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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 6, Number 12 December 2006 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Ann's Bookshelf Bethany's Bookshelf
Betty's Bookshelf Brenda's Bookshelf Buhle's Bookshelf
Burroughs' Bookshelf Carson's Bookshelf Cheri's Bookshelf
Christy's Bookshelf Debra's Bookshelf Dustin's Bookshelf
Gary's Bookshelf Gloria's Bookshelf Gorden's Bookshelf
Harwood's Bookshelf Henry's Bookshelf Kaye's Bookshelf
Lori's Bookshelf Margaret's Bookshelf Mayra's Bookshelf
Paul's Bookshelf Rocky's Bookshelf Safai's Bookshelf
Slessman's Bookshelf Sonali's Bookshelf Sullivan's Bookshelf
Theodore's Bookshelf Tracy's Bookshelf  

Reviewer's Choice

Tiger Force: A True Story of Men and War
Michael Sallah & Mitch Weiss
Little, Brown and Company.
1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
ISBN: 0316129972, $25.95, 383 pp.

B.A. Brittingham

It may have been worse than My Lai, with unknown casualty numbers spread across more than a half year, yet most Americans remain unaware of it. Authors Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss have attempted to remedy this ignorance, first through their series expose in the Toledo Blade, and now through their full-length book, "Tiger Force". Like many human endeavors, the creation of this elite fighting unit occurred with the best intentions. Initially an ordinary reconnaissance platoon, part of the Army's 1st Brigade, 1st Battalion/327th Infantry, Tiger Force's mission was to track Vietcong. At some point in 1966, military planners expanded the duties of the 327th's recon platoon: it was to operate independently, engaging, destroying and striking fear into the enemy whenever located. To distinguish its forty-five members from ordinary soldiers, and to advertise their new name, they were outfitted in special tiger-striped fatigues. Soft brimmed jungle hats replaced helmets and in defiance of Army regulations, Tigers were allowed to grow beards. Many carried sidearms. Eventually some sported necklaces of human ears.

While the original members of Tiger Force had undergone survival and guerrilla warfare training, casualties and attrition through transfer or standard leave eventually took a significant toll. Replacements received little instruction other than "watch your leaders and learn." This may work in the civilian job world, but not in a foreign jungle with enemy snipers drawing a bead on inexperienced invaders. Morale declined, confusion over orders increased, the upper echelon's demand for daily body counts along with their disinclination to take action against reported abuses, all worked detrimentally on the various personalities in Tiger Force. For a period of approximately seven months, they rampaged through their assigned areas killing anything they encountered. The hundreds of deaths included men, women, infants, even water buffalo. No attempt was made to separate innocent peasants from active Vietcong, NVA soldiers, or sympathizers. Dozens of Vietnamese died in bullet-sprayed huts, which were then torched; others were killed when Tigers dropped grenades into small protective bunkers, or simply executed captives. War affects combatants differently, bringing out the best in some. Others, particularly in Vietnam, which psychiatrists eventually dubbed "The Teenage War' due to the relative youth of its participants---eighteen vs. World War II's average inductee age of twenty-four---are so fractured by battle that they act out their fears and angers. Many such psychological disturbances are in place long before being exacerbated by the stresses of combat.

But, there are war rules, are there not? Rules of engagement that are explained to soldiers during basic training and again when they are sent into the field? Unfortunately, for members of Tiger Force and their victims, the people most responsible for maintaining clear-headedness failed miserably. Obsessed with reporting results that would improve their career prospects and covering up those which might have a negative impact, field officers who knew about Tiger atrocities, chose to look the other way. Sometimes they went so far as to encourage them. In one instance, prior to a major operation, Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Morse renamed his battalion's A, B, and C companies "Assassins, Barbarians, and Cutthroats." It may only have been a series of names, just words designed, according to Morse, to engender "togetherness and esprit within the units." For those hovering at the edge of emotional instability, it was evidence of command mind-set and blanket permission to commit murder. Were individual soldiers also at fault? Yes. But the purpose of leadership is to map an acceptable road through the complicated expectations and ethics of war. Not only did field commanders fail their subordinates during the conflict, their superiors---those in the power circles of Washington---did so a second time.

In March 1972, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command passed a file known as the Coy Allegation to one of its most tenacious agents, Gus Apsey. The complaint, already a year old at that point, stated that one of Tiger Force's most notorious point men, one Sam Ybarra, had severed the head of a crying Vietnamese baby in order to confiscate a Buddhist necklace as a trophy. Because the incident had occurred nearly five years earlier, Apsey was told to give highest priority to the case. Doggedly, he invested the next three years in finding and interviewing most living members of the disbanded Tiger Force. Based on their statements, he issued a fifty-five page final report.

Despite verbal testimony in which soldiers corroborated events previously reported---often implicating themselves in the process---no charges were ever brought, no actions ever taken in the matter. It was decided that America needed to heal itself by moving beyond everything Vietnam-related. And so, the dirty little undeclared war in Southeast Asia was permitted to bury one of its dirtiest secrets. Over a quarter of a century later, Sallah and Weiss made a point of excavating it. The result was a Pulitzer Prize winning series, public recognition of the cover-up, and this book. Is it too late for this to serve any purpose? In light of our current involvement in Iraq and the moral disputes over what constitutes prisoner torture, our acknowledgment of uncivilized conduct in past wars should, if seriously studied, provide groundwork for avoiding it this time around. Not that anything will ever manage to make war "civilized." Still, throughout history there have been many "true stories of men and war." An enlightened society celebrates the excellent ones, learns from the ugly ones, and works to evolve past the human darknesses that generate them.

Suicide Girls in the Afterlife
Gina Ranalli
Afterbirth Books
PO Box 6068, Lynnwood, WA 98036
0976631083, $8.95, 120 pages,

Cameron Pierce

Considering that Gina Ranalli's books account for over twenty percent of Afterbirth's catalog (as of November 2006), her work serves as a wonderful representation of what Afterbirth has released, and perhaps an accurate compass for discerning the road this young publishing company will continue to pave. Suicide Girls in the Afterlife opens with the suicide of Pogue Eldritch and her consequent admittance into the Sterling Hotel, a sort of purgatory where newcomers to the afterlife are holed up while Heaven and Hell undergo repairs. Banding together with an "alien-human hybrid" named Jane 62, teenage loudmouth Katina, and other misfits, Pogue and gang encounter Satan (a goth), Jesus (a hippie), along with a plethora of other surprises. While Suicide Girls is strictly a surreally fun romp in the vein of Tim Burton's dark-yet-endearing Nightmare Before Christmas, Ranalli's belief in the themes she presents, primarily that of rising against Those In Power (be they the rich upper class or otherwise), is obvious. Suicide Girls in the Afterlife might be the product of a newcomer author and publisher, but it is a promise of what to expect when the Ranalli-Afterbirth duo hit full stride. Recommended for readers tired of fantasy and horror cliches, or just those looking to try something new.

Ten Journeys through the Unknown
Heather Beck.
Saga Books
Box 190, Carmangay, T0L 0N0 Alberta, Canada
1894936582 $16.99

Carol Butler

There I was. In the worst situation possible. I needed help. The answer came in the form of a book. This is beyond a review - how one author saved my sanity.

School had been in for a month and a half but my ten-year-old son, Thomas had hardly got past the first couple of weeks. He caught Chicken Pox in the middle of September which meant he couldn't attend school. Most boys Thomas' age would be delighted to stay home from school- but not my son. He's a self-proclaimed "bookworm' who loves English, math, science, and just about every other subject.

The whining began on Thomas' second day in bed. With a spot-covered face, Thomas complained about being bored and missing school. He wanted to be entertained. As a stay-at-home mother my duty was clear- to keep Thomas occupied or lose my sanity in his constant whining. I called my neighbor for backup. She has an eleven-year-old boy and a thirteen-year-old daughter. If anyone could help it was my neighbor. Kindly, she leant me her son's book- Ten Journeys through the Unknown by Heather Beck. I was reluctant to allow my son to read the book. In between the staring eyes on the cover and the scary inscription on the back I was sure this book was not for the faint-hearted. I screened one story from the collection of ten. I wanted to make sure the whining wouldn't turn into screaming in the night. After reading "Curses Never Die" I was addicted. The story is about a brother and sister who live in Hawaii with their famous writer of a mother. Justin and Erin grew up by the ocean and love scuba diving. During a dive something strange happens. Justin and Erin find a sunken ship with a multi-colored diamond inside. Chaos follows when Justin and Erin steal the cursed diamond.

I was happy to allow Thomas to read Heather Beck's Ten Journeys through the Unknown. I was even anxious for him to read "Curses Never Die" so I could hear his opinion of the story. Needless to say, Thomas loved it. The whining stopped and he began to enjoy his time off from school. I also enjoyed having Thomas home. One day he'd read a story from Ten Journeys through the Unknown and then the next day I'd read one to him. Thomas and I have both agreed on the reasons why we love Ten Journeys through the Unknown so much. All the stories have intriguing names which piqued our interest. "Gnome Genome", "Curses Never Die", "Cold Territory", and "Eyes of Red" are just some of our favorites. Beck's writing is even more impressive than her choice of titles. Every page is creatively written, realistically portrayed, and impressively phrased. What surprised Thomas and I the most about Beck's writing is the ideas behind each story. The stories unfold brilliantly and effortlessly. Every story stretched the boundaries of our imaginations. Beck has certainly re-invented the vampire, werewolf, gnome, and curse. She has also created some new creatures that are intriguing.

Ten Journeys through the Unknown has been read and returned and Thomas is now back at school. But Thomas and I will always remember the time we spent together. Beck saved my sanity and for that I thank her. Hopefully, she'll have a new book out on the market in time for the flu season!

101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life – Vol. 2
Selected and Produced by David Riklan
Self Improvement Online, Inc.
20 Arie Drive, Marlboro, NJ
0974567272 $14.95

Christina Francine Whitcher, Reviewer

How do I help myself? Many of us make statements like this. Sure, we ask friends and family, but they don't always know how to help themselves. If only we had a mentor, a wise sage to bestow their wisdom upon us. Maybe there's someone in your life that drives you crazy. Don't you wish you knew the right thing to say to that "Negative Nelly," "Venting Victor," or "Billy Blamer?" Some of these people are co-workers and family. They can't be, or you don't want to eliminate them from your life, or maybe you're bored and wonder where all the joy in life went? What if you looked at boredom differently such as a wake-up call? One author in this book suggests looking at boredom as a an indication that you're ready for more. What can you do? Whom do you turn to? You need experts right? Well the ones in this book freely give their philosophies, inspirations, and recommendations on all kinds of situations. David Riklan is the president and founder of Self Improvement Online, Inc., the leading provider of self-improvement and personal growth information on the Internet. He founded his company in 1998 and maintains four websites on self-improvement and natural health. Riklan earned a degree in chemical engineering from the State University of New York at Buffalo and 20 years in sales, marketing management, and training for companies such as Hewlett Packard and The Memory Training Institute. He took his first self improvement class at age 16. The title suggests just what the book is about and is the second of two books. Respected authors offer a guide for life, not only for the existing part, but for the real living part. Note the word "living" as in "Man we're really living!" This is the handbook, the how-to on finding joy in existence and self. Some advice in this book may be familiar and serve as a reminder to what you already know, however with the bountiful amount you're apt to come upon a lot that you don't.

Chapters I Especially Liked:

Chapter 3 – 'The Passionate Warrior/ by Cathi Watson. She breaks down each decades in life, gives them a title, and asks readers to create a title for themselves to support their mission in life. Hers is 'The Passionate Warrior.'

Chapter 8 – 'Balance Your Body, Mind and Sprit in Five Minutes a Day' by Theresa Murphy and Dennis Mahoney. Here readers are asked shown activities that will center themselves. Here's one: "Put three small, distinctive objects like colored stones or marbles into a container. One represents body, one mind, and one spirit. Each day pull one out and spend at least five minutes on that category, doing something for you."

Chapter 92 – 'Dance With Your Heart: How to Befriend Your Heart and the World around You' by Shirley Cheng. This author gently teaches readers how to achieve spiritual affinity with oneself, and ultimately with others around them. Her advice means readers need to look inside themselves and accept, love, understand, and think positive about what they find there. Shirley then encourages them to dance with their heart, to release where they are at the core. Excellent advice.

The cover of this volume is like the contents-comfortable. The colors are a pleasant, blue with a light yellow and a friendly sunflower picture. A full table of contents and a handy author index makes for quick, easy reference. A page toward the back explains who 'Self' is, what they do, and provides their regular mailing address, email, and web address. The back cover lists all 101 contributing authors. Help yourself by going to more than one mentor, to the right answer for your exact problem, and do it in a timely fashion. This is not the sort of book you read from cover to cover and in one or two sittings. It is more the type you read a little here, a little there, pick out a chapter here, and a chapter there, and then mark them. You may find certain chapters call you back repeatedly and cause you to grab a pen and piece of paper. This is a hands-on, action-inspiring partner in helping yourself. A must-have book for everyone because everyone has an aspect they are attempting to improve about themselves, a need to be content, and something they want to share and contribute to the world. I'm thinking of buying a bunch to give to family and friends. I know a few of them have "Billy Blamers" and "Negative Nellys" that they are not sure how to deal with. As for me, I now know how to handle the "Billy Blamer," whom I care about. An extraordinary book. Highly recommended.

Armstrong's War
Lee Pierce
Robert Hale Publishers
Clerkenwell House,
45-47 Clerkenwell Green, London, EC1R OHT
1846174368 $20.99

Connie Gotsch, Reviewer

Like many teens, Badger Armstrong did not see eye-to-eye with his father, Bale. Of course, Badger, actually Bale Jr, didn't earn his nickname for nothin.' After one argument too many with Dad, he stormed outta Deaf Smith County, Texas, took on the alias 'Quick Jim Butler,' and followed the gunslinger's trail. Now, fifteen years later, grown up, and ready to settle down, he returns home, only to find his father a frail old man who does not recognize him, and nearly kills him, thinking Badger an intruder. Newcomer and neighboring rancher, Mort Quarry is ready to take over the Armstrong spread by force--and with it the rest of Deaf Smith County. Worse, it's Badger's younger brother, Chris's turn to defy Bale. Chris goes to work for Quarry. On top of all of that, Badger falls head-over-heels in love with Quarry's daughter Melinda. Anybody who enjoys a good western is going to keep turning the pages of this one, "Armstrong's War,' by Lee Pierce, published by Robert Hale in London.

The story's a lot like watching a good ole shoot-em-up on TV. The good guy (that is Badger) is going to straighten out the entire mess, But the fun of sticking with the plot is finding out how. With spies planted in the Quarry and Armstrong camps, people switching alliances, and bullets flyin', Pierce keeps the reader guessing how Badger will eventually regain his father's ranch and respect; and send Mort Quarry to his proper punishment. The suspense lasts until the final gun fight. To add to the fun, Pierce reveals 'Armstrong's War's' story through the eyes of well-drawn characters, both major and minor. He leaves a couple of surprises for the reader, too. What will Badger marry Melinda? Just what will Quarry's punishment be? And what is Chris's fate?

Pierce uses clear and simple language to give the eventual answer. 'Armstrong's War's' opening sentence; "The crack of a pistol shot shattered the morning silence.," immediately catches the reader's attention. The only drawbacks to 'Armstrong's War,' come when Pierce lapses into telling the story instead of showing it happening. On occasion the pacing of the characters' thought processes becomes unbelievable. Melinda also makes some plot-altering choices a little too rapidly. Still, Armstrong's War is a good read. Its twists make it unpredictable enough to enjoy, while staying nicely with the good-guy-beats-bad-guy theme at the heart of the Western genre.

The Mountains Won't Remember Us
Robert Morgan
0641670036, $12.00

Dan Schneider, Reviewer

Not all bad writing is bad. That statement may confuse people who are longtime readers of mine. What I mean by it is that all writing that is considered bad is not necessarily badly written. There are writers whose work avoids the obvious cliches, easy stereotypes, bad music (especially in poetry), and the glaring maladies that kill a written work, which tends to fail in only a handful of ways, yet whose writing is just painfully dull, and essentially pointless, and far from being good. In fact, even though it is 'better written' than most bad writing, often the worse writing has better potential because at least it is individuated. Yet, this sort of bad writing, the type I am concerned with, is just words that describe dull people, duller, events, and has not an ounce of transcendence, nor anything memorable in their narrative nor even phrasing of things. When you get finished reading their work the reader is left wondering what the reason was that the writer felt compelled to share this information about characters that are no more interesting than the fat lady who lacked the grace to hold in her fart while you were standing in line at your local supermarket. These writers lack what is called style, and this stems in part from the fact that they lack any real inspiration. Their work is the sine qua non of the term generic. What separates a good, or great, artist from a lesser practitioner is that they have their own style. One does not mistake Frederic Edwin Church for Henri Matisse, nor is Ernest Hemingway taken for Herman Hesse, nor is Walt Whitman ever mistaken for Sylvia Plath. These generic writers write simply to advance their names, not to enlarge the scope of human knowledge nor enjoyment. It is, in a sense, an act of selfishness that propels them, and dooms their unfortunate readership to a waste of their time, time that will and can never be retrieved. In short, generic writing, even if it douse not violate the most flagrant bounds of execrability in writing, is still, in its own way, bad.

One such work The Mountains Won't Remember Us, a 1992 collection of tales documenting the history of southern Appalachia, and its generic author is Robert Morgan, a professor of English at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and a writer whose later novel, Gap Creek, apparently became a notorious Oprah Winfrey Book Club Selection. In a fair and just cosmos I would not have to state a single word after that last sentence to compel you to accept the truth that Morgan is a generic writer, at least I prose, although I doubt his published poetry is any better. Another sin that most generic writers suffer from is an inability to be concise. Stories that a good writer might nail in three thousand words will take the bad, generic writer eight thousand to tell, so rapt with needlessly overdescribing their fictive cosmos in stilted and perfunctory ways that the meat and center of the tale is buried and the generic writer's reader is long turned off to completing their work, which becomes a task, not a joy. Such was the case with my reading The Mountains Won't Remember Us. Morgan is not a workshop bad writer, nor a PC bad writer, nor even a hipster PoMo bad writer. He's simply a generic bad writer, whose tales of the Blue Ridge Mountains of the South, and the several generations of people that inhabit them, simply are narcoleptic.

The book is comprised of ten short stories and the titular novella. The earliest tales deal with the late Eighteenth Century, and slaves and Cherokee Indians abound, and the later tales bring the reader up to sometime in 'the present', presumably the late Twentieth Century. Thus, we proceed from Indian skirmishes, and mass murder to the trailer park trash so often found in stories by better writers, like Raymond Carver and Russell Banks. One would think that this approach to documenting an area would yield positive results, given that many writers, in recent years, have written short story cycles-cum-novels of place, with varying degrees of success, from great outings like Monica Wood's Ernie's Ark and Edward Jones' Lost In The City, to lesser works like K.L. Cook's Last Call. Yet, Morgan's book is simply a collection of unrelated stories following the vagaries of mostly poor white folk. And none of them goes anywhere. Yet, one would not know that truth from reading the typically generic blurbs and intellectually inert critical feints that the book received, such as this one, culled from online:

With one eye on the land itself and the other on its inhabitants, Morgan poignantly portrays a history of change, of transformation in the landscape, in humanity's relationship to the earth, and in people's relationships with each other. His intimate knowledge of the region he portrays makes this collection a valuable social history. At the same time, Morgan offers a moving theme to that which is universal and eternal- the majestic immutability of the earth and the heroic human struggle to live, love, and create new life. Focusing on one people in one place, Morgan addresses the themes that matter to all people in all places: birth and death, love and loss, joy and sorrow, the necessity for remembrance, and the inevitability of forgetting.

Look at how generic this blurb is, which recapitulates the man's writing, but also shows how dull writing is constructed, with trite and overblown verbs and modifiers as poignantly', 'transformation', 'valuable', 'universal', 'eternal', 'majestic', and 'heroic'. It gets little better in the actual stories. Five of the tales have female lead characters and the range of ages of the speakers vary from the preteens to octogenarians, yet, despite that, there is a blandness to the perceptions each character recognizes and every word they speak. The dialogue is atrociously banal. Yet, even worse is the fact that none of the tales take off, and their endings are non-moments. The tales simply end, but not in Chekhovian zero endings, which use their relative narrative 'silence' to allow the great reverberations of the tale told to echo, but in what could only be called 'negative endings', as in negative numbers, not awful events, that simply seem to reveal the writer had no clue on how to wrap up his tales.

In the first story, Poinsett's Bridge, we follows the building of a stone bridge in South Carolina, during the post-Revolutionary war days. The main character, a stonemason feels he is a part of history, even though he questions the treatment of the people who build the bridge, as well that of the slaves. Yet, nowhere does the narrator connect the dots, nor have an epiphany. Yes, sometimes epiphanies can be contrived, and a clueless narrator is the way to go, but a good writer makes that cluelessness something to marvel at, and the tale leaves a gem of a notion within the reader precisely because its point is missed by the main character. This does not happen in this tale, which ends this way, as people pour over the bridge: I looked back and there was the prettiest carriage you ever seen, with a black driver all in livery carrying his long stiff whip. They was lanterns of polished brass and glass on the corners and shiny black fenders. You never seen people dressed up like them inside, ladies with parasols and dresses so low you could nearly see the nipples on their bosoms, and men in top hats and silk cravats. And behind that carriage was other carriages, and buggies, and a whole bunch of wagons carrying supplies and servants. It was some big party from the Low Country coming up for a picnic in the mountains. I've heard Fremont, the general and governor of California, was in that party. He was just a boy then. I stood back and let them pass, and they ignored me just like I was air. Then when I did get started up the turnpike finally, stepping around cowpiles and horse apples, my strength coming back a little at a time, I met more drovers coming down the mountain. It was like they had opened a flood gate and flocks of sheep came along, baaing and pushing and jumping over each other, turning the road to dirty wool. And then a drove of hogs came, nosing and grunting, squealing when prodded by boys with sticks. I thought I had seen it all by then, but all of a sudden around the bend come a flock of turkeys, all gobbling and squawking. And behind them a bigger flock of geese come waddling, driven by more boys and followed by an old woman who carried a sack on her back. 'We's come all the way from Kentucky,' she said. Finally I thought I had the road to myself. I knowed I'd have to hurry if I was to get home by milking time. Clara was going to be mad, but they was no point in putting off the bad news. 'Watch out, watch out, sir,' somebody called behind me. It was a man in a buggy pulled by a shiny Morgan that just clipped along. He had a sack on the seat beside him. And I recognized Sam the peddler from Spartanburg. He used to come around with a pack on his back, and we almost always bought cloth and buttons and such from him and asked him to stay for dinner. And now he was driving a fine buggy with a carriage horse. After he passed it seemed late in the evening. The road was already nearly in shadow. They was a buckeye laying in the tracks, but I couldn't tell if it was mine. It had been stepped on by a cow and I let it go. But I seen something shiny in the dirt ahead. It was my light mason's hammer. Them big rough boys had dropped it there as they run away. They didn't have no use for a mason's hammer, and thought it was too heavy to carry. I picked it up and wiped the grit off the handle and head, then started again for home."

You get glimmers that something is happening, but the character does not, yet neither does the reader, for the story never turns away from the narrator, and outward. One of the most effective tools in a writer's arsenal is to switch gears, and sometimes a single sentence, or even word, can turn a tale inside out and redeem the flaws that came before. This does not. Reading this end is almost like being brought to the moment of orgasm, and then your partner falls fast asleep. Virtually every other tale in the book suffers from the same lack of prescience and skill, as well as the manifest dullness of the rote descriptions. As example, Watershed deals with white settlers' disposition of the 'Indian Question' in typical bloodthirsty fashion. Death Crown follows the vigil a woman keeps over her retarded great-aunt on her deathbed. She is her aunt's favorite, and this complicates their relationship. Frog Level deals with modern infidelity, and a scorned woman, whose Vietnam veteran husband is followed by her, all about town, and reveals nothing but Morgan's desire to dully describe the local color. The Bullnoser deals with a man who is out of work, and his mother, who lament the fact that his dead father left them in debt, by losing money to a scam artist that the son tries to avenge. Mack is the present day penultimate tale, told by an old man with a bad heart, and focuses on the man's love for his titular dog, a collie. And all the other stories, frankly, were so dull that I forgot what they were about the moment I turned the page.

But, worst of all, if only for its inordinate length, is The Mountains Won't Remember Us, the novella, and really should be seven to eight pages, not the 73 pages it is. It follows the life of an old woman who has been twice married and lives in a nursing home, and has lost her foot. Yet, she is haunted by the circumstances surrounding the death of her first fiance in World War Two. The reader, however, is haunted by the idea that a really good writer could have done much more with the often interesting premises that Morgan sets up, yet lets go flat as stale soda. I couldn't help that last line. Perhaps reading so much formulaic, generic, and lifeless workshoppy writing is infectious. If that's the case, I will end before I accidentally recapitulate any of Morgan's 'style', so to speak, and end with….

Life Is a Test
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
Mesorah Publications
4401 Second Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11232
142260196X $21.95

Fern Sidman

Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, move over. Your days are numbered. The pharmaceutical industry will lose billions in revenue after readers get their hands on this book. Simply put, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis' new book, "Life Is a Test - How To Meet Life's Challenges Successfully," (Mesorah Publications) is the spiritual equivalent to the myriad of anti-depressants on the market. There is no question that Rebbetzin Jungreis has her finger on the pulse of the people. I would surmise that from her vast experience counseling those facing a multitude of challenges that life presents, she decided to write this book as an answer to a collective cry for help from a lost generation, totally unequipped to understand the true meaning behind life's trials and tests. Fear not reader, for it is Rebbetzin Jungreis to the rescue. Your soul is about to get the ultimate work out, so get ready to stretch your spiritual muscles and become reinvigorated as you read "Life Is A Test". This is Rebbetzin Jungreis' fourth book and its magnitude of depth, focus and analysis of our personal and communal struggles sets it apart from any other treatises on this subject. It is written as a trilogy, combining three books in one and takes the reader on a trajectory that is permeated with such a genuine sense of warmth and love that can only be termed palpable. In a society immersed in grotesque materialism, decadence and loss of any real and meaningful direction and purpose, we are clueless about what life is really about and more importantly, who we really are and what our potential could be. Rebbetzin Jungreis is the consummate storyteller and it is through this treasure trove of true stories do we begin to understand that our identity is not inextricably tied to our careers or professions or the external superficialities that our culture imposes upon us. Rebbetzin Jungreis utilizes the timeless wisdom of the Torah to illustrate her points and to lead the reader on the road to true self-discovery.

The book begins with the saga of Sam, Phyllis and daughter Kelly (names changed to protect anonymity), yet they could be any one of us. What follows is the story of the personal transformation of these three individuals that is beyond miraculous. By the middle of this book, the reader will feel a tangible connection to these people. Sam is a man who suffered a tremendous financial loss in business and was forced to declare bankruptcy. He and his family are secular Jews who turn to the Rebbetzin for guidance at this stressful juncture in their lives. Sam's cynicism is all encompassing, as it oozes from every pore of his body, while wife Phyllis is concerned with social status and personal appearance. Daughter Kelly is a 35-year-old single career professional that has had her share of painful relationships and is dubious about the prospect of ever getting married. Through a series of counseling sessions with Rebbetzin Jungreis, rife with personal stories of her own tests and challenges and those of her family, the Rebbetzin explains that each of us is actually blessed by G-d with tests to assist us in realizing our full potential. Rather than falling prey to depression, despondency and hopelessness when we are tested by G-d, we have the G-d given power to change our lives for the better. For each of us our potential is different, as we are custom made by G-d and no two people are exactly alike and we must know that G-d would never test us if we did not have the wherewithal to pass. As the Rebbetzin states, "G-d actually makes a portrait of what He intends us to become and equips us with the necessary tools with which to realize His purpose. All of the tests, trials, and tribulations of our lives are orchestrated by the One Above so that we may fulfill this goal, and if you wonder whether you have what it takes to succeed in this mission, be assured that G-d never makes mistakes - the very fact that it is He Who created you is proof positive that it is within your capability to fulfill this charge."

