taught music to supplement the family income and, indeed, prevent starvation for herself and her sons. (Dowd records this information in the collection; it is likely based on her reading of Carolyn DeLatte's Lucy Audubon: A Biography.) The poet also refers to Mozart's The Magic Flute, the tunes of which might have been familiar to Lucy, but surely there cannot have existed an abundance of available pedagogical sheet music. (It is known, however, that Anthony Philip Heinrich published instrumental and vocal pieces in The Dawning of Music in Kentucky in 1820.) One also wonders how many families on the Kentucky frontier were in possession of pianos in those early years.

I grew up on a farm in Bucks County, not too far from the Norristown farm "Fatland Ford," the homestead of Lucy's parents. In my early schooldays, my mother taught me to watch for birds and listen to their songs; she loved Audubon and the work he did on identifying and drawing the diverse species and she owned recordings of American birdsongs. Were she alive today, she'd delight in reading Audubon's Sparrow, as I did. I was sorry to see it end.

Kim Goldberg
Caitlin Press
9781773860268, $18.00 Paperback, 95 pages

Kim Goldberg writes surrealistic poetry that sometimes incorporates formal poetic forms. Many of the 60 poems in this collection use animals or anthropomorphic beings to convey their frequently apocalyptic messages. Shifts from the concrete to the abstract often startle the reader. You will not find cliches in this collection, and should one occur, it is put to good linguistic use. The author conveys her particular concerns for the environment in many of the poems, many rendered in sarcastic tones that also convey her political slant.

I doubt there are two ways to read her poem "35 Years." This is Goldberg's tribute to Chelsea Manning, in which she nearly, but not quite, expresses appreciation of "the truth" leaking out. She shows how Manning, as former U.S. Army soldier and intelligence analyst in the Iraq war, offered his "vision," from the cockpit of an Apache helicopter, of what American troops did to Baghdad civilians.

Whatever one's political viewpoint, the reader must acknowledge Goldberg's syntactical skills. In her imaginative poems, the landscape often shifts under our feet as the poet presents her themes.

Many, such as "Escape from Cyberia," are entertaining in their irony. In this prose poem she writes, "The [Syrian] families were tossed out onto the desert.. became wild horses stampeding down the beach to escape the long-tail keywords pursuing them. (Everyone knows horses are afraid of long-tail keywords.) The sharp report of their hooves sounded like machine gun fire..." (p.41)

In her clever "Constant Comment," Goldberg pictures a hobo's appearance in her cup of tea, the teabag his life raft, as he "blathers" (her word) about things like climate change. "My therapist says these are projections of my Inner Dialogue with my Angry Fractal Self," she writes.

"When spiders dream," a skillful villanelle, makes us uncomfortable with its biting lines. Stanza 2 reads:

pinpricks yearn for mind's frail join
come view the legless refugees
stump remains when tree is gone
send sacred cows to plough the field

Again, in "Twilight on Esplanade Street," Goldberg mixes creatures with her salty linguistic sarcasm to deliver her ecological message, the abstract and concrete again blended in to her unrhymed tercets:

whispers of vanished bivalves, a recollection
of sea gooseberries before they fell from their constellations,
this darkening stain

of migratory geese ripping at the seams,
tasting commas, apostrophes, all the salty follicular
wildness of languages left behind

As I read through this volume, my appreciation for Goldberg's concern for the environment and her skillful ways of portraying the issues grew. "False Economy" presents her theme as a fable. (Pp.70-72) In this story, the persona takes on the spots of a deer beside which she lies in the night. Soon all of the deer disappear and tarpans enter the story. But the tide rolls in "lofting their coarse bodies skyward, each attached to its muck-sunk rock by a stalk of thick neck." The narrator asks, "Was I responsible for all this? The loss of the last known tarpans and trees and ex-pat fallow deer?" Then answers, "I had only wanted to stay warm. Time to boot up the laptop and compose another poem." Her use of the German phrase "it is darkening" throughout the story, gives eloquent expression to the loss of species the poet is describing. The great exchange in this story comes in the eighth paragraph:

I did not notice when the last deer disappeared because by then I had enough spots to purchase all the garments and coordinating accessories and Cuisinart appliances I needed (plus some I didn't.)

That final phrase "plus some I didn't" again buffets the irony with which Goldberg so adeptly strikes. This volume teaches new ecological awareness. Its lively surrealistic language keeps us alert as we ponder her important message.

Goldberg is the recipient of a British Columbia Arts Council grant. She is the author of eight books of poetry and nonfiction and resides in Nanaimo, British Columbia. She holds a degree in biology. Formerly she covered environmental issues as a freelance journalist.

This review appeared first in The Compulsive Reader

Doyali Islam
McClelland & Stewart
c/o Penguin Random House
9780771005596, Can $19.95 / U.S. $16.95 Paperback

A prolific history lies behind Doyali Islam and her approach to writing poetry. While we may not fully understand the method she applies, we can appreciate the resultant strength of her compositions and respect the idiosyncrasies of the format she created and uses to present her poems.

Islam, Canadian author and daughter of Bengali emigres, has received several arts council awards and won significant recognition through national contests and via the CBC radio interview about her work on The Sunday Edition. She is poetry editor of Arc Poetry Magazine.

In heft, Islam mines her rich cultural heritage. Relationships abound in her poems, chiefly her relationship with her family, her relationship with her country and culture, and her relationship with other poets and artists across the world. These poets enter her work in singular ways and add to her profound awareness of today's cultural and social issues. As an author who has thought deeply about world conditions, she presents political views with conviction.

Islam records all of her words in lower case and renders all of her poems in two columns. After the astrological poems, the middle section of the volume offers 14-line sonnets split in two columns. One of these, "Confronting Global Change," (p. 27) tells of her geological course at University of Toronto and moves seamlessly into the second half concerning the price of cement in Gaza. A man rebuilds his home using sand and limestone. The 'volta' at the end shows how Islam incorporates her university studies into the poem: "I dream seafloor shells, bones / stirring in walls: forgotten, lithified / things buzzing, buzzing beneath a drone's wings." (The double meaning of drones does not go unnoticed.)

Frequently the contents of either column appear unrelated. But on closer study, one becomes aware of their inter-linked content. Such juxtaposition across her columns is intrinsic to her style and creates powerful presentations of her themes, especially in her Parallel Poems section. For example, in "41st Parallel," (pp.70-71) her left half is titled Burlap. It depicts a mother whose son is being pulled from her and thrown into truck. "As I grabbed the truck, / one of them hit me. Another one kicked me, / and I fell." (The author's notes inform us this left half pertains to the Chilean arpillera movement.)

Subject matter of the right half, titled Canvas, concerns two painful historical moments: one, the slave trade of the 19th C., the other, the death of one Marta Ugarte, tortured and murdered for her opposition to Pinochet's military dictatorship. "O aparecida," the poet writes, "your hands, small in life, were very large and had no fingernails." Her words are drawn from an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights report and are elided to become part of the poem.

"Poem for your Pocket," the opening poem, sets the austere tone for this collection. The lines depicts the death of Radnoti, the Hungarian poet who collapsed after a Nazi forced march.

The 'astro poems' follow the opener. In describing her mother, ("Virgo" on pp. 14-15) Islam writes: "first there's the fact that virgo is linked to / astraea, daughter of / eos (titan-goddessof dawn), and that / my mother's mother (a poet) / took for her pen name nurun nahar, / which emits, from the Arabic, daylight."

The second half shares ("because I'm libra and my mother virgo") the poet is sometimes visited by Walcott's woman ("but the older one with the heavier / basket"). Research leads us to Derek Walcott's "The Light of the World" and from this connection we see how Islam's two poem halves form one whole.

"Sagittarious," (pp. 12-13) a lighter poem than most, delivers a bit of humor:

some huge eagle
kept claiming the titan's liver,
after each night of it growing back.

{since we're on the subject,
can we talk about that?
I have a theory:
maybe, maybe,
the eagle had issues
-anaemia or some kind of autoimmunity-
when all the Greeks wanted
was for us to eat more organ meat?}

Islam quotes poet Trethewey in her "Aries" poem, (pp. 10-11) in which, writing of the ram, Islam does not reach out and do the Heimlich maneuver, as her father stands at the sink choking. "That is the threshold I do not cross," she quotes. We wonder, is this a daughter's instinct or manifestation of a social more? Then, "Somewhere / high above this kitchen ceiling / justice rushes a starry vault," she writes, as resolution.

Islam was "Poet of the Month" at The Poetry Extension, 1 October, 2017. In the related interview she states, "I make art not only out of personal pain, but out of a sense of collective or global pain." Readers discover this to be true from her use of many and varied sources: the cries of a Palestinian farmer at the uprooting of his orange trees, Lily Cole's Vice documentary about Syrian refugees fleeing from Turkey to Samos, segments of the civil rights movement in the U.S., the meaning of a death doula's work, the significance of a Japanese proverb, the Witness documentary on the 'Poet of Baghdad,' etc.

From her sources and her inner convictions, Islam crafts a beautifully unique volume. We eagerly await her next publications.

Dora Malech
Carnegie Mellon University Press
9780887486555, $15.95 Paperback, 92 pages

Language manipulation, word play, disassembling, words used for sounds in experimental manner, deliberate morphing of constructs, obvious slant rhymes, effective alliteration, quirky compressions, tantalizing parataxis - these are elements at play in Flourish, a fascinating and accomplished collection of forty-seven poems. Malech's chosen epigraphs preceding each of the four sections of the collection, promote the theme of her title. In many of the poems we discover the element of flourishing, as well.

One such, is "Aubade" (p. 32) a poem about the sun's effect on the traveler and on the fields:
The sun's the only one of us with a direct flight into Eastern Iowa.

What for us would be trespass
across farmers' land, hopping fences
and trampling crops, is the sun's
business, easement, egress.
Or like the eighth stanza of "As I gather," (p.83 cf.)
I know I can't be entirely
alone in hoping birds will use our hair
to build their nests, weave it through the twigs
and straw and string and make of us some
habitable dwelling, or rather, if birds use
our hair to build their nests, I know I can't
be entirely alone.

This poem, first published in New England Review, begins with the hair being pulled, culled of throwaway flyaways, and ends with a cleanup of strays ready to clog the bathtub drain. The poem then delivers its poignant turn: "The culprit's always mine. / Is me," Malech writes, telling us benignly, matter-of-factly, but perhaps not good-naturedly, the fault is always the female's, not the male's.

We can find narrative at work in both of the above citations, but for many of the poems in Flourish, other elements are more important to Malech than narrative. "Personal Device," (p. 25-26) for example, is written in 26 couplets, but often disassembles normal sentence structure, twists expected phrases into something new, and even though narrative manages to show its face, forces the reader to ponder its meaning. The following stanzas (stzs.7 through 13 of the poem) illustrate some of these characteristics:

Larva? Oh, let's say imago (like the night is Jung) as this particular

specimen - Arachnocampa luminosa
(species of fungus gnat's syllable-bedazzled

stage name) - even almost grown glows on and on,
and then, the word (a stage) metamorphoses

into the word (as gate) and imago opens,
multiplies, becomes (God bless you, Latin)

imagines. r u still there? *sends up speech
bubbles* I heart you. Sure it smarts, but still

one can refresh, go for a scroll to clear
one's thread. All tongue tied to all thumbs trips

tremblesome, fumblesome, syntax mis-tapped
to sentiment's sediment, binary

"Peter Piper Speaks and Spells" (pp.38-39) also works wordy magic with tongue-twisty language on the topic of vinegared pickles; they almost sting with their sour bite. (Peter Piper never picked such a peck! say I.) And Malech's phrase "acetic rewind" nearly tickled this reviewer's palate. Many poems in this collection (such as "Portami il girasole...", p. 70) are not easy and require time for comprehension. "Minerals, Mine" (p. 50) delivers a near-political message using the rhythm of a repeated phrase as unifier.