Sam, Phyllis and Kelly soon learn the sublime truth of this Divine message and through their attendance and participation in the Hineni Torah classes; all three become closer to G-d. They learn to appreciate and understand the power of prayer, as they embrace the Torah and commandments. They begin to experience the kind of happiness and joy that no amount of money could buy. They begin to understand what life's tests really mean, what message G-d is sending them and they begin to deal with problems and pitfalls with great equanimity. The second installment of this book deals with interpersonal relationships and the tests that are indigenous to them. Rebbetzin Jungreis speaks with the authority of a clinical psychologist and marriage counselor as she imbues those she counsels with a solid spiritual foundation and practical nuances that will assist them in making the right choices. Whether it comes to looking for qualities in a prospective life partner, to dealing with a marriage riddled with constant strife and infidelity, to attempting to bring a potential intermarriage to a screeching halt, or dealing with a rebellious, disrespectful and irreverent teenager, Rebbetzin Jungreis explores these issues with the kind of depth and aplomb that is seldom spoken about by television and radio psychologists and gurus.

The third and last section of "Life Is A Test" speaks of communal and global tests. The Jewish nation stands at a critical and dangerous precipice in history. Global anti-Semitism continues to dramatically increase, while natural disasters such as tsunamis and Katrinas become more prevalent. The events of 9/11 still haunt us as it stands as an eerie reminder of the beginning of the age of terrorism. Madmen, such as Iranian President Ahmadinejad threaten to vanquish the State of Israel and to annihilate the Jewish people, while the world remains silent. We are told by Rebbetzin Jungreis that the putrid stench of hatred against Jews is reminiscent of Europe in 1938. Rest assured that these assessments are not being promulgated by paranoia, but by someone who lived through that nightmarish period and knows from whence she speaks. Rebbetzin Jungreis implores us to recognize these "wake up calls", to realize that the times that we are living in are indeed the times of "Chevlei Moshiach', the birth pangs of the coming of our righteous Messiah. We are being importuned by Rebbetzin Jungreis to recognize that these birth pangs can be long and excruciatingly painful or they can be short and abbreviated, yet it depends on us.

It is clear for all who have eyes to see and ears to hear, that Rebbetzin Jungreis is a true Torah scholar. This book is replete with a voluminous amount of passages from the Torah, Talmud and Kabbalistic sources and each is given more than ample explanation as she delves into complex sources with such ease and finesse. What is most remarkable is her knowledge of Gematria - (mathematical equivalents for Hebrew letters) and how they apply to our times. Please don't skim this book - you'll miss tons of amazing insights, and while we're on the subject of amazing and mind blowing insights, please take note of the meaning of the number 11 on page 231. You will never forget it. Rebbetzin Jungreis' message is clear, uncompromising and unremitting. Only through a sincere return to G-d, only through genuine and heartfelt prayer, only through performing acts of kindness, only through learning Torah will our lives and values begin to take shape. Only then can we begin to experience the kind of contentment, serenity and tranquility that our souls long for. Only then can we understand what real happiness and joy means, only then can we save our nation from the plethora of insidious haters who rise up to destroy us and only then will we merit G-d's redemption on a personal and collective scale. "Life Is A Test" is a must read for anyone seeking answers to the vicissitudes of life, for anyone who has grappled with issues of self-discovery, and frankly, for just plain anyone. This book is a significant historical and religious contribution to the corpus of books on Jewish thought and will be a welcome addition to any library. A thumbs up ! Five stars !

Space, The Frontiers of Modern Defense
Squadron Leader KK Nair
Knowledge World Publishers
4A/5A, Daryaganj, New Delhi, India
8187966440 $25.00

Karen Braithwaite

Ever since the US National policy on space was publicly revealed in Oct 2006, there ranges a furious debate on the subject of space militarization and weaponization. The debate had begun much earlier, it got fired as never before since the policy was declared. Most of it unfortunately, is based less on facts and figures and more on hearsay and 'dooms-day' prophecies. Some of it is also based on emotion rather than reason. It is here that the book, "Space, the Frontiers of Modern Defence" makes its mark. It has neither fiction, nor speculation, nor rumours to support its point- it makes its point on the solid cornerstone of facts and data. The analysis of the author is supported by over 60 charts and illustrations which force one to finally accept the author's viewpoint. For e.g., most generations have grown up believing that the Soviets in the early ages beat the US in the space race, the author arrives at the opposite conclusion after critically examining the launches and the number of payloads of both the contenders. The author actually proves that the Soviets trailed by an entire generation of space systems. A lot of misconceptions and needless speculation on the subject are laid to rest by the author, on his solid base of authentic data.

Apart from the US and the Russians, the author also explores the space militarization and weaponization programmes of Asia, ranging from those of the Chinese and the Pakistanis, to those of the Iranians, North Koreans etc. The chapter on space law is especially useful to view the entire affair from a legal as well as a military perspective. The book, in spite of the subject has widespread appeal. The language is simple and the emphasis apparently is more on acquainting both the layman & the expert with the issue considering that technical jargon or complicated space theories etc is absent across the book. Coming from India's leading expert on space, and at 256 pages, the book is an invaluable compendium of facts and analyses for both military and civilian policy makers in addition to students, soldiers etc. Great reading.

Alone On The Darkside
John Pelan, editor
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
0451461053 $7.99

Kevin Filer

What makes good horror fiction? That's the wrong question. A better question might be, what makes good fiction horror? The rules are the same for fiction of all genres. Captivating premises, strong, vivid characters, and clean, clear prose are all essentials. And, of course, story, story, story. The story's the boss. But what makes a story horror? One is reminded of former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who when explaining the definition of pornography famously remarked, "I know it when I see it." Editor John Pelan knows it when he sees it. He knows good fiction. He knows horror fiction. He brings the two together in his latest anthology, "Alone on the Darkside."

The fifth volume in the acclaimed Darkside anthology series continues to impress. This installment contains a rich assortment of original stories sure to please fans of the macabre. The Darkside series seems to have firmly established itself as one of the leading platforms for the evolution of modern horror. If a fan wants to know which voices in dark fiction are "current," he or she need only pick up the latest volume. Pelan once again shows himself to be able to connect with gifted writers at the top of their game, some new, some veteran, all talented. Though "Alone on the Darkside" has something for horror fans of every stripe, as is the case with any anthology, some stories are better than others. Yet what has distinguished these books from lesser anthologies is that even the least enjoyable of the bunch are pretty darn good. And the best are quite memorable.

The most notable stories from this volume include Gerard Houarner's sexy nightmare "Skins," about one man's date experience on the set-up from hell; "The Cheerleaders, the Geek, and the Lonesome Piney Woods," d.g.k. Goldberg's haunting tale of a young girl's lingering loss of humanity; Hank Schwaeble's "Mugwumps," a clever, crisp morality play about a lawyer who thinks he's found the answer to his client problems in the form of a strange creature; and Michael Kelly's sobering commentary on the nexus between mortality and anonymity, "Warm, Wet Circles." Additional stories by Brian Hodge, Mark Samuels, Lucy Taylor, David Riley and others are certain to have admirers, as well. All in all, "Alone on the Darkside" serves up a strong roster of entertaining frights and thought-provoking haunts. Mr. Pelan's latest ensemble assures us that the modern horror story is alive and well, and in good hands. Just in time for Halloween, no less.

5 Minutes to Maximizing Real Estate Technology, A Desk Reference for Top-Selling Agents
John D. Mayfield
Thomson/ South-Western
5191 Natorp Boulevard, Mason, Ohio 45040
139780324539271 $29.95

Mark Nash

John Mayfield's latest title in his "5 minutes to" real estate agent-broker series is technology. Offering both new and experienced practitioners a functional overview of how technology and real estate consumers have merged to create a new and required skill-set for those looking to grow in the marketplace. Mayfield, a proficient techie, pens articles's for the Hewlett Packard's Web site. An added bonus is a ROM that offers sample information from the text version, to illustrate in a technology format, how top producing agents have embraced their clients call for them to be pro-active in blog-sphere, podasts, e-mail, virtual tours and computers. 5 Minutes to Maximizing Real Estate Technology is written and designed to be results-driven.and as a textbook for brokerages to offer as a real estate technology course. Each chapter offers learning objectives, review exercises and web resources. Photos help both the reader or an educator see the actual computer or web graphic to illustrate one of Mayfield's excellent points. But never does the text get bogged down in tech-speak, something many readers and students will appreciate.

Chapters in this book feature: Which computer is right for you?, Developing a Technology Budget for Your Real Estate Career, Software Applications, New Technology Tools for Today's Tech-Savvy Real Estate Agent, Printing Options, Cellular Phones and Smartphones, Digital Cameras and Other Multimedia Resources, New Marketing Trends in Real Estate, Web Site Tips for Real Estate Professionals, Creating a Paperless Filing System, Folders, Files, and Backing Up, Building the Perfect Database, E-Mail, Using Microsoft PowerPoint, Tips, Tricks and Shortcuts, Technical Help, How to Become a Mobile Real Estate Professional,and Broker Technology Issues. Also included are acknowledgements, a forward, an introduction, a summary and conclusion. This book is an excellent resource for any agent or broker looking to ramp-up their business technology, without being over-whelmed by geek-speak. Perfect for new or experienced agents, real estate educators, trainers and a must-have for every real estate brokerage's professional development library.

The Worst Hard Time
Timothy Egan
Houghton Mifflin Company
21 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003
061834697X $14.95

Michael Riggs

The First Hard Time: Inconvenient Truth and the Dust Bowl

The Worst Hard Time is an expertly rendered blend of history and first rate journalistic coverage of the lives of those who stayed through the Dust Bowl years. John Steinbeck's fictional Grapes of Wrath immortalized the suffering and redemptive beauty of the "Okies" who fled the environmental disaster on the Great Plains. Egan's book chronicles the lives of those who stayed behind, endured the disaster, and survived. Like Steinbeck, Egan uses the wrenching and often inspirational stories of individual people to weave a larger narrative of failed public policy, failed market economics, and failed environmental policies.

Before the prolonged drought of the mid 30's, the Great Plains was the scene of an agricultural and market boom that created a crop based equivalent of strip mining. Grain speculators showed up by the hundreds to take advantage of high crop prices, cheap land, and advances in farm mechanization. Known as "suitcase farmers", these speculators bought up land, hired out labor, reaped their profits, and left town. Those farmers who stayed behind invested heavily in land and in equipment, and at first enjoyed previously unimaginably high standards of living. Newspapers sprang up: restaurants featured dishes for more prosperous palates, and for the first time Plains dwellers could attend operas and go to museums.

When farm prices fell as a result of overproduction, farmers at first tried to maintain their prosperity by bringing more acres under cultivation. As one of the Great Plains' cyclical droughts took hold, the race to cultivate became a desperate and self-defeating struggle for survival- one that ended in sand dunes in Kansas and Texas, and dust storms so intense that they twice blackened the skies in Washington D.C. This toxic brew of free market ideology, unsupportable debt, and climate variation was made much worse by the public policy of the period. The national and state governments of the day took the view that the market was the best regulator of human affairs, and regulatory bodies were naive in regarding the land as an inexhaustible resource, not subject to rapid change as a result of human intervention.

Policy minded scientists like Hugh Bennett, at first regarded as hopelessly Quioxtic, lobbied hard at what we would now call the grassroots level, as well as in the smoke filled corridors of power, to get people to realize that denuding the Great Plains of native grasses was the source of the problem, and only a massive replanting would halt the soil degradation. Bennett finally made his case to Congress by using delaying tactics until a massive Dust Storm brought premature twilight to the Congressional Committee room itself. As the skies darkened in D.C., political attitudes became more enlightened. Such paucity of political and ecological imagination becomes the stuff of high drama in Egan's retelling.

Sitting Bull had predicted the crisis of the Plains years before the Dust Bowl, but no one listened. Today, the Plains are only partially recovered from what was arguably both the greatest climatological disaster in American history, and at the same time a uniquely American form of catastrophe. For the Dust Bowl did not come about purely through a variation in weather, but through uniquely American dispensations of free market politics, opportunistic speculation, and debt-driven growth that ultimately exhausted the habitat and the infrastructures supporting an energy and input draining way of farming.

To write good history, historians must be careful not to confuse the voices of the past with those of the present, nor judge the actions and intentions of past peoples by present standards. Yet historians themselves live in an age, a time, a place-in the midst of a particular present. It is our present- one of climate change, global warming, and growing ecological consciousness- that informs Egan's choice of subject. Through this book, we hear the voices of the Dust Bowl survivors as clearly as echoes borne by the wind, whispers in the quieted rooms of grief, urgently spoken warnings and admonitions. We recognize these recently gone people for who they are- our nearest, most valuable neighbors.

A Memory of Dragons
Annabel & Edgar Johnson
Argo Books
88 Old Pump Rd. Essex, VT 05452-2742 USA
0689312636 $TBA

Molly Martin, Reviewer

Entertaining Read ... Recommended 5 stars

The narrative begin commences with a note from eighteen year old genius PaulKillian to the Department of Western Affairs Division of Information (Subversive Activities). Killian is turning over a set of disks the government has been seeking. Recording of the disks, Project #0014, begins on Monday. Killian is paid a visit by two official looking persons who flash IRS badges. It soon becomes clear that the agents are not interested in taxes he mayowe on his salary earned at MARJOMAC R & D Division. When Paul asks to see an authentic ID the pair offer BCI identification cards. Bureau of Coordinated Intelligence is not a group Paul has even heard of before. On the other hand the pair, and BCI apparently know quite a lot about Paul Killian and his ability to concoct widgets. In fact Paul is asked to snoop around MARJOMAC Corporation, the nation's largest defense center and keep his eyes open for signs of subversives.

To register for the draft, or not, nightmares, Leslie Sanderman, a special keyring, a bicycle and not a car for transportation, HR pain in the neck Willy Pomeroy, Senator's son JB Ewell, a mud spattered Fiat whose driver actually understands Paul's bicycle; all move the account along. Twenty two gelignite charges, a distraught little boy, Thea Sanderman, a determined group wearing green shirts, a man with proven ties to the PLO, and a single casualty to the second civil war are all part of the tale.

Writers Annabel & Edgar Johnson first wrote the manuscript for this book back in the 1980s. It was first published in 1986. A Memory of Dragons is a young adult novel that is as pertinent today as it was when first issued. Paul Killian is a troubled young man, a genius, product of a abusive home, sufferer of amnesia, and possibly the cause of his father's death. As the United States struggles with thoughts of dividing the country East and West with many wanting the land to remain intact and a determined group bent on western cessation Paul Killian is caught up in a life and death struggle.

Filled with everyday along with out of the ordinary, believable, albeit not always likeable characters, gritty convincing communication, well detailed settings and a gripping storyline A Memory of Dragons is a work sure to please many adults as well as readers in upper grades and high school. Writing is crisp, right on and as relevant today as it was when first offered. The conspiracy, misery and misguided action of those who would thwart our way of life are portrayed in the words of the authors prior to our understanding of 9-1-1, or any of the activity taking place in the world today. The book might well have been written yesterday. A Memory of Dragons is a must read for those who enjoy subterfuge, trickery and intrigue. This book is a good addition to the personal pleasure reading shelf, the middle grade and high school classroom reading list and the school library. Enjoyed the read, happy to recommend.

Truck: A Love Story
Michael Perry
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
0060571179 $24.95

Stacie Penney

Summary: Over the course of a year, Michael Perry twines his life around the rebuilding of an International. The Take-Away: Mike's previous books have been about the people and things he has observed in life. This title reflects what's going on within himself, primarily explaining how his love for a time represented by a International. The International -- once a hard-working farm truck, now a lawn ornament -- has been moved to his brother's shed. In their spare time, between jobs, writing assignments and family, Mike acquiesces to his brother's superior knowledge of trucks. Unless, it involves left hand lug nuts with left threads. Then Mike's collection of odd knowledge wins out.

The International isn't the only love in Mike's life, but also a time that only exists in peoples memories. Mike longs for a simpler time, when a fictional woman named Irma Harding graced the marketing material for variance home appliances and cookbooks. The world seemed simpler, a world that a man could be a man and trucks were used as work vehicles, not a means of transportation. Mike paints the world he misses in broad strokes, but with careful attention to the detail that truly makes it special. Perhaps most importantly, Mike regales his readers with the stories of people falling in love, his brothers and himself. Each bachelors in their own right, each married to strong women who complement them.

Mike's book isn't one to race through in an evening. Each section is meant to be savored, with a bit of reflection on what life really means, and how I'm going to make my life mean that as well. The lessons I drew from the pages probably weren't his intent in writing them. Often, though, that's were I find life's best lessons to be located -- where no one means them to be. Recommendation: Buy a copy for yourself and for the readers on your Christmas list.

Godism: Discovering the Power to Live
S. Roystone Neverson
Outskirts Press, Inc.
10940 S. Parker Rd. - 515, Parker, Colorado 80134
1598001744, $15.95, 196 pages

Tami Brady

Godism reads as a guide to living. Like life itself, it is a complex weave of beliefs, issues of morality, commentary on modern life, and spirituality. Topics include everything from life purpose, mental and physical health, living your dreams, worldly achievements, the presence of natural laws, being part of your community, the value of all human beings, meditation, and countless other important life issues. Basically the overall premise of this work is to live a moral positive life to the fullest possible. Simple to say but this is often not so easy to practice in everyday life.

This book is a nice gentle reminder that we need to always be aware of how we are living. Too often we get caught up in gaining material possessions or bogged down in negative thinking. Then we wonder why our lives and the world around us are so bad. We completely forget that we have a choice and that we can choose to try to make things better, follow our hearts, and live our dreams. We either add to the problem or serve as part of the solution.

A Feast for Crows
George R.R. Martin
Bantam Dell
A Division of Random House, Inc.
New York, New York
055358202X, $7.99, 1104 pages

Victoria Kennedy

Queen Cersei Lannister is now the Queen Regent. She's determined that she will be her murdered father Tywin Lannister's successor and sets about trying to get rid of anyone in her way. The two Stark sisters Sansa and Arya are safe, but still in hiding. Nothing much is happening and what little action there is shifts back and forth across the kingdom and stars mostly minor characters. ( I love Mr. Martin's books, but sometimes the hordes of characters he installs in them are a little difficult to keep up with.) Although the book continues the saga begun in the first three books, it lacks some of the major characters such as Tyrion Lannister, Lady Catelyn Stark, Jon Snow, and Rickon Stark. Apparently Mr. Martin had initially written a much larger tome, but his publisher thought it was too long and made him break it up into two books. (The next installment is titled A Dance With Dragons.)

Personally I feel that Mr. Martin should have done some heavy editing and put it all into one volume. It would have made for a much more interesting story. In order to understand what is going on you must start at the beginning of the series with A Game of Thrones and work your way through. It is an excellent series and I don't think that you will be disappointed. It is a tad too violent for my taste at times, but that seems to be the trend these days. The story is great so I try to overlook it. A Feast for Crows is George R.R. Martin's fourth book in his fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. The previous books are A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords.

Our Misunderstood Bible
George E. Mendenhall
BookSurge, LLC
5341 Dorchester Road, Suite 16, Charleston, SC 29418
1419637223 $10.99 50 pages

Burton H. Wolfe, Reviewer

Professor G.E. Mendenhall's heretical view of the Bible

Professor George E. Mendenhall and I view the Judaeo-Christian Bible from two different perspectives. Mendenhall, Chairman Emeritus of the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan, finds that the narratives, especially those in the Old Testament, "are bound up with the historical experiences of ancient human beings" (quoted from his introduction). I view all of the "books" of both the Old and New Testaments as fiction: the propaganda of ancient Hebrew scribes promoting beliefs in the precepts and customs of their particular sect.

Why, then, have I bothered to read and review Mendenhall's latest book? I have done so because Mendenhall challenges traditional translations and interpretations of the Bible and, in the process, he corrects prevailing ignorance and nonsense generated by theologians and so-called "scholars" who often turn out to be quacks perverting historical facts and even the scriptures upon which they claim those "facts" to be grounded.

Over the years Mendenhall's challenges to traditional renditions and interpretations of the Bible, as well as to standard assumptions in the works of writers dealing with ancient history of the Near East (or Middle East), have led many scholars in the field to call him a "heretic." The standard bearers are not happy about Mendenhall's getting in their way with his findings in such prior works of his as Law and Covenant in Israel and the Ancient Near East, The Tenth Generation: The Origins of the Biblical Tradition, and Ancient Israel's Faith and History. His critics, however, have enjoyed no success in refuting Mendenhall's facts and interpretations. They are based not only on his vast knowledge of ancient languages and customs, but also on his frequent participation in archaeological expeditions that have resulted in findings not consonant with traditional beliefs.

Revelations in Mendenhall's latest book, Our Misunderstood Bible, may prove to be the toughest yet for traditionalists to deal with; and he thinks that the blunt manner in which he expounds them is the reason why publishers told him the book is "unmarketable" and he had to resort to bringing it out via the BookSurge division of I doubt it. The book is simply too skimpy for marketing to book stores and libraries. When a book is as tiny as this one, it is impossible to print the title and author on the spine, and that becomes a big obstacle to sales and distribution as well as to library shelving and cataloging. It is to be hoped that Mendenhall will expand upon the themes in this little but important book, so that it can become a standard reference work shelved in many libraries. Here are samples of Mendenhall's challenges to traditionalist views of the Bible:

+ "God" was originally "Yahweh," worshipped by the ancient Hebrews as their creator and protector. Hence, when Christians pray to "God" to "forgive us our trespasses," they confess that they and people of today known as Jews have inherited the same Creator and stand together as "all Hebrews."

+ Christians who promote "creationism" to deny evolution "make the name of God ridiculous."

+ The story of Noah's ark is merely a revision of the "Epic of Gilgamesh" written at least a thousand years earlier, rendering the ongoing "search for the ark on Mount Ararat" a farcical pursuit. Nevertheless, Mendenhall maintains as part of the theme of his book, the story indicates the ancients' knowledge of a true historical event [in his view a series of river floods, in this writer's view the tale of one great flood].

+ The prediction of a son to be conceived by a "virgin" emanates from a mistranslation of the semitic word almah, referring to a member of a royal household and not to a virgin.

+ The term "commandments" in the "Ten Commandments" is a mistranslation of a word that the ancient scribes used to indicate commitment to the precepts for ethical conduct which they set forth, and they had no intention of presenting those precepts as any kind of order from God.

Because of the difficulties entailed in disseminating such a tiny book, I have to doubt that this valuable work of Mendenhall's will get much attention. That is a shame. I can only hope that he will find a way to expand upon his findings and produce a much larger, footnoted book that will be accepted by a publishing house committed to providing the promotion, distribution, and sales which this latest work of Mendenhall's deserves.

[Note: You will find a sketch of Mendenhall's fascinating career, preceding a lengthy two-part interview I conducted with him, on "Shots from Wild West," the web site of Wild West Publishing House - Go there (by typing or pasting that URL into your web address bar if clicking on it does not work) and, after the site appears, scroll down to the link title "The Common Origin of and Split Between Arabs and Jews." Click on that link title to bring up the biographical sketch and the interview.]

Ann's Bookshelf

Jeanette Winterson
Bloomsbury Children's
0747580642 $16.95

Silver is a small, freckled, orange-haired eleven-year-old. Her family disappeared whilst on a train-trip to London and since then she has been looked after by her aunt Mrs Rockabye. Actually, Mrs Rockabye is like the wicked stepmother in Cinderella, so she makes sure that Silver does all the work and she keeps her in the cellar and feeds her on scraps. Mrs Rockabye's chief ally is her pet rabbit (called Bigamous "on account of his habits") who, unless Silver can bribe him with carrots, spies on her every move. Silver's Elizabethan ancestor, Roger Rover, was knighted for being a successful pirate and bringing back great treasures for the queen. One of these treasures was a wonderful Alchemical Timekeeper and Silver, although she does not know it, is its guardian and is the holder of the secret of Time.

There are, however, people in the world who know about Silver and who want that secret. Abel Darkwater, a sinister, mysterious watch-maker, intends to steal Silver's secret by using hypnosis and dreams to enter her mind. Regalia Mason, a scientist who controls the powerful Quanta company and who intends to take time from those who have time to waste and sell it to important, wealthy people who never have enough of it, plans to kidnap Silver in order to obtain her secret. Both know that the Time Tornadoes and Time Traps which have begun to severely disrupt our world can be controlled by the Timekeeper, and both know that to have such control would give them immense power.

Adults who have read Jeanette Winterson's Lighthousekeeping, will already know her superb story-telling skills and will recognize the child Silver from that book, and hear echoes of Adam Dark in the name of Abel Darkwater. But Tanglewreck is a book intended for children and the characters, like the wicked aunt, the dark villain, and the incompetent thieves (called Thugger and Fisty), have a pantomime simplicity and pantomime humour about them. Nothing about Tanglewreck, however, is old-fashioned, dull or fixed. The children are thoroughly modern and they live in a recognizably modern world of fast food and technological gadgetry. There are elements of magic, too, which is fashionably modern in children's books, but it is magic with a strongly scientific twist. Time travel and Space travel, as well as being an imaginative dream, are seen as real possibilities based on quantum physics . Black holes are encountered, as well as worm-holes and parallel universes. And Dinger the cat, who was bought at Quantum Pets, is in the curious state of being both alive and dead.

Silver's adventures take her from her home, Tanglewreck, to London and back again. But they also take her to the ancient underground world of the Throwbacks (which has a curious resemblance to the maze of sewers below London), and along the Star Road to a place called Philippi, where Time stand still. Gabriel, a Throwback boy becomes her companion, and together they have some truly frightening adventures. Yet, of course, they survive, the secret of the Timekeeper is revealed, and all is resolved. The ending, however, is not the happy-ever-after fairy-tale ending of pantomime. Silver has to make difficult choices, she has to trust her "true heart" rather than follow her dreams; and her final happiness is realistically and satisfyingly tinged with sadness. Altogether, this is a thoroughly engaging book for young adults and also for adults readers who enjoy well-written, well-told, imaginative stories.

The Human Touch
Michael Frayn
0571232175 $59.95

You have to admire Michael Frayn's courage. He has taken on all the major problems that philosophers have argued about over the centuries; all the major assumptions about the universe which underlie the scientific experiments on which we spend billions; and all the ethical credos on which we base our judicial system; and he has come to the conclusion that we make it all up. He may, of course, be right. But his totally anthropocentric view of the universe - a sort of unified field theory of philosophy - suggests that none of the truth we think we have discovered over the centuries is necessarily true: that whatever is out there (and he agrees that there is something out there which we see, feel, smell, hear etc.) may, for all we know, just be meaningless chaos. It is difficult to determine what sort of reader this book will satisfy. It is too esoteric for the casual reader. It probably covers too many highly complex arguments in simplified form for those who like thought-provoking books. And most serious philosophers will find it prolix.

Of course, Frayn writes fluently and well. And he adopts a ploy that is common in philosophical argument, which is to try and make extremely complex, abstract ideas more understandable by using concrete examples drawn from everyday life. So, philosophers talk about the behaviour of billiard balls; or the existence of their left sock (as Tom Stoppard demonstrated in Jumpers); or, as Frayn does, about their choice of marmalade on their breakfast toast and the seemingly automatic rising of a man's cock. He does follow his arguments through and he offers interesting scenarios drawn from myth and literature as freely and easily as he uses philosophical, psychological, scientific and religious arguments. He is no novice to philosophy and he covers a huge amount of philosophical debate with admirable ease and precision. Yet, although this book discusses such fascinating human dilemmas as how, exactly, we make the decisions we do make, and whether we can or do control our lives, Frayn's discussion is shaped, always, to lead to his own conclusion that "every path eventually leads us back to where we started": that the human touch ("our part in the creation of the universe", as the subtitle of the book says) prevails and we make it all up inside our own heads. If that is the case, then why bother with the arguments in this book at all? Clearly, most people don't, and they get along just as well as those who do. Those who are curious about life, however, and want a quick overview of Philosophy, might just as well read the first and last pages of each chapter to see what Frayn is discussing, then think things out for themselves. That meticulously careful thinking and arguing process is what philosophy is: and it can't be learned from books, however persuasively they are written.

The Laughter of Foxes, second edition
Keith Sagar
Liverpool University Press and University of Chicago Press
1846310113 $30.00

This is not, nor can it be, a critical review, since my own extensive study of Ted Hughes' work leaves me very much in agreement with Keith Sagar's interpretation of Hughes's imaginative purpose, methods and achievement. Keith Sagar is unique amongst scholarly critics of Ted Hughes' work. Hughes regarded him as a friend and they met and corresponded with each other for more than twenty years. Hughes also valued his judgment to the extent that he reinstated some dropped Cave Birds poems in the sequence at his instigation and, much later, used him as a sort of "devil's advocate" (Hughes' words) to refine the theory which lies at the heart of Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being. The letters which they exchanged are now in the archives of the British Library. Sagar was the first to see Hughes's work as part of "the great tradition of Western Literature". He was the first, too, to see how the underlying purpose of Hughes' work reflected that of Blake and Lawrence and, in particular, Jungian concepts of the role of imagination in healing and individuation. And Sagar's own books, The Art of Ted Hughes and The Achievement of Ted Hughes (which includes essays by other authors), are still the most readable, most widely used and most useful works of criticism, analysis and explanation for school and university students.

The Laughter of Foxes (first published in 2000 and now revised and updated) builds on this sturdy critical foundation and it is both broader in scope (covering the whole opus of poetry and plays) and deeper in its analysis of the underlying patterns which drove and shaped Hughes' work. Chapter 1, 'The Mythic Imagination', outlines Hughes' abiding concern with the progressive and devastating alienation of Western Man from Nature. Hughes described this as our "exile" from nature, and he believed that it cuts us off from our own inner world as well as from the world around us. Sagar shows how Hughes' quest for healing through the imaginative powers of myth and poetry shaped his writing; and how it led him ever deeper into the explorative use of powerful energies which other artists have called 'duende' and 'mana', or have dealt with through mythic and religious symbolism and ritual. "We can say of Hughes", writes Sagar, "what Hughes said of Eliot, that every poem must be read, chronologically, as part of 'the series which makes up the poet's opus'. In The Laughter of Foxes, Sagar demonstrates very effectively how such a reading can be done, especially in Hughes' plays, where his exploration of the Orphic myth of loss, search and redemption has universal meaning but also had particular meaning in Hughes' life.

In Chapter 2, 'From Prospero to Orpheus', Sagar deals with the poetic relationship between Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. He outlines the way in which both were shaped by their "childhood landscape". He examines their collaborative goals and working methods. And he looks at the way in which their shared lives influenced their work, and how Plath's death changed Hughes' perception of his own poetic purpose. An interesting aspect of this discussion is Sagar's detailed account of the way in which Birthday Letters reflects Hughes' altered view of his own role in fostering Plath's greatest achievement, her Ariel poems: how the "birth of the new creative self" for Sylvia - which they had both regarded as justified "at almost any cost" - becomes, in these poems, an altogether "darker, more confused and doubtful, more fatalistic" process.

Chapter 3, 'The Evolution of 'The Dove Came', is rather different to the other chapters. Here, Sagar challenges the way in which poetry is usually taught, suggesting that the common practice of "artificially detaching the poem from the poet, and from the creative process encourages the belief that, as milk comes from bottles, so poems come from books", and it completely ignores "the complex and fascinating process by which they came into being and got into books". His own approach, demonstrated on a poem he chose "almost at random" from Hughes' opus, offers a superb example of how a poem can and should be read. Using successive manuscript drafts, Sagar illustrates the way in which the poem changed and evolved as Hughes strove for a language of utmost simplicity and truth. And his approach is very like Hughes' own examination of the evolution of Sylvia Plath's poem, 'Sheep in Fog', which is published in Winter Pollen (Hughes, Faber & Faber, 1988).

Chapter 4. 'From World of Blood to World of Light', charts the refining of Hughes' poetic methods, from his early adoption of bloody Orphic ritual (which was spelled out in Gaudete but which appeared everywhere in the harsh realism of his depictions of nature) to his later, more sophisticated adoption of mythic, alchemical and cabbalistic rituals as frameworks for his poems. My own work on the Cabbalistic aspects of Birthday Letters and Howls & Whispers ( shows just how deeply Hughes finally immersed himself in the World of Light, since Cabbala is essentially an ancient spiritual discipline which emphasizes the rescue and redemption of light from the darkness in our fallen world. Sagar's analysis demonstrates Hughes' lifelong progress towards such detailed and disciplined use of visual imagination and memory, and the beautiful simplicity of language he ultimately achieved. Throughout The Laughter of Foxes, Sagar' quotes extensively from Hughes' poetry, plays and essays, and from the letters which he and Hughes exchanged. As an Appendix, he includes 'The Story of Crow'. This is the mythic framework within which Hughes intended the Crow poems to exist, but which he never completed. It is brought together here from Hughes' notes and from his introductions to readings of Crow poems. Crow, too, can be seen as one more step in Hughes' struggle towards an understanding of the human psyche and towards healing our rift with Nature.

At the front of the book is a poem, 'The Healer' by Mark Hinchcliff, which beautifully conveys the influence which Ted Hughes and his work have had on individuals like Mark, on schoolchildren like those Mark teaches, and on all the budding writers who attend creative writing courses at Lumb Bank - one of several centres which Ted Hughes helped to establish in order to foster poetry. The Laughter of Foxes, with its realistic picture of the sort of dedication and hard work entailed in creating any serious work of art, is valuable reading for all such delvers into the world of imagination. It offers a perceptive, and often inspired, reading of some of Hughes's most important work and with its informed and convincing account of Hughes' life and work it is an essential and enlightening resource for scholars at any level. Disclaimer: Although my Timeline of Ted Hughes' life and work is published at the front of this book I have received no financial gain from its inclusion and will receive none from sales of the book.

Ann Skea

Bethany's Bookshelf

Skinning The Cat
Joan fitting Scott
c/o Buy Books On The Web
1094 New Dehaven Street, #100, West Conshohocken, PA 19428-2713
3872 Bellaire Circle, Fort Worth, TX 76109 (author)
0741433583, $9.95, 1-877-BUY-BOOK

"Skinning The Cat: A Baby Boomer's Guide To The New Retiree Lifestyles" is just in time to address the needs of the 'beginning to be of retirement age' baby-boomer generation. This invaluable and quite practical guide for men and women wanting to turn their retirement years into healthy, productive, interesting, quality-of-life enhancing years is presenting in two major sections. Part one deals with such issues as continuing to work, starting a new job or business, working part time or cyclically, not working and just recreating (as in taking up golf or playing tournament poker), volunteerism and philanthropy, travel, returning to school, and taking a sabbatical before returning to work. Part two show just where and how to find help in choosing among the various and diverse retirement options by taking advantage of coaches, classes, retreats, and self-help groups. A very special feature is the suggested reading list for further study and ideas. If you, as a member of the baby boom generation, are about to reach retirement age, then give "Skinning The Cat" a very careful reading – it could well mean the difference between enjoyment and boredom, becoming productive or simply going to seed after you reach 65 and the social security years of your life span.

From The Apple Orchard
Lee Jackson
Images Unlimited Publishing
PO Box 305, Maryville, MO 64468
0930643003, $13.95 1-800-366-1695

Now in a newly revised and expanded second edition, "From The Apple Orchard – Recipes For Apple Lovers" by Lee Jackson is a tribute to the versatility and palate-pleasing nutritional value of the apple. There are more than 150 recipes to prepare apples for delicious consumption that range from Apple-Banana Smoothie; to Apple Horseradish Sauce; to Applesauce Loaf Bread; to Baked Squash with Apples; to One-Crust Honey Apple Pie; to Apple Pandowdy; to Quick Apple Jelly. Enhanced with the inclusion of a descriptive listing of apple varieties, an 'Apple Guide', and an easy-to-use 'Recipe Index', "From The Apple Orchard" is a welcome addition to personal and community library cookbook collections – and an absolute 'must' for apple enthusiasts everywhere!

Sweet Curdle
Cathryn Cofell
Marsh River Editions
M233 Marsh Road, Marshfield, WI 54449
0977276821, $10.00

"Sweet Curdle" is a compilation of poetry by Wisconsin poet, public speaker, workshop facilitator, and literary activist Cathryn Cofell. She has served as an advisor to the Wisconsin Governor for the creation of a state Poet Laureate, as the founding Chair of the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission, and as a board member of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets. Cathryn's skill and imagination are reflecting on every page with poems that fully compel the reader's rapt attention and total appreciation. 'Emergency Exit': She walks away, around the outside circle/of the concert hall, toward the man exactly//opposite. He is far enough off to be only/a hulking figure in a brimmed hat, faceless//as a drop of rain, yet close enough to mean/the rest of her life made beautiful.//She moves toward him deliberate as prayer, but even/as our distance grows, I see she can barely//hold back, that only the crowd, this mass of bodies/and nerves keeps her from dropping her bag,//her cumbersome shoes, from running full tilt into those/arms she moans about, tossing like witchcraft,//her own arms wild open to embrace, this moment/of all things possible, this sweeter than any end.

These Trespasses
Jim Reese
The Backwaters Press
3502 North 52nd Street, Omaha, NE 68104-3506
0976523116, $16.00

An Assistant Professor of English and the Director of the Plains Writers' Tour at Mount Marty College, Jim Reese demonstrates and documents his undeniably talents as a poet and wordsmith with the compilation of his work comprising "These Trespasses". This is a poetry that doesn't have a delicate bone in its whole literary body. Here are a series of highly recommended and distinctive poems that are vivid, blunt, candidly descriptive, and compelling in their engagement with the reader. 'At The Bar With Bella': "Give me a shot of Cuervo/with training wheels," she said./"And fill this guy up."//That's all it took. She had me./I watched her hammer one back and then another./She sucked on the limes, tore them to their rind,/then ordered a bloody beer/and slid to the stool next to me.//"Wedding cake and funeral ham/are my two favorite kinds of food./I'm serious," she said. "Think about it."//So I thought about it./And she made all the sense in the world.

Susan Bethany

Betty's Bookshelf

Before I Knew You
Shelley R. Lee & Denise Lehman
Bowling Green Pregnancy Center
441 Frazee Ave., Suite A, Bowling Green, OH 43402
0978675703 $20.00 419-354-4673

If you've ever had a small child ask you, "Where do babies come from?", you'll appreciate Shelley R. Lee's new picture book, Before I Knew You. This sensitively-written hardcover book features a dad telling his child all about how he was formed and the stages he went through, using appropriate language, and illustrated with tasteful-yet-accurate watercolors by Denise Lehman. No more trying to explain things that really need to be pictured, but are usually shown too graphically for a small child! Although religious terms are not used in the story (making it suitable for public school use), nothing is said that conflicts with a Biblical worldview, either. Before I Knew You was written by Ms. Lee as a fund-raiser for the Bowling Green [Ohio] Pregnancy Center, where she is the director, and it can purchased from there for $20 Center (see contact info below). Eventually, further information will be available at their website at Nice job, Ms. Lee!

52 Family Time Ideas
Timothy Smith
Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Ave. South, Blommington, MN 55438
0764202405 $12.99

Parenting experts say that spending time with our kids is the best way to make sure they turn out right. However, talking about it is easier than doing it. For those who are not all that creative, coming up with quality activities is hard, and "family time" may end up being spent in front of the TV more often than not. Timothy Smith, president of Lifeskills for American Families and father of two, has a solution. Actually, he has 52 solutions, ideas that can be used to make "family time" more than just entertainment, in chapters with intriguing names like Sand Castles or Monuments, It Takes Time to Grow Up, Heart Guard, and May I Serve You?. Most of his ideas take simple, inexpensive props like pens, paper, plastic grocery bags, yarn, cardboard boxes, and paint, although a few do involve watching a particular movie such as Toy Story, Shrek 2, or Finding Nemo, or going somewhere on an outing. There are also activities for holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Independence Day. Each idea includes the following elements: materials needed, main point, warm-up, Bible readings, today's slogan, avtivity, family discussion, adapting for [younger children and teens], prayer, and a (small) journal space for recording memories. For those parents who'd like to have everything on hand so they can choose an idea spontaneously, knowing whatever they need is in the house, there's a master materials list in the back. My four children are grown up now – my youngest child is 20 - and all I can say is, I wish we'd had this book available when they were younger. It would have helped make family night much more productive – and a lot more fun!

Junie B., First Grader: Aloha-ha-ha!
Barbara Park
Denise Brunkus
Random House
1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019
0375834036 $11.95

Junie B. Jones is one of the most rambunctious and just plain cute kids in beginning chapter books today, and Barbara Park tells her stories in hyper-excited first person style, which makes them great for animated reading out loud. In Junie B., First Grader: Aloha-ha-ha, Junie B. and her family (minus baby brother Ollie) is vacationing in Hawaii, and the excitement starts before her family even leaves. Junie B. cannot keep from bubbling over with news in show-and-tell. Her classmates are jealous (most of them) and her teacher is at his wit's end trying to keep a lid on Junie B. during the days preceeding her trip. To distract her, he gives her a disposable camera and a blank book and tells her to take photos of her trip and make a photo journal to share with the class when she returns. When the family actually leaves, Junie B.'s parents have their hands full, starting with the airplane trip, where she annoys the grumpy ladies in front and back of them. On the ground, she is full of questions and loud remarks (shown by Barbara Park in caps, to make it obvious Junie is SHOUTING) that raise eyebrows and attract all sorts of attention. Hawaii turns out to be full of unexpected adventures for Junie B., too. She gets stuck in her new parrot-shaped rubber swim ring and has to wear it for days when she won't let her parents cut it off. During a snorkeling trip, the aquatic life scares her into swimming away, which scares her parents. Their hike ends in disaster when Junie B. pins flowers in her hair, which attract a bird that ends up tangled in her hair. And as they go from activity to activity, she grumbles about having to be quiet all the time. Gradually, though, she begins to have a good time. Along the way, her photos (courtesy of Denise Brunkus's talented fingers) start out pretty lame, but by the end, she's got a whole story of her trip in captioned photos, ready for show-and-tell. She ends her story by saying, "Hawaii was the time of my life." Junie B. Jones's exuberant style of talking and funny expressions make Park's series a hit with beginning readers, whether they read them to themselves or have a favorite adult read them out loud and Junie B., First Grader: Aloha-ha-ha is a nice new addition.

The Snow Princess
Ruth Sanderson
Little, Brown, and Company
1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
0316779822 $16.99

This fairy tale, inspired by a Russian opera, transports its readers to the icy north of Russia, where Father Frost and Mother Spring and their lovely little daughter, the Snow Princess, live. The Snow Princess, who loves her home, has the power to call up snow - from dancing flakes to terrible blizzards – and as she grows up, she learns to use her power wisely. However, when she becomes curious about the world outside, she decides to go out on her own to see it. Her parents reluctantly let her leave, but send her off with a warning ringing in her ears: "Remember this, you must never fall in love. You are safe from death so long as love for a man does not enter your heart." Eventually, she finds herself near a village, where she becomes fascinated by a particular family (and by a young man in that family). After spending hours watching them, she accidentally meets the young man and ends up attending the Winter Festival with him. Realizing she is in danger of falling in love with him, she goes away to forget him. Loneliness and fear of death struggle within her and she finally returns to the village to see and talk to Sergei. As the days pass, she lives as a human girl named Katia and falls in love with Sergei. When her father sends a threatening dream, she must decide what to do. Then Sergei disappears in a storm, and Katia has to find him. Will she remain the Snow Princess, with a frozen heart, or will she allow her heart to thaw toward Sergei and live – and perhaps die – as Katia? I enjoyed Sanderson's use of language in this story, but I enjoyed her wonderfully detailed illustrations even more. From the faces of the various characters to their Russian costumes to the snowy scenery, Sanderson expresses the fairy tale atmosphere of this classic Russian story with a sure touch. I especially like her use of white and various shades of blue to indicate the changing faces of snow in the story. The Snow Princess makes a lovely addition to Sanderson's other fairy tale picture books.

Betty Winslow

Brenda's Bookshelf

The Caged Virgin: A Muslim Woman's Cry for Reason
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Free Press
0743295013 $13.57

This is a hard-hitting book written originally in Dutch by feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and recently translated into English. In this work Ali gives her reasons for denouncing Islam, the faith of her youth, to become an atheist. The reasons revolve around the treatment of Muslim women. Evidence of her work as an interpreter for immigrants to Holland, as a film producer with Theo Van Gogh (who was subsequently murdered), and as a politician are catalogued. As a politician and feminist Ali calls for reform in the treatment of women, most notably in the area of female circumcision. Ali graphically describes this ghastly practice, calling for it not to be tolerated. She discusses domestic violence and even includes a chapter entitled "10 Tips for Muslim Women who want to leave". Caged Virgin gives an interesting insight into Islam and its poor treatment of women. In the beginning Ali is particularly aggressive and at times her book seems more of a personal vendetta than a "Call for Clear Thinking" (the title of the last chapter). Many sweeping statements lack substantiation and I have no doubt some Muslims will find this work deeply insulting. Notwithstanding, as Ali explains in the preface: "Withholding criticism and ignoring differences are racism in its purest form……(and this traps) people who represent these cultures in a state of backwardness." Ali succeeds in highlighting some important women's issues.

Mere Christianity
C. S. Lewis
Harper Collins
0006280544 $9.72

I recently set out to read and review all of C S Lewis' works. I started with Miracles, a heavily philosophical book, and then read Mere Christianity. The latter is an eminently accessible read and, although first published in 1952, gives a wonderfully refreshing account of Christianity and what it means. C S Lewis is an individual and a deep thinker. In this account he steers clear of jargon and puts complex matters across in very simple terms. Difficult topics are usually illustrated two or three different ways, and often with unexpected humour.
The chapter on the Trinity (a notoriously difficult concept to explain), entitled 'The Three Personal God' is the best I have ever read on the subject. Lewis likens God to a three dimensional cube – "In God's dimension so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube" (p162).
Another chapter I found very interesting is the one entitled 'Nice People or New Men'. Here Lewis proceeds to answer his question "If Christianity is true why are not all Christians obviously nicer than all non-Christians?" (p207). Lewis is never preachy or condescending and remains 'denomination-free'. Mere Christianity will undoubtedly continue to be enjoyed by Christians as well as others looking to find out more about the subject. Other titles in the Signature Classics Series include: The Four Loves, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters and Surprised by Joy. I look forward to reading them all!

Finding God in Unexpected Places
Philip Yancey
Hodder & Stoughton
0340864095 $12.89

I enjoy Yancey's probing style and non-conformist approach to Christian writing, so looked forward to reading his latest book Finding God in Unexpected Places. I was disappointed, however, as this book did not measure up to other works like Soul Survivor or Disappointment with God. True to form Yancey points readers in unusual directions – evidenced by section titles such as 'Finding God without really looking' and 'Finding God on the job'. A section entitled 'Finding God in the rubble' deals with Yancey's experiences at Ground Zero. Here he encounters the practical and untiring work of the Salvation Army. Another chapter deals with the author's correspondence with a Muslim man torn between Islam and Christianity. In 'Finding God in a Fractured Society' he meets an unusual and eccentric Good Samaritan in the city of Atlanta who "simply wake(s) up each day and asks God to use her" (p119). It is in 'Finding God among the headlines' that the author seems to lose his way and I struggled here to always 'Find God in Unexpected Places'. Towards the end of the book Yancey seems to regain his form in 'Finding God within the Church'. Other works by the same author include The Jesus I Never Knew, What's So Amazing About Grace and When Life Hurts.

Brenda Daniels

Buhle's Bookshelf

Electrical Contracting, second edition
Michael Sammaritano
The Estimating Room
275 Madison Avenue, 6th floor, New York, NY 11216
0977154106 $79.50

Written by Michael Sammaritano, an electrical and general contractor of forty years' experience, Electrical Contracting is a no-nonsense, in-depth guide to the world of electrical contracting for anyone in the business field, from novice electrical contractor to seasoned professional. Now in an updated second edition, Electrical Contracting is a "how-to" manual for the nuances of running a successful electrical contracting business; emphatically not a "how-to" or "do-it-yourself" for performing actual electrical installation. Chapters go far beyond the basics of contracting and its markets, delving into sales and how to make an accurate estimate, how to negotiate a balanced contract, how to control costs while doing the job, how to collect money from recalcitrant clients, quick start tips and checklists for undertaking jobs, and much more. An absolute "must-have" for entrepreneurs in the field, filled cover to cover with the wisdom of firsthand experience.

Stuart Moore
Penny Farthing Press
10370 Richmond Avenue, Suite 980, Houston, TX 77042
0971901244, $19.95

Stuart Moore's "Para" is a superbly drawn, 192-page graphic novel offering riveting science fiction at a sophisticated level that is as compelling as it is entertaining. When a super collider is fired up, disaster occurs which blights the life of the project head's little girl. There's a government story that the accident resulted in massive and lethal radiation, closing the site to inspection for more than a decade. But when the decade is over and the little girl is now a young woman, she teams up with her dad's best friend, a grad student, and a government agent to see what they can find out in the bowels of the underground experimental structure with its miles of corridors and various control rooms. But it seems that the government wasn't candid all those years ago about what really went wrong. And now the very earth itself is at risk for annihilation. "Para" is a superb example of what a graphic novel can bring to science fiction storytelling and is enthusiastically recommended for action/adventure science fiction fans and enthusiasts!

The Alcoholism And Addiction Cure
Chris Prentiss
Power Press
c/o Yorwerth Associates
410 Fieldstone Drive, Bozeman, MT 59715
0943015448, $15.95

Alcoholism continues to be the most pervasive and widespread addiction in the United States. The number of alcoholics in the country is numbered in the millions. Traditional treatments for alcoholism have relapse rates as high as 80%. Except for one – 'Passages'. This three step treatment program originates from a substance abuse treatment center based in Malibu, California, and is the basis of "The Alcoholism And Addiction Cure: A Holistic Approach To Total Recovery". Co-founder of 'Passages', Chris Prentiss deftly lays out just how to create a personalized, holistic treatment program to completely cure a dependency; explains the four causes of dependency; shows just how thoughts, emotions, and beliefs serve as key factors in the recovery from dependency; and how the stimulation of the body's self-healing potential can lead to the permanent elimination of dependency. A critically important and thoroughly 'reader friendly' instructional guide to recovery from alcoholism or addictions to other drugs or substances, "The Alcoholism And Addiction Cure" is a core addition to personal, professional, substance abuse treatment center, and community library Health & Medicine reference collections and reading lists.

Willis M. Buhle

Burroughs' Bookshelf

Mel Mathews
Fisher King Press
PO Box 222321, Carmel, CA 93922
0977607607 $16.95

The first in a series of seven novels by author Mel Mathews, LeRoi is a novel following the seemingly ordinary man Malcolm Clay, whose car breaks down and whose cell phone suddenly dies, stranding him by a garage and a diner. Malcolm has lived a seemingly successful life, but at what cost? An introspective allegory about the search for prosperity of the soul, a need that lingers despite fulfilling the needs of the body, LeRoi tracks its self-assured, at times sardonic, yet inwardly incomplete protagonist on a journey of expanded awareness. Also highly recommended are the sequels of Malcolm's adventures, "Menopause Man" and "SamSara".

March Into The Endless Mountains
Ray Ward
Weldon Publications
432 Pennsylvania Avenue, Waverly, New York 14892
0927417516 $19.95

Written by USAAF veteran Ray Ward, March Into The Endless Mountains: The Beginnings of War on the Western Frontier of America is a historical novel about the years leading up to the Revolutionary War on America's frontier. The main character is a double spy, caught between two cultures in a pivotal moment of history. American Indian, Tory (British loyalist), and frontiersman perspectives on the brewing war for independence make March Into The Endless Mountains come alive with a palpable impression of the daily life and hard choices of the era. Highly recommended.

Tinera of Vieste
Joseph Dale Bacarti
ProMotion Publishing
9921 Carmel Mount Road, #355, San Diego, CA 92129
1579010555 $16.95

First-generation Italian author Joseph Dale Bacarti presents Tinera of Vieste: An Italian Love Story, a novel set in the small Italian town of Vieste during the sixteenth century. A pair of young lovers, Tinera and Belgardo, flee the oppression of the regional governor and seek refuge with a group of gypsies, in what is the first of a succession of adventures. A convoluted plot keeps Tinera of Vieste brimming with surprises, even as it affirms the abiding and transcendent power of love.

Bodyguard Principles
Frank Sciacca, Jr.
1094 New DeHaven Street, Suite 100, West Conshohocken, PA 19428-2713
074143167X $19.95

Written by professional security operations expert Frank Sciacca Jr., Bodyguard Principles is a straightforward, methodical manual on what it takes to be a bodyguard. Filled cover to cover with information on methods, concepts, and theories directly applicable to a profession with no room for error, Bodyguard Principles covers expectations for standard conduct, what skills are needed and expected (including investigative as well as protective skills), how to conduct a proper vehicle inspection, internet and online concerns, dealing with suspicious packages, and much more. Bodyguard Principles presupposes the reader has training in physical self-defense with or without weapons, and focuses upon the broader principles and methodologies of providing security rather than in-depth coverage of any martial arts. Written in plain, no-nonsense terms, Bodyguard Principles is a "must-have" for anyone seriously considering a career as a professional bodyguard or security provider.

John Burroughs

Carson's Bookshelf

Chernobyl: Confessions of a Reporter
Igor Kostin
Umbrage Editions Inc.
515 Canal Street #4, New York, NY 10013
1884167578 $35.00

Written by prizewinning journalist Igor Kostin, who braved severe radiation to take the only existing photograph of the Chernobyl plant on the day of its catastrophic destruction, Chernobyl: Confessions of a Reporter is a compilation of black-and-white and color photographs that Kostin continued to take for twenty years of the plant, the forbidden zone surrounding it, and the people who worked there. For the first time, Kostin presents Chernobyl's story in words as well as pictures, yet it is the photographs that utterly dominate Chernobyl: Confessions of a Reporter, captured images ranging from men transporting radioactive blocks with their naked hands to the evacuation of villages and the construction of the sacrophagus. A singularly compelling visual glimpse into the heart and aftermath of tragedy.

Pomegranate Roads
Dr. Gregory M. Levin
Floreant Press
6195 Anderson Road, Forestville, CA 95436
0964949768 $18.00

Written by Dr. Gregory M. Levin, Pomegranate Roads: A Soviet Botanist's Exile from Eden is part memoir, part botanist's testimony to a lifetime devoted to researching, collecting, and striving to better understand the humble yet delicious pomegranate. The collapse of the Soviet Union left Levin cut off from his remote Soviet agricultural station and considering himself effectively "exiled from Eden". From the lore of the fruit that tempted Persephone and possibly Adam and Eve, to Levin's trek across Central Asia and the Trans-Caucasus in search of wild and endangered pomegranates, to tidbits of folklore to health benefits to pharmaceuticals connected to the pomegranate, Pomegranate Roads truly astonishes the reader with the many secrets of a seemingly ordinary edible fruit. A handful of black-and-white photographs and an inset section of color plates illustrate this one-of-a-kind celebration of the pomegranate, written as much for lay readers as for fellow botanists.

Professors As Con Artists
Don D. Davis
Prytaneum Press
PO Box 2281, Amarillo, TX 79105
9780907152033 $10.00

Written by veteran challenger of the academic system Don D. Davis, Professors As Con Artists is a little black book that concisely details several glaring flaws in the modern academic system that severely choke the system's ability to produce educated experts and worthwhile academic publications. Love of money is the root of evil - and the monstrous financial incentive provided by monetary research grants drives some of the most egregious corruption. The lack of blind reviewing for grant proposals and submissions for publication in academic journals cause papers to be published or proposals to be awarded money on basis of authorship (is the author a Ph.D.? Is he connected to a well-heeled university?) rather than merit; the immense pressure to "publish or perish" upon professors cause them to delegate nearly all aspects of teaching undergraduate courses to less qualified TAs; and any graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. is literally at the mercy of their advising professor, usually forced to surrender co-authorship of their dissertation, perform legwork for the professor's research, or suffer sexual harassment. Davis especially advises anyone seeking their Ph.D. not to use their own original idea, since their advising professor will most likely take co-author credit for it, but rather to go along with the professor's legwork "guidance" and defer research on original ideas until after the coveted Ph.D. is achieved. Davis also proposes immediate and effective reforms, such as mandatory blind reviewing, blanket prohibition of any professor-student sexual contact, prohibition of joint authorship claims between a professor and the dissertation of his student, and the end of having graduate students teach university classes. A "must-read" for college students and officials everywhere, and particularly valuable before one sinks one's life savings into a college education for oneself or one's children.