Most of Malech's poems are unrhymed, though many use slant rhyme and skillful enjambment allowing for mid-line rhymes. "Still Life" (p.61), however, is fully rhymed and composed of six quatrains with a straight a-b-a-b rhyme scheme. Here Malech creates a verbal "still life" painted (in poet Rick Barot's words) with "the intricate amplitude of language itself," and engaging enlargement "steeped in granular attentiveness." As Malech gives attention to the objects lying on the table, she shapes things like "free pens from doctors, a stapler's open bite" into a kind of visual canvas. (She is actually a visual artist as well as poet.)

Malech's poetry, ever leaning toward the experimental, nevertheless reveals derivations from past poets - Sylvia Plath is one, and even Emily Dickinson, (as in "Unconditional," p. 18). In the acknowledgements, Malech names Mary Jo Salter as her mentor, who, in turn, studied with Elizabeth Bishop. She offers this volume in memoriam to such prominent poets as J.D. McClatchy and Jane Mead, and lists Rick Barot, Ilya Kaminsky, Mary Ruefle, Cole Swenson, and many others, as her friends and colleagues.

As in Bishop's works, Malech seems to present some of her poems in utter simplicity, then surprises with the unexpected turn at the end. "Dear Reader" (p. 67) does this quite successfully. Some of the poems appear enigmatic, but when studied, reveal a coherent whimsy. "Come Again" (p.55) plays on the comedy of typos and "Euscorpius italicus" ( p.37) on the fear of spiders, both done with commendable control.

The numerous fellowships Malech has received indicate her deep involvement with the discipline and craft of poetry. These include a Baker Artist Award, an Amy Clampitt Residency Award, a Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship, a Civitella Ranieri Foundation Writing Residency, a Glenn Schaeffer Fellowship a Johns Hopkins University Catalyst Award, (she is assistant professor in The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins.) Her publication credits include The New Yorker, The Iowa Review, The Kenyon Review, New England Review, and many other weighted sites. She holds a BA in Fine Arts from Yale University and an MFA in Poetry from the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Flourish is Dora Malech's fourth book of poetry. In its final verse, the poet invites the reader to "pour more sunlight," to celebrate "the act we make of the temporary fact of us," (p. 91), in other words, to flourish. This is, in the main, a volume of poetic eloquence, even as it lays down new poetic fundaments.

This review first appeared at The Compulsive Reader

Carole Mertz, Reviewer

Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf

Margaret Ferry
Mary Flynn
Barlemarry Press
9780692937204, $15.00 paperback, 290 pages
B07D1F2HBP, $2.99 Kindle

Margaret Ferry is hit by oncoming traffic early in story events and is on the verge of death or a long recovery at age eleven. "Something" particular occurs. She not only lives but thrives. She is calm and serene ever after.

Many stories have characters near death who later seem to possess strong intuition, although not always used for good. The magical realism in this book has a positive focus. Settings include a Catholic school, the family home, as well as local neighborhood in the 1950s. It does not proselytize.

This charming story is a mystery wrapped in family secrets and is a satisfying read. Readers will be left astonished and marveling at how this young girl could quietly solve so many relationship troubles.

U.P. Reader -- Volume #2: Bringing Upper Michigan Literature to the World
Mikel Classen, Deborah K Frontiera, and Victor Volkman
Modern History Press
9781615993840, $17.95 paperback, $28.95 hardcover, 124 pages
B07D63M826, $5.95 Kindle

Each of the U.P. Reader Anthologies takes me "home" to up north and the areas around the Lake Superior Circle. Each one has stories that would appeal to most readers, especially those who have lived, traveled, camped, or boated around the big lake. Transport yourself to the heavenly feeling of the forests and people up north. Now, I admit, the Iron Rangers of Minnesota's north are different from the Yoopers of the Upper Penninsula, but we are practically twins in so many ways.

"Tales from the Busy Bee Cafe," "Silent Night," "Bear Woman," "Blueberry Trail," and "SuperiorSailing" all live up to their names. The images formed in my mind before I even began reading. "Yoopers" tells of learning to make pasties with a grandma who reminded me of mine. Well-written, this book is filled with vivid descriptions and lively characters. The stories have become near and dear to my heart.

"A Geology Geek Finds God" brings to mind the millions of rocks found only on the shores of the inland sweet water sea. Flat, smooth from being tumbled by the waves, while being irresistible for picking up and skipping. This scholarly story tells of 63 types of soil with names such as Rudyard Silty Clay Loam which is not to be confused with Pickford Silty Clay Loam. What a compelling, fascinating piece by an environmental health sanitarian. Who knew we wanted to know?

The final piece, "The Last Catch" tells of fishing in a canoe on Misery Bay and is the perfect (sobering) ending for the anthology.

On the House: A Washington Memoir
John Boehner
St. Martin's Press (Macmillan)
9781250238443, $29.99 hardcover, Audiobook $16.53, 288 pages
B08FZ8VWHS, $14.99 Kindle

John Boehner shares the highlights of his life and political life in this critical review of Republicans and Democrats, especially how the Republican party has changed. He considers his Republican Party to be small, fair, accountable, without conspiracy theories. It would not inspire insurrectionists. His language is harsh in many places, and he almost sounds like he is talking to the reader over drinks. That might be because he and his brother used to get up at 5:30 am to help his father prepare for the breakfast crowd at Andy's bar. His father and two brothers owned the bar. There, Boehner learned about people, hard work, determination, the value of every single dollar, and family. There were 12 children and two parents living in a house with two bedrooms and one bathroom. Surprise, they were Democrats!

Boehner writes of buying a bike using lay-by, which allowed him to ride to a golf course and caddy for additional money. Eventually, he worked at every possible job for a teen of the time, such as shoveling snow. He explained that smoking helped him lose 85 pounds at the age of 19. When he married his wife, they had a total of $400 between them. He values the Catholic Church, football, golf, family, as well as his friends.

Most of the information about the author's life was not at all what I expected. I did not anticipate the rough language and swearing. This was all part of the candid and detailed story. He became a Reagan Republican long before it was fashionable. He writes Reagan would not recognize the Republican party of today or be elected now.

Stories of famous people are spread throughout the text. Funny anecdotes and humor make the reading worthwhile. He expresses a few regrets. Mostly he tells what he thinks of political individuals and extreme television news working to make money instead of helping people.

More Than A Memory: Reflections of Viet Nam (Reflections of America)
Victor Volkman, editor
Modern History Press
9781932690651, $21.95 Paperback, $34.75 Hardcover, 232 pages
B003MAK9E2, $6.95 Kindle

Few among us haven't heard of soldiers returning from war and never talking about their experiences. The writers of this book have given voice to all the hard-hitting emotional combat experiences. Wondering what war is really like? Wondering why people get PTSD after tours of duty? Wondering why people are unable to share? Some may find this book shocking, but it is something we should understand war is nothing to be taken lightly.

The 60s, Hippies, and a country that does not welcome returning veterans. Maybe you remember those days. If this book had been available at that time, reading it would have made us realize the truth of the Vietnam war.

Terrible truths are shared in this text. Please read it and be informed of the reality of the Vietnam War and what soldiers endured. 5 Stars!

Carolyn Wilhelm, Reviewer
Wise Owl Factory LLC

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

Wanting Aidan
Alyssa Hall
Friesen Press
9781039104808 $19.99 pbk / $9.99 Kindle

Synopsis: From the author of Trusting Claire comes a compelling new mystery set in Sheffield, South Yorkshire.

When Joe Parrott, a somewhat disillusioned private investigator, discovers the body of a woman near his home, he is determined to do her justice and find the killer. Haunted by her image, he begins his quest for answers. Joe learns that the deceased, Rita, was a runaway from an abusive home. Not only that, but at a young age, she endured a tragic life-changing experience. With the help of an unexpected ally and his friends in the Sheffield Police, Joe begins to unravel the mystery of this young woman, uncovering a shattering revelation that will reverberate through those connected to Rita - and impact his own life as well.

Wanting Aidan is a captivating crime drama that will leave readers wondering about how we each choose the paths we take....

Critique: Wanting Aidan is a haunting murder mystery set in England. When a jaded private investigator finds the corpse of a young woman near his home, he dedicates himself to finding her killer. As he learns more about the case, he uncovers that the woman had a horrific past; she had run away from an abusive home. Wanting Aiden relentlessly draws the reader into Rita's grim story, the detective's determined quest to see justice done, and the rippling repercussions. Compelling and suspenseful to the end, Wanting Aiden is highly recommended to connoisseurs of the genre. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Wanting Aidan is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).

Editor's Note: Alyssa Hall is a true storyteller. She writes from the heart and about places and themes she knows well. She has a knack for effortlessly infusing a vivid sense of place in her stories. Wanting Aidan, her second mystery novel, grew out of Alyssa's love of England, her passion for detective stories, as well as her compassion for people like Rita and Stefan. She is also the author of Trusting Claire (FriesenPress, December 2020). Alyssa cleverly weaves characters from her first book into this second.

Immunity Index: A Novel
Sue Burke
9781250317872, $25.99 hc / $13.99 Kindle

Synopsis: In a United States facing growing food shortages, stark inequality, and a growing fascist government, three perfectly normal young women are about to find out that they share a great deal in common. Their creator, the gifted geneticist Peng, made them that way - before such things were outlawed.

Rumors of a virus make their way through an unprotected population on the verge of rebellion, only to have it turn deadly. As the women fight to stay alive and help, Peng races to find a cure - and the cover up behind the virus.

Critique: Immunity Index: A Novel is a dystopian thriller that hits uncomfortably close to home. Set in a United States of America scarcely one murderous coup away from the present day, where the government is totalitarian, and rampant inequality condemns large swaths of the population to starvation and worse. Then, a horrific disease begins to wreak havoc. Amid the growing chaos, three "perfectly normal" women, created by a genius geneticist, must fight to survive - not only for their own sake, but also possibly for humanity as a species! An intense, thrilling page-turner, Immunity Index is riveting to the very end. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Immunity Index is also available in a Kindle edition ($13.99).

From Lockdown to Knockdown
Richard Ruhling
Independently Published
9798745898945 $8.95 pbk / $4.95 Kindle

Synopsis: America is falling! Some see a collapse coming that could bring martial law and FEMA camps. Our $1 bill says Novus Ordo Seclorum below the pyramid. What's behind the New World Order? The Bible is the all-time best-seller and it has more information on this than most people realize and it could save our lives, especially if we are Christian patriots planning to fight for our gun rights.

When Christ was asked about the end of the world, He said to understand the book of Daniel which has a conflict between a ram and goat. Gabriel said Daniel's vision is "at the time of the end," Dan 8:17. Daniel named Grecia as the kingdom to conquer the Medes & Persians 200 years before it happened, Dan 8:21, but history repeats for our time with the Medes and Persians now as Iraq and Iran! This prophecy is half-fulfilled! Daniel wisely opted out of the king's health plan in Daniel 1. This is also truth about government 'healthcare'--Dr. Colin Campbell, author of the China Study, Prof. Nutrition at Cornell said our medical system is "rotten to the core." Here is information that Rx drugs are the #1 cause of illness, death. If you have health problems, start with health in the Appendix--information that's gotten 5-star reviews in a previous book. Richard Ruhling, MD, MPH was board-certified in Internal Medicine before teaching Health Science at Loma Linda University.