Michael J. Carson

Cheri's Bookshelf

The Walls of Westernfort
Jane Fletcher
Bold Strokes Books, Inc.
430 Herrington Road, Johnsonville, NY 12094
1933110244 $15.95

In Jane Fletcher's novel, The Walls of Westernfort, Natasha Ionadis, a devoted Guardswoman, is willing to die for her beliefs and volunteers for the ultimate sacrifice. Fletcher explores serious themes in the Celaeno series and creates a world that loosely parallels the one we inhabit. Despite being female, the rulers of Celaeno are as susceptible to human foibles, and senseless wars, as are the political leaders on Earth. Fletcher weaves a plausible action-packed plot, set on a credible world, and with appealing multi-dimensional characters. The result is a fantasy by one of the best speculative fiction writers in the business. In this volume of the series, the Chief Consultant Pereira, current leader of the Sisterhood believes she has the goddess given right to rule the world and to regulate everything in it. Threatened by rebel heretics, the Sisterhood requests volunteers to carry out a risky assignment to rid the world of the blasphemous heretic leaders, and Natasha's name has been put forth as a worthy candidate. On her mission, Natasha will pose as a heretic along with two other temple guards and thus get close to the women she must assassinate. What happens to a young woman who would do anything in honor of the goddess Celaeno, when she signs up for the mission?

Natasha believes the religious teaching of the Sisters without question. Impressionable, pious, and perhaps brainwashed, Natasha's heart and soul swell with love for the Goddess. However, as she gets to know the heretics, Natasha's faith falters to the point where she doesn't recognize herself nor does she know what she truly believes anymore. Further complications include matters of the heart as Natasha wonders if she can not only maintain her celibacy, and more importantly do what she started out to do. Despite taking place on an imaginary world, while reading Jane Fletcher's brand of speculative fiction, the line is blurred where the reality ends and the fantasy begins. I strongly recommend that you get caught up in the loves and lives of heroines you'll adore. The Walls of Westernfort is an interlinked yet standalone novel that will leave you sated but begging for more. Luckily, there is The Temple at Landfall and Rangers at Roadsend to read until Jane Fletcher puts forth another in The Celaeno Series. The Walls of Westernfort, a 2005 Golden Crown Literary Award Winner, is as engaging as it is well written and should not be missed. I can't wait for the 2007 release of Dynasty of Rogues. Fletcher is also known for The Lyremouth Chronicles.

Distant Shores, Silent Thunder
Bold Strokes Books, Inc.
430 Herrington Road Johnsonville, NY 12094
1933110082 $15.95

If there were ever a series that created a yearning to visit a particular peninsula in Massachusetts if only to catch of glimpse of Sheriff Reese Conlon, her loving partner, Dr. Tory King, Rookie Officer Bri Parker, and now Dr. KT O'Bannon, and Pia Torres, PT, OT, CMT, then Radclyffe's Distant Shores, Silent Thunder will clinch it. After being immersed in the first two novels, Safe Harbor, and Beyond the Breakwater, and the fourth in the best-selling Provincetown series Storms of Change, one can only hope that Radclyffe never tires of writing about these characters because readers will never tire of reading about them. It's not easy to keep a series fresh, but Radclyffe is proficient at bringing in new blood while keeping us abreast of old favorites, to satisfy and yet fuel the insatiable hunger for the ultimate escapism of getting lost in a book.

What endears Radclyffe to her followers goes beyond telling an exciting story in a great setting and tapping into all aspects of human nature. The award-winning author has her fans eating out of her skillful hands by giving them characters who are so real it's either impossible not to search every cruiser or bike for Reese and Bri or to hope if you ever need a doctor in an emergency that Tory or KT will come to the rescue. If you enjoy witnessing the mending of a broken heart and spirit, falling in love, or aspire to having forever with one special person, you will love Distant Shores, Silent Thunder. Radclyffe eloquently puts into words what it feels like when a woman loves another woman with her body, heart, and soul, and it's riveting. Distant Shores, Silent Thunder takes us on the tumultuous journey of a woman when her career and confidence are shaken for the first time and redeems her in every way possible. It is easy to forgive Tory's ex-lover, Dr. KT O'Bannon, her past transgressions because Radclyffe has us falling in love with her transformation. Fate has landed the surgeon a low blow but in the process has taught her what's important in life. KT meets a therapist who not only helps restore the use of her hand, but who restores faith in matters of the heart. KT and Pia are perfect together and as far as love interests go, it's a match made in heaven, but can heaven really be found on Earth?

Whether the scene is between Reese and Tory, Bri and Allie, or KT and Pia, Radclyffe keeps the pace fluid while doing each couple justice. It's wonderful to follow Reese and Tory's pre-marital bliss with baby Regina. Even when Reese's oft-dangerous job and other threats loom on the horizon, the couple's relationship remains solid. Bri shows great promise as an officer and Reese is very proud of her, while Reese is Bri's hero and mentor. Bri's character is put to the test in more ways than one. Is Bri strong enough to remain faithful to her lover studying art abroad in the face of stiff competition by a persistent, desirable fellow officer Allie? Then there is the pleasure of rooting for KT and Pia and hoping they will have their ever after. Further keeping the interest for continual sequels, new characters are always popping up as well, and Counselor Trey Pelosi shows great promise of future story lines. Few authors write medical drama better than those who have lived it. Radclyffe's medical expertise enhances the clinical scenes dramatically but her writing is never condescending or over-the-top. There is that perfect balance so that everyone can enjoy and understand what's going on. She also writes police procedurals with the same flourish. It is no surprise that Distant Shores, Silent Thunder was awarded a 2005 Lammy and was a Goldy finalist in the Romance category. Storms of Change continues the saga and is touted as being Radclyffe's best work to date. This reviewer thinks that every work is her best, only it just keeps getting better. Romance is a leading seller in fiction and Radclyffe has yearning, love, sex, and satisfaction down to an art. Distant Shores, Silent Thunder earns five plus stars and is one of those books you can read more than once and enjoy it more each time.

Gold Mountain
Anne Azel
PD Publishing, Inc.
P.O. Box 70 Clayton, North Carolina 27528
1933720042 $13.99

A tantalizing blend of Chinese Canadian flavors is the best description of Kelly Li's world in Anne Azel's, "Gold Mountain." Azel writes from the heart, and her soul pours out, eloquently and intimately, onto each page. Reading about other cultures is like taking a vacation without the need to leave home. Azel, a gifted author, clearly understands the intricacies of traditional Chinese values and employs that depth of comprehension to enrich this adventure for her readers. Equally as compelling as Kelly's Chinese world is that of Jane Anderson's Caucasian background. Azel depicts both cultures so accurately that it doesn't matter what nationality, religion, or orientation the reader relates to because differences and similarities between and among varying ethnic traditions become transparent. Kelly and Jane are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but as their story unfolds, it appears that Yin and Yang converge to become one.

In the 1800s, many Chinese people referred to the New World as Golden Mountain. Their goal was to gain passage, line their pockets with gold, and wealthy and proud, go back to China. Rather than returning to their homeland, some stayed, but the government made it virtually impossible for them to bring their families from China to join them. In the early 1900s, at the height of the head count, Jimmy Li came and was relentless in building his Golden Mountain as he bought up red brick buildings. All he lacked was a son to inherit his fortune. In 1955, Jimmy Li adopted a son, Jason, whom he revered, but he treated Kelly and her half sister, Sarah, as non-entities. Kelly is keenly aware that she's different. During her teenage years, she remains in the closet. She doesn't date and has no life away from home, but she studies hard every free moment. Kelly works in the back of her father's Chinese take-out until she finds her way out of the kitchen and into law school. Smart and accomplished, she becomes a successful defense attorney. One day in court, she meets Officer Jane Anderson who is a witness for the opposition on Kelly's case. Their paths cross more than once, and mutual attraction takes over where fate left off. It seems a match made in heaven--until Jason Li's murder. Officer Anderson is called to the scene, and their growing affection hits a road block. As Kelly's life falls apart, she laments, "Because I couldn't face my own shame, I had hid the truth at all costs. The costs had been very high: my sister's sanity, my father's death, my aunt's hate, my lover's scorn, and now my fall. The Golden Mountain that my father had so carefully built was no more than ice eaten away by the salt tears of secrets and lies." (p. 81).

This is but one of many passages penned as beautifully; Azel says more in three sentences than many authors say in three pages. Jane, a widow with a young daughter, disappointed her family when she went into law enforcement rather than a more acceptable position as a nurse or other traditional female profession. She redeemed herself when she married Chris and had a child, but his untimely death left her free to follow her heart. What would her family think if they knew that she was a lesbian . . . and that her late husband knew the truth about her? What if she falls in love with the woman of her dreams, but secrets and lies tear them apart? "Gold Mountain" proves that Azel has what it takes to raise the bar in lesbian fiction. Ms. Azel mixes drama, romance, mystery, and the timely topics that lesbians face in our society: bigotry, religious injustice, and the imperative that all countries, not just Canada, legalize gay marriage. She tells the story in a most convincing and satisfying way, while staying true to two cultures. I applaud her efforts. Azel is improving her craft by developing her own style and distinctive voice. If you long for originality in theme, characterization, and plot, then "Gold Mountain" is for you. Azel tells an important, timely, and intriguing story, which entertains even while encouraging the reader to think and explore new ideas and issues. "Gold Mountain" is a five plus star read.

Bio: Anne Azel was born in England but has been a Canadian citizen for many years. She has traveled all over the world and uses her stories to reflect many of her experiences. "Travelling," she says, "has been both rewarding and very hard work." Anne says: "To me, writing is a way of sharing experiences and also a way to creatively record my travels. I find it very relaxing to write, and I have met some truly amazing people since I started to post my stories some years ago." Anne has previously published Seasons (two editions), Murder Mystery Series, Journeys, and Encounters: Book I and Encounters: Book II. Anne, now retired, continues to write. She lives in Northern Ontario. Her interests include canoeing and painting.

Brenda Adcock
Regal Crest Enterprises, LLC
4700 Highway 365, Suite A / PMB 210, Port Arthur, Texas 77642
1932300643 $15.95

"Pipeline" by Brenda Adcock captured my attention from the first six lines and held me captive for the entire ride. Joanna Carlisle is tough, lives life on the edge, and before retirement, she was one of those work-obsessed women who put her career before her family with disastrous results. Jo didn't know what she had until it was gone. The reclusive photojournalist, part-time sleuth is leading a relaxing life out on her Texas ranch until her ex shows up after a fifteen-year absence. Jo feels a familiar pang when Cate discloses the reason for the visit, but her stubborn, self-destructive nature thwarts her ability to repair past regrets. Will Jo learn from her mistakes?

Cate Hammond, an attractive and successful attorney, manages to get back under Jo's skin. Adcock flawlessly weaves the past and present to show the love lost between two passionate women who are so right for each other, the reader prays for reconciliation. "Pipeline" is a classic romance as much as it is a mystery. When Cate enlists Jo's help, Jo, against her better judgment, gets in over her head while investigating the attempted murder of her estranged journalist son, Kyle. She risks her life uncovering the unscrupulous stench of the men running the ABP meat packing business. Watching Jo take on the villains is as compelling as reminiscing about Jo and Cate when they were happy together. Jo's lack of concern for her own safety shows a caring woman of substance, even though she has trouble expressing her love in as many words. There's also the hope that Jo and her son will renew their relationship.

Every scene shows who Jo is and what makes her tic. Adcock's characterization is consistent, convincing, and gives the reader well-rounded, three-dimensional characters. Despite Jo's foul butch mouth or her penchant for pushing away the people she loves, the flawed, yet heroic, woman clinches the reader's wish for her happiness. "Pipeline" is touching. I highly recommend you get a copy of this five star romantic mystery that is hot without being sexually explicit and intriguing without being gory. Adcock successfully validates older women in our youth obsessed society. At 57, Jo is just as feisty, sexy, and adventurous as women who are half her age. Discovering "Pipeline" by Brenda Adcock is just the beginning of what I hope is a one of many memorable reads by this talented author. I can't wait for "Reiko's Garden," due May 2007, and "Redress of Grievances," tentatively due August 2007.

Cheri Rosenberg

Christy's Bookshelf

1106 Grand Boulevard
Betty Dravis
Just My Best, Inc.
Wilmington, Ohio
1932586393 $18.95

Author Betty Dravis has written an intriguing "faction" as she calls it, eloquently weaving fiction with her own personal history. The end result is a powerful peek into family dynamics and relationships. When 16-year-old Billie Jean Sloane elopes with Cal Taylor, the Sloane family is taken aback. But when Billie Jean flees from an abusive Cal to the sanctum of her family's home at 1106 Grand Boulevard, the family gathers around her in an effort to be supportive. Pregnant and depressed, Billie Jean is taken by her Aunt Tommie to Arizona, where she learns a thing or two about the male species. But always in the back of Billie Jean's mind is her former husband Cal, the man with whom she feels a strong connection. After several failed marriages and numerous relationships, Billie Jean eventually returns to the family fold and embraces her siblings. Through them, she learns some pretty important life lessons, one being the subliminal impetus that drove her to marry an abusive man. "1106 Grand Boulevard" is a fascinating read, reminding this reviewer of the very popular, iconic "Peyton Place" and other books (as well as movies and TV series) of like nature. What better way to spend time than to become absorbed in one woman's life journey and the lessons she learns along the way? Filled with great characterization and an enticing story, this is a must-read, can't-put-down.

T An Auto-Biography
Feather Schwartz Foster
Illustrated by Kathe Gogolewski
Red Engine Press
Key West, FL
0978515838 $9.95

Take an amazing journey during epic times of growth and change in America, beginning with the birth of the Model-T Ford in the early 1920's and continuing on to the present. Leading the reader on this fabulous journey is T, a witty, amiable Model-T Ford, who relays his life's journey, from transportation for a doctor who makes house calls, to a family car, on to a delivery car for a grocery store, as a race car, and more. Along the way, T meets exciting historical figures and has some amazing adventures. Charmingly illustrated, "T An Auto-Biography" is a wonderful book to be enjoyed by parents and children alike, and a must-have for every home, school and library.

One Incredible Dog! Kizzy
Chris Williams & Judith Friedman
Moo Press/Keene Publishing
P.O. Box 54, Warwick, NY 10990
0976680556 $15.95 US 845-987-7750

Kizzy is an amazing dog, representative of the R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) program of Intermountain Therapy Animals. This program is aimed at helping those who have problems reading through a specially trained dog who listens in a non-judgmental manner. During one day, Kizzy visits an elementary school library, a woman who suffered a stroke which affected her speech, a child who stutters, a home for troubled teenagers, and a classroom for children learning English as a second language. Kizzy plays with and listens to those with problems reading, and each not only benefits from her services but enjoys her company. This is a heartwarming book about a friendly, lovable dog doing a wonderful service for a special group. Told within a delightful story and appealingly illustrated, this book rates a special place in any child's room.

The Fallen
T. Jefferson Parker
William Morrow/HarperCollins Publishers
0060562382 $24.95

San Diego homicide detective Robbie Brownlaw lived an ordinary life until he was thrown out of a sixth-floor window. Brownlaw survived but developed synesthesia and now sees voices as colored shapes which relay the true emotions behind spoken words. Brownlaw has learned to trust his condition and feels he has his own internal "lie detector". He has also developed a friendship with the man who threw him from the window but finds his marriage beginning to fall apart. When the body of ethics investigator Garrett Asplundh is found in his car beneath the bridge where he proposed to his wife, the general consensus is suicide. After his little girl drowned, Asplundh separated from his wife and began drinking heavily. Brownlaw and his partner, McKenzie Cortez, investigate the case and quickly determine Asplundh was murdered. When he died, Asplundh was investigating a case which involved local government officials and could influence the city's upcoming financial ranking if the results become known. Was the murder tied to his investigation or one of a more personal nature? Parker's written a well-paced mystery with a unique character in Brownlaw. Characterization is nicely portrayed, from Brownlaw's frustration over his crumbling marriage to insights into Asplundh's agony over the death of his daughter and subsequent acts of benevolence.

Twelve Sharp
Janet Evanovich
St. Martin's Press
0312349483 $26.95

In the latest venture of the Stephanie Plum series, Stephanie's back to work as a bounty hunter and teaming up with former filing clerk Lula when Lula isn't singing with the rock band, What. Joe Morelli's still around as the hot boyfriend and mystery man Ranger's off to Miami. Things go haywire when a woman who claims to be Ranger's wife shows up and shoots at Stephanie. Then Ranger disappears after he is accused of kidnapping his little girl, who lives with her mother and stepfather in Miami. When the woman who claims to be Ranger's wife is murdered, Stephanie's out to prove Ranger's innocence, unaware she's attracted the attention of a Ranger wannabe. Anything goes and a lot happens with this 12th installment. Janet Evanovich proves herself the master of wit with dialogue to die for and plenty of humor topped with loads of action. The triangle between Stephanie, Morelli, and Ranger continues but a new relationship has been added to the mix: Lula and Tank, Ranger's number one man. Highly recommended.

Christy Tillery French

Debra's Bookshelf

At Risk
Stella Rimington
c/o Random House
1745 Broadway, 17th floor, New York, NY 10019
1400079810 $6.99

Thirty-four-year-old Liz Carlyle, the protagonist of Stella Rimington's debut novel, is an intelligence officer with MI5, Britain's Secret Service. At Risk finds Liz heading up an investigation into the possible infiltration of Britain by an "invisible," a terrorist who is or can pass as English and so not arouse suspicion: a nightmare, in other words. Rimington leads readers through the investigation, following Liz as she and her team track and analyze the terrorists' activity, and following the terrorists as they make small but significant errors that render them vulnerable to capture. Rimington tells her story from multiple perspectives, including that of the invisible, whom she is able to make three-dimensional--not sympathetic, surely, but human. Among the good guys, Liz is a well-rounded character, and those working around her emerge as distinct personalities, though they are not explored in depth. The interaction between Liz and her colleagues feels right, in part because Rimington writes dialogue well, weaving together the personal and work-related threads of small encounters realistically. Rimington's writing also shines when she is introducing background information--most noticeably in the first chapter--which she does very deftly.

It should hardly surprise us if the intelligence-related details in Rimington's thriller ring true. The author worked for the Secret Service for almost thirty years prior to her retirement in 1996, and she was appointed director general of MI5 in 1992. What is surprising is that Rimington has pulled off such a great piece of fiction her first time out, telling a complex story that is both riveting and well-written. The only criticism I have is minor, that Liz's problematic personal relationship--an affair with a married man who cannot know the nature of her work--plays as an afterthought and might well have been omitted. (Perhaps this relationship will be explored further in Rimington's sequel, Secret Asset.) Fans of spy novels take note: this smart intelligence procedural is a great read.

Pardonable Lies
Jacqueline Winspear
Henry Holt
175 - 5th Avenue, Suite 400, New York, NY 10010-7725
0805078975 $23.00 1-888-330-8477

Pardonable Lies is the third installment in Jacqueline Winspear's series of historical mysteries featuring Maisie Dobbs, Psychologist and Investigator. (Read my review of Maisie Dobbs, the first book in the series.) This outing finds Maisie juggling three cases. The first and least demanding of her attention involves a fourteen-year-old girl who's been charged with murder. More interesting, and more dangerous for Maisie, are the two cases that require her to confront her ghosts. Both an old friend and a prominent barrister charge Maisie with investigating the fate of their loved ones, a brother and son respectively, who were listed among the dead of the Great War. What happened to the men in fact proves to be more interesting than anything that was reported to their families by telegram. Looking into their deaths brings Maisie back to France, which in 1930 hardly resembles the shell-shocked landscape she knew during the War, when
she'd served, and nearly died, working as a nurse at a casualty clearing station.

Pardonable Lies is well written and nicely plotted and steeped in period detail. The Maisie Dobbs books are cozies, which is to say that they are gentle reads, no wallowing in the gory specifics of blood and guts. But Pardonable Lies is not a light book, exactly. Maisie is indeed haunted by her experiences in the War, as are the people she is in daily contact with. The aftershocks of a war that claimed so many lives and ripped Europe apart are felt everywhere and provide the series with an affecting backdrop. And there are occasional references in this third book to the political goings-on in Germany, the emergence of Hitler and the growing influence of the Nazi party, which remind the reader--if we'd needed the reminder--that Maisie's world is a precarious place, destined soon enough for a second terrible war. Maisie doesn't know this yet, of course, and her ignorance--the ignorance of all of Winspear's characters--adds to the book's poignancy.

As we learned in the first Maisie Dobbs mystery (I have not yet read the second), Maisie was trained in a sort of holistic detection by an enigmatic wise man, Maurice Blanche. We learn more about Maurice's history in this installment, as Maisie's investigations lead to some trouble with her mentor. Among Maisie's skills are her ability to sense an interlocutor's emotional state by adopting his or her posture--something I find a little hard to swallow but which isn't made too much of in Pardonable Lies. We also learn here that Maisie has the ability to sense the presence of spirits. We are told, in fact, that Maisie is attended by two spirits herself. Readers may find the supernatural elements in the book off-putting, but again, these are not emphasized and are not essential to the plot. My qualms about the intrusion of the supernatural into Maisie's story aside, I quite enjoyed Pardonable Lies. It won't keep you up late reading, but it's a solid, enjoyable historical.

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her
Melanie Rehak
15 East 26th Street, 15th floor, New York, NY 10010
0151010412 $25.00 1-800-543-1918

Melanie Rehak has written a fascinating history of Nancy Drew, the preternaturally competent girl sleuth whose line of wholesome mysteries was one of some two dozen series published by the Stratemeyer Syndicate beginning in the early 20th century. Edward Stratemeyer, a prolific writer of children's literature himself--Rehak reports that he published 42 dime novels between May of 1892 and November of 1893 alone--created the Syndicate in 1905. The idea was that children's books would be written by Stratemeyer in collaboration with a number of ghostwriters and published pseudonymously. Stratemeyer provided detailed outlines and farmed the stories out to his stable of writers, and he edited the incoming manuscripts, sometimes extensively, a process meant to ensure consistency in style and plot from book to book. At the same time, the publication of the books under pseudonyms meant that the continuation of a series would not depend on the performance of any one author. Stratemeyer's creations included a great many familiar names--the Bobbsey Twins, Bomba the Jungle Boy, and of course the Hardy Boys. In 1929 he interested his publisher, Grosset & Dunlap, in a new series of mysteries aimed at girls, and he assigned the first Nancy Drew books to Mildred Augustine Wirt, the first of two strong-willed women who would be inextricably linked with the girl detective. Stratemeyer did not live to see the meteoric success of his creation. He died in 1930, after which the Syndicate was run by his two daughters, Harriet and Edna, but primarily by the former. Harriet would control the Syndicate and its creations up until her death in 1982.

Rehak tells the story of Nancy Drew against a backdrop of 20th century history, describing how Nancy changed with the times--her fashion and lingo receiving occasional updates, for example, and the whole series undergoing an overhaul in the late sixties, in part to purge it of racist language. (The Nancy you grew up with, that is, may not have been the one your mother knew.) Rehak brings the story right up to the present: Simon & Schuster, which purchased the Syndicate after Harriet Stratemeyer's death, recently released a new series of Nancy Drew books in celebration of her 75th birthday. Much of Rehak's book is focused on the sometimes contentious relationship between Harriet Stratemeyer and Mildred Wirt. The Stratemeyer Syndicate was jealous of its properties, and Harriet in particular was a fierce guardian of the secrets behind the books' authorship. She came, in fact, to claim to be Carolyn Keene herself--the pseudonymous author of the Nancy Drew books--giving no credit to Mildred Wirt, who wrote 23 of the first 30 books in the series (as well as many other books for the Syndicate). The uneasy relationship between the two women makes Rehak's book that much more compelling.

Rehak's book is clearly the product of a great deal of research, and it is smoothly written. The story behind Nancy Drew's authorship is a complicated one, made so in part by Harriet Stratemeyer's deliberate obfuscation of the truth over the years, but Rehak has done a good job of unknotting the girl detective's messy history. I enjoyed in particular the details included on the inner workings of the Syndicate and would have liked to know even more about the collaborative process, if possible--an example of the synopses the Syndicate supplied its authors with would have made interesting reading, for example. The book might also have been improved by the inclusion of a complete list of Nancy Drew books, with publication year, author, publishing history, etc. My only complaint about the book is that Rehak sometimes goes into more detail than is necessary about tangential subjects. We learn, for example, not only about Harriet Stratemeyer's preparations for entering Wellesley College--a campus visit in 1910, entrance exams--but also about the founding of the institution by Henry Durant in 1875. But Girl Sleuth tells a story that should interest anyone who grew up on any of the Stratemeyer staples--Nancy Drew or Frank and Joe Hardy or any of their counterparts. Certainly reading the series' back story made me interested in digging up some Nancy Drews myself.

Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish
Tom Shachtman
North Point Press
086547687X $25.00

When they turn 16, children who have been raised among the Old Order Amish experience a curious coming-of-age ritual, the rumspringa--or "running around"--a period during which they are given license to experience the conveniences and temptations, previously forbidden them, of mainstream, "English" society. Amish youth in rumspringa can dress like their mainstream contemporaries, and they can drink and smoke and date and party, and some of them engage in such behaviors with dangerous abandon. Some of the rumspringa parties attended by Amish youth differ little from those thrown by non-Amish teenagers: sex and drugs and rock and rap, vomiting and sleeping in, unplanned pregnancies. The Amish, that is--and this is something I would never have dreamt I could say prior to reading this book--are, some of them, too wild for this reviewer. Other Amish youth, perhaps most, are more restrained in their rumspringa explorations, confining their wild behavior to attendance at parent-approved events. The rumspringa period is intended to give the young Amish some experience of mainstream culture so that they can make informed decisions, when the time comes, about whether or not to join the Amish church as adults. The period ends, ideally, when a young adult in rumspringa decides to be baptized into the church, which implies refraining thenceforth from the illicit behaviors they were allowed briefly to experience. Some 80% of Amish youth do, in fact, return to the fold.

Tom Shachtman's Rumspringa is the product of more than 400 hours of interviews conducted between 1999 and 2004. Shachtman focuses on the period of rumspringa, but in fact his book serves as an introduction to Amish life as a whole. Each of the author's 11 chapters centers on some aspect of Amish life--education (most Amish aren't educated beyond the 8th grade), farming, punishment by shunning, the role of women in Amish society. Shachtman profiles a great number of individual Amish of varying ages, returning to his subjects' stories throughout the book as anecdotes from their lives become pertinent to his current theme. Shachtman seamlessly integrates direct quotes and information gleaned from the interviews into his narrative. And in fact Shachtman writes very well throughout the book. His prose is clear and admirably precise. Shachtman's book is also fascinating, at least to this reader, who was previously largely unfamiliar with the particulars of Amish culture. I cannot know how a reader raised in the Amish faith would respond to the book, but Shachtman's study seemed to me a very thoughtful and fair-minded exploration of the society. The author finds value in much of what Amish culture has to offer--the Amish work ethic, for example, dependable community support, their care of the elderly and infirm--while finding fault with other aspects, for example, their abbreviated educational system. Shachtman concludes with a chapter considering why so high a percentage of youths in rumspringa eventually join the church. What is the allure of life in Amish society, considering that the price of belonging, the renunciation of much of one's independence, is so high? It is a very interesting discussion.

Debra Hamel, Reviewer

Dustin's Bookshelf

The Troublesome Amputee
John Edward Lawson
Raw Dog Screaming Press
5103 72nd Place, Hyattsville, MD 20784
1933293152, $8.95, 108 pages

I never considered myself a fan of poetry until my ignorant hands caressed the pages of John Edward Lawson's collection, The Troublesome Amputee. His voice is unique, unlike anything or anyone. Lawson has a vast comprehension of humanity, an understanding of its morbid normality, which can be found within the bizarre, the humorous, and the pleasingly cloaked social commentary composed here. I bless you, eager reader, with this tiny pleasure:

"A Living Nightmarionette"

It dangles over the crib casting
shadows on the crying infant,
grows larger with each passing
night, feeding more aggressively
as proud parents smile at it
from the darkness

Lawson is honest in his words, unafraid to scream the unspeakable, beautifully crafting in intricate detail that which some would, and should, and will call a bizarro genius. For those who have found interest, I suggest a visit to Raw Dog Screaming Press' online presence at:

Last Burn in Hell
John Edward Lawson
Raw Dog Screaming Press
5103 72nd Place, Hyattsville, MD 20784
0974503169, $13.95, 172 pages

Without a doubt, John Edward Lawson is what Friedrich Nietzsche would have called an "Ubermensch" ("overman," or "superman") of the written word. Last Burn in Hell is a nonstop romp in a bizarre world of a man who has one of the best, and at the same time, worst jobs possible. His landscape is fresh, his strokes are perfect, and the final product is a wonderfully mastered piece of bizarro fiction that will leave you enthralled. You will be left craving more work of Lawson. More information on the work of John Edward Lawson can be found online at

Dustin La Valley

Gary's Bookshelf

Keep Hope Alive Memoirs of Khaled M. Diab
Eileen Fleming
We Are Wide Awake
Post Office Box 120321, Clearmont, Florida 34712
1425953557 $25.00

At first I thought this had something to do with the famous line of Jessie Jackson. I'm delighted to say it is much, much more. The author shows that there are many people from all over the world who are moving in the right direction to establish peace in the Middle East. The organization Olive Trees Foundation for Peace is Arabs, Jews, and Christians who have formed a non-profit non-political group who have one goal: to have Israelis and Palestinians live side by side in peace. These are people from all walks of life who are committed to changing the area into a peaceful region. Social movements like this grow until finally government jumps on-board. This is so counter to the policies of the Bush administration. As dialogue continues to grow on this subject government will be forced to rethink its approach to the region. It just won't be any time soon. This is a book that should be read by anyone who does not believe there can be peace in the Middle East. It should also be included in schools and on the college level to help focus on how the area can move toward peace.

Sea Change
Robert B. Parker
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
0399152679 $24.95

This is another great novel in the Jesse Stone series that takes place in Paradise and Ftort Lauderdale, Florida. I loved the fast pacing and the well-defined characters. Parker is a master of the mystery novel and this one shows why.

Weird Florida
Eliot Kleinberg
Chapin House Books
A subsidiary of The Florida Historical Society Press
435 Brevard Avenue, Cocoa, Fl 32922
9780977107957 $19.95

Kleinberg has collected from newspapers and other press sources the craziest most bizarre stories of the state of Florida. In this edition he reveals the truth about the lady in St. Pete who mysteriously burned to death, a man who tried to bring his girlfriend back from the dead, criminals who do such stupid things that get them caught almost as soon as they commit their crimes. The stories are interesting reading and will have readers laughing out loud.

Weird Florida II
Eliot Kleinberg
Chapin House Books
A subsidiary of The Florida Historical Society Press
435 Brevard Avenue Cocoa, Fl 32922
0977107930 $19.95

The second installment of weird Florida stories is more of the same madness that sets the state apart from others in the country. This time he writes about the 2000 Presidential Election, Elian Gonzalez, the anthrax attacks on the media company that puts out the National Enquirer, Rush Limbaugh's drug problem, the confusion in Ft. Lauderdale when James Earl Jones made an appearance there, and of course this book would not be complete without the loony things criminals do that get them caught. With both books I have found so much information that is true to use in my own works of shorter fiction.

Angel with Attitude
Michelle Rowen
Hachette Book Group USA
1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
0446616990 $6.50

I have to say the first thing that drew me to this book was the authors last name that is a different spelling from my own. I also was intrigued by the title and loved her tale of an angel who is kicked out because she has a very bad attitude. Rowen has created a story that is laugh out loud fun with characters that completely charm the reader. This is a romance novel that moves along at a brisk pace and is good satire. This work is a delightful novel that even religious folks will enjoy.

My Father, My President
Doro Bush Koch
Hachette Book Group USA
1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
0446579904 $29.99

I am no great fan of the Bush family but I have to say I really loved this book. George H. W. Bush's daughter Doro has written a remarkable portrait of her father, President Bush #41. She retells historical events and delves into the many positions Papa Bush held but she also gives us a picture of the man himself. What emerges is a very caring, down to earth person who is a role model for other senior citizens. I epically liked the relationship that developed between President Bush 41 and President Bill Clinton. #42. There are also funny stories she tells about personal family matters. This is a book for anyone to get a better understanding of this particular president.

The Trangle Conspiracy
David Kent
Pocket Books
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
074349752X $7.99

Before this title I had never read anything by David Kent. I will in the future make it a point to read any other novels by him because this is a page turner that is more than a thriller. Faith Kelly works for Department Thirty, a government agency while her brother Sean who used to work for Immigration and Customs now turned into an investigator has been hired by a powerful conservative senator to find his daughter. Brother and sister who are not close are now entwined in Sean's case that involves prostitution and a terrorist organization. What sets this novel apart from most of this genre is the character development and conflicts between them.

101 Reasons to Dump Your Man and Get a Cat
Molly Katz Illustrations by Merle Nacht
William Morrow
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
0060884746 $14.95

This is a very funny book that compares cats to men and why women are better off with a cat. This is a perfect gift book for any occasion. The author is very insightful and says so much in so few words.

Santa Baby
Jennifer Cruise and Two Novellas by Lori Foster and Carly Phillips
St. Martins
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
0312939760 $7.99

Three authors have written charming stories for the Christmas season. "Hot Toy" by Cruise reminded me of the movie "Jingle all the Way" but it also has foreign spies, cops and secret codes. "Christmas Bonus" by Lori Foster takes place at the Christmas party when two coworkers learn a lot more about each other and "Under the Mistletoe by Carly Phillips is the start of a hot new sexy relationship at Christmas.

Lights Out Tonight
Mary Jane Clark
St. Martins
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
0312323174 $23.95

This is another in the series of suspenseful tales that are geared around the Key News Network. I've always loved this author's behind the scenes world of network news and this one is a great addition to her other books. The story moves along with tense twists and turns until its final interesting ending. Clark is a master of this type of novel.

Gary Roen

Gloria's Bookshelf

Kidnapped: An Irene Kelly Novel
Jan Burke
Simon & Schuster
1230 Ave. of the Americas, 14th fl., New York, NY 10020
0743273850 $24.00 1-800-223-2336

The name of the murderer in Kidnapped, Jan Burke's wonderful new novel in the Irene Kelly series, is made known to the reader in the book's first sentence, as Cleo Smith has just killed Richard Fletcher as the book opens. But lest you think there is no suspense in the ensuing pages, think again. Though we know the name, the identity and the "why" of the murder s another matter entirely. And the murder is just for openers. At the same time Richard is killed, his four-year-old daughter, Jenny, disappears. A year later, Mason, one of Richard's sons, is tried and convicted of the murder, and sentenced to prison; Jenny has never been found, although her mother is convinced she is still alive.

The Fletchers are a well-known family in and around Las Piernas, CA. The patriarch, Graydon Fletcher, and his late wife adopted twenty-one children over the years, as well are raising others as foster children, and many of their offspring have done likewise. Fairly self-sufficient unto themselves, they keep their children close, limiting their interaction with other children, establishing private schools which most of the children have attended, or home schooling them. The members of the Clan, as some of them refer to the family, include members of most of the professions: doctors, lawyers, dentists, accountants, a policeman, etc., so they can rely on their own for most of their needs. Five years after the Fletcher murder and kidnapping, Irene Kelly, reporter on the Las Piernas News Express and wife of a homicide detective in the Las Piernas Police Dept., has just written a major story on missing/kidnapped children (discovering in the process that nearly 800,000 children were reported missing in just a recent one-year period in the United States-a staggering number). Meeting one of the many members of the Clan, Caleb Fletcher-who is convinced of his brother's innocence-Irene agrees to help him in his ongoing search for the truth, and for his missing sister. The search takes Irene into unexpected discoveries, in the process putting her in danger. She learns that, as one character says, "It has always been about the children."

I had one problem with this book: when the identity of the murderer is made known, it required a big suspension of disbelief on this reader's part – the revelation was fascinating, but somewhat implausible, as was the character itself. That notwithstanding, the book is very well-written and suspenseful, and another enjoyable entry in this series. Recommended.

Slay Ride
Chris Grabenstein
Carroll and Graf, 245 West 17th St., NY, NY 10011,
0786718773 $14.95 800-788-3123

The mid-December day starts out for Scott Wilkinson, a 30-year-old MBA advertising executive from New Jersey, in not extraordinary fashion: he must catch an early morning flight out of Newark Airport to Dallas on a routine business trip, and his limo driver, after arriving late to pick him up, drives in manic fashion in order to get him to the airport within Scott's tightly structured time schedule. A perfectly usual thing for any young businessman in the NY Metro area to experience. Except that this limo driver, Nikolai Kyznetsoff, against whom Scott lodges a complaint, is not at all ordinary (ex-KGB among other things), and he vows vengeance against Scott, who he feels has ruined his life – he is fired as a result of the incident. And, to paraphrase the Hulk, you wouldn't like to make Nikolai angry – and he is very, very angry - and he knows where Scott lives. Almost precisely one year later, Scott's life intersects with that of Christopher Miller, a 50-year-old FBI legend. Chris has a wife and a six-year-old daughter he adores, and has been on limited desk duty after a superior exacted his punishment when Scott took the spotlight away from him in a headline-making capture. Chris has become involved in a police investigation of Russian mob activity in Brooklyn which leads back to the aforementioned Nikolai, and finds he must extricate Scott from a precarious situation, which in turn puts his own life and that of his family in danger. The action is fast and furious, and the suspense builds to an exciting conclusion. This is the start of a promising new series, with Chris Miller as the protagonist, from Mr. Grabenstein, previously the author of the much-enjoyed Tilt-A-Whirl and Mad Mouse, and in mostly the same light-hearted vein [if one doesn't count the violence and murders] as the previous novels. Not to be taken too seriously, it's a lot of fun, with just enough suspense, and just in time for the holidays [which play an important part in the plot].

In This Rain
S. J. Rozan
Delacorte Press
1745 Broadway, 24th floor, NY, NY 10019
038533804X $24.00 800-726-0600

In an odd coincidence, having recently finished reading's S. J. Rozan's In This Rain, I read an article in that morning's edition of the New York Times dealing with the new designs just made public for Ground Zero, referring in its opening sentence to "the mediocrity we have come to expect from a planning process driven by political opportunism, backdoor deal-making and commercial greed." These are precisely the issues with which Ms. Rozan deals in her wonderful new book. A scandal in New York City involving the ever-burgeoning construction industry following a death at a building site results in a plea-bargain by a bribe-giver and –taker, and a prison sentence for Joe Cole, a cop with the City Department of Investigation who, though innocent, still feels guilt for being too fixated on getting to the 'top guy' in the scheme to see the potential danger in shoddy practices that ultimately resulted in death. Now, having served two and a half years in prison and out on parole, and having lost, perhaps forever, his reputation, his wife and his daughter, he is contacted by his former partner, who is investigating [and wants to enlist Joe's help in] a whole new, but startlingly similar situation involving possible corruption in the construction of a huge new development in Harlem, with some heavy hitters, wealthy and with influence in high places, involving more than one death, both 'accidental' and homicidal. The ensuing probe reaches the highest levels of local government, and threatens careers and, increasingly, lives. S. J. Rozan is an author who reels you in slowly.

Unlike others who try to grab you with an opening sentence, or paragraph, or chapter, Ms. Rozan steadily pulls the reader into her story, and the lives of the compelling characters depicted. The groundwork, and background, and events from which the rest of the story flows, consume about the first 100 pages of the book, by which point the reader is thoroughly 'hooked,' and by which point, in her inimitable style, the author has immersed the reader into big-city politics [as well as racial politics], construction moguls, and the greed and ambition that drive them. The reader is presented with an intricate puzzle, not unlike that created in Absent Friends, this author's previous stunning standalone novel. And when you think you know where the plot is going, Ms. Rozan throws an unexpected curve that takes the book, and the reader, off in another direction when, in her words, the cat becomes the mouse. The depiction of New York, often in the rain [as implied by the title] in this book, is always a particularly special ingredient of this author's work. The book has everything – terrific writing, pulse-pounding, hold-your- breath moments, suspense – S. J. Rozan has another winner.

The Grave Tattoo
Val McDermid
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
2 Bloor Street East, 20th fl., Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4W IA8
0002006669 $22.95

This book is available at this time only in/from the UK and Canada. The Grave Tattoo represents something of a departure for Val McDermid, although admittedly this reader hasn't read everything this author has written. If memory serves, however, Ms. McDermid's prior works are quite a bit darker than her newest novel, which deals with murders past and present, tho the murders take place off stage. The former is a body discovered in a bog which apparently is 200 years old, nicknamed Pirate Peat for its location and the fact that the body showed signs of tattoos typical of the South Sea Islands and thought by some to be that of Fletcher Christian, of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, or infamy. Christian was known to have had relatives in the area whe re the body, or what was left of it, was found. More intriguing still is the fact that it appears possible that when he returned to the Lake District of England, he told his tale of what had transpired on that fateful journal to his friend, William Wordsworth, who in turn may have committed that tale to a long narrative poem which, if it truly exists, would be worth a fortune, both in money and scholarly fame. At least that is the line of thought being followed by Jane Gresham, a native of the Lake District herself and a Wordsworth specialist, who is tantalized by such a possibility.

After the body's discovery, Jane takes a study break from her university seminars [and her part-time waitressing job] in London to follow up the possibilities of the existence of such a document. But when she starts seeking out and interviewing the descendants of the last person known to have had the putative papers, someone appears to be murdering them, though the police are none too sure the deaths are murders as the victims are all quite elderly and their deaths might easily be from natural causes, albeit suspiciously coincidental. But when attempts are made on Jane's life, that certainly seems to indicate that there is a murderer about. The Grave Tattoo is more of a historical novel than one expects from Ms. McDermid, and a genre this reader generally shies away from. But the quality of the writing is exactly what one expects from this author, and I soon found myself caught up in the mystery of the long-ago murder victim, a section of whose writings appears before each chapter, as well as the present mystery, and the suspense builds up to the solution of both at the very satisfying conclusion.

Keeper of the Keys
Perri O'Shaughnessy
Delacorte Press
1745 Broadway, NY, NY 10019
0385337965 $25.00 800-726-0600

Ray Jackson –successful, handsome architect living and working in Southern California—has lost his wife, Leigh. Well, actually, she walked out on him. He has had no word from or about her since, she has simply disappeared. Even before that, of late Ray has been a troubled young man; his growing-up years have begun haunting him. Ray's mother (a single mom) having moved several times during his childhood (he had attended eight schools by the time he started high school), sometimes in the dead of night and always without explanation, he is a man defined by his feelings of not belonging anywhere. Almost understandably, Ray has become obsessed with his vaguely remembered past, and the houses in which he and his mother had lived. He muses: "Every unhappy adult probably started off as an unhappy child. He must have had happy times. Esme swore he did. What he remembered instead was taking one step forward and getting yanked back two steps, painfully. He would be a different person now, the man who could have held on to his wife if he hadn't been ripped out of the soil over and over when he was young, until he'd lost track of who he was and where he was, rolled himself up like a bad set of blueprints, and stopped growing." And he becomes, or perhaps has always been, obsessed with keys, having long ago been dubbed by his mother "the keeper of the keys."

"Every house they stayed in, whenever they moved, he had kept the key. His mother, who held many day jobs, insisted he have a key to any house they lived in, so he did. She was always careful with keys. The houses were kept locked. Keys were precious. "Protectors," she called th em." Fittingly, in a particularly childish act, he uses a key in a fit of rage to wreak his revenge against his partner, who has betrayed him on a personal and professional level. Ray's behavior becomes beyond childish, nearly demented. Kathleen ("Kat") Tinsley, at one time and for many year's Leigh's best friend, which friendship ended not long after Leigh met Ray (the circumstances of which are enigmatic to the reader), has decided to try to repair the "unfinished business" between them, and turns up on Ray's doorstep one day looking for Leigh. Both Ray and Kat embark on a search for understanding of and resolution for their pasts. As much as I have liked the prior books in the Nina Reilly series by these authors [the sister team of Mary and Pamela O'Shaughnessy], this standalone novel was a disappointment to me. The dialog was unrealistic and the writing uneven, and I found myself not caring for the characters and only mildly interested in the outcome.

Blinded by Darkness
Tony Burton
Honey Locust Press
POB 205, Ranger, GA 30734
0977840247 $8.95 706-307-0068

The peaceful calm of a small Southern town and its church members is disrupted when several occurrences take place: 3 dozen parishioners are sickened after a church potluck dinner; the church itself is vandalized; one of the church members, a man who has donated property on which a badly needed new church building is to be constructed, is killed in a suspicious 'accident;' the tires of the Pastor's vehicle are slashed; and someone tries to run him and his wife off the road, and succeeds. Although Pastor Thomas Wilson hates to suspect any of the church members of being behind these events, it is becoming obvious that is indeed a possibility. The church council had approved the building of the new church, but not everyone agreed that the large expenditure entailed was necessary. And there are some whose interests would be better served if a proposed commercial establishment was erected on the site instead. Pastor Thomas resolves to try to the get to the bottom of these increasingly violent incidents before they escalate further: "Lord, give me wisdom, and help me to understand this puzzle. I'm no detective, but if I'm to minister to my flock, I have to know who to trust and who I can't trust. And I have to know how to minister even to those who are killers."

Blinded by Darkness is a quick, eminently readable novel, with all mysteries resolved and an ending that put a smile on my face. The publisher has included in this printing two short stories filling in the background of three of the principal players in Blinded, a welcome and enjoyable bonus.

Fools Rush In
Sunny Frazier
Wolfmont Publishing
POB 205, Ranger, GA 30734
0977840255 $11.95 706-307-0068

Fools Rush In, the first full-length novel by Sunny Frazier, opens with a moment from the mind of a young man who is dying from a lethal heroin injection: "Faded green curtains danced in slow motion away from the window. A spider on the sill hung precariously on the strands of a web. Time slowed to a dusty crawl. The young man licked his lips with great effort and relished the sensation of his tongue against the dryness." The about-to-be-victim has been a confidential informant for the narcotics unit in Central Valley in the San Jacquin Valley of California, and the sear ch for his killer takes the police, and the reader, into the world of narcotics trafficking, its denizens and its victims. The undercover detective to whom the unfortunate young man reported enlists the aid of his ex-girlfriend, Christy Bristol, a clerk in the Sheriff's Dept., who hobby is casting horoscopes, despite the fact that he is and always has been a non-believer in astronomy – that conflict had led to their breakup - but now that very hobby has brought him back to her door, and will also place her in harm's way. This reader has a small problem with the concept that a drug dealer and head of a gang would say to one of his cohorts: "…but you're not the brains of this outfit. I was in the lead spot when we rode and I've stayed at the head of the formation all these years because I've got leadership qualities. Says so in my horoscope." But I guess that's where the willing suspension of disbelief comes in. Fools Rush In is an enjoyable novel, and Christy an interesting and likeable protagonist. I must admit to never having been one to follow astrology, but the author makes the subject very interesting. And I loved Christy's observation that "Pluto was still considered a planet in astrology-speak." Ms. Frazier gives the book a very satisfying ending.

Capital Crimes
Jonathan and Faye Kellerman
Ballantine Books
1745 Broadway, 24th fl., NY, NY 10019
0343467981 $24.95 212-782-9000/800-726-0600

Capital Crimes is comprised of two novellas by the husband-and-wife team of Jonathan and Faye Kellerman. It is the second collaboration [after Double Homicide] by these popular authors who usually write individually. The authors' protagonists from their respective series books, Peter Decker and Alex Delaware, make cameo appearances. The settings are Berkeley and Sacramento, California, in the first of the two novellas, My Sister's Keeper, and Nashville in the second, Music City Breakdown. In the former, Davida Grayson, a liberal and activist State representative, is murdered while working late in her Berkeley office. There are several suspects, including a few right-wingers who resented her in-your-face style both with her support of stem-cell research as well as her open lesbianism – she had received threatening letters and had been 'egged' on the steps of the State Capitol building. In Music City Breakdown, a former folk/rock/country singing star, part of a hugely popular trio back in the day, is murdered in Nashville, where he has gone after years in retirement to perform at a benefit concert. He is discovered to have been trying to re-establish long-ignored connections. As one of the detectives muses, "It always comes down to family." There is an exploration of the dreams of young people with perhaps a distorted vision of the extent of their own talent, and the heartbreak which ofttimes arises when those dreams become nightmares of disappointment. There are several common threads in these two novellas: There are interesting portrayals of the detectives involved in the respective cases, there is homosexuality, there are a few red herrings, and the culprit is revealed in an unexpected ending in each. On a negative note, to this reader, the writing was a disappointment and not up to the level usually found in these authors' books.

Big City, Bad Blood
Sean Chercover
William Morrow, 10 E. 53rd St., NY, NY 10022
0061128678 $29.95 800-242-7737

Ray Dudgeon is a 38-year-old Chicago P.I. hired to protect a witness in a building scam, the last of four potential witnesses at an impending fraud trial left alive to testify. It seems that the Mob is involved [or the Outfit as it is apparently called in Chicago], not atypical for that city it seems. Corruption caused Ray to lose his idealism as well as his prior job as a journalist, only to see it rear its ugly head again as he tries to keep his client alive. One more scandal would be nothing unusual: "Chicago politics: another day, another scandal. I suppose that shows some progress. They've always pulled the same crap, but in the good old days, they never got caught. Now at least some people were trying to keep things on the level. Noble, if naive." In his personal life, Ray has fallen in love with a nurse who would rather Ray be anything other than a man who has to carry a gun, and is struggling to find a solution to that. And she also needs him to 'open up' a little, which is even more of a struggle for Ray. The dialogue, characterizations and settings – both Chicago and LA, where a side trip in his bodyguarding duties takes him - are all well rendered, and the protagonist clever and genuinely, eminently likeable, despite his tendency to break the law when circumstances demand it, in sometimes violent ways. And the man has excellent taste in music. Early in the book, Ray muses: "In a different life I'd have been a musician. But in this life I was utterly without talent. I'd proved that to myself and to a succession of tolerant music teachers in my younger years. Eventually I learned to be content with listening. One must accept one's limitations." Unspectacular but typical of the solid writing that often put a smile on my face while engrossed in this book. On second thought, perhaps spectacular is just the word for this wonderful debut novel.

Gloria Feit

Gorden's Bookshelf

Lost and Found
Alan Dean Foster
Del Rey Books
A division of Random House, Inc.
New York, NY
0345461274 $6.99

Foster constructs believable alien worlds for his stories. In 'Lost and Found,' he creates the improbable as possible and mixes in suspense with a dry humor. It is a fun mix that stretches the mind while entertaining. A chocolate commodities trader, Marcus Walker, is settling a bet with his friends by camping in a remote region in the mountains of California when he is abducted by aliens to be sold as an entertaining novelty pet to the more advanced worlds in the galaxy. Since the aliens want to communicate with their pets, they implant a device that translates spoken thoughts into words the hearer can understand. Marcus finds on board another earth captive, a junkyard dog he names George. George has been given a brain boost so he can speak to his captors. Man and dog don't want to be novelty slaves to anyone. The aliens will soon learn that humans are the most bothersome creatures in the universe. 'Lost and Found' is the perfect carefree story to pass a slow weekend with. It is light reading at its best. The reader has to expand his ideas of the possible with the unique creatures Foster develops. It is filled with a dry humor that changes the potentially dark storyline into one filled with adventure. It entertains while flexing the mind. 'Lost and Found' is not a story you have to read but it is one you will never regret picking up.

Black Wind
Clive Cussler and Dirk Cussler
Berkley Books
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014

'Black Wind' follows the typical Dirk Pit novel. The historical trigger for the story is a failed biological attack on the US mainland by the Japanese during the last days of WWII.

May 22, 2007, a weather station and a group of biologists in the Aleutian Islands are struck down by an unknown substance in the air. A NUMA research ship is nearby and sends a helicopter to help. After rescuing the survivors, Dirk and his friend Jack try to track the source of the airborne contaminates. They find what looks like a Japanese trawler and are shot down by men firing from the ship. The action races back and forth across the Pacific as Dirk tries to find out how and why the small Aleutian island was attacked. He soon finds himself against a madman willing to kill millions for his own aims.

For those who have read Dirk Pitt novels before, 'Black Wind' adds few surprises. The Pitt novels are some of the best hero action adventure stories written today. But the lack of fresh insights or plot twists make 'Black Wind' a better story for those just starting the collection or the old hands wanting a jolt of the well known. You will not be disappointed reading 'Black Wind' but don't work too hard on finding it on the bookshelves.

S.A. Gorden, Reviewer

Harwood's Bookshelf

Bruce E. Hunsberger and Bob Altemeyer
Prometheus Books
59 John Glenn Drive, Amherst NY 14228-2197
1591024132 $20.00

ATHEISTS is totally trivial and totally incompetent. And how could it not be, when its authors, besides being practitioners of a discipline that has authenticated multiple personality, NGI, and recovered memories, are as incompetent at evaluating statistics as Joseph Rhine, who authenticated ESP? Hunsberger and Altemeyer are (were) perpetrators of psychology, a religion posing as science, that is every bit as fraudulent as Scientology, a confidence swindle posing as a religion. ATHEISTS purports to present a statistical analysis of "atheists"—as that word is defined by its authors. And to determine who is an atheist, they use a fraudulent breakdown of the population into "atheists," "agnostics," and "theists." They then delete "agnostics" from their statistics (p. 25), and define "atheists" as persons who have a belief that gods do not exist that H & A categorize as dogmatic. Nor can Hunsberger and Altemeyer plead ignorance. They quote (p. 46) George Smith's definition of an atheist as a person professing, "the absence of theistic belief." But they ignore that valid definition and substitute their own: "one who denies the existence of God."

They then proceed on the basis of the Big Lie that persons who utilize a socially and economically expedient pretense that, "I do not know," even though they are not believers, are not really atheists. That tripartite breakdown is ridiculous. There are persons who believe in magical beings, and they are called theists. There are persons who do not believe in magical beings, and they are, for statistical purposes, atheists. There is NO third category, and the pretense that there is makes ATHEISTS' findings totally fraudulent. As a consequence of their fraudulent distinction between "atheists" and "agnostics," Hunsberger and Altemeyer report that atheists constitute as few as 6 percent of the respondents to their surveys (p. 28). Yet they elsewhere report that persons who gave their religious affiliation as "none" in surveys conducted between 2000 and 2004 constituted 14 percent of the general population. And since those earlier surveys did not guarantee anonymity (as H & A's surveys did), it as a safe bet that for every interviewee who denied having a religious affiliation, an equal number chose to stay in the closet rather than put themselves at risk of religious McCarthyism.

Nontheists—a more useful and less vilified name than "atheists"—do not constitute 6 percent of the population. They do not constitute 14 percent of the population. They constitute as much as 33 percent of the population. Unfortunately, until being an acknowledged nontheist is safer than being a suspected communist was in McCarthy's day, that figure will be concealed from pollsters and remain merely an optimistic estimate. Whether or not Hunsberger and Alemeyer are believers in religion, they certainly believe the equally indefensible nonsense invented by psychoquacks for the sole purpose of deluding the masses that they differ qualitatively from other practitioners of sympathetic listening such as bartenders, taxi drivers and tealeaf readers. They casually endorse the reality to hypnotism, as if persons claiming to be hypnotized were something other than compulsive playactors or gullible patients of self-deluded placebo therapists. They refer to an "objective personality test," as if such tests were any more legitimate than the multitude of "syndromes" invented by psychoquacks to further the pretence that the humbugs perform a useful function. ("Restless leg syndrome"? Oh come now.)

This reviewer on two occasions, several months apart, filled out a Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. In each case I answered as honestly as possible, in the naive belief that the test was legitimate. My views had not changed in the interval between the tests, and the number of questions to which I did not give identical answers would have been vanishingly small. Yet the two psychoquacks who evaluated my answers reached conclusions so diametrically incompatible, that not the evaluators but the test itself was thereby demonstrated to be an unmitigated fraud. ATHEISTS contains a reference to "unchristian prejudice among upstanding Christians" (97). Can the authors be serious? Prejudice is not unchristian. It is one of the core traits of Christianity. Many Christians express unprejudiced views, but they do so because they reject the teachings of their bible, the most vicious and hate-ridden endorsement of prejudice ever written, with the possible exception of the Koran.

The extent of the authors' incompetence (I am not willing to accuse them of deliberate distortion for the purpose of reaching a desired result) is revealed in the questionnaires (pp. 145-156 and elsewhere) on which they base their conclusions. For example, the question, "To what extent did doubts about each of the following affect you and lead you to your current viewpoint on religion?" They then list 20 alternatives that all referred to emotional motivations, but ignored the possibility that the respondent abandoned religion as a consequence of relevant education. Not only was I personally cured of religion by my first ancient history course, in which I learned of the fifty other virgin-born savior gods who rose from the dead on the third day centuries and millennia before Jesus. I have never encountered a nontheist who was cured by any other means.