Critique: From Lockdown to Knockdown draws connections between failures in American government systems and Biblical prophecy, especially with regard to incompetence and worse in health care. Remarkably insightful in its logical contrast of Biblical predictions and modern events, From Lockdown to Knockdown is a thought-provoking read that forces one to think carefully about America's structural weaknesses, regardless of personal religious beliefs. Highly recommended. It should be noted for personal reading lists that From Lockdown to Knockdown is also available in a Kindle edition ($4.95).

Bad Moon Rising: A Bad Axe County Novel
John Galligan
Atria Books
9781982166533, $14.99 paperback
B08LDW65L4, $11.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Sheriff Heidi Kick has a dead body on her hands, a homeless young man last seen alive miles from the Bad Axe. Chillingly, the medical examiner confirms what Sheriff Kick has been experiencing in her own reoccurring nightmares of late: the victim was buried alive. As the relentless summer heat bears down and more bodies are discovered, Sheriff Kick also finds herself embroiled in a nasty reelection campaign. These days her detractors call her "Sheriff Mommy" - KICK HER OUT holler the opposition's campaign signs - and as her family troubles become public, vicious rumors threaten to sway the electorate and derail her investigation.

Enter Vietnam veteran Leroy Fanta, editor-in-chief of the local paper who believes Heidi's strange case might be tied to a reclusive man writing deranged letters to the opinions section for years. With his heart and liver on their last legs, Fanta drums up his old journalistic instincts in one last effort to help Heidi find a lead in her case, or at least a good story...

With simmering tension that sweats off the page, Bad Moon Rising infuses newsworthy relevance with a page-turning story of crime in America's heartland, capturing global issues with startling immediacy while entertaining from start to finish.

Critique: A novel of the "Bad Axe County" series set in rural Wisconsin, Bad Moon Rising is about an intense hunt for a serial killer who buries victims alive. Sheriff Heidi Kick has her work cut out for her - bodies are turning up amid the sweltering heat wave, and her reelection campaign turns vicious as her family troubles are put on public display. A choice pick for crime drama connoisseurs, Bad Moon Rising is an intense page-turner that seizes the reader's attention and won't let go! It should be noted for personal reading lists that Bad Moon Rising is also available in a Kindle edition ($11.99).

Editorial Note: John Galligan is the author of the Fly Fishing Mystery series, The Nail Knot, The Blood Knot, The Clinch Knot and The Wind Knot; the Bad Axe County series, Bad Moon Rising, Bad Axe County, and Dead Man Dancing; and the novel Red Sky, Red Dragonfly. He teaches college writing.

Murder and Gold
Ann Aptaker
Bywater Books
9781612942056 $16.95 pbk / $8.69 Kindle

Synopsis: Two women are found murdered. One is Lorraine Quinn, Cantor Gold's most recent one-night-stand. The other is political power broker and aspiring New York socialite Eve Garraway, a regular client of Cantor's stolen art trade.

Police nemesis, Lieutenant Norm Huber, wants to pin the murders on Cantor, send her to prison, and put her in the electric chair. He'll get evidence on her any way he can. Into this cauldron of danger and death come two other women, each with ties to Cantor's past. One hates her until passion intervenes; the other harbors darkly hidden feelings.

Set during the earliest stirrings of the Homosexual Rights Movement, Cantor begins to question her own tenuous identity, and the trade-offs she must make to get what she wants.

Cantor Gold, dapper butch art thief and smuggler for whom survival is everything, must now grapple with two fronts: surviving the shifting sands of the criminal underworld, and navigating the changing tides of society.

Critique: Award-winning author Ann Aptaker presents Murder and Gold, a mystery rife with murder and corruption set in the 1950s, when the concept of LGBT rights was barely acknowledged. Two women are discovered murdered, and one of them was Cantor Gold's most recent one-night stand. Cantor's hate-filled enemy among the police, Lieutenant Norm Huber, accuses her of committing the murders and wants to see her suffer the death penalty. Cantor, a dapper butch art thief and smuggler, needs to navigate the currents of both the criminal underworld and corrupt machinations of the legal overworld to survive! Murder and Gold is a riveting saga of intrigue expense, that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat to the very end. Highly recommended, especially for connoisseurs of the genre. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Murder and Gold is also available in a Kindle edition ($8.69).

Clint Travis

Elan Kluger's Bookshelf

Men, Machines, and Modern Times
Elting E. Morison
MIT University Press
9780262529310, $6.98

More technology, more problems. And more solutions. Elting Morison collected essays that serve multiple purposes. Morison examines in different ways the problem of new technology with societies. He examines bureaucracies. He examines the advent of the Bessemer process. The thread tying them all together is to some extent the history of technology as Morison would make us think from the introduction, but also papers from a dead time - the "essay tradition." These papers collected were submitted to journals and used as lectures. But do they read as what we now associate with journal articles? No, each is a beautiful essay. And for that reason by itself, this volume is worth reading.

The first essay introduces Morison's thinking on technology. A standard New England historian product of the middle 20th century, Morison noted that after graduation, he had thoroughly imbibed the historical mindset that viewed public actors as the ones controlling history. But reading his grandfather's books and researching Admiral Sims since he was writing his biography, Morison came to understand the power of technology in the way it shapes history. Once he recognized this, he wrote "Gunfire at Sea," which tells the story of Sims attempting to get a new type of cannon that could aim independently of the movement of the ship approved by the navy. Once approved, it would go on to restructure naval combat. But after Sims' discovery, he spent years fighting with various bureaucrats. Morison chalks this up not simply to an unknown officer suggesting a radical change, but rather suggesting a change that would affect the "naval community" and lead to something new in an unchanging society. Sims eventually wrote a letter to President Roosevelt and got the new mechanism approved, but it had not been done without great exertion,

While "Gunfire at Sea" is surely the best essay, the others are quite excellent as well. One is an attempt at finding a definition for bureaucracy, which is not just an excellent definition but also an interesting approach he follows in getting at it. Another is an engaging narrative of the discovery of the Bessemer process. While the essays are somewhat uneven, this is a book with many essays to read and reread, and reminds us of a tradition now passed that created many great works.

Elan Kluger, Reviewer

Helen Cook's Bookshelf

From Lockdown to Knockdown, the Fall of America & New World Order
Dr. Richard Ruhling
Total Health Publ.
ASIN: B08YJJSGYZ, $4.95 Kindle; $8.95 softcover, 169pp

Richard Ruhling's "The Fall of America and New World Order" contains some of the most compelling documentation on how a country as great, and strong, as the United States of America can possibly "fall." I cannot imagine the depth of research that went into writing this book.

Not only does the author present the country's historical events and current events but he links them to biblical scripture that coincides with everything that is happening in today's time.
People read bible prophesies but do not have the vision of how they will unfold or realize how relevant they are in the here-and-now.

Ruhling does. And he has a way of explaining to he readers that is straight forward and easy to understand. Anyone that has even an inkling of concern about the state of our union needs to read this book. It will open their eyes to the reality.

Helen Cook, Reviewer
Prime Star Publicity, Texas

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

The Ultimate Guide to Shamanism
Rebecca Keating
Fair Winds Press
c/o Quarto Publishing Group USA
100 Cummings Center, Suite 265D, Beverly, MA 01915
9781592339969, $26.99, PB, 192pp

Synopsis: Shamanism is a religious practice that involves a practitioner who is believed to interact with a spirit world through altered states of consciousness, such as trance. The goal of this is usually to direct these spirits or spiritual energies into the physical world, for healing or another purpose.

A popular spiritual practice today, shamanic practice spans civilizations, continents, and countries. Indeed, it can be traced as far back as humankind itself. It has existed for as long as we as homo sapiens have existed. Today's shamanic practitioner is a mystic, a healer, and a keeper of ancient wisdom. They navigate and balance the seen and unseen energies between the natural world and modern society.

Along with the history of shamanism, readers of "The Ultimate Guide to Shamanism: A Modern Guide to Shamanic Healing, Tools, and Ceremony" will learn these shamanic skills for healing and empowerment including: Calling in the four directions and setting ceremony; Building an altar and setting sacred space; How to work with shamanic tools and power objects; Working with spirit allies, ancestors, and your Higher Self; Shamanic journeying.

Critique: Profusely illustrated and thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "The Ultimate Guide to Shamanism: A Modern Guide to Shamanic Healing, Tools, and Ceremony" is the ideal introduction to the non-specialist general reader with an interest in the subject -- making it an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, community, college, and university library Shamanism and Spiritual Self-Help reading lists and collectons.

Editorial Note: "The Ultimate Guide to..." series from Fair Winds Press offers comprehensive beginner's guides to discovering a range of mind, body, spirit topics, including tarot, divination, crystal grids, numerology, aromatherapy, chakras, and more. Filled with beautiful illustrations and designed to give easy access to the information you're looking for, each of these references provides simple-to-follow expert guidance as you learn and master your particular practice.

Jack Mason

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

He Was Our Man in Washington
Owen Symes
Zero Books
9781789043310 $29.95 pbk / $15.19 Kindle

Synopsis: He Was Our Man in Washington provides a detailed narrative of the years of the Obama administration gravitating around six key topics: the War on Terror, the Great Recession, marginal struggles, the Affordable Care Act, climate change, and the Indigenous struggles that sit at the intersection of the other topics. Each chapter begins with a brief account of the historical context within which the Obama administration acted. The result is a fair-minded but highly critical interpretation of president Obama and his brand of "hope and change," grounded in a reality that goes beyond mere headlines.

Critique: He Was Our Man in Washington: A History of the Obama Years is a historical retrospective of the Obama administration (2008-2016). Chapters focus upon six major topics interconnected with the administration's policies: the War on Terror, the Great Recession, the problems of the margenalized, the Affordable Care Act, climate change, and problems affecting indigenous Americans. He Was Our Man in Washington neither lionizes nor demonizes the Obama administration; instead, every effort is made to critically evaluate the administration's results, while acknowledging that hindsight is 20/20 while decisions made in the moment do not necessarily benefit from such clarity of vision. He Was Our Man in Washington is expertly researched, thoroughly accessible, immensely fascinating, and highly recommended. It should be noted for personal reading lists that He Was Our Man in Washington is also available in a Kindle edition ($15.19).

Editor's Note: Owen grew up in Scranton, PA, and spent his childhood buried in science fiction and history. He attended Hillsdale College, receiving a BA in history and meeting his future wife. Dissatisfaction at work coupled with an increasing political awareness prompted him to turn to writing history full time. He lives in Michigan, where he is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. "He Was Our Man in Washington" is his first book.

John Burroughs

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

Designing Camelot
James Archer Abbott, author
Elaine Rice Bachmann, author
The White House Historical Association
1610 H Street, NW, Washington, DC 20006
9781931917957, $65.00, HC, 392pp

Synopsis: "Designing Camelot: The Kennedy White House Restoration and Its Legacy" is the illustrated story of how, on February 23, 1961, Jacqueline Kennedy launched the most historic and celebrated redesign of the White House in this iconic building's history.

The White House announced Mrs. Kennedy's plan to locate and acquire the finest period furniture, with which the historical integrity of the Executive Mansion's interiors would be restored. Thanks to the vision of the young first lady, who was determined to make her new home the most perfect house in the United States, a committee was formed, a law was passed, donations were sought, a nonprofit partner was chartered, and an inalienable museum-quality collection that would belong to the nation was born.

This illustrated chronicle of the restoration celebrates the sixty-year legacy of one of the most influential interior design projects in American history. With a foreword by Caroline Kennedy, first-person reflections, personal and public correspondence, media accounts, and photographs are included with detailed room-by-room analyses of the restoration, anecdotes about the people involved, and insights into the decisions made by Mrs. Kennedy in transforming the house into the national treasure we know today.

Critique: Impressively informative, exceptionally well written, profusely illustrated, "Designing Camelot: The Kennedy White House Restoration and Its Legacy" is an especially and unreservedly unique and recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library collections.

What to Do When Someone Dies
Nicci French
William Morrow & Company
c/o HarperCollins Publishers
9780062876096, $16.99, PB, 368pp

Synopsis: Ellie Falkner's world has been destroyed. Her husband, Greg, died in a car crash -- and he wasn't alone when it happended. In the passenger seat was the body of Milena Livingstone, a woman Ellie's never heard of. But Ellie refuses to leap to the obvious conclusion, despite the whispers and suspicions of those around her. Maybe it's the grief, but Ellie has to find out who this woman was -- and prove Greg wasn't having an affair. And soon she is chillingly certain their deaths were no accident. Are Ellie's accusations of murder her way of avoiding the truth about her marriage? Or does an even more sinister discovery await her?

Critique: A deftly crafted psychological thriller of a read, "What to Do When Someone Dies" by Nicci French (the pseudonym of English wife-and-husband writing team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) is one of those inherently compelling reads from first page to last. While a high value addition to community library Contemporary Mystery/Suspense/Thriller collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "What to Do When Someone Dies" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).

An Uncompromised Life
Colleen Gallagher
Morgan James Publishing
9781631952760 $16.95 pbk / $8.49

Synopsis: An Uncompromised Life empowers readers to overcome their heartbreaks and trauma, so that they can fall in love with life by understanding how to live a life which does not compromise their soul.

An Uncompromised Life takes readers through Colleen Gallagher's past unhealthy relationship which led her to compromise her soul. From this relationship, an unplanned pregnancy was created. Faced with a life changing decision, and shocked because Western medical doctors told Colleen it would be challenging for her to get pregnant after being diagnosed with cancer at age 14, she chose to let her child go. Through this difficult moment, the name Ella came to Colleen. The name Ella encouraged her to realize that her child was real and would always be with her in her heart. Colleen learned what it truly meant to fall in love with life, find herself, and find the power in living a life uncompromised to the soul. There are 12 lessons that she learned during her beautiful life journey that she has captured and written within An Uncompromised Life to share with readers, so they too can:

Live to their fullest potential;
Understand that miracles exist and will happen for them;
Overcome any trauma that they have gone through; and
Know that they can create an impact-driven business to guide others in their souls' evolution on this planet.

Critique: An Uncompromised Life: Overcome Trauma and Heartbreak, Experience the Unexplainable, and Truly Fall in Love with Life lives up to its title as both a deeply personal memoir, and an inspirational self-help guide that reaches out to the reader. Author Colleen Gallagher speaks candidly about getting too deeply involved with a man who would not be in an exclusive relationship with her, and who did not truly love her. An unplanned pregnancy, which she thought to be impossible due to her medical issues, suddenly forced her to confront a quandary. Unable to bring a child into the world knowing that it would not be born to two parents who loved one another, she made the gut-wrenching decision to let her baby go, terminating the pregnancy six days after conception. An Uncompromised Life presents twelve crucial lessons learned from this painful struggle, from the sad fact that uncontrolled "people pleasing" is similar to a disease, to the value of believing in the adventure of life, and much more. A testimony that cherishes the priceless treasure of love itself, An Uncompromised Life is thought-provoking, emotional, and unforgettable. It should be noted for personal reading lists that An Uncompromised Life is also available in a Kindle edition ($8.49).

Julie Summers

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

Shooting Out the Lights: A Memoir
Kim Fairley
She Writes Press
9781647420673, $24.95, HC

Synopsis: Kim Fairley was twenty-four when she fell in love with and married a man who was fifty-seven. Something about Vern (his quirkiness, his humor, his devilish smile) made her feel an immediate connection with him. She quickly became pregnant, but instead of the idyllic interlude she'd imagined as she settled into married life and planned for their family, their love was soon tested by the ghosts of Vern's past -- a town, a house, a family, a memory.

No ordinary autobiography, "Shooting Out the Lights: A Memoir" is also a real-life mystery that explores the challenges faced in a loving marriage, the ongoing, wrenching aftermath of gun violence and the healing that comes with confronting the past.

Critique: Also readily available for personal reading lists in a paperback edition (9781647421342, $16.95, and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.95), "Shooting Out the Lights: A Memoir" is a deftly written, candidly informative, and inherently fascinating read with particular relevance to community, college, and university library Contemporary American Biography collections, as well as specialized reading lists for Step Parenting, Blended Families, Adoption, and Disabilities issues.

Coming Soon
Rachel Kramer Bussel, editor
Cleis Press
9781627783057 $18.95 pbk / $12.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Multiple orgasms? Oh, yes!

What does it feel like to climax? Coming Soon: Women's Orgasm Erotica offers wild and thrilling tales of female sexual pleasure that explore that question in a variety of wondrous ways. From a fetish that will appeal to any book lover and a waitress who's seduced by her very attractive customers, to the thrill of artificial intelligence that knows exactly how to please a woman sexually, you'll discover how delightful it is to come and come again. Listen about women who like to watch, and others who love to get naked and show it all off.

With 20 erotic stories by popular authors such as Ella Dawson, Katrina Jackson, D. L. King, and Donna George Storey, you'll be turned on every minute. Whether they're enjoying multiple orgasms, playing with sex toys, attending a sex party, or taking a thrilling business trip, the characters in Coming Soon savor every moment of their arousal. Edited by the award-winning Rachel Kramer Bussel, these sexy scenarios range from sex with strangers to the deepest of intimacy among couples, all while reaching the peak of erotic fulfillment.

Critique: Expressly intended for mature readers only, Coming Soon is an extremely sensual, intimate, and explicit anthology of sex stories by various authors. Each story emphasizes the intense pleasure of the female orgasm, in salacious detail. Coming Soon is a "must-read" for connoisseurs of quality female erotica. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Coming Soon is also available in a Kindle edition ($12.99).

Juice & Blend: 7-Day Reset
Jason Vale
Crown House Publishing Company, LLC
81 Brook Hills Circle, White Plains, NY 10605
9781838377700, $17.95 paper
B095CDRMMJ, $9.62 Kindle

Synopsis: Taking inspiration from his two decades of experience in this field, Jason has picked his very best plant-based macro-nutrient blends (fat, protein, carbohydrates) and micro-nutrient juices (vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients) and combined them into one revolutionary 7-day plan.

The book also contains Jason's usual pinch of coaching inspiration, helping to ensure that you breeze through the plan. There are also plenty of bonus juice, blend and even mouth-watering food recipes for after you have completed the 7-day reset.

Critique: Juice & Blend: 7-Day Reset is a weight loss plan with an emphasis on a nutritious diet. This diet relies heavily on juicing and liquidized food. Step-by-step instructions with tips and tricks for sticking to the plan, designed to help one lose up to seven pounds in seven days, are the primary focus of Juice & Blend. Juicing aficionados will enjoy trying out the wide variety of included nutritious recipes, such as "Chia Seed Protein Powerhouse", "Strawberry Coconut Cream", "Bananacado Super Blend", "Gooey Cherry & Almond Pancakes", and much more. Full-color photographs enhance this life-enhancing diet plan and welcome addition to juicing cookbooks collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Juice & Blend is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.62).

Editorial Note: Jason Vale is a well-known health and addiction author who has sold over five million books and over a million apps as well as being the man behind the groundbreaking health documentary Super Juice Me! He is frequently featured on radio and television and in the press across the globe, and his unique approach focuses on the right psychology and nutritional tools to make weight loss and good health easy and attainable for everyone. Jason used to be a heavy smoker, drinker and junk-food addict who also suffered from obesity, asthma, eczema, hay fever and severe psoriasis. Now a changed man, he dedicates his life to helping others improve their health and reduce their waistline in a healthy and sustainable way.

Margaret Lane

Marj Charlier's Bookshelf

A Hand to Hold in Deep Water
Shawn Nocher
Blackstone Publishing
9781094095219, $29.99 Hardcover, $9.99 Kindle, 483 Pages

It is hard to believe, in a way, that "A Hand to Hold in Deep Water" is Shawn Nocher's first novel. It is so accomplished, so intricately constructed that it reads like the work of a novelist with years of practice refining and polishing her craft. It is one of the few books that I have ever picked up to reread nearly immediately after finishing it, because I didn't want it to be over.

Lacey, a single mother of a daughter with a dreadful illness whose own mother ran away when she was a child, is still haunted by her mother's unexplained disappearance, and her daughter's illness makes that loss more poignant. Willy, the man her mother married when Lacey was a toddler, ended up raising her, and when Lacey's daughter, Tasha, is diagnosed and needs treatment closer to his rural Maryland farm, she moves back home.

Lacey's mother May speaks in the novel through her diary, a visceral, painful accounting of her fear, confusion, shame, and naivete, and of years of abuse at the hands of other men. As the title of the book suggests, Willy is one of those "hands to hold in deep water" and a character so deserving it makes May's disappearance all the more inexplicable. Willy may have been able to save her had May not been subject to an insidious force more powerful than love.

Tasha's father, to whom Lacey was never married, makes frequent visits to the farm to help care for Tasha, bringing his goth, angry daughter and lots of the couple's baggage with him. New chances at love for both Willy and Lacey are woven into the novel, leavening the otherwise tough realities of abuse and illness, and keeping the story from feeling Kristin-Hannah-heavy.

Nocher's skillful use of water as a metaphor throughout the novel is one of those things that makes this first novel so impressive. My only reservation is with the ending, on which I can't extrapolate without giving too much away, other than to say it's not as believable as the rest of the book. But that complaint is minor, because it does tie things up nicely, and it satisfies.

I highly recommend this book.

Golden Girl
Elin Hilderbrand
Little, Brown
c/o Hachette Books
9780316420075, $29.00 Hardcover, $17.99 Paper, $14.99 Kindle, 384 pages

Currently (as I write this in the middle of July), Elin Hilderbrand's novel, "Golden Girl," is at No. 8 on the NYT hardcover fiction list. Most of her recent, seemingly countless books have hovered on the list thanks to a devoted following of those who enjoy summer "beach reads." Part of the allure, of course, is the setting, and here again, Hilderbrand sets her story on Nantucket Island, a small community invaded for three months of the year by hordes of tourists.

Usually tourists in such resort-location beach reads provide not only a major character or two, but also a trigger for the plot. Here, however, the story sticks close to home. The protagonist, her ex-boyfriend, her ex-husband, her best friend, her three children and their friends make up the majority of the cast, and the influx of summer visitors is only incidental to the plot. The protagonist and other main characters get to know only one new person of consequence, who, rather than upsetting their insular world, helps bring the novel to its satisfying, romantic end.

In an art-imitates-life way, the protagonist Vivian Howe is so much like Hilderbrand herself, it is likely she didn't even have had to get out of bed to construct this novel. The author has lived on Nantucket for 28 years, and every turn a car makes and every morsel a character eats would have required no going-out-of-the-way research on her part. As an author of historical fiction who spends years researching a single period of ancient history to write a novel that sells 5,000 copies at best, I have to question my sanity. Why do I do that, when this woman simply mines her own life for all the details needed to bring her best-selling cozy mysteries to life?