Questions in the chapter on dogmatism are equally fraudulent. The authors classified as ultra-dogmatic "strong agreement" to the assertions that: (1) Anyone who is honestly and truly seeking the truth will end up believing what I believe. (9) There are no discoveries or facts that could possibly make me change my mind about the things that matter most in life. (14) I am so sure I am right about the important things in life, there is no evidence that could convince me otherwise. (29) In general, people with my nonreligious beliefs are discriminated against in our society. Responding to the high percentage of respondents who expressed strong agreement with those assertions, the authors declared (p. 66), "We found this level of closed-mindedness hard to believe." Yet even though the question, "What would be required … for you to believe in the 'traditional' God?" elicited the response that nothing "conceivable" could change the respondents minds, the authors ignored the "conceivable" element and accused the respondents of being as dogmatic as the Bushite theofascists. They either did not consider, or did not want to acknowledge, that the kind of evidence that could change MY mind, an unambiguous, impossible-to-simulate demonstration of the godly power to violate the laws of reality, is not "conceivable," meaning something that has even the slightest possibility of actually happening.

Consider: I reject the biblical assertions that the earth is flat like a dinner plate, and that the earth is the immobile center of the universe around which the sun, stars and universe revolve in 24 hours. Is there any conceivable evidence that could make me believe such claims? I think not. Does that make me a dogmatist? I think not. I am educated, and apparently the authors of ATHEISTS equate educated knowledge with belief. Is there any conceivable evidence that would convince THEM that the earth is flat? I think not. Does that make them dogmatists? It is a point they should consider. As for their conclusion that the rejection of a hypothesized ancient document testifying to Jesus' fairy-tale violations of reality is as dogmatic as rejecting such a document's testimony that Jesus was a real (non-magical) person from history: Bovine excrement.

Survey questions sent to atheists, to be marked in degrees of agreement or disagreement, included (p. 80), "I would like my church to hold joint services with a wide variety of other religions." "I would be against letting some other, different religions use my church for its services when we were not using it." How in the name of Zeus, Aphrodite and the Great Pumpkin is a nontheist expected to respond to assertions like that? The relevant legal term is, "Assumes facts not in evidence." There is only one way to ascertain the number of nontheists in America, and that is by formulating a question that does not, intentionally or unintentionally, solicit a predetermined answer. Such a question should be similar to the following: (A) I believe in an intelligent designer of the universe, for convenience called God, who has laid down laws that humans must obey on pain of being judged disobedient or sinful, that God hears all prayers and responds to those he deems worthy, and after death God judges each person as worthy or unworthy of eternal happiness. (B) I disbelieve or strongly doubt the existence of such a God, and only a preponderance of the evidence could change my mind.

Hunsberger and Altemeyer do report that church attendance has been dropping steadily in much of the world (p. 14); nontheists avoid bumper stickers reading, "Jesus is NOT the answer" (p. 15); George Bush's campaign strategist secured a 2004 victory by targeting "four million evangelicals who did not vote in 2000, not four million new converts to the 'religious right'" (p. 20); fundamentalists "more often believed in 'majority rights' when they were in the majority, but defended 'minority rights' when they were outnumbered" (p. 73); on the issue of tolerance, "atheists come out of this study looking pretty good, and the fundamentalists look pretty hypocritical" (p. 74); "fundamentalists tend to be less educated than most people, and education (modestly) lowers prejudice" (p. 79). So they got a few things right. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. The reason psychologists/psychiatrists and Scientologists hate each other is that each recognizes in the other the same sucker-fleecing humbuggery he sees in the mirror.

A Voyage to Venus
Dominic Healy
CSFG Publishing
PO Box 89, Latham, ACT 2615, Australia,
141963092X $23.99

Earth's doom was approaching. The collision of earth and moon that would turn those twin planets into a new asteroid belt was mere decades away. There was no option but to migrate to a more hospitable planet. And while the "good guys" were preparing to migrate from Antarctica to Venus, a gangster regime whose role models were Public Enemy, Little Caesar, Scarface and Duke Mantee was preparing to migrate from Greenland to the Jovian satellite they called Protonia. Inevitably conflict between the two colonies threatened to produce a War of the Worlds led by Pundit Mahatma Oskhosh Obigosh of Venus and the Czar of Protonia, that the Venusians were by no means sure of winning. Many books written in the 1940s and earlier by such science fiction giants as Robert A. Heinlein portrayed a habitable Venus. The later discovery that Venus is no more suitable for human habitation than the gas ovens at Auschwitz has not made Heinlein's books any less readable, and it does not make Dominic Healy's A Voyage to Venus any less readable. In the books of Heinlein and H. G. Wells, extraterrestrial antagonists were non-human. Isaac Asimov in contrast depicted a galaxy inhabited only by emigrants from earth—and so does Dominic Healy. And while the only character in an essentially plot-driven tale painted in more than one dimension is the story's antagonist, that was not deemed a disadvantage in the James Bond and Batman fantasies, and it is not a disadvantage in A Voyage to Venus.

Nayalla Gaba, the novel's more pathetic than evil antagonist, grips the reader's attention as much as Goldfinger or the Joker, and that is more important than the flatness of her cousin Vera, around whom the novel is supposedly centered. When Nayalla, after defecting from the human settlement on Venus, arrives at the Jovian satellite that Pundit Obigosh calls Gangstertonia, the first thing that hits her eye in the capital marketplace is an immense double statue of the satellite's founding gangsters. "They stood face to face, machine guns on hip, enshrined forever in the act of performing the ancient and honorable custom of bumping off." That passage perhaps better than any other typifies Dominic Healy's tongue-in-cheek approach to his subject. Healy's forecast of human history between the time of writing and the novel's beginning, a mere forty years later, was as inaccurate as most science fiction that made similar predictions. Even many of the Giants portrayed the Soviet Union as still existing well into the 21st century. Healy described the world of the 1980s in terms so optimistic as to be naive, and as far removed from the science that did lead to interplanetary travel as Wells' "gravity shields." Fortunately, such inaccurate speculation is irrelevant in a story whose real action takes place millions of years in the future.

A Voyage to Venus was first published in Australia in 1943, a time when the machinations of a fellow named Adolf something made the movement of books into or out of Australia impossible. It consequently did not receive the worldwide distribution it deserved. With any luck, this reprint should rectify that omission. Science fiction fans who have not previously encountered Healy's delightfully whimsical A Voyage to Venus are in for a treat.

Kingdom Coming
Michelle Goldberg
W. W. Norton, 500 Fifth Avenue, NY 10110
0393060942 $23.95

According to Michelle Goldberg, not all of the religious fanatics trying to overthrow the Second Amendment and transform America into a totalitarian tyranny are theofascists. Her justification for that incredible conclusion is that some of the fanatics she identifies are not out to suppress freedom of belief, merely to deny all other belief systems equality with Christianity. Perhaps Republicanazis who want to reduce HER to second-class citizenship do not strike her as enemies of the human race. Anyone who is hell-bent on reducing ME to second-class citizenship, as the Canadian Taliban is conspiring to do if it ever wins a Parliamentary majority, is no better than a gangster, and an ignorant, superstitious one at that. Goldberg has managed to locate and name more theofascist individuals and organizations threatening the freedom of the American people, nontheists and minority religionists both, than any previous researcher. Unfortunately, that is her only real achievement. Her book lacks the clarity and convincing arguments of Robert Boston's Close Encounters with the Religious Right, and can be recommended only as a supplement to that book.

That does not mean that Goldberg's warning of a clear and present danger can be ignored. At a time when theofascist Republicanazis still controlled both the Legislative and Executive Branches, and only the Judicial Branch remained comparatively free, she wrote (p. 168), "Because their goal is theonomy, Christian nationalists [euphemism for American Taliban] were bound to come into collision with the courts…. The movement's leaders see judges, often correctly, as the only thing protecting American secularism. They know that if they can take the courts, they'll have the country." As an example of the theofascists' propaganda, Goldberg reports (p. 28) that, "Growing numbers of right-wing Christians are learning, in their churches, private schools, home schools—and even a few public schools—that religious pluralism itself is nothing more than a plot cooked up by devious liberals to undermine America," and that the separation of church and state is "a lie introduced by Satan and fostered by the courts."

Even though it is self-evident that persons making such claims are liars or madmen, probably both, the fact that they can find an audience for their paranoia is frightening. And they are able to do so in a country with a liberal, moderate majority. "America is full of good people, but something dark is loose. There's a free-floating anxiety that easily metastasizes into paranoia and hatred for the same enemies always targeted by authoritarian populist movements—homosexuals, urbanites, foreigners, intellectuals, and religious minorities" (p. 22). That those were the precise targets of Republicanazi campaign managers whose hatemongering brought George W. Bush so close to being elected President, that vote-rigging in one state (Florida in 2000, Ohio in 2004) was sufficient to have him declared the winner in two elections, is no coincidence. As Goldberg explains (p. 53), "Homosexuality has become the mobilizing passion for much of the religious right. A populist movement needs an enemy, but one reason the Christian nationalists are so strong is that they've made peace with many old foes, especially Catholics and African-Americans. Gay people have taken the place of obsolete demons."

While Kingdom Coming is less effective than Close Encounters with the Religious Right, all of the points it makes are valid. It provides a useful addendum to Boston's book for persons wanting to know just who the mad dogs are who are threatening them with legally enforced mind-slavery. That Goldberg is preaching to the choir, since theofascists are incurable, does not mean that her book is an exercise in futility. In his own lifetime Galileo was preaching to the choir. But a truth once revealed is not easily suppressed. A century from now, researchers reading this book may wonder how the conspiracy to transform the world's most powerful democracy into a theocracy could ever have flourished in a land of the free.

William Harwood

Henry's Bookshelf

Dreaming at the Gates of Fury
Alexander Taylor
Azul Editions
Washington, DC
1885214359 $13.00

The language is accurate enough for the expectations and rewards of poetry; and similarly, the imagery inventive enough. But what one mostly reads Taylor's poems for is the chemistry of their connection to one and one's connection to them. The content of the poems stays close to the subtle rhythms and common situations of life--the ambivalences of relationships, the movements of sensuality, and unexpected epiphanies. But there are other poems too which depict the cruelties of tyranny and the helplessness of individuals caught up in these. Taylor is also the publisher of the noted Curbstone Press which has for decades been publishing multicultural literature, much of this from Latin America. In "Dreaming at the Gates of Fury," this poet/publisher casts his eye over memories and incidents from his many years of involvement through the field of publishing in major political and social affairs and from his long personal life.

Ashes of Light
Lyubomir Levchev
Curbstone Press
Willimantic, CT
1931896305 $14.95

Levchev (b. 1935) has gotten a wide reputation for his poetry beyond his native Bulgari. He has received awards in France and Russia; and his poems have been translated into German, Greek, Hindi, Polish, and Spanish, among other languages. In this volume, 49 poems from his 50-year span of writing are arranged chronologically. The poems evidence Levchev's range of subjects, thoughts, and observations. Throughout his decades of writing his style has for the most past retained a directness and concreteness. With these stylistic attributes, he portrays the historical and cultural complexities of Bulgaria and by implication other Eastern European lands. Many poems--e. g., Love in the Military Hospital--approach a Kafkaesque sense of absurdity; but any budding sense of defeat and estrangement is overtaken or in some cases negated by notes of optimism or hope or by the realization of one's possibilities, however limited, in such circumstances. As the poet recognizes in one place, this is where "the age of blind luck reigned" since persons living uncertain lives in totalitarian systems had hardly any control over their own destinies and fates. "And under me/seven ages/have already been excavated..." [from "Not Far From the Shore]. Levchev lucidly and only at times bitterly depicts the balancing act of surviving, keeping one's sanity, and nurturing seeds of hope and betterment when circumstances are precarious and often threatening.

The History of Browning Firearms
David Miller
Lyons Press/Globe Pequot
Guilford, CT
159228910X $24.95

The Browning gun design firm was influential in the field of American firearms ever since it was founded in Utah in 1855. For the most part, the history of Browning Firearms is about the founder's son, John Browning (1855-1926), who came into the business in the latter 1800s and headed it for decades until his death. John sold designs for hundreds of firearms to companies which then manufactured them in quantity. Because of the popularity of the Browning firearms both in their design and performance, copies of them were produced by other manufacturers; but these were inferior to authentic Brownings. Beyond the pistols, rifles, and shotguns familiar to many, Browning designed machine guns and automatic rifles for the military since the 1890s, and also knives for outdoorsmen.

Postcards from Ed
Edward Abbey
edited and with an Introduction by David Petersen
Milkweed Editions
Minneapolis, MN
1571312846 $24.95 1-800-520-6455

Edward Abbey never shrunk from speaking his mind, as evidenced in this collection of diverse cards and notes as in his other writings. Abbey--almost invariably called an "iconoclast" rather than merely a social critic--combined an attachment to nature, particularly of the American Southwest where he lived, with an animosity toward large organizations, particularly corporations and the Federal government. Many of the selections are letters-to-the-editor, with others to friends and relatives and some to acquaintances. In one to the Tucson Weekly, he writes that he is castigated by both "left-wing" and "right-wing" dogmatists. Abbey's gift of being able to antagonize radicals of all strips as well as the muddled masses of robotic bureaucrats and bedazed citizenry testifies to his distinctiveness and provocativeness. What he was on to is further communicated in these selections.

The Economics of Attention
Richard A. Lanham
U. of Chicago Press
Chicago, IL
0226468828 $29.00

"Seeing clearly what is happening as the word moves from page to screen depend on seeing clearly what is happening in the world that expressive field has to express," the noted, influential rhetorician Lanham remarks in the beginning of his "Preface." His metaphor of an economy for this "expressive world" is literarily, generally, and perceptively apt. It's more than a useful image. In this economy, "attention is the commodity in short supply." In this economy, individuals "budget" their attention; and web designers, software engineers, computer makers, marketers, and more and more writers are in competition for the attention of consumers, users, and readers; which attention is often leads in one way or another to earnings. Anyone who has used the Internet to find information, buy something, communicate with others, pay bills, and other activities both common and innovative will have a feel for what Lanham proposes and investigates. The terms "cyperspace" and "virtual reality" no longer suffice to relevantly denote the substantive place the digital world with its operations and potentials has taken in most persons' lives. Such terms now seem exotic or frivolous considering, as Lanham recognizes, how the considerably arbitrary, yet essential and formulative trait of attention has ineluctably moved to the computer screen.

The Persian Empire
Lindsay Allen
U. of Chicago Press
Chicago, IL
0266014479 $39.95

For most Westerners, the Persian Empire was an Asiatic historical area conquered by the Macedonian Alexander the Great. But in this companion to a British Museum exhibition based on unprecedented loans from the National Museum of Iran and other major museum sources of Persian antiquities, Allen presents the Persian Empire in its own right, as the Roman Empire or the British Empire are in the history books. Besides working at the British Museum, the author has also worked at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. The many objects of the exhibition that are pictured are supplemented by photographs of the remains of monuments and buildings, landscape photographs, maps, and works of art to evince the high level of political and artistic accomplishments. Allen presents the Empire by a history defined mostly by the succession of rulers until the conquest combined with a cultural appreciation of the art work, architecture, religious ideas, political order, and pattern of growth and decay.

The Life of Yellowstone Kelly
Jerry Keenan
U. of New Mexico Press
Albuquerque, NM
0826340351 $29.95 800-249-7737

Born in Geneva, NY, Yellowstone Kelly--Luther S. Kelly (1849-1928)--had a wanderlust and desire for adventure that carried him to the Philippines and Alaska. But he made his reputation mostly from his scouting work in the northern part of the Great Plains when this region was first being settled. Kelly was involved as a scout in the U. S. Cavalry campaigns against the Sioux and other tribes in the 1870s; during which Custer and his men were wiped out in one engagement. Besides being depended on by Generals Miles and Sheridan for his knowledge of the area, Kelly later became acquainted with Buffalo Bill and Theodore Roosevelt in their activities in the upper Plains. The author of other books on this era of American history, Keenan writes a colorful, engaging biography of the life of the prominent, though not well-known, scout whose life and adventures coincide with the opening of the upper Great Plains after the Civil War and the waning of the old West. Kelly spent his last years tending an orchard in Paradise, CA.

The Battle for Los Angeles
Kevin Allen Leonard
U. of New Mexico Press
Albuquerque, NM
0826340474 $34.95 800-249-7737

The subject necessarily begins with the California Attorney General and future Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren's decision to allow the state's Japanese-Americans to be interred shortly after the opening of World War II. Warren was ambivalent at the time, and later regretted his controversial decision. But that the decision arose at all evidences the presence of the racial ideology; whose depths, strength, and effects are so hard to fathom and grasp in today's multicultural culture. The discrimination against the Japanese is a starting point and something of a focal point because it is the most well-known and notorious. But Leonard, with the department of history at Western Washington U., ranges much beyond this to prevalent discrimination and related overt hostility against blacks and Hispanics. The L A. "Zoot-Suit Riots...involv[ing] attacks by navy and army personnel" upon young men of these minorities are but one instance of the acceptance and virulence of the area's racism. Leonard's study pays particular attention to the part of "repeated verbal conflicts about the meaning of 'race'" in the racially-oriented "battle for Los Angeles."

In Jefferson's Shadow
Bryan Clark Green
Princeton Architectural Press
New York, NY
1568984790 $50.00

Thomas R. Blackburn's recently discovered architectural drawings and related papers at the Virginia Historical Society provide a look at his "architectural education." Blackburn worked on the University of Virginia with Thomas Jefferson and afterwards went on to build notable buildings on his own in Virginia's Piedmont region and Shenandoah Valley. Among these buildings are the Western Lunatic Asylum and the John A. G. Davis House. The discovered drawings and related papers are reproduced, most one per page, in over 150 color plates following the 100 or so pages of biographical and evaluative text by Green, an architectural historian teaching and writing mostly on Virginia architecture. Overall, text and plates establish Blackburn as an important and in some ways seminal first-generation American architect who widened the geographical range of the classic architecture related mostly to Jefferson.

Ambiguous Justice
Vanessa Ann Gunther.
Michigan State U. Press
Ann Arbor, MI
0870137794 $29.95

Whereas the Spaniards and the Mexicans aimed to control the Native Americans of California by converting them to Catholicism, the Americans when they took over the territory in the 1840s after the Mexican War and the Gold Rush aimed to control them by cynical use of the law and related means of incrimination and enforcement. Gunther sees the lighter sentences Native Americans were frequently given in the numerous legal cases she reviewed (cited both in the notes and the bibliography) as an indication that the law was used primarily as a means of harassment of the Native Americans. The other side of this practice of using the law as an instrument of coercion of the Native American population and advancement of the desires of the newcoming Anglos with respect to acquisition of land and finding manual labor, for example, was that Anglos implicitly and explicitly got preferential treatment. It wasn't until 1875 that a Native American could give testimony against an Anglo; though the Indians could file complaints as is evident from the author's extensive documentary research. Yet before and even after this date, patent crimes committed by Anglos usually went unpunished. In such circumstances, laws enacted to remove Indians to reservations seem altruistic and enlightened; when in fact, they were devised to clear the Native Americans out of an area more quickly and easily than the relatively slow-acting discriminatory legal means. Gunther--with a Ph.D. in Native American history--shows how the law especially was a tool used intentionally and systematically by Anglos with the cooperation of the courts at different levels as a hegemonic tool against the Native Americans to further the Anglos' designs while at the same time, as surely as the violence, disease, and alcoholism, it worked to disintegrate the traditional indigenous cultures.

F. A. Q. - Frequently Asked Questions of the AFV Painting Techniques
Mig Jimenez.
Andrea Press
Madrid, Spain
Casemate, Drexel Hill, PA.
849652762X $79.95

The Spaniard Mig Jimenez has an international reputation in the hobby of painting and displaying painted model armored vehicles such as tanks, half-tracks, and jeeps, i. e., AFV painting. In this thorough, detailed how-to, he imparts techniques enabling other hobbyists to create painted models worthy of world-class competitions where the winning entries selected by judges are the "most attractive, most realistic, finest, and most original." Among original designs Jimenez uses in instruction in his techniques are a tank bogged down in a pool of water, destroyed tanks with parts strewn around them, and Russian soldiers scavenging a turret to be used on a tank. The author gets down to details of painting realistic mud and rust on armored vehicles. The settings which are often important in the most original models are also covered. Other hobbyists will get ideas, not only expert instruction and techniques from this manual. The author goes into all this with numerous sharp color photographs showing steps in the meticulous painting, supplies, parts of models, and finished works. As the title infers, the format of the book is questions and answers in the main areas of this hobby from organization of workplace to supplies, techniques for mixing and applying paints to resemble rain, camouflage, and other effects, and also painting wheels, armored tracks, turrets, and other parts. As the author admits, the translation may be rough in parts--but any reader interested in partaking of his experienced, incomparable how-to advice will be able to.

Stalin's Instruments of Terror
Rupert Butler
Amber Books, London
Drexil Hill, PA
1904687970 $34.95

The author, who has written works on the SS and other instruments of Nazi terror, turns here to the notorious Soviet Union state agencies, like their Nazi counterparts, playing a key role in instituting and perpetuating a malignant ideology. The Russian--Soviet Union--terroristic, gangster-like agencies reached their apogee under Joseph Stalin. The quotes "A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic" and "Death solves all problems - no man, no problem" attributed to Stalin were actually principles of his dictatorial governance. His terror squads which went under varied and sometimes simply changed names effected Stalin's whims and plans from murdering government officials suspected of betrayals largely on the basis of a Stalin's paranoia to relocating entire ethnic populations to inhospitable places. But Stalin built on the sociopolitical theories and related practices urged by Lenin and Trotsky; which had precedents in the rule of the Russian monarchs. Butler follows the course of this infamous state security system by relating the organization and respective and often overlapping purposes of the various agencies, profiling their masterminds and apparatchiks, describing their activities and technological devices, and outlining their tyranny against specific groups and plots to arrest or murder individuals seen as rivals or threats.

The Dominican Tradition
Thomas C. McGonigle and Phyllis Zagano
Liturgical Press
Collegeville, MN
0814619118 $14.95 800-858-5450

McGonigle lays out the history of the Dominican order by portraits of its most prominent and in many cases influential spiritual leaders from its founder St. Dominic in the early 13th century through Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart, Catherine of Siena, and others to the still living Edward Schillebeeckx and Timothy Radcliffe. The portraits include not only biographical facts, highlights of spiritual interests, and summaries of insights, but also representative selections from writings of the 16 exceptionally spiritual individuals through the centuries. The portrayals demonstrate that "the breadth and universality of Dominic's vision made it possible to incorporate a variety of men and women into the Dominican family." While the intent and style is simply an introduction to the length and continuity of the history and the facets of the spirituality inspired by the precepts and the regimen originating with St. Dominic, they offer focus and direction for contemporary individuals. McGonigle teaches history at Providence College, where he is also director of Catholic and Dominican Studies.

Being Catholic in a Culture of Choice
Thomas P. Rausch.
Liturgical Press
Collegeville, MN
0814659845 $19.95

Enumerating the main attributes of Catholic identity as "an ecclesial faith, a visible, hierarchal church, a sacramental imagination, a theology that seeks to integrate both faith and reason, and a strong communal sense," Rausch, a theology professor at Loyola Marymount U. in Los Angeles, explores ways to keep these whole and vital in a postmodern time of global influences and wide range of personal choices. To embody fundamental traditions, distinct eternal values, undeniable elements of history, and recognize though not necessarily reflect social developments and mores, meaningful Catholicism cannot be simply a pastiche or an option. Written for Catholics of all ages though for the younger generations in particular, the work imparts general guidance and counsel while also confronting contemporary circumstances such as the popularity of the movie "Da Vinci Code," abortion, and the notion of "spirituality" overshadowing the concept of religion and faith. In a tone free of either worry or authoritarianism, but palpably rooted in shared concerns and questions, Rausche offers Catholics somewhat at sea in the constantly busy, media-driven culture readily accessible ways to strengthen and as they wish express their religion.

Crusade Against the Grail
Otto Rahn
Inner Traditions
Rochester, VT
1594771359 $16.95

The heretical Cathars of southwestern France regarded the legend of the Holy Grail--not the actual chalice reputed to have captured blood of the crucified Jesus--as symbolism for the survival of the human soul. This belief which conflicted with Roman Catholic teachings about the symbolism of the cross aroused the enmity of the Roman Catholic Church in the early Middle Ages in its determination to be the unrivaled, unquestioned authority in spiritual and even many political matters. The Knights Templar were another group seen by popes and many secular rulers too as potential threats to their power and position. The German author-scholar Rahn of this work originally published in 1933 (this is the first edition in English) sees in early, suppressed versions of the medieval poem "Parzival" references to this Cathar belief along with recountings of its practices. A central topic is the importance of the many caves in the region to this spirituality. This connection between the caves and the spirituality is found in parts of "Parzival"--e. g., "[The hermit] led young Parsifal to the second cave in which an uncovered 'altar' was located." The Cathars also hid in caves to escape the Church's forces and Inquisitors. Rahn made extensive explorations of the region's caves to better appreciate the quality of the Cathar spirituality and its differences from that of the prevailing Catholicism promulgated by the popes and their secular allies. A better study of the Cathar spirituality could not be found. And beyond delving into it uniquely and sympathetically, Rahn uses it like a prism to bring out the religious conflicts of the time.

Illustrated Slovak History
Anton Spiesz and Dusan Caplovix
edited by Ladislaus J. Bolchazy et al.
Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers
Wauconda, IL
09780865265007 $73.00

The publisher fulfills its aims of "giving the general English-speaking public a book that is inviting to read" while creating a work of Slovak history that "displays scholarly integrity" by a book which is copiously illustrated (over 300 illustrations) and involved a number of prominent authorities in Slovak history. Fourteen chronological chapters present the path of Slovak history with controversies over the meaning of certain aspects of it raised in the endnotes. The extensive bibliography too points readers to debates and alternate, sometimes conflicting interpretations of the events and persons presented in the main text. With all of the seismic changes going on in Central Europe, including the Balkans, since the fall of the Berlin Wall in the late 1980s, this comprehensive, up-to-date history is to be welcomed by any reader interested in this region which has become crucial in world affairs. The book with its popular and scholarly elements can be taken at different levels, from introductory survey to exposure to open debates assessing finer points of Slovak history.

Great Houses in Sweden
Massimo Listri and Daniel Rey
Images Publishing, Australia
1864701854 $65.00

The 22 homes which include palaces, castles, and manors as well as a couple of rural residences exemplify the refined simplicity of the "Gustavian style" implemented by Sweden's King Gustav in the latter 1700s. The King worked with the country's leading architects and artists to assimilate the "ancient sculptures of the Vatican and archaeological objects at the sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum" which inspired him on a trip to Italy. Besides the order of such classical forms and motifs, the King's style favored light colored wood and light colors, particularly white, making for a play of light in the rooms, spaces, and facades. This latter distinctive feature of the style is attributed to the special Swedish appreciation of light from being in a northern area with long winters. Photographer Listri and art and travel writer Rey, who have collaborated before, capture in photos and words the beauty of this Swedish architectural style in rooms, hallways, fronts and other angles of homes, wall and other furnishings, and the design of surrounding grounds.

Beyond the Epic
Gene D. Phillips
U. of Kentucky Press
Lexington, KY
0813124158 $34.95

The film historian Phillips brings out the person, the immense talent, and the consummate skills of the director about whom one film critic wrote that David Lean's films were "too mammoth in scope and Olympian in style" for moviegoers, even students of the artistic genre, "to get an impression of the man behind the camera." Lean was an extraordinarily ambitious and skilled director who brought his particular, uncompromising touch to any movie he made. Among his movies are the panoramic classics "Dr. Zhivago" and "Lawrence of Arabia"; "Great Expectations" and "Passage to India" adapted from major novels of different centuries; and the war movies "In Which We Serve" and "Bridge on the River Kwai." Lean worked with Alec Guiness, Katherine Hepburn, Omar Sharif, Charles Laughton, and Julie Andrews--all of whom acknowledged his indelible impact on their performances as well as the finished movie even though viewers were not distinctly aware of the director behind it, as they are in a Woody Allen or Alfred Hitchcock film for example. Phillips hones in on Lean's particular style and accomplishments by close readings of many of his 16 films. The author analyzes details of scenes from the films to cast light on Lean's techniques and masterful intentions; and he often notes commentary and critiques by critic, actors, and others for additional perspectives and appreciations of Lean's work. As his major, most memorable films show--"Lawrence of Arabia," for example--Lean was able to create and project romanticism, expansive emotions, genuine characters, and variously the sweep of history or the genius of literature without sensationalism or sentimentality. This is his characteristic, extraordinary, achievement in the world of film.