Vivian, the protagonist, is an author of beach novels and three children She's also dead. Her last novel, also titled "Golden Girl," is just about to be released when she is killed in a hit-and-run car accident. She ascends to a place one might imagine as heaven and gets to watch her friends and family navigate the consequences of her death for the rest of the summer. She also gets a chance to interfere with what happens on earth three times, and her guide in this heaven-like place helps her figure out the best way to use her "nudges." There are plenty of people needing help: her daughter Willa, who desperate to not to lose her current pregnancy after three miscarriages; her daughter Carson, who is hell-bent on breaking every rule and code to get attention and satisfy her need for adventure; and her son Leo, whose undeserving girlfriend threatens to ruin his life. Of course, Vivian could also use a nudge to either grant her forthcoming book No. 1 status on the NYT list or to keep the truths in the novel from reaching a high-school boyfriend and ruining her reputation.

As in all her books, Hildebrand treats her readers to mouth-watering meals and vivid landmarks that makes the story as much armchair tourism as cozy mystery. Artfully written and as generous as always, her tale ends by granting even the worst of motivations and the most cynical of characters a bit of grace and forgiveness so readers can close the book with no regrets for having spent a few more hours of their lives on the golden island of Nantucket.

He's Gone
Deb Caletti
c/o Penguin Random House
9780345534354, $15.00 Paperback, $12.99 Kindle, 354 Pages

I was offered this ebook in a BookBub deal, and otherwise may never have been aware of it, especially since it was released eight years ago, and my book buying usually doesn't stretch back that far. The setting in Seattle made me homesick - I lived for years within a mile of the houseboat on Lake Union where much of the story takes place. That's no reason for others to read it, but there are plenty of other great reasons to pick it up at this late date.

The story begins on a Sunday morning when Dani awakens to find her husband Ian missing. She vaguely remembers the party they went to the night before, and a little about coming home, but her memory has gaping holes in it, as you would expect after a night of heavy drinking. As she, her mother, the police, and others search for Ian, she faces not only the uncertainty about her own role in his disappearance, but also the wrath of Ian's family. Caletti keeps the tension high as Dani searches through her slowly recovering memory, and the truth is finally revealed.

Besides the good use of a mystery/thriller narrative arc, Caletti has created realistic characters, none of whom are without fault. Ian is so much like many of the men I worked with in my 11 years in Seattle tech companies - focused, egotistical, unempathetic, perfectionist and difficult. While Ian is also abusive (I can't say any of my former bosses or co-workers were), and even though he is present only through flashbacks in the novel, he came to life almost viscerally for me. Meanwhile, Dani is also flawed, but sympathetic, and has a great relationship with her grown daughter. She still falls for men for all the wrong reasons (don't we all?) and finds it hard to extricate herself from these tough places (don't we all?).

The novel is one of those that is hard to put down, as cliche as that sounds. I read it quickly, not going to bed on time, and getting up early to finish it.

Ladies of the House
Lauren Edmondson
Graydon House
c/o Harlequin/HarperCollins
9781525895968, $16.99 Paper, $9.99 Kindle, 384 pages

I may be the only American woman in the current era who does not consider herself a fan of Jane Austen. But the fact that "Ladies of the House" bills itself as a modern retelling of "Sense and Sensibilities" didn't dissuade me from reading it. I picked it up because it is a tale of women in politics, a topic we rarely see explored in fiction. And I do love politics. (Or I used to, anyway, until ... well, you know.) Both fiction and biography about political women has typically been focused on wives of politicians, the exceptions in only very recent times being biographies and memoirs of the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Samantha Power (whose book, "Education of a Liberal," I think is the best of them all).

To the plot: Daisy Richardson's father - a man she revered and followed into politics - dies in bed with a mistress, and if that weren't bad enough, it turns out he was stealing from taxpayers and his donors to fund the lifestyle to which his wife and two daughters had become accustomed. And that's not the only scandal to follow him into the grave.

Daisy, her mother, and her younger sister navigate the shark-filled waters of Washington's politics, move out of the family home, and attempt to avoid further controversy. But her sister falls for a most inconvenient (and politically opposed) man, and her mother struggles to hang onto some semblance of respectable public persona and financial stability. And Daisy is asked to help an old, best friend write an expose about her father.

The plot thickens but it doesn't surprise. I'm not sure if the ending was predetermined by the denouement one would expect from a novel that patterns itself after Austin or whether it's predictable because it would otherwise disappoint readers who expect some hope in romance. But the plot's ending probably isn't as important as the rewards: the bad guys get what they deserve, and most of the good guys come out happy or at least no worse off.

The Four Winds
Kristin Hannah
St. Martin's Press (Macmillan)
9781250178602, $28.99 Hardcover, $14.99 Kindle, 464 Pages

Sometimes I wonder if the reason readers buy and love Kristin Hannah's books is because there's so much to them. So many words that is. The writing, pedestrian and serviceable, works to deliver the lengthy plot, many characters and action scenes told over many years and long distances. All a reader needs to enjoy her books is plenty of time on their hands.

In the case of "The Four Winds," enjoy may not be the operative word. You may to enjoy the first 57 pages of this novel, but after that, things get bleak and the joy can only come from having so much to read, not from the story itself. Following the characters into the world of the Dust Bowl and the miserable existence of migrant workers in the valleys of California's fruit and vegetable farms isn't something to relish. It's something to endure. This novel is so bleak that unless you love wallowing in sorrow and pain, you may do what I did: read the first 100 pages and then jump to the end to see if there's a chance that anything good is going to happen. (I won't spoil it by telling you if there is.)

The novel starts at the end of WWI, when Elsa is an old maid in her mid-twenties, kept mostly hidden from the world by her parents, who are embarrassed of her homeliness and size and ostensibly worried that a childhood illness portends a fragile adulthood. Tired of her limited experiences and hopelessness, she ventures out and meets Rafe, a younger man who takes advantage of her naivete to get what he wants from her. Her mother discovers her pregnancy, and Elsa is married into Rafe's farm family, where she unexpectedly finds a home, a purpose and fulfillment.

Although unhappily married, farm life suits Elsa. But then the Depression and drought comes to the panhandle of Texas, and she is forced to take her children from the dried up and dying farm of her in-laws and travel to California with other Dust Bowl evacuees. Among other tragedies, Elsa alienates her daughter by refusing to support the labor movement that is fighting for dignity and a living wage for farmworkers like themselves. Brace yourself - life gets even harder for Elsa the next 400 pages.

The research the author needed to do to portray the period and the geography is impressive and for that, she deserves all the five-star ratings the book has garnered. The word immersive may be overused in literary criticism, but the settings and life experiences Hannah depicts in this novel make it impossible to escape the dreadful realities of the time she describes. For better or worse.

Why Didn't You Just Do What You Were Told?
Jenny Diski
Bloomsbury Publishing
9781526621900 $28.00 Hardcover, $18.00 Paper, $9.99 Kindle, 311 Pages

Jenny Diski was a British columnist, and as such, she often made cultural or political references that go over my head. But that didn't stop me from thoroughly enjoying this collection of book reviews and essays written for the London Review of Books. Erudite, opinionated, and LOL funny, she tackles subjects as diverse as "death, motherhood, sexual politics and the joys of solitude," in the words of her publisher, to which I would add psychiatric wards, the use of arsenic in murder and housewifery.

When she tears into a biography or other non-fiction tome, you may cringe in sympathy for the author, but it's tough to disagree wholeheartedly with her analysis, as biting as it is. In the case of memoir and biography, her wit is aimed not only at the writer and the book, but also at their human subjects, which range from Howard Hughes and Princess Di to Keith Richards and Richard Branson.

While most of these pieces are reviews for books published long ago (in internet time), the political, economic, sociological, and psychological points she makes are timeless. I dipped in and out of this book over four weeks, enjoying a bit at a time, and found myself disappointed when I ran out of material. Sadly, we'll get no more; Diski died from cancer at the age of 69 in 2016.

Marj Charlier, Reviewer

Mark Walker's Bookshelf

Monkey Boy
Francisco Goldman
Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
9780802157676, $27.00

The Long Night of White Chickens was my introduction to Francisco Goldman, the author who I selected to review due to his connections to Guatemala, and I've been a fan ever since. Though born in Boston, his mother is a Catholic Guatemalan, his father Jewish American, so his life started off with an intriguing combination of influences. The book is a tense, almost surrealistic detective story that opens windows on the Latin American reality of State Sponsored assassinations, marabunta youth gangs and organized crime.

His next book, Say Her Name, is an evocative story of love and loss between the author and the woman he fell in love with and married, writer Aura Estrada. Tragically, a month before their second wedding anniversary, Aura breaks her neck body surfing. To deal with the loss and deep-seated feelings of guilt, Goldman chronicles his unspeakable loss, and the stages of grief when love and passion give way to inexplicable pain.

The author recalls memories from their university days in Mexico City, her studies at Columbia University, their early years together in New York City, and the exhilaration of youthful travels in Mexico and Europe. Humor and humility lighten the pain of the author's overwhelming loss.

Covering the wars in Central America in the 1980s for Harper's magazine led Goldman to write The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?, an extraordinary piece of investigative journalism that examines the assassination of Guatemalan Catholic Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi Conedera by the Guatemalan military.

Bishop Gerardi, Guatemala's leading human rights activist, was bludgeoned to death in the parish garage, which is only a few hundred feet from the government's most sophisticated security units and surveillance apparatus. The murder took place just two days after a groundbreaking church-sponsored report was released that implicated the military in the murders and disappearances of some 200,000 civilians. Under continuous threats and intimidation, Goldman doggedly tracks down and interviews witnesses that no other reporter or authority is able to access and reports first-hand some of the crucial developments in the case unfolding before him. The book was recently made into an HBO documentary in which Goldman, dramatically, adds critical context drawn from the months he spent investigating the murder.
This book is especially interesting because I've been working on a documentary that will explore the causes for the current migrant crisis: why so many Indigenous are fleeing Guatemala. Our documentary, Trouble in the Highlands, covers many of the same issues that Goldman covered, including political corruption, military crimes, and the human rights abuses that Bishop Gerardi's report exposed.

We are pleased that Francisco Goldman has agreed to be interviewed for our documentary. [In addition to Goldman, we recently added new team members and updated the website; see:

Naturally, as soon as I learned that Goldman has a new book out that is largely "autobiographical", I ordered Monkey Boy. I was especially interested in its designation as a "novel" rather than autobiography (as reviewers have pointed out). In a revealing interview with Rachel Kushner for LitHub, he explains the importance of changing the surname of his lead character:

So, yeah, that "-man" to "-berg" makes a big difference. It's a first decisive step into fiction, into turning myself into a character that's going to move and act and think within a fiction. It's freeing myself from "myself," from any duty to be faithful to the "known facts," as I might be if I were writing an autobiography, even if many of the components I may be giving to "Frankie Goldberg" are, in fact, drawn from my own life.

Walking the fine line between literary fiction and autobiography gives the author flexibility to fill in the gaps with fictional material that enhances the story.

In the interview, he explains the key role that several women play in the story - his former Mexican wife, Aura, his mother, sister and grandmother:

There's also my Guatemalan grandmother, Abuelita, definitely a strong and eccentric woman who I adored, and the women she sent up to Boston to help my mother with housework and looking after us so that she could go to college, eventually becoming a college Spanish professor.

In the novel, Frankie Goldberg visits two of those women.

As an adolescent, I had a talent for turning unrequited loves into friendships. Later my friendships with women didn't require such painful beginnings. All my adult life, I've had strong male friendships, too, in the U.S., in Mexico and Central America. But in the U.S., most of my closest friends are women. I guess I just enjoy their conversation and sense of humor and way of being in the world more, and I think I also relate to them more.

Jewish Italian writer, Natalia Ginzburg, helped the author learn one important, revealing lesson on coming from a diverse, cultural background, " artificial the racial and ethnic categories we're boxed into are, and that there's no such things as being "half and half" anything, that we're only fully what and who we are..."

The author reveals some interesting connections between his family and their friends to some important times in Guatemala's history and shows how he can speculate what might have been by edging his commentary into the realm of fiction:

Did the United Fruit bilingual secretary, Lolita Ojito, ever filch a note or diary page in which Freud's nephew had scribbled something like "If this is gonna work, boys, we gotta get the archbishop on board, and pronto" and bring it to her best friend in Our Lady's Guild House, so that she could give it to the consul, who would pass it directly to President Arbenz, maybe in time to save the day? Doesn't seem so. At any rate, the day was never saved. Questioning Mamita (the author's mother) about the coup had turned out to be futile. If only I'd thought to ask her about it years ago. If only.

The speculation is even more compelling when the author reveals that his mother knows the ambassador, Cabot Lodge, and the upper crust Bostonian "Brahamins" who are employed by United Fruit Company. The author goes on to reveal the origins of his nickname in life, "Monkey Boy," as well as behind the scenes details of the key witness, which leads to the conviction of at least some military personnel responsible for killing the Bishop.

This book is powerful on so many levels and provides additional insights into the author's previous works. As Publishers Weekly correctly points out, "Captivating...Goldman's direct, intimate writing alone is worth the price of admission." And Kirkus's starred review states, "The warmth and humanity of Goldman's storytelling are impossible to resist."

About the Author:

Francisco Goldman has published five novels and two books of non-fiction. His books have been published in 16 languages. Francisco Goldman has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Cullman Center Fellow at the NY Public Library, and a Berlin Fellow at the American Academy. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He also received a 2017 Barnes & Nobel Writers for Writers Prize, and PENMexico's 2017 Award for Journalistic and Literary Excellence. He has written for The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, Harper's, The Believer, and many other publications. He directs the Aura Estrada Prize ( He lives in Mexico City.

Mark D. Walker, Reviewer

Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf

Ashenden Or The British Agent
W. Somerset Maugham
ASIN: B07PDNB45C, $1.99 eBook

For the spy novel aficionado from a grandfather of literary spy works, a collection of stories, each with intrigue, mystery, complex characters and an observant British agent.

For aficionados of literary spy novels, this book is a must read. Maugham's work inspired writers like le Carre and Furst, to name only two. The writing is brilliant. On every page there is a phrase to underline. There are no cheap thrills, like those you find in Clancy and Fleming novels, no "shaken not stirred" stuff.

There is suspense, of course, as Ashenden always manages to find himself in a pickle. But he never does so without an astute observation about his fellow man: "Though he had both esteem and admiration for the sensibility of the human race, he had little respect for their intelligence: man has always found it easier to sacrifice his life than to learn the multiplication table." The book moves through a series of episodes, each introducing complex characters with whom Ashenden has been instructed to interact by his handler, R. In Geneva, the first episode, the reader gets to know Ashenden. In one scene, he muses in his bath, recollecting the two policeman who had visited him, followed by the clumsy spy, Bernard, and then the large sales woman in the market place who pulled a secret note from between her "voluminous breasts" and handed it to him with his change for the butter he was purchasing. Perhaps, Winston Churchill, known for working from his bath tub, was inspired by this scene. And then there was a wonderful character, Miss King, a governess for "two fat princesses," who asked for Ashenden after she'd had a stroke in the middle of the night and then managed to speak to him only one word. Next comes an episode in Italy with the "Hairless Mexican," a man meant to be Ashenden's collaborator but managed to stumble his way, comically, through a number of endeavors to a disastrous result. Several episodes of the same ilk follow, with engaging characters and stories: Giulia Lazzari, the mistress of a man wanted for espionage, the Caypor's, a German couple, and the British ambassador, Sir Herbert Witherspoon, to name a few. The final one, and perhaps the best, takes place in Russia with the unforgettable American Mr. Harrington and Anastasia Alexandrovna, a flamboyant member of the Russian intelligentsia. It's concluding scene is like the final volley of rockets in a fireworks display.

Like all of Maugham's novels, the plot and character development in Ashenden show a human side to the spy's world. It is what makes a spy story literary, and is also found in le Carre's Smiley novels and Furst's Night Soldier series. These literary spy novels use life as the grist for the plot that is baked. And what of a spy's work? For the most part it is monotonous, and it's adventures are ordinarily pointless, even if at times briefly mysterious and dangerous. In Maugham's words, the storyteller must take a spy's ordinary life and "make it coherent, dramatic and probably." This is what separates the literary spy novel from the others. And it is why a spy novel aficionado enjoys Maugham, le Carre and Furst.

Yours Cheerfully
AJ Pearce
c/o Simon & Schuster
9781501170096, $21.99 HB

An uplifting novel, full of spirit for the good fight.

The protagonist in the novel, Emmy, was a person one would certainly welcome as a best friend. She was a good hearted woman, a champion, and a mate one would trust and rely upon without a moment's hesitation. Many heroines fit that bill, and the story demonstrates that many were living in England during the blitz of World War II.

The story has a parade of characters fighting for the good cause. Bunty, Emmy's best friend and flat mate, was seriously injured in a London bombing raid, and her fiance killed. Mr. Collins, Emmy's editor at the magazine Women's Friend, inspired and supported her when she took up the cause for the downtrodden women factory workers at Chandlers. And Charles, Emmy's fiance, accompanied her to the Patriotic Parade in Berkshire on the morning of their wedding. Of course, the was no shortage of villains in the novel. Mr. Terry was the factory manager, a man who had no tolerance for a woman's personal problems, such as child care. He told Emmy during an interview to "Stick to writing stories for your ladies, Miss Lake. And leave me to run my factory." But as villains go, Mr. Terry had stiff competition from Miss Eggerton of the Ministry, who told Emmy that "mothers' true places are in their homes with their families."

Yours Cheerfully is an uplifting novel, full of spirit for the good fight, and a positive look at England's desperate times during World War II. The characters are every bit as strong and courageous as the country's Spitfire pilots, and contributed in equal measure to the war effort. A cynic might complain that the story ignores the awful destruction of the City of London and the deaths at Dunkirk and then Normandy. That misses the point. The war was won by the positive endeavors of citizens like Winston Churchill and Emmeline Lake. These men and women persevered when the cynics wanted to lay down in the ruins and give up. Yours Cheerfully brilliantly depicts the positive attitude that was England's best weapon.

Mark Zvonkovic, Reviewer

Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf

The Madmen's Library: The Strangest Books, Manuscripts and Other Literary Curiosities from History
Edward Brooke-Hitching
Chronicle Books
9781797207308, $29.95
B091GK68WP, $15.19

Books are the lifeblood of the history of our world. Books have started wars, caused theological and political debates, and provided the information that has forged alliances since the dawn of humanity. However, books have also been quite strange. The Madman's Library: The Strangest Books, Manuscripts and Other Literary Curiosities from History, (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2020, 256 pgs, $29.95), chronicles oddities from the world of books and the collections of individuals who might be considered just as strange. Author Edward Brooke-Hitching has created a masterful collection of the weirdest works of fiction and non-fiction. These books are prized pieces of collections from the United States and United Kingdom to China and the widest reaches of the former Soviet Union.

Brooke-Hitching writes about books crafted out of human skin and the stomachs of pigs. He discusses books that are less than three inches in total mass as well as books that are over seven feet high. These books have brought millions of dollars as well as the anger of the church. They consist of books instructing the reader on ways to outsmart the devil as well as the colorful language of portions of Great Britain. Brooke-Hitching has provided an easy to read narrative that accompanies the wonderful pictures and reproductions of book covers and supporting illustrations.

The Madman's Library is an essential read for anyone interested in the history of books and their culture. It is amazing to contemplate how many books are printed daily that are considered normal and easy reading. It is also amazing to consider how many books are printed daily that could easily have been described in this great book. The Madman's Library reads similar to a suspense filled thriller. Anyone interested in books should reserve a special place on their shelf for this page filled book.

Matthew W. McCarty, EdD.

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

Apocalypse Cancelled
Luke Mella
Independently Published
9781708596699 $TBA

Synopsis: They said it was the end. We acted accordingly. They were wrong. Now what? (Please note: This anthology is strictly for adults!) Every science organisation, every government and every news agency were in agreement... It was the end. In three weeks an asteroid would hit the Earth. An asteroid bigger than anything our technology could divert or destroy. An asteroid that would fracture the Earth and wipe out all life as we knew it.

Week 1: Denial. Week 2: Acceptance. Week 3: Chaos... Week 4: Now what? They were wrong: it missed us completely. Now we must go back to our lives, back to our families, back to our jobs - changed by the knowledge of what we all did during that time. These are our stories...

Critique: Apocalypse Cancelled is a short story anthology where all the tales revolve around the premise: what if the impending apocalypse... didn't happen? If the entire world were convinced that they had only three weeks to live - yet suddenly, they had more? Ranging in tone from quirky, to darkly serious, to very much adults only, Apocalypse Cancelled is provocative, attention-grabbing, and highly recommended!

Michael J. Carson

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

Guru Nanak: First of the Sikhs
Demi (author and illustrator)
Wisdom Tales
9781937786892, $17.95 hardback

The Story Of Guru Nanak For Children

Guru Nanak (1469 -- 1539) was the founder of the Sikh religion which today numbers over 25 million adherents. The story of Guru Nanak and his teachings are related in this beautiful children's book, "Guru Nanak: First of the Sikhs", written and illustrated by Demi, a celebrated author of over 300 children's books, many on spiritual themes. The book is designed for children between 4 and 8 year of age.

The book uses Sikh legends and poetry to tell the story of Nanak centering upon his teachings of "the worship of one God, treating everyone equally, honest work, sharing, and service." The first half of the book tells of Nanak's birth and Hindu childhood which culminates in an epiphany in which Nanak is called to heaven. He learns:

"There is but one God,
the sole supreme Being,
and the ultimate reality.
True is His Name."

In the second part of the book, Guru Nanak travels for twenty-five years and spreads his message of "one God, universality, and equality" to many lands, to people of different faiths, and to people from all walks of life and social classes. Nanak sings a hymn:

"God is everywhere, in every direction.
And the true God is within."

The story concludes with Guru Nanak's death on September 22, 1539. The book includes a map showing the travels of Guru Nanak together with a short summary of the basic teachings of Sikhism.

This book is inspiring to read and will give children and their adult readers much to discuss. Many readers will likely be unfamiliar with the Sikhs and will be surprised to learn of the relatively recent origin of Sikhism. Children can think about Guru Nanak and his message.

This book is part of a series of children's books published by Wisdom Tales which explores religious and spiritual teachings from around the world. I think it valuable for children, and adults, to learn and to think about the diversity of spiritual traditions. The book about Guru Nanak is both valuable for itself and valuable for its place in a series of children's books exploring different spiritualities. I have learned a great deal from reading and from having the opportunity to review these books over the years. Wisdom Tales kindly sent me a review copy.

First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How that Shaped Our Country
Thomas E. Ricks
9780062997456, $29.99

First Principles For Independence Day

Every Fourth of July, I try to review a book that celebrates the themes of the day. This year, the choice is Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas Ricks' acclaimed book, "First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How that Shaped our Country". (2020) The book discusses the Declaration of Independence at some length and even includes the full text as an Appendix. It is difficult to imagine a work more suitable for Independence Day.