Henry Berry

Kaye's Bookshelf

The Play Soldier
Chet Green, Inc.
159113644X $17.95

"Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier." - Samuel Johnson - is the intro on the back which I say, as a woman, we are all warriors at heart...being tested daily, and quoting further: "A counterfeit Vietnam War hero seeks refuge and fulfillment in the French Foreign Legion - until it rejects him. Unable to go home and still intent on proving himself, he follows the legendary force to the Horn of Africa, but now he poses as a seasoned war photographer, too. After adventures in Ethiopia, he reaches Djibouti where people, like events, become more fantastic, particularly an American deserter who takes him to his baptism of fire, and his penance." The Play Soldier is a complex adventure novel about a wannabe war hero, Warz, who dresses for the part, like an actor, to create the image he wants to portray and convey in the play of life–a problem of our times–but don't we all to some degree...dress to play a part? Could this be one of the negative side affects of too many action video games and war movies?...and everyday life does not provide sufficient challenges to test a man's true merit.

Chet Green has drawn from his personal experiences as a U.S. Navy journalist in the Vietnam War and freelance photographer/writer in Africa and Sudan to create a novel about the reality of life in such exotic places. He is a consummate writer with an expertise in description and phonetically vernacular dialogue, adding color and quality to his writing style. Daniel Eliseuson, President of the International Combat Camera Association and life member of the USMC War Correspondents Association, has likened Green's writing to Robert Ruark's Something of Value, and I agree–Ruark being one of my favorite writers about Africa. It's always a true pleasure to read a well-written, -edited, researched novel with a social-issue message, and with confidence, I can highly recommend The Play Soldier to anyone interested in contemporary social issues.

The Fat Lady Never Sings
Steve Reilly
2021 Pine Lake Rd, Lincoln, NE
0595394671, $18.95

Steve Reilly has coached baseball in Connecticut's Lower Naugatuck Valley since 1976 and has assisted high school coaches for the past twenty years. He writes this true tale about defeat, dedication, perseverance and redemption using his extensive background and skills. Three high school seniors–Gino, Ben and Donny–lose the Derby Hill School Red Raiders football game which broke the 28-year-winning streak, and think of themselves as marked losers, eventually finding redemption at the Middletown's Palmer Field. This memoir is well-written, edited and flows smoothly, and I'm certain will appeal to sports fans and anyone who likes a plain good inspirational story.

The Addicted Entrepreneur
Hiram K. Solomon
Outskirts Press, Inc.
10940 S. Parker Rd - 515, Parker, CO
1598005278, $15.95, 200 pp.

This book has an interesting cover, title and the author hopes this story will help readers to see that alcohol, tobacco and drugs can destroy a life. He says, "If only one person who reads this book gets help, then it will all have been worth the effort." It's a story about Charlie, a man in pain who uses alcohol and drugs, while working to become a successful businessman. The writer takes you through Charlie's many business ventures and personal relationships. My problem with the book is that it reads like a personal diary . . . Charlie did this, Charlie did that, and primarily for this reason, I have rated it as 'fair.' Hiram K. Soloman is also a businessman with an extensive entrepreneurial history. You can contact him at

The Incredible Adventures of Enrique Diaz - A Novel for the Young at Heart
Andrew J. Rodriguez
Outskirts Press, Inc.
10940 S. Parker Rd 515, Parker, CO 80134
1598008293 $16.95

Enrique Diaz, a young fifteenth-century Portuguese Catholic, embarks on an adventure with two friends, one Jewish and the other a Moor, in search of his dream–the Prestor John utopian paradise in the heart of Africa. Quoting from the back cover: . . . "Traveling by ship, cart, and caravan, the three explorers encounter perils galore–pirates and storms at sea, slave traders and murderous thieves on land. They explore the exotic casbahs of Morocco . . . the mysterious ruins of ancient Egypt . . . the hidden civilization of Abyssinia, keepers of the Ark of the Covenant . . . the awe-inspiring holy city of Mecca . . . and return again to Renaissance Europe. En route the young travelers taste the richness of each other's religions–and win the hearts of their true loves." Andrew Rodriguez tells us this story is for the "young at heart", which might lead one to think it's a children's tale. However, considering the in-depth, historical religious facts woven throughout, I would compare it to The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, with a broader perspective. It is crystal clear that the author has a solid grasp and extensive knowledge of biblical history and a universal message to convey–the heart of this novel. Allow me to share an excerpt from page 190:

"Why are you telling us all this, Your Majesty?" I ask.

"Simply to reward your generosity with a few words of wisdom. You come in pursuit of noble ideals, not in search of riches, domination, or to tarnish the minds of the weak with a new cult. When young I was an idealist like you," King Ezana addresses me. "Now I know better. Upon ascending the throne I wanted to create a kingdom akin to the one you are trying to discover. I worked hard, and with the help of the queen, my family, and loyal friends, I built the wealthiest, most powerful nation in East Africa, brought enemies to peaceful terms, changed assassins into human beings, instilled hope to a dominion in despair, and established lasting peace with our neighbors. Yet after all these years, there are still vital issues I have not been able to solve and perhaps never will."

"What are they, Your Majesty?" David asks.

"Man's stupidity, Mother Nature, and the impossibility of stopping history from repeating itself. All I have gained in forty years of hard work is a moment in time. After I'm gone, a few generations into the future, some foolish moron will take over the nation and drag it into the ground. No country has endured for long without being destroyed from within, and my kingdom is no different. Aksum will become ashes and Abyssinia an impoverished land. We may not see it, but our descendants will. This terrible drought and the locust outbreak are the best examples. All my efforts to build a caring and devoted society have been destroyed by the prospects of famine: herders and farmers killing each other for a morsel, people blaming government for their own shortsightedness, greedy opportunists amassing wealth at the expense of others. You see, Enrique, when citizens cannibalize each other encouraged by personal greed, the country loses its own conscience and its future right to exist."

The Incredible Adventure of Enrique Diaz is a well-written, well-edited, fascinating tale with an inspirational message for people of all ages and Andrew Rodriguez's third novel, following Adios, Havana and The Teleportation of an American Teenager.

Spirit of the Sound
John T. Lehman
Outskirts Press, Inc.
Parker, Co
1598006355 $16.95

John T. Lehman is a unique and interesting writer with an educated style of writing bound to appeal to those looking for something a little different . . . as is the protagonist in this memoir-like spiritual journey. The back cover tells us: ". . . Though he discovered he had nothing much to show for the bizarre happenings in his life. So he learned to live with them. We all do really. Some of us merely ignore the voices in our heads, the brush-up against the arm, and the dreams we dream that somehow find their way home and come true. I'd like to take you on a journey. See what I have seen, and judge for yourself. But don't hold it against me. Welcome to my World!"

The characters certainly ring true and as usual, real life is more interesting than fiction. As for style and content, allow me to quote several excerpts from pages 261 and 265: "The hourglass of time was inverted once again and the rhythm of its falling sands descended in tempo with the delicate flow of the Sound. Waterlily played along, while the early morning hours opened her orchestra with perennial pale white and yellow blooms of the island's aquatic namesake. Osprey soared high above, and the coypu munched on vegetation as they swam about. A gentlest of breeze carried the tune that swayed and strummed the crops in her fields with the song. Dylan Martin embraced the captivating music with open arms. He was one with the earth. Learned to accept the teachings handed down through the ages, fighting for the few to tend to the many."

"I don't know about anyone else who has an incurable disease and takes medication every day, but quality of time is much more important to me in the long run. I really can't imagine spending what moments I have left on this planet, throwing up over myself or wasting away to skin and bones, or sitting back while I watch my hair and teeth fall out because of pills. I say let's swallow the psychedelic mushroom or fire up that joint. Figure out where our minds can take us instead of stepping in all this horseshit we've been expected to walk through. And don't get me started on government spending. All that money on defense to protect us from the possibility of war. We wouldn't even be in that predicament in the first place if it weren't for man shooting off his mouth or not allowing others to live out life the way they choose. This whole world is so screwed up. Scared of losing precious land and mineral rights while they're killing our young in their little temper tantrums and wars. For what, possessions and control? What the hell happened to human decency?. . ."

"All people have to do is say, no. Stand up, and be counted. It'd wake up those little rabbits that are in control. Might keep them from running around screwing their brains out when no one's looking, then use the time to stomp out what's keeping our world from growing. Greed and racism. Oh yeah, and fear of expressing individualism. Jesus, that's it! Anxiety felt when they believe one person is being as important as the whole, with the right to exist."

So, if you looking for an interesting read from a quality writer, I highly recommend Spirit of the Sound.

Clerical Errors Secular Lies
Trefor Stockwell
Authors OnLine Ltd
19 The Cinques, Bedfordshire SG19 3 NU, England
0755202457 $17.95

Did William Clifford, the young priest of a small Welsh village, commit adultery or not? Pat Knight tells Bill, the journalist sent to cover this story and who thinks "...a vicar that does actually manage to keep his trousers on, now that's news", "...I wouldn't say anything to you or anyone else that I haven't already said, or would say, to his face. Is William guilty as charged? Yes, of course he is; he's been at it for years. He's not fussy, so long as it's female, willing and not too ugly, he's in there like a rat up a drain pipe." However, in her trial testimony Mrs. Kathryn Williams stated, "If I were forced to give an opinion, I would say that William the priest probably would not be capable of such behavior. However, with regards to William the man, well – how can one put this delicately –? Let us just say that, in my experience, testosterone is usually more powerful than religion. I'm sure that priests are subject to the same temptations as other men, and I don't suppose that William is any different. As to whether or not he succumbed, I'm afraid I have no idea." And there you have it, the heart of this tale–what is the truth and who will tell it? To this reader, the real key and fascination here is Trefor Stockwell's in-depth insight into human behavior–an obsessive form of love, control, pride, and revenge–and his skill to tell this compelling tale. His consummate style of writing puts him right up there with the best, and you won't be disappointed.

Kaye Trout

Lori's Bookshelf

1001 Ways to Market Your Books: Sixth Edition
John Kremer
Open Horizons
PO Box 2887, Taos, NM 87571
091241149X $27.95

Marketing and promotions wizard John Kremer has at long last issued the sixth edition of his incredibly smart and useful How-To book for marketing and selling books. In twenty-one chapters and over 700 pages, Kremer covers EVERYTHING: from fundamentals of promoting books to publicizing, advertising, networking, and advice about never giving up.
Particularly wonderful chapters include "How to Sell More Books via the Internet," "Getting Distribution," and "How to Sell Subsidiary Rights," but every single chapter contains commonsense, clever techniques and ideas for marketing and selling. Kremer includes articles and web links to dozens of other experts including great advice by Pam Lontos in "14 Most Common Publicity Mistakes Authors Make," Kathi Dunn's "Design Your Book to Build Your Brand," and Chris Roerden and Pat Miller's "Market-Savvy Editing." A virtual cornucopia of tips, ideas, activities, and techniques, this is one of the greatest books on book promotions ever written. If you're a publisher or author, don't miss this tremendous resource. I can't recommend it more highly.

Sword of the Guardian
Merry Shannon
Bold Strokes Books
430 Herrington Rd., Johnsonville, NY 12094
1933110368 $15.95

Princess Shasta is a spoiled young teen who's got everything: royal blood, beauty, wealth, power, and influence. But her life is turned upside down when her dashing twin brother – heir to the kingdom – is murdered at a party in front of the royalty, nobles, and others. If not for the quick intercession of Talon, a young acrobat performing at the party, Shasta would have been stabbed, too. The king decrees that Talon be Shasta's bodyguard, not realizing that "he" is actually a she. What follows is a terrific adventure, coming of age story, a romance, and tale of courtly intrigue, attempted assassination, and gender confusion as the young princess learns, grows, and comes into her own. This is a rollicking fun book and a must-read for those who enjoy courtly light fantasy in a medieval-seeming time. Merry Shannon is a bright new voice in lesbian fantasy fiction, and this one's highly recommended.

The Clinic – Book One in the Tristaine Series
Cate Culpepper
Bold Strokes Books
430 Herrington Rd., Johnsonville, NY 12094
1933110422 $15.95

When Brenna begins work as a medic at a clinic where political prisoners are held and interrogated, she's not supposed to feel anything for the miscreants she doctors. Despite cultural and political expectations, however, Brenna can't help but feel for her patients. In particular, one named Jess piques her curiosity, and Brenna can't resist the gradual slide into involvement, even if it's dangerous and the clinic director, Caster, may find out. In contrast to the repressive world where Brenna now lives, the village of Tristaine that she learns about from Jess sounds like a haven, and as she gets to know Jess, Brenna finds herself longing for things she'd never considered. Will she acquiesce to the powers that be – or take a chance and follow her heart? Even more troubling, will Jess survive the ordeals she is put through? The first of what is so far a three-part series (BATTLE FOR TRISTAINE: Book II, TRISTAINE RISES: Book III), THE CLINIC sets the tone for what promises to be a terrific series. Culpepper's writing style is spare and evocative, her plotting precise. You can't help but feel strongly for the Amazon warrior women and their plight, and this book is a must-read for all those who enjoy light fantasy coupled with a powerful story of survival and adventure. Highly recommended.

Lesbian Pulp Fiction
Selected and Introduced by Katherine V. Forrest
Cleis Press
PO Box 14697, San Francisco, CA 94114
1573442100 $18.95

Once upon a time, the multitude of lesbians lived closeted, secret lives, isolated from others and often from their own true feelings and aspirations. There was no Internet, no gay radio, no magazine or journal or organization to turn to for affirmation. Until the 1950s, precious few books reflected anything at all about the lesbian experience. This changed in 1950 when Fawcett Publications inaugurated the Gold Medal imprint and kicked off a wave of pulp fiction publishing that included both gay and lesbian novels. For the first time in history, women could find cheap paperbacks featuring lesbians, and the books sold in the millions. Pulp novels constituted one of the first steps toward lesbians having a written presence in any kind of literature. As Katherine V. Forrest writes in the introduction to LESBIAN PULP FICTION:

"The importance of all our pulp fiction novels cannot possibly be overstated. Whatever their negative images or messages, they told us we were not alone. Because they told us about each other, they led us to look for and find each other, they led us to the end of the isolation that had divided and conquered us. And once we found each other, once we began to question the judgments made of us, our civil rights movement was born," (p. xviii).

In moving style, Forrest also writes of finding in 1957 a copy of Ann Bannon's ODD GIRL OUT, "a book as necessary to me as air" (p. ix). How fitting that Forrest should edit this wonderful homage to these early writers when her own works are frequently cited as having the same effect upon other women as Bannon's work had upon her. CURIOUS WINE (1983) is frequently cited by lesbians as a book that saved their lives. I believe it when Forrest writes, "I write my books out of the profound wish that no one will ever have to be there again" (p. ix). To spotlight those early pulp novels, Forrest has selected twenty-two excerpts by nineteen authors including Ann Bannon, Vin Packer, Paula Christian, Tereska Torres, Valerie Taylor, and Marion Zimmer Bradley writing as Miriam Gardner. Among reasons for selecting these particular excerpts, Forrest cites pioneering status, sexual content, happy endings, reflections of the times, and quality of writing. Many of these books have been reprinted (several by Cleis Press), and with a little diligence, all of them can be located and purchased. Each of them is well worth reading in its entirety, but this wonderful collection will provide hours of delight and enjoyment to anyone willing to enter into the sexually intrepid world of lesbian paperback novels. An essential text for all libraries, both private and public, this book is highly recommended.

No Margins
Edited by Catherine Lake and Nairne Holtz with an introduction by Susan Knutson
Insomniac Press
192 Spadina Avenue, Suite 403, Ontario, Canada, M5T2C2
1590210603 $18.00

At long last, we finally have an anthology of stories and excerpts from fifteen of Canada's very best lesbian writers. From the gutsy feel of Dionne Brand's heroine to the beauty of language in Lydia Kwa's work to the subtle humor Marnie Woodrow employs, each of these short pieces is a wonderful read. Skillfully selected and introduced by editors Catherine Lake and Nairne Holtz, each piece includes notes from the writer to acquaint us with the attitudes and ideas of each woman and ends with a brief bio for that author. US readers may be familiar with the work of Ann-Marie MacDonald, Karen X. Tulchinsky, Nicole Brossard, and Emma Donoghue, but the other fantastic lesbian authors here are also writing remarkable fiction. Anne Fleming, Larissa Lai, Elizabeth Ruth, Marion Douglas, Jane Eaton Hamilton, Shani Mootoo, Luanne Armstrong, and Daphne Marlatt should not be missed. Editor Catherine Lake, in the Editor's Note, writes: "We are not only a readership but also a community that thrives on the words, images, and creativity of our writers." This collection is chock-full of marvelous words and images by some wonderfully creative writers who are writing outside the margin, and I highly recommend it.

Two Spirits
Walter L. Williams and Toby Johnson
Lethe Press
102 Heritage Avenue, Maple Shade NJ 08052
1590210603 $18.00

William Lee, a young Virginian, is exiled from his home by his fundamentalist preacher father after being caught having sex in the barn with another youth. It's 1867, and Will is only 21 years old, but he needs to make a life for himself, even though he can never go back to his family. Disgraced, Will manages to get a job as an Indian Agent, and he makes the long journey to Fort Sumner in the New Mexico Territory where he begins to get to know the Navaho – the Dine, which means The People, as they call themselves. Will works hard to be accepted by the Navajo, and before long he has made friends with Hasbaa, a Two Spirit person. He also discovers that the US government, led by the real-life character General James Carlton, had relocated the twelve thousand Navajos to Fort Sumner, effectively kidnapping them from their native area in Canyon de Chelly. Many of the tribe had died after being forced to walk over three hundred miles to Fort Sumner. Then to make matters worse, instead of giving to the Navajo the food and supplies earmarked for them, Carlton appropriated the resources to enrich himself. Will is thrust into this environment of politics, greed, and corruption, and before long, he begins to try to help his new friends. This puts him and others at great risk. Can he help the Navajo and Hasbaa, with whom he is falling in love?

Judy Grahn's groundbreaking book, ANOTHER MOTHER TONGUE: GAY WORDS, GAY WORLDS first introduced me to the concept of the Two Spirit person in native culture and mythology, but this is the first work of fiction I've read that speaks about the world of the "berdache" with such clarity, depth, and soulfulness. The novel draws much of its historical fact and information from Walter L. Williams' nonfiction book, THE SPIRIT AND THE FLESH: SEXUAL DIVERSITY IN AMERICAN INDIAN CULTURE, but despite its historical base, the book never feels dry. Instead, this is a lively, entertaining, and fascinating look at a time gone by when two people from completely different cultures came together as friends, lovers, and trusted allies to prevail over an enemy that seemed impossible to defeat. Highly recommended.

A Writer's San Francisco
Eric Maisel with illustrations by Paul Madonna
New World Library
14 Pamaron Way, Novato, CA 94949
1577315464 $19.95

From Bernal Hill to Washington Square Park, Alcatraz Island to the West Portal Tunnel, Eric Maisel has traveled physically and metaphorically, and in this beautiful new book, he gives the reader a guided tour of heart, soul, and place. The physical book is stunningly beautiful. Paul Madonna's colorful drawings of buildings, streets, interiors, and still-life scenes add amazing depth to the narrative. A center foldout shows a typically hilly San Francisco street full of narrow houses and flats with a view to the Golden Gate Bridge. Quotations by Imogen Cunningham, Dylan Thomas, Mark, Twain, and Oscar Wilde on the reverse side attest to the strength and attractions of the city. Those who have followed Maisel's career, read his books on writing, received his frequent newsletters, and participated in his creativity workshops will be further entranced by this book of reflections, memories, and wise observations, but any author or artist who has fallen in love with a city – or, indeed, any place – will find this "Guided Journey of the Creative Soul" irresistible. Highly recommended.

Writing & Selling Your Mystery Novel
Hallie Ephron, with Foreword by S.J. Rozan
Writer's Digest Books
1582973768 $16.99

Hallie Ephron's new How-To book is one of the best books on writing mysteries that I've ever read. Ephron, one half of the best-selling mystery duo G.H. Ephron, knows exactly how to construct interesting, twisty, and effective plots and characters, and she doesn't hesitate to divulge her secrets. The book is divided into four sections: Planning, Writing, Revising, and Selling Your Mystery Novel. She provides apt examples, excellent charts, and interactive exercises that will help both the neophyte and the long-time practitioner. She includes an appendix of resources as well. As SJ Rozan writes in her introduction: "The map in this book will make the process of writing your novel controllable, understandable, and as close to fun as it gets. You'll still have to do the work; this book won't write your book. But it will show you what work to do, so you can plan, structure, and write. And revise, rework, and rewrite. It will show you how to start, what to do when you're mired in the middle, and how to come to a triumphant finish. And, if you're still standing, it will help you market it to an agent an editor so that your book can end up, finally, in the hands of those most elusive, legendary, and desirable inhabitants of this loony Land: readers." If you've ever wanted to write mysteries or if you seek merely to improve your mystery-writing craft and technique, this book will help you get there. Run right out and get this one. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Lori L. Lake

Margaret's Bookshelf

Down That Aisle In Style!
Chamein Canton
Wind River Publishing
72 North WindRiver Road, Silverton, ID 83867-0446
188624913X, $34.95

The average clothing manufacturer sells to a size six, but the average American woman is a size sixteen. When it comes to that very specialized area of clothing designs called the wedding dress, the bride needs to look her very best within traditional gown parameters and doesn't need the stress of going through the usual guess work associated with choosing clothing that will be stylish and appropriate for full-figured women. In "Down That Aisle In Style: A Wedding Guide For Full-Figured Women", Chamein Canton draws upon her many years of experience and expertise in the wedding industry to provide sound advice and moral-boosting encouragement on how to use the fundamentals of design and style to acquire the perfect gown for that perfect day. Profusely illustrated and with a truly "user friendly" text that is both informed and informative (and occasionally inspiring!), "Down That Aisle In Style" should be considered 'must' reading for full-figured brides-to-be. It will save them aggravation and anxiety when searching for – and finding – that ideal wedding gown.

Fall Into Freedom
Diana Marie Weitzel
WSOL Publishing
PO Box 1121, Cardiff-by-the-sea, CA 92007
0967144809 $24.95

Fall Into Freedom: An Affair Inspires One Woman's Search for Truth is the true-life story of the author's shock and pain upon learning that her husband was having an affair. Having struggled to cope with his increasing distance, harshness, and misery for so long, she was in a quandary with how to handle mood swings and the dissolution of love in her marriage, all the while looking after her children. She embarked on a six-month spiritual journey in search of the answer to "What is love?" and in the process discovered enlightenment, as well as a philosophy to free herself from fear. A deeply moving personal testimony of the long, hard road to healing.

The Language of God in Prophecy
Helena Lehman
Pillar of Enoch Ministry Books
1708 N. 77th Avenue, Elmwood Park, IL 60707-4107
0975913131 $35.00

The fourth book in author and fervent believer Helena Lehman's "Language of God" series, The Language of God in Prophecy specifically explores Biblical prophecy and God's symbolic language to reveal God's vision for the forthcoming End Times. The Language of God in Prophecy opens with prophecies in the Psalms and the Pillar of Enoch, progresses to revealing divine design and symbolism in the Egyptian pyramids and the Great Sphinx, and further discuss the role of the United States and Israel in prophecy, as well as warnings of the Antichrist and the Woman Who Rides the Beast. A passionate testimony of faithful prognostication, firm in its assertion that the best time to prepare oneself for the Last Days is now.

Margaret Lane

Mayra's Bookshelf

Nancy Minnis Damato
Wings ePress, Inc.
403 Wallace Court, Richmond KY 40475
1590885562 $12.95

Talented author Nancy Minnis Damato continues the exciting Taylor family saga in this latest instalment to the series, BELONGING. This time the strong protagonist is not Josefina Taylor (from Book I) but her wilful, beautiful redheaded daughter, Taylor. The story begins as mother and daughter have a terrible argument and Taylor, only thirteen years old and feeling betrayed, goes to live with friends and makes the first serious decision in her life—getting married. The reader follows Taylor as the young protagonist becomes a wife, mother, and businesswoman. In spite of the big deception about the identity of her father, Taylor doesn't give up and is intend on finding the truth. Then tragedy strikes and Taylor is compelled to move back to St. Louis with her children to stay with a black friend from her childhood. With her excellent business skills, Taylor soon begins to rise in society. She opens her own restaurant and becomes prey to a charismatic and devilishly handsome Italian count. Under his sensual clutches, Taylor falls into a web of gossip and scandal. But the search for who she is guides her path and her actions. Will she eventually find her father and her real family—the one her mother denied her all her life? If yes, at what price? Will Taylor ever reconcile with her mother?

A strong heroine and a forceful plot are the landmarks of this novel that spans over a decade during the late 1800's. Damato does an excellent job with descriptions, especially with food and fashion. The prose and dialogue are engaging, and the relationship between Taylor and the Count is electrifying, making this book very appealing to historical romance fans. The quick pace will keep readers turning pages until the dramatic conclusion, which is deeply satisfying yet leaves enough unanswered questions to look forward to the sequel. Though the book may stand on its own, I strongly recommend reading The Pawn, the first book in the series, before reading this one in order to avoid some confusion. Highly recommended.

Death Game
Cheryl Swanson
Zumaya Publications
3209 S. IH 35 #1086, Austin TX 78741-6905
15541103266 $14.99 512-707-2694

CG expert Cooper O'Brian's life turns upside down when her younger brother, a troubled teenager, is accused of murdering another boy in what looks like a deadly game. In spite of the evidence, including a tape which shows her brother shooting the victim, Cooper believes something just doesn't feel right. Is the tape fake? How can she prove it? With her brother on the run and the authorities after him, Cooper begins to investigate on her own… only to discover a bottomless vortex of deceit, rage and death. As the story unfolds it becomes obvious that something much more sinister and terrifying than a simple murder is stake. Twisted computer games, 'closed cities', terrorism, and a massive conspiracy mix together to create a suspenseful thriller that will touch readers in an emotional level. Its horrifying implications are not far from reality in the present world we live in.

Though the story is written in first person, which is somewhat unusual for a thriller, talented author Cheryl Swanson maintains a quick pace that reaches a spine-tingling, heart-stopping climax. Sensitive readers who are easily offended by explicit language should be aware that this book contains its fair share of it. Swanson's style is characterized by a stabbing wit and razor-sharp sentences that suit the plot and add momentum to the pace. An impressive debut novel by a promising author.

Mayra Calvani

Paul's Bookshelf

What Night Brings
Carla Trujillo
Curbstone Press
321 Jackson Street, Willimantic, CT 06226;
1880684942 $15.95

Set in the Bay Area of the 1960s, this novel is narrated by Marci Cruz, an eleven-year-old Latina who fervently wishes for two things. The first is for God to turn her into a boy, because she has something of a crush on Raquel, her teenaged neighbor; the second is for Eddie, her father, to disappear. A couple of times a week, Eddie beats Marci, and Corin, her younger sister, for some infraction, usually with his leather belt. It always occurs when Delia, their mother, isn't home. Eddie always accuses the girls of lying, or says that he had to break up their fight, and Delia always believes him. During an argument, Eddie leaves the house, and doesn't return. Delia is forced to get a job at the local Woolworth's, and things settle down at home. Several months later, during which time he has been living with a woman named Wanda, Delia takes Eddie back, despite the girls' pleading with her not to do so. The beatings resume.

Marci and Corin disown Eddie as their father, refusing to call him "Daddy" or "Father." With help from a neighbor, they tie him up and threaten him with a switchblade. Marci gets a book on karate from the local library, intending to learn some moves to use on Eddie. He resumes his relationship with Wanda; Delia will accept a lot of things, but she will not tolerate Eddie even looking at another woman. Marci borrows a camera from her Uncle Tommy, and sits across the street from a local bar, intending to get pictures of Eddie and Wanda together. Unintentionally, the pictures get into Delia's hands, and then comes the "final" confrontation with Eddie. This book is not just about domestic violence. Marci nearly gets thrown out of catechism class, for asking too many questions that eleven-year-olds shouldn't ask. Her teacher, Miss Beauchamp, insists on speaking with a French accent, even though she is from Wisconsin. One day, at church, she sees Uncle Tommy and Father Chacon, the parish priest, come out of the same door in the confessional.