Ricks states that he received the idea for his book following the presidential election of 2016 when he felt the need to reconsider what the United States was about. He began with a reading of Aristotle's "Politics" followed by the Declaration of Independence and other formative American documents. He gradually decided to focus on how the Founders were educated and the books that they read. He concluded that the works of the Ancient Greeks and Romans were more influential on the Founders that the work of John Locke, for example, who is commonly thought a crucial influence. Thus, Ricks' book traces the influence of the Greeks and Romans on the first four presidents, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison and explores what this influence teaches about the founding of our country and what may be learned today from the Revolutionary generation's encounter with the classical world.

The book covers a great deal of material in a brief scope. It begins with young George Washington's experiences in the early stages of the French-Indian War, covers the following rift with Britain which led to the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War, and takes the reader through the Articles of Confederation and the subsequent Constitutional Convention. Ricks discusses the administrations of each of the first four presidents and explores the decline of the classical influence and the rise of parties and interest-based politics. The book concludes with Ricks' thoughts on what Americans today may learn from this history.

For Ricks, the Roman influence on the Founders predominated over the Greeks, with the exception of Thomas Jefferson and it centered on the concept of virtue. For the Founders, as for the Romans, virtue meant putting aside one's private interest in an effort to act for the common good. The concept of virtue derived from the years of the Roman Republic and from the classical figures who sought to preserve it. His book traces the influence of the Romans on Greeks on the different Founders at different stages of their lives. Washington, the only one of the first four presidents who lacked a college education, showed in his life and actions the greatest bearing of a classical Roman. In Ricks' account, as in the accounts of many historians, Washington is the indespensable and the greatest of the Founders. The second key Founder was James Madison with his devotion to learning and to constitutionalism. Madison was able to see as well, the limitations of the Roman model and to make changes for the new American republic. While recognizing their importance, Ricks tends to be less favorably disposed to John Adams, in particular, and to Jefferson.

With respect to the Declaration of Independence, Ricks discusses who Jefferson tried to write a document understandable and inspiring to the many people who lacked a strong formal education. The Declaration was influenced by Thomas Paine's pamphlet "Common Sense" and, according to Ricks, by the philosophy of Epicurus more than by John Locke. Although I learned from Ricks' account, I was not fully convinced.

Ricks praises the Founders for their study of classicism and of virtue. He properly finds classical republicanism had its strong limitations in that it put aside the force of personal self-interest and the power of politics. Most importantly, classical republicamism accepted the existence of slavery which, Ricks concludes, "would prove disastrous to the nation they designed". They "sustained a system that was deeply inhumane and rested on a foundation of sexual and physical abuse, including torture."

I found "First Principles" an inspiring book for Independence Day. I enjoyed Ricks' writing and I especially enjoyed revisiting the Founders and their efforts. Ricks book shows how much still may be learned from a study of America's early history, through both its great achievements and its large shortcomings.

In the Epilogue to his book, Ricks draws ten lessons from his history for today's Americans. The ten seem to me of varying merit but several are highly insightful. Ricks counsels Americans to remember that we are not the first to face difficult times and unenlightened leadership. He also advises Americans, wisely, to "know your history" and to study. With specific reference to the Declaration of Independence, Ricks advises his readers to "Rehabilitate 'happiness'". His discussion is worth quoting.

"Today many Americans tend to think of 'happiness' mainly in terms of pleasure-seeking, usually in physical form -- sex, food, alcohol, sports, and video games that excite the senses. But by focusing on feeding the flesh we risk starving the mind and spirit. We need to appreciate the Enlightenment's broader, richer notion of happiness and make it again about finding one's place in the world, enjoying what we have and what we see in it, and appreciating the beauty of the Earth during our short time on it. None of that prescription would be a surprise to Jefferson. We should remember that as he laid out his path to happiness, the fourth of the Epicurean ideals he listed was 'justice'."

"First Principles" is a worthy book for Americans to read to think again about our history and its significance.

Four Novels of the 1950s
Ross Macdonald, author
Tom Nolan, editor
Library of America
9781598533767, $37.50 hardback

Ross Macdonald In The Library Of America -- The 1950s

The Library of America publishes the best of American writing in many genres. Many works in the series suggest how American writing combines popular and literary elements to produce unique, valuable styles. The combination of popular and literary elements is nowhere more apparent than in the crime novel. The LOA published works by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, among others, and followed it up with this collection "Four Novels of the 1950s" by the American writer Ross Macdonald. The volume collects four works that feature Macdonald's famous detective, Lew Archer, each of which is recounted in Archer's inimitable voice.

Ross Macdonald, (1915 -- 1983), the pseudonym of Kenneth Millar, was born in California but spent most of his younger life in a wandering existence in Canada when his father abandoned the family. Ultimately Macdonald was able to attend college and to earn a PhD in English literature. He served in the U.S. Navy during WW II. It is easy to see in Macdonald's writings the combination of disparate elements: a wealthy life in California and poverty in Canada, the intellectual world of English literature and Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the murky world of crime stories, the abandonment of a child at an early age and its consequences.

Macdonald became famous for his Lew Archer character and the LOA has collected eleven of his Archer novels in three volumes, beginning with this volume of four early novels. Tom Nolan, a biographer and scholar of Macdonald, edited and prepared the contents of each volume together with notes.

Each novel in this volume is set primarily in the suburbs of southern California and shows the tensions, greed, and violence underlying what appear to be prosperous, complacent lives. The volume offers the opportunity to read the novels in a series and to see how they develop. I came to see the novels both as individual works and as part of a developing series.

The first novel, "The way some people die" (1951) is the third in the Lew Archer series and the book in the LOA compilation that owes the most to its predecessors in crime fiction. It is a dark tale that begins simply enough when a mother seeks Archer's help in finding her 24 year old daughter who has disappeared. The book quickly blossoms into a tour of the southern California underworld with its violence, drugs, and sleaze. The book features descriptive, tight writing and outstanding characterizations together with its complex plot.

The second novel "The Barbarous Coast" (1956) is the sixth in the Archer series and features crime and corruption in the movie and gambling industries under the surface of an exclusive private club. A young sportswriter from Canada seeks Archer's help in finding his lost wife. Again, much lies below the surface as the story explodes into a series of killings. To my mind, this book was the least successful in the LOA volume.

The following two novels show a great deal of change as the elements of a crime novel are combined with reflections, influenced by both Freud and the ancient Greeks, on the nature of family life and on the struggle of children to find identities of their own. The books explore broad questions about appearance and reality and the nature of right and wrong.

"The Doomsters" (1958) the seventh of the Archer novels, shows the redoubtable detective drawn into the dark side of the affairs of a wealthy California family, the owner of an orange grove. Archer assists a young man who has just escaped from a mental institution in investigating the death of his father. Several people will meet violent deaths as the investigation runs its course. But the force of the novel lies in its growing reflections on family, on guilt, and on morality. The reflections involve both those involved in the doomed family and Archer himself. "The Doomsters" is the novel in the series that reveals the most about Archer's past and about his motivations for his detective work.

The final novel in this compilation and the eighth in the Archer series, "The Galton Case", may well be Macdonald's masterwork. It begins when Archer is hired by a wealthy California widow and her lawyer to search for her long-lost son who has disappeared 20 years earlier. Archer reluctantly undertakes this seemingly cold case. His work will take him from California to Nevada to Michigan and to a small dilapidated rooming house just over the border in Canada. The story involves two seemingly unrelated murders and, most importantly, the identity of a young man claiming to be the widow's grandson and thus the presumptive heir of her large estate. The book integrates masterfully the suspense features of crime fiction and the broader questions of personal identity, family, and independence. In "The Galton Case", Macdonald succeeds in transforming the formulaic elements of a crime novel to literature.

The volume also includes five essays and letter by Macdonald which cast light on his approach to writing and to the crime novel. Of these, I found his "Writing 'The Galton Case'" and "Down these streets a mean man must go" particularly good.

The novels had a cumulative effect on me as I continued to read. I enjoyed each novel individually as well with the partial exception of "The Barbarous Coast." I find it valuable to explore American literature in all its variety, breadth and depth in helping to appreciate our country and different ways of understanding. Thus, I was glad to read Macdonald through this compilation in the Library of America.

Robin Friedman

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

More Than One Way
Zandra Strother
Independently published
9798519679701, $14.99

Karl escapes from New York to avoid dental school by going to Guyana to reopen his family's sugarcane plantation. Danforth (Will) Williams has seen his future - the same as his father's - working in the Kaietuer gold mine and rejects it by running away from there after his first day of work. The two men intersect when the carriage Karl is taking to the plantation loses a tire. Will takes over many of the supervisory aspects of the plantation.

When an Amerindian bush girl is killed in an incident that may or may not be related to the plantation, Karl, rather than face the consequences, abandons his project and returns home. He lies to Will and doesn't deliver on a promised ticket to America. Will is forced to find his own way there and soon learns how black men survive in the city. He takes odd jobs and fanatically saves money until he can purchase real estate. He builds a real estate empire and begins sponsoring his family members to come to the States, first his nephews then finally his niece.

I was intrigued by the glimpse this book provides into the Guyanese diaspora, something entirely unknown to me before this. It's an own-voices look at a family history. I was disappointed that the story didn't carry further once the niece joins Will in New York. Perhaps the author will pen the next volume.

The Time Has Come
Laurence O'Bryan
Independently published
9798523364198, $12.99

Devlin Lang, a brilliant app developer, is wanted by the US military to fix an quantum experiment in Colorado that has gone out of control, creating a time warp. At the same time, he's funding an archeological dig in Ireland, looking for the Ark of the Covenant. At the same time,

Rachel Davis, a troubled archaeologist, is digging in Mount Sinai where the Ark may also lie. She's buried alive during a earthquake at that dig. After her rescue, she's whisked off to Ireland to translate an engraving in ancient Hebrew.

This is a fast-moving thriller with lots of research and nice references to quantum physics. The chapters rotate between three points of view, are short, and pull the read right along. However, it is written in present tense which I found irritating as I tend to associate that with young adult novels and chick lit. The Time Has Come was okay, but I doubt I'd read other books by this author.

The Hollywood Spy
Susan Elia MacNeal
9780593156926, $27.00

The Hollywood Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal is the tenth in the Maggie Hope Mystery series. I found I could read it without having read the prior nine. When I like a series, I tend to backtrack and read all the other books. I started somewhere in the middle of Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon series, then found the others in the series and read them in order. When a new Silva book comes out, it's one of my auto-buys on Amazon. Unfortunately, I could barely make it through The Hollywood Spy. It was okay, just not fantastic.

Set during World War II, at the point the war is turning in favor of the Allies, Maggie is asked by John Sterling, her former boyfriend, to travel to California to solve the suspected murder of his fiance. At the introduction to each character is a long description of what he/she is wearing, often running several lines, thus breaking up the interaction between the characters.

I did enjoy the revelations that showed Hollywood wasn't the golden place people assume it was. Underneath the swanky, sunny exterior lies a dark world filled with Nazis and KKK members who collude with policemen on the take. The hatred and Whites-First rhetoric spewed by these groups mirrors much of what is being said by right-wing nationalists. There is so much historical detail, so much name-dropping and scenes contrived so that those names could be dropped, that they too break up the forward momentum of the already rather-weak plot.

The story was rather simplistic without significant twists or ah-ha moments. I prefer spy stories with a bit more "meat" (see comments above about the Gabriel Allon series).

A Fiancee's Guide to First Wives and Murder
Dianne Freeman
Kensington Books
9781496731609, $26.00

I've followed Dianne Freeman's Lady's Guide mysteries since the first book in the series, A Lady's Guide to Etiquette and Murder. This novel moves into the next phase of Frances Wynn's story as she becomes George Hazelton's fiancee, thus the change in title to A Fiancee's Guide to First Wives and Murder.