In a way, this book is not pleasant reading, but it is very good reading. The author does a fine job at "doing" a pre-teen Latina. This book could easily take place in any part of America. All in all, it's very much worth reading.

The Angelic Prophecy
Robert L. Hecker,
Mundania Press LLC
6470A Glenway Avenue, #109, Cincinnati, OH 45211-5222
159426256X $14.00

Michael Modesto is your average hard-driving rock star who is getting tired of the music life style. At a post-concert party, he meets a young woman named Mary Schaefer, who doesn't look or act like the typical groupie. Against his better judgment, he accompanies her to a local hospital that treats crack babies. He holds one of the babies, and is suddenly convulsed by extreme pain throughout his body. When he recovers, he finds that the baby is cured. Other things happen to Michael that convince him that something very strange is happening. In a vision, he is told, "I am the Word, and you are my messenger." Michael has no idea what this Message is, or how he is supposed to deliver it, but the thought that he is losing his mind is pretty tempting. He becomes part of a local church in Los Angeles, with which Mary is associated, as a Guest Evangelist.

As a native of Texas, Michael has plenty of experience with the way evangelists are supposed to act and sound. His popularity grows like wildfire, with help from some public healings of the sick. The services are nationally televised, and the church moves to larger quarters. Michael attracts the attention of Anthony Stonz, a Washington power broker, who becomes Michael's biggest fan. For his own reasons, Anthony pushes for the construction of a huge, brand new cathedral, just for Michael. This is despite Michael's assertion that as soon as he delivers the Message, his evangelizing will stop. Suddenly, accusations of fraud against Michael, for "healing" people who are not really sick, and accusations of financial mismanagement make it look like the whole thing will collapse. This is quite a book. It does a fine job looking at faith and religion for those who are not very religious. It has an interesting and plausible story, and is very much worth checking out.

Men of Tomorrow
Gerard Jones
Basic Books
387 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016-8810
0465036562 $26.00

This book is a history of that ubiquitous part of contemporary American adolescent life, the comic book. In the early part of the 20th Century, there were an entire generation of male geeks and outsiders who enjoyed reading this crazy literature called science fiction. Mainly Jewish, and usually living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, they combined their fantasies and youthful traumas into the square-jawed heroes who are now a central part of pop culture. A central part of this book are Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, a couple of kids from Cleveland who created the first superhero, Superman. They learned, the hard way, that hard-nosed businessmen of questionable reputations, like pornographer and bootlegger Harry Donnenfeld, now ran the business.

In the beginning, Siegel and Shuster signed away the rights to their creation (standard procedure). It took until the 1970s, just before the first Superman movie, for the pair to get official recognition, and something like a reasonable amount of money, for Superman. The 1930s saw an explosion in comic book popularity. Even the shadiest, two-bit publisher could put out the worst schlock ever created, and it would be vacuumed up by the public. A seemingly infinite number of superheroes came before the public, teamed up with every other superhero, fighting any villain that could be put on paper. Some combinations worked, whileothers failed. Hitler and the Nazis provided a ready-made villain during the 1940s, which saw the public turn away from superheroes. Wartime paper restrictions put most publishers out of business; those that remained put out crime stories, westerns, and horror stories, to name a few.

In the 1950s, Congress discovered the comic book. They were accused of corrupting America's youth, especially the horror stories.For the artists in the industry, working conditions were little better than a sweatshop. For instance, if 64 pages of material were due at the printer in three days, there was no possibility of leaving the office until those pages were done. With such time constraints, many details were left out of panels and chunks were taken from other stories, even if the two had nothing to do with each other. This book is excellent. Anyone who has ever read an old superhero comic book, or a newer "independent" comic, should read this book. It's also recommended for those interested in early 20th Century pop culture.

Jerome and the Seraph
Robina Williams
Twilight Times Books
P.O. Box 3340, Kingsport, TN 37664
1931201544 $15.50

At a rural friary in Britain, Brother Jerome slips and cracks his head open on the gravestone of Brother Aloysius. Jerome is killed instantly. When he wakes up, he is not in Heaven, but alone in a gray, featureless sort of place. The first person he meets is Brother Aloysius, who apologizes for the circumstances of Jerome's death. Jerome eventually meets up with all the dead Brothers of the friary. The "leader" or "guide" of the group is Leo, an orange tabby cat who wandered into the friary one day and made himself at home. In the other world, Leo is named Quant, short for Quantum, and can talk. Jerome realizes that Leo/Quant is not your average cat, if he can move between dimensions with no trouble at all. Meantime, back at the friary, Brother Fidelis, the "boss" of the friary, has been spending a lot of time with a middle age woman new to the parish. When men become friars later in life, some are good at keeping their religious vows while others are not so good at it.

By this time, Jerome has made a few visits back to the friary. He makes contact with one of the living friars, and is asked if he could possibly find himself inside the woman's cottage while Fidelis is there; just for a peek, of course. He does, and finds a totally innocent scene of two people at lunch. Whether or not Jerome can be seen by the living friars on his walks around the friary seems to depend on the cat, Leo/Quant. A lot of things seem to depend on that dimension-hopping cat. This is a very "quiet" novel (set at a friary, there will not be much in the way of action). It has little bits of weirdness here and there that will keep the reader interested. This belongs in that large gray area of Pretty Good or Worth Reading.

Memoirs of a Virus Programmer
Pete Flies Publishing
3851 Cottonwood Drive, Danville, CA 94506
0976542684 $8.99

Living near Minneapolis, Johnny Pepper is a young software engineer who gets a job at the high-tech Beamer Corporation. He can't wait to do some actual software engineering, but is told to read manuals until the right project comes along. His office mate is Danny, a very cynical person who spends his days reading news items off the Internet to Johnny, despite Johnny's absolute disinterest, and in gabbing with a woman named Fillmore. Needless to say, Danny does very little actual work. After three months of reading about Beamer's WebCutter software, Johnny gets to actual code writing, fixing bugs here, and plugging holes there. It gets to the point where Danny and Fillmore give their work to Johnny, so they can continue gabbing and not-working. Eventually, Johnny is given his own project, to be included in WebCutter's next release. He works on it day and night for 5 full months; just when he is ready to hand in the finished product, he is told that it won't be needed, after all.

Meantime, outside of Beamer, Johnny is dragged by his roommate to what turns out to be a Christian party. There, he meets Katya, an anarchist who works in the pharmaceutical business. They see each other for a while, but the relationship eventually fades away. It doesn't help when Katya finds Johnny in bed with a woman from across the street, who is separated from her husband. Because of these things, Johnny decides to write the ultimate in viruses to affect WebCutter. He spends a lot of time on it, makes it look like it came from Danny's computer, and records the whole story to explain to Katya why he did it. This is a really good satire on modern, high-tech office life. It's a pretty "quiet" story, but, for anyone who has ever spent their days looking at pages and pages of computer code, it's very much worth reading.

The Legend of Juggin' Joe
Joseph Yakel
860 Aviation Parkway, #300, Morrisville, NC 27560
1411625889 $10.25

Joe Jeckel was born tenth out of eleven children on a hardscrabble farm in the hills of upstate New York. His parents, Doc and Isabel, didn't have much, but they managed. Joe was one of those who had a real talent for getting in trouble. One day, in his early teens, Joe gathers up some jugs to hold what comes out of the family still, a popular pastime. The only way to determine if a jug is empty or full is to blow across the top of it, which Joe demonstrates for Doc, who is totally blown away. To make noise from a jug is easy, but the breath control and lung power to make music come out of a jug, which Joe has plenty of, is a gift right from God. At the local county fair, the jug band led by a man named Bug-Eye seems to have a lock on the title of Best Band. That is, until Doc's band, with Joe on jug, takes the stage. After the thunderous applause subsides, Bug-Eye himself declares Doc's band the winner.

At the fair, Joe meets Florentine Sheppard, daughter of the local Parson. Many men have tried, and failed, to get her attention; now she only has eyes for Joe. At a wedding celebration for one of Joe's older sisters, he and Florentine are caught behind the barn doing something that certainly looks compromising. Parson Sheppard angrily forbids any further contact between them, and it takes Doc and Isabel a long time to calm down enough to even listen to Joe's apologies. A famous fiddle player, having heard about Joe's talents, offers to take Joe on tour with him. Joe becomes a national celebrity and appears on all the talk shows (three Gold Records certainly don't hurt). At the height of his popularity, during a home visit, Joe announces that he has joined the Army and will become a mechanic in Berlin. He meets President Reagan just before his famous speech in West Berlin. Having done his time, he comes home, but hasn't lost his love for Florentine.

This is a very interesting story, told with humor and real emotion. The unique thing is that the book is written in "country speak"; if it was set in the South, I would say that it is written in a Southern accent. The upstate New York "accent" extends to the biography of the author in the back and the information on the copyright page. Get used to the flow and style of the story, and this is short, and really worth reading.

We Know What You Want
Martin Howard
The Disinformation Company Ltd.
163 Third Avenue, #108, New York, NY 10003
1932857052 $13.95

The marketers and public relations firms of this world are constantly improving the myriad of ways they have to get inside your head and manipulate you to their way of thinking. This book looks at some of them. Today's supermarkets intentionally place popular items, like milk and bread, as far from the entrance as possible. That way, the shopper must pass all those impulse items at the end of each aisle. Also, they are subjected to slow muzak tracks that will cause them to ignore their shopping lists and stay longer.

Have you ever heard of the Gruen Transfer? It describes the moment when a shopper loses control of the decision-making process, characterized by suggestibility and glazed eyes. It is at this time that a shopper is most likely to make an unplanned purchase. At the local sports stadium, is there any surface, except for the player's uniforms and the field itself, that doesn't have a corporate logo? You have probably seen Video News Releases, slick corporate promotions and government messages designed to look like news, even if you have never heard of them.

The book also looks at how to engineer public opinion, through front groups, paid experts and targeted messages. Ebay has said that will ignore their own privacy policy if law enforcement is looking for information on a specific person, and hand over that information without a court order. Everyone is familiar with cookies, spam and spyware on your computer. Not everyone knows that Kazaa software embeds extra, hard-to-find, programs on your computer. They send information on your viewing habits to third-party servers. Advertising and subliminal messages are among the newest trends in computer games. This book also includes a list of actual patents for inventions that involve "regulated subconscious behavioral control by invisible means." This is a first-rate gem of a book. It is really easy to read. While some might consider the information in this book common knowledge, it is still a rather spooky look at how well They have gotten inside our heads. It is very much recommended.

Keeping the Masses Down
August K. Anderson and Nola L. Kelsey
Tea Party Books
7600 Anderson Road, Black Hawk, SD 57718;
1420867520 $19.95

This workbook will help to prepare anyone, young or old, for success in an America with a rapidly shrinking middle class. Do you have a wildest dream or a lifelong goal? If cost was no object, what would you like to do with your life? Why don't you start to do something about it? This does not mean abandoning your present life, all at once and starting over, but working, step by step, toward that Ultimate Goal. No one can change the circumstances under which they came into this world; the only thing that can change is your attitude. Just because you weren't born a rich, white male, blaming Them (whoever Them is) because you are poor, overweight or a minority is a waste of time and effort. If you want your situation to change, you are the only one who can do anything about it.

This book also looks at several aspects of life in today's America that help keep the masses fat, lazy and dependent on the government. Some types of insurance are needed and a good idea, but most types are little more than a rip-off. Have you ever wondered why it is so easy to get into credit trouble, but almost impossible to get out of it? Many physical conditions can be improved, or actually cured, by a simple prescription: exercise and cut out the junk food. Joining a gym or buying one of those exercise devices shown on TV is not necessary; the first step is to shut off the TV (getting rid of the TV is a better idea), get out of your chair, and go for a walk. If you are one of those who sit back and wait for Mr. Right (and Rich) to sweep you off your feet, and set you up for life, here is a news bulletin: women live longer than men. One day, hubby will be gone, either through death or divorce, and then where will you be? Don't count on lifelong alimony that will cover all your expenses. Having lots of children just to get the child support money is a similarly bad idea.

The rest of this book consists of a workbook for the reader to track their progress, day by day, toward that Ultimate Goal. The process described in this book is not rocket science; it's simple and easy to read. This book can be used by anyone, regardless of age or income. It's recommended.

Paul Lappen

Rocky's Bookshelf

The Middle East Conspiracy and the Fourth Dimension
George L. Darley
1663 Liberty Drive, Suite 200, Bloomington, IN 47403
1420831577 $20.00

Having a good plot is essential to the success of any book, and George L. Darley's debut novel has this and much more. I found the story enthralling, exciting and, at many points, captivating. The Middle East Conspiracy is a gripping mystery of complicated twists and turns that in the end all form together to make perfect sense. The book is about American and British Intelligence agencies working together to stop major terrorist attacks in both their countries, and in the end, they are successful. There were a few twists in the story--like a sudden death--that could keep no reader from wanting to turn the page. The book has too much description and history—too much information is thrown out at the reader at one time. Darley needs to tell about his characters bit by bit, so that as the story progresses, we learn more and more about his characters and get to know them better. The book also has too many run-on sentences. My suggestion to the author would be to write sentences that are short and more to the point.

Despite this, Darley has an uncanny ability at describing his characters, and is a master at creating strong characters with interesting backgrounds. The Middle East Conspiracy also touches on something magnificent, something no other book ever has: Darley reveals differing emotions in terrorists' minds as well as in the agents who fight them, giving us an inside look into what he thinks really goes on in the minds of terrorists and the American heroes who battle them. George L. Darley shows a vast knowledge of modern weaponry, apparel and cars. Also, Darley is to be applauded for the lesson he teaches us at the end of his story--about "fighting the good fight," which makes his book important, and therefore a "must-read" for all Americans. Darley looks like he will have a promising career as a writer, and The Middle East Conspiracy certainly proclaims that.

Scar Night
Alan Campbell
Bantam Press
1540 Broadway , New York, NY 10036
0553384163 $22.00

Thrilling, chilling, and downright unputdownable.

These are the perfect words to describe this book. Scar Night is captivating and exciting. Campbell's uncanny ability to write and his command of the English language all come together in this excellent debut to form a great story. Scar Night has everything a reader wants in a fantasy novel, with a bit more. Campbell describes the city of Deepgate so well that he makes you feel as if you're actually there. He takes you to his wonderful world full of powers both dark and evil, and leads readers on an adventure they're sure to remember. Campbell is a master of excitement, as he tells us his tale of adventure and intrigue, betrayal and battles. The plot is full of interesting twists and turns, which will leave readers turning the pages. There are a few things that could be improved: not everything in the book is explained, and occasionally events in a chapter do not connect as well as they should. This is all overshadowed, however, by Campbell's wonderfully written and creative plot. This is an incredible start to a potentially great career as a writer, and Campbell's sure to entice, intrigue and excite readers with every word he writes.

Rocky Reichman, Reviewer

Safai's Bookshelf

Diet for a Dead Planet
Christopher D. Cook
The New Press
38 Greene St., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10013
1595580840 $17.95

Christopher D. Cook's latest book Diet for a Dead Planet offers the American public with a harrowing view of the food industry today. As an investigative journalist, he gives a complete overview of the socioeconomic and political ills facing food production. He begins the supermarkets and ends with the global agricultural market. Cook inspects the multifaceted complexities which have arisen due to cheap labor, often exploited and without healthcare. He also depicts the plight of migrant workers, processed food, and pesticides manipulatively spread over crops with the able assistance of government subsidies. The findings are thorough, compelling, and difficult to ingest at times. However, they are warranted and he introduces authorities to backup his claims. The statistics Cook presents are real, yet harsh. Yearly, 75 million Americans are sickened by the food they eat, while an estimated 67 million birds are killed by the millions of pounds of toxic agricultural pesticides sprayed on crops. Meanwhile, farmers that remain take home only about 19 cents per food dollar spent by the average consumer (this is in comparison to 37 cents in 1980 and 47 cents in 1952) according to Cook.

Cook closely examines every branch of the food industry. In doing so, he reaches a necessary reason for change. The socioeconomic, environmental, and political injustices currently practiced weigh heavily on America's well being. Within each chapter, he goes into great detail explaining, expanding, and scoping the historical difficulties and how they adversely impact today's food industry. Beyond that conclusion, Cook explains that unless a new solution, specifically changing how food is "made", Americans will continue to spiral downward. Cook clearly maps out the issues beleaguering and tormenting many workers in the food industry from farmers, supermarket employees to higher up executives. All problems such as exploited migrant workers, sickened Americans, corporate control, and government subsidies carry negative consequences for the future if nothing is done soon. In Cook's last chapter, he outlines a solution which focuses on changing the role of the food industry in the future. However, more pages need to be devoted to envisioning that solution than one final chapter. I hope to see more works from Christopher Cook. I recommend this book as a read for anyone who eats. This is also a book for someone who wants to learn the truth about a topic that is well investigated, researched, and tired of complacency.

Alpha Girls
Dan Kindlon
Rodale Books
1594862559 $25.95

In our contemporary age, many perceive American society as male-dominated and view women as traditionally submissive, less likely to succeed, and lacking certain abilities depending on the subject or topic in question. At least that is what conventional wisdom dictates for the adolescent girls growing up in America. In his latest book, Alpha Girls Dan Kindlon challenges traditional views and amasses new evidence that proves the opposite to be true. In fact, Kindlon writes passionately about the need to define who "alpha girls" are, what characteristics set them apart from other non-alpha girls, and how they compare to boys. His findings include commissioned studies, interviews, and graphs. He studies self-esteem levels, college degrees earned (BAs, MAs, and PhDs), attitudes about education, careers, and relationships. His evidence is fascinating because today's girls perceive their lives as filled with opportunities, not the restrictions that once hindered many women a generation before.

Alpha Girls are a newly defined phenomenon that is quickly sweeping the nation. Kindlon speaks well of this growing positive change. He embraces these girls as a beautiful tapestry of mentally, emotionally, and physically determined group that encompasses various abilities to accomplish anything they desire. As the best-selling author of Raising Cain, Kindlon again comes to his audience with another intriguing study of questioning the gender perceptions of today's female adolescence. His writing is quick, concise, and stimulating. The young women, now known as alpha girls, are sure to play increasingly key roles in changing the world's landscape.

Mona Lisa Safai

Slessman's Bookshelf

The Little Book That Beats The Market
Joel Greenblatt
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
111 River Street Hoboken, NJ 07030
0471733067 $19.95

I can only speak for myself, but when it comes to investments I could be considered illiterate. Therefore, I use an investment counselor to manage my investment funds. According to Joel Greenblatt, author of The Little Book That Beats The Market, you may be spending more on the management of your investments than necessary. Joel Greenblatt, founder and managing partner of Gotham Capital, a private investment partnership, says he has earned forty percent annually on his investments since 1985 using his simple magic formula which he developed along with two other friends in the investment business. I don't know about you, but, I find that number staggering compared to the returns I am receiving on my own investments. During the 911 crisis investments took a real nosedive. And, according to the charts Greenblat used in this book, so did his investments. However, Greenblatt's Magic Formula is designed to bring a good return over a period of years – say five to seven years. So, as we all know as investors, some years you win and some you lose. It is Greenblatt's high return yield that fascinates this reader.

I had no problem understanding the concept of Greenblatt's Magic Formula. Therefore, you shouldn't have any problem understanding the concept given the statement I made in the first sentence of this review. I say for $19.95 this book is a good investment itself. Buy this book and make one of the smartest investments you have made this decade.

Chasing the Dead
Joe Schreiber
Ballentine Books
New York, New York
0345487478 $16.95

The book begins with a murder. A blow of a knife and it is all over. Susan Young aids in this killing and it comes back to haunt her years later when her daughter, Veda, and Veda's nanny, Marilyn are kidnapped. The kidnapper takes Susan on a long journey which takes her readers through an entire night. While this incident is wrapped up in hours, the reader feels that more time has passed. She is forced to dig up the body that she and her former husband, Phillip, buried so many years ago. The corpse is to be taken to an unknown place designated by the kidnapper. The kidnapper remains an unknown entity to Susan and the reader right up until the end of the book. The journey she takes is one filled with confusion and blood. As I read, I constantly wanted to wash my hands! Each stop along the way brings horror and more confusion. In the hope of saving her daughter, Susan, conforms to the kidnapper's requests and discovers within herself her ability to absorb shock and still keeps herself moving. The supernatural comes into play when Susan encounters a young man who is trying to keep her from reaching the kidnapper's destination. During the encounter with the young man he is killed and comes back to haunt Susan. Is he really a friend or any enemy? You will just have to read to book to find out. At $16.95, it provides many of hours of entertainment.

Annie Slessman

Sonali's Bookshelf

What Came Before He Shot Her
Elizabeth George
HarperCollins Publishers
10 E 53rd Street New York NY 10022
0060545623 $26.95, 212-207-7495

The BBC says, "Fears that the UK would 'sleep-walk into a surveillance society' have become a reality, the government's information commissioner has said. There are up to 4.2m CCTV cameras in Britain -- about one for every 14 people." And that feeling is captured in Elizabeth George's latest salvo. Her anti-hero is captured by just such a CCTV. George's books have been turning darker and darker with every new story. When "With No One As Witness" came out in spring 2005, I couldn't imagine a darker book than that. But with "What Came Before He Shot Her," her storytelling has spiraled further downwards into the lives of throwaway children. "He knew that what would happen next had been long determined by the unchanging world through which he moved."

Vanessa "Ness," Joel, and Toby are the Campbells, children of Caribbean and Caucasian ancestry. The senseless murder of their father on a street in their neighborhood and the institutionalizing of their mother begins their descent into a bottomless well of darkness. Ness is traumatized at her grandmother's house, Toby develops serious learning disabilities, and Joel weighs himself down with assumed emotional obligations. And it is this sense of responsibility that he feels towards his siblings and his aunt Kendra that informs the bad decisions he makes that result his being used as "an actor in a drama of revenge." Twelve years old and already Joel knew the axiom of the street: "Say nothing and you had a chance to live. Name a name and you died by degrees."

The shock of the cliffhanger shooting of Helen Lynley, Countess of Asherton and New Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley's pregnant wife on the front steps of her home in posh Belgravia, at the end of "Witness" demanded a resolution in "He Shot Her." Instead what we get is backstory, a long-winded repetitive flashback into the horror of three damaged lives, all delivered in London street cant. All we get of her two main protagonists is a comment by partner Barbara Havers and a photo of Lynley. It is curious that at such a crucial moment in her series, George chose to withdraw focus from her usual characters. The story could easily have been written as a straightforward detecting tale involving work by Havers, with help from Detective Sergeant Winston Nkata. Either, George is betting on her readers staying with her through the long drawn-out suspense of waiting another couple of years for the next installment, or she is experimenting as a writer by telling the story from the point-of-view of the anti-heroes and villains. And yet in the short snippet, probably only a page long, we get an accurate picture of Helen Lynley, her personality, her looks, her preoccupations. And it is for this very reason, this ability to create an emotional connection with readers through her finely drawn characters, that readers will return to George's books again and again and eagerly await the next story.

Bee Season (book & movie)
Written by Myla Goldberg, Directed by Scott McGehee & David Siegel
Anchor / Random House
1745 Broadway, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10019
0385498802 $13.00 212-572-2882

You either love the story or you hate it. There is no middle ground, because the book is all about passions getting full play against the backdrop of a seemingly normal four-member family with both parents working and both children in school. At least on the surface at the start of the book, we get an impression of a strong, intelligent, hard-working, well-knit family. But as the story proceeds with the introduction of the innocuous spelling bee contest, the lives, and the threads that hold them together, start to unravel and entangle and unravel and entangle.

Saul Naumann is a scholar and a cantor absorbed in the study of Jewish mysticism. He shares his love of music with his overachiever teenage son Aaron, who is bullied in all walks of his life. Aaron makes a tremendous effort to be taken into his father's confidence by learning to recite his Bar Mitzvah prayers from memory and discussing various Kabalistic topics with his father in Hebrew. Saul is delighted. To him, he has only one child. While Saul brings his family together at dinner time by cooking elaborate meals, his brilliant wife Miriam is an observer, rather distant with everyone. Her lack of self-confidence is further exacerbated by Saul's didactic behavior. Her contribution to the family is to maintain the house in a clean, tip-top shape. All her life, she is haunted by the death of her parents and her quest for the perfect pure light. Eliza, on the other hand, seems to have escaped the academic gifts of her family. However, when she wins her first spelling bee, taken on a whim, Eliza herself is rather surprised. When she wins the district bee, Saul suddenly wakes up to miraculous talent of his daughter. He instantly diverts all his attention away from Aaron to Eliza and focuses on coaching her through the state and national spelling bee finals.

Miriam makes one half-hearted attempt to protect her daughter, perhaps sensing what Eliza's truly capable of and dreading the unleashing of its power. But Saul rolls right over her request. Her powerlessness to help her daughter unmoors her ability to keep her compulsive kleptomania in check. Meanwhile, stunned by his father's defection, Aaron begins exploring different spiritual paths to soothe his troubled self. His self-involvement makes him unable to see the trouble Eliza is in. The conclusion of the book is expected but still unbearable. Eliza's transformation from an indifferent average girl into a person with a gift for words, an extraordinary insight into the human psyche, and the courage of her convictions to stick to her plan despite deep personal disappointment.

Juliet Binoche was fabulous as Miriam. The initial academic confidence, the struggle to resist the temptations of her inner demons, the despair, and ultimately, the madness are all sensitively portrayed in nuanced detail. Max Minghella did a good job as the troubled son seeking first paternal approval, then opening up to alternate spiritual paths. Flora Cross was so-so in the role of a disturbed genius with zero social skills. Richard Gere was the biggest bump in the movie. Ill-cast, his Jewishness as Naumann doesn't came across. He remains Richard Gere, never transforming into Saul Naumann. The movie was enjoyable, if you've read the book, because your memory can then fill in the gaps left by movie. However, the biggest issue with the movie is that it failed to develop the book's biggest triumph: the ever downwardly shifting relationships en famille. Hence, Miriam's kleptomania comes as a sudden shock. Aaron Hare Krishna move comes as of a sudden, Flora's glomming onto the ancient mystic Kabalistic practices is far too mysterious. Saul's despotic nature and its influence on the family is lightly felt, whereas he is the central force around whom they all pivot and from whom they spiral out of control. A writer of Myla Goldberg's talent needs a talented director to be able to bring her story alive on the screen.

Sonali T. Sikchi, Reviewer

Sullivan's Bookshelf

Whose Freedom?
George Lakoff
Farrar Straus and Giroux
0374158282 $23.00

The author writes, "The central thesis of this book is simple. There are two different views of freedom in America today, arising from two very different moral and political worldviews dividing the country. "The traditional idea of freedom is progressive. [....] "But for radical conservatives, [...] [they] want to go back to before these progressive freedoms were established. What they want to conserve is, in most cases, the situation prior to the expansion of traditional American ideas of freedom: before the great expansion of voting rights, before unions and worker protections and pensions, before civil rights legislation, before public health and environmental protections, before Social Security and Medicare, before scientific discoveries contradicted fundamentalist religious dogma. That is why they harp so much on narrow so-called originalist readings of the Constitution--on its letter, not its spirit--on 'activist judges' rather than an inherently activist population."

The author is vocationally a linguist and politically a progressive. He describes how conservatives have taken all prominent political issues in the land today and framed them in language that gives them a sympathetic hearing for their side from the nation's citizens. For example, referring to the subject of estate taxes as death taxes. He talks about how conservatives look at issues from the 'strict father' point of view rather than from the progressives', which is the benevolent 'nurturant parent' position.

The strict father rules his family with an iron hand for its own good, to provide safety, decency, morality, and a good, profitable future. If a family member follows the rules, the father will love that person. But if the rules are not obeyed, woe be to that individual. On the other hand, with progressive nurturant parents, husbands and wives are co-equal partners, both of whom serve their families as genial and gentle guides. Lakoff believes that conservatives, and there's a great many variations of them, are sincere folks. But their ideology gives them a rather limited view on issues, social, moral, and otherwise. They see them mostly in black and white. In short, they ignore the nuances where they exist. Consequently, the conservative strict father comes across as harsh, unforgiving, and unloving. Though he may desire the best for his offspring, he may not see the bigger picture and how, within it, more harm could arise for his loved ones. His positions are truly shallow. Such a father would see abortion under any and all situations, such as rape, as wrong. Naturally, many fathers are from the religious right, evangelical in other words.

This brief, well written, and easy-to-follow volume is essentially aimed at how progressives should handle the conservatives' thought processes in debates over the issues. Primarily, Lakoff thinks