Frances Wynn, the Countess of Harleigh, is an American heiress living in Victorian England, after the death of her philandering husband. In conjunction with George, she has solved three prior mysteries. Frances is spunky, intelligent, fiercely independent. She is joined by her daughter Rose, her mother, and her aunt Hetty.

A Fiancee's Guide to First Wives and Murder is a witty mystery. Freeman wonderfully recreates London of the late 1800s, not merely time and place, but the lifestyles and societal norms of the Victorian Era. She juggles multiple plot lines as well. The big question to be solved here is George already married? And who kills his purportedly first wife?

Where the Truth Lies
Anna Bailey
Atria Books
9781982157166, $27.00

Where the Truth Lies is a dark, claustrophobic vision of a small American logging town in Colorado which is caught in a multi-layered web of lies. The novel defines depression and bleakness while dealing with the worst of America: spousal abuse, controlling spouses, child abuse, child sexual abuse/rape, misogyny, drug and alcohol abuse, homophobia, and the sexualization of teenaged girls.

When Abigail Blake disappears into the forest, her best friend, seventeen-year-old Emma Alvarez cannot forgive herself for not insisting Abi leave with her. As the plot progresses, the reader is introduced to multiple vivid characters, from Abi and Emma who are beautifully layered to high school students from the local high school, to Rat a Romanian young man who lives in a trailer park, to Noah Blake, a member of Abi's family, to the local preacher, a religious right hard-liner to Samuel Blake, a Vietnam vet whose religious beliefs, anger, and hatred ruin his family. Multiple plot twists keep this a high-tension thriller.

The War in Our Hearts
Eva Seyler
Issoria Press
9781736029701, $16.00

The War in Our Hearts is a heart-breaking old-timey story, the author's voice fully in keeping with its Belle Epoque and World War I setting. Graham was raised to be the lord of the manor when his father passed away. The father was abusive to both Graham and his mother, beating them mercilessly. Graham's twin brother, George, leads a relatively charmed life in comparison. The elder lord brought virginal female tutors to the manor as much to rape them as to educate his sons. Graham loves music; he sings, plays piano and flute, but his father denies him a career in music. Instead he forces Graham to join the military for a six-year term. During Graham's leave, he meets Estelle and, charmed by her sweetness and her musical ability, determines to woo her. Their relationship is one of those romantic, love-at-first-sight, until death do they part love stories.

The novel is written in several points of view: that of Graham (Captain Augustus Graham, a Scottish lord), Estelle (Graham's wife), and Aveline Perrault (a thirteen-year-old orphan). Seyler moves deftly between points of view. The story present is in France during World War I, but with frequent flashback to Graham's childhood in Scotland and his military service first in Gibraltar then later in France. Seyler handles these shifts nicely as well. The chapters are short and well-labeled to assist the reader in keeping track of where they are in time. The short chapters also move the pacing along. Old Scottish ballads express what Graham often cannot express himself and add to the musicality that underpins the novel. Eva Seyler weaves a family saga that is intimate yet sweeping in scope.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

My Quest for a Silver Lining
Adeline Wiener
TriMark Press
9781943401833, $29.95, HC, 76pp

Synopsis: "My Quest for a Silver Lining" represents artist Adeline Wiener's personal journey through breast cancer and a difficult year with the COVID-19 pandemic. Wiener begins her remarkable journey through a year of creating art amidst a raging pandemic with the words: "I wonder whether this is true for everyone: Most things in life just happen by fluke, not by careful planning, but by a chance opportunity which presents itself. And then one has the choice: "Do I go for it, or not?"

Critique: Beautifully rendered paintings fully support an informative, thoughtful, and thought-provoking commentary. The result is a memorable volume of work and information showcases an impressive range of historical characters from Judaic and Biblical history. Unique and truly memorable, ""My Quest for a Silver Lining" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, community, college, and university library Art, History, and Judaic Studies collections.

Editorial Note: Adeline Wiener was born in 1946 in Lucerne, Switzerland. Art was not part of her reality when growing up. She trained as a multilingual secretary, married and moved to London, where she raised her two sons. Her husband's work took her to Haifa, Israel. There she discovered a new and unexpected aspect of life: the joy of playing around with colorful wools and creating three-dimensional woven wall hangings. She exhibited in Israel and Switzerland and in no time most of her creations were sold. She was both surprised and gratified to meet with such a positive response. Life then took her to Florida, where she branched out working in mixed media and she recently discovered a new passion -- alcohol ink. The intensity of colors reminded her of Marc Chagall's art which she strongly related to. Her work can be seen on her website:

Adventure Tales from Florida's Past
Peggy Sias Lantz
Woodsmere Press, LLC
9780967960043 $12.95 pbk

Synopsis: Many of the events in Florida history included a young person, who may have showed courage or ingenuity or creativity. Each of these ten stories puts a young person front and center in some historic occurrence in Florida. All of them are true or contain fictionalized historic truth. All have been carefully researched. Information about exactly what is true and what the author has added to make it read like fiction is detailed at the end of each story.

Critique: Adventure Tales from Florida's Past is a work of historical fiction, with heavy emphasis on the history. Each of the ten stories revolves around a young person caught up in a historic event, and the end of each story spells out precisely what is researched historical fact and what is fiction. Adventure Tales from Florida's Past is thoroughly engaging from cover to cover, and the supplemental notes are both educational and enlightening. Highly recommended!

Susan Bethany

Susan Keefe's Bookshelf

Bad Love Medicine (Book 4)
Kevin L. Schewe MD
Broken Crow Ridge
9781954978133, $19.95 pbk / $7.99 Kindle, 264 Pages

A fantastic blend of science-fiction, time travel and history.

I have been a fan of the Bad Love Gang since the first book Bad Love Strikes. This is author, Kevin L. Schewe MD, FACRO's fourth book in the series, and the cleverly written novels span decades and indeed take his readers to other worlds. I have to say straight away that the stories are all connected as a series, however they stand-alone very successfully.

The Bad Love Gang's original story was set in 1974 and tells of their discovery of the "White Hole Project" a time machine made by Einstein on the orders of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. However, this, as they say is only the beginning...

The following two books take the gang on various adventures back in time, and indeed to another world, Planet Azur. And, it is the link to this planet, a "sister" to Earth, which is the reason for the Azurians mining the exotic matter, essential to their planet, in The Black Forest, southwest Germany, in November 1941. Where their presence was discovered by sergeant major Klaus Richter, a rising star in the Waffen-SS, who was tasked with leading a small squad of Nazi Waffen-SS soldiers to investigate "strange lights" in the Black Forest.

Klaus Richter's discovery of the Azurian spaceship, and the exotic matter, led to Adolph Hitler instructing Gunther Brandt, the brilliant theoretical and quantum mechanics physicist work to build his own time machine, named the "Black Hole Project." This of course could not be allowed to happen!

This book, has a really clever playlist of music for the stories, each perfect for the time and events which are taking place. The adventures are so exciting! From the gangs continuing battle in 1975, with the Russian spy Borya Krovopuskov, and his wife, as they desperately attempt to get their children back at any costs, to the gang going over to England during WWII. There in London, half the gang go to Churchill's office as they plan to stop Hitler, whilst the others leave for Liverpool in desperate search to find Meatball's (one of the gang's nickname) love, Hannah Lieb.

This award winning author can really tell a wonderful tale, taking his readers on unbelievable adventures with The Bad Love Gang. "Live dangerously, have fun, don't die!" is their motto, in this book we are to discover, this is a close call. Their missions are wide and varied, all with the best intentions, yet in this story the question is asked. Is it truly possible to go back into the past without changing the future?

I highly recommend this book for lovers of time travel, science fiction, and history.

Susan Keefe, Reviewer

Suzie Housley's Bookshelf

One Afternoon in April
Pete KJ
Kindle Direct Publishing
9781732563322, $TBA

"Even when you think you have your life all mapped out, things happen that shape your destiny that you might never have imagined."
~Deepak Chopra

On the verge of seeing forty, Genie sought answers from the universe on which direction she needed to go in to experience the next phase of her life. With her beloved alpaca Evan, they set out on a hiking trail to enjoy the day and hopefully find the answers she's seeking.

As the two of them made their way on the trail, they encountered a white older woman. The woman invades Evans's space and completely ignores Genie. Evan, not knowing a stranger, decides to suck down on the lady's finger. Doing so startles her enough that she stumbles backward and falls 30 feet. When Genie reaches her, the woman is shaken but doesn't seem hurt. The two's joined by a young Vietnamese man named Max who had seen what happened. His presence seems to calm the woman and forget about her potential injury.

Genie exchanges contact with the woman, Amy Draper. As the lady leaves, Max finds an egg shape pin with a sapphire stone. Genie felt the universe was giving her a signal of which direction she needed to take at that moment. Going home, she starts seeing other signs that seem to guide her to visit Peru. Throwing caution to the wind, she listens to these signals and decides to book a flight to that country.

When Genie thinks she has her life figured out, Amy Draper enters back into her life in the form of a lawsuit. Will her dreams of adventure never be fulfilled? Or will she find a way to get past Amy's threat of suing her for Evans's actions on the trail?

ONE AFTERNOON IN APRIL is a book that you will find yourself traveling along with the characters as they encounter obstacles that prevent them from seeking out their destiny. I found the cast of characters to be memorable, and I significantly fell in love with Evan. Who can resist an adorable alpaca?

Pete KJ is a talented author who provides the reader an enjoyable reading experience. This book offers a down-to-earth feel that you wonder if you are reading fact or fiction. Books such as this one gives an appreciation for life and the obstacles an ordinary person may encounter.

Suzie Housley

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

Choose Me
Tess Gerritsen and Gary Braver
Thomas & Mercer
9781542026147, $15.95 paperback
9781542026147, $24.95 hardcover
B08C6Z2C6G, $4.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Taryn Moore is young, beautiful, and brilliant... so why would she kill herself? When Detective Frankie Loomis arrives on the scene to investigate the girl's fatal plunge from her apartment balcony, she knows in her gut there's more to the story. Her instincts are confirmed when surprise information is revealed that could have been reason enough for Taryn's suicide - or a motive for her murder.

To English professor Jack Dorian, Taryn was the ultimate fantasy: intelligent, adoring, and completely off limits. But there was also a dark side to Taryn, a dangerous streak that threatened those she turned her affections to - including Jack. And now that she's dead, his problems are just beginning.

After Frankie uncovers a trove of sordid secrets, it becomes clear that Jack may know the truth. He is guilty of deception, but is he capable of cold-blooded murder?

Critique: Choose Me is an intense mystery-thriller. When a beautiful young woman dies of an apparent suicide, Detective Frankie Loomis suspects foul play. His investigation reveals malicious secrets, and ties to Jack Dorian, an English professor whose attraction to the victim may or may not have put him in jeopardy. Jack is unquestionably hiding the truth, but could he be guilty of murder? Choose Me is gripping, suspenseful, and a choice pick for connoisseurs of the genre. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Choose Me is also available in a Kindle edition ($4.99).

Editorial Note: International bestselling author Tess Gerritsen took an unusual route to a writing career: it wasn't until she was on maternity leave from her job as a physician that she began to write. Since then, she's written twenty-eight suspense novels, with more than thirty million copies sold. Her books have been translated into forty languages, and her series featuring homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles inspired the hit TNT television series Rizzoli & Isles, starring Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander.

Gary Braver is the bestselling author of eight critically acclaimed mysteries and thrillers, including Gray Matter and Flashback, the first thriller to win the Massachusetts Book Award. His work has been translated into several languages; two have been optioned for film, including Elixir.

Willis M. Buhle

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
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Oregon, WI 53575-1129
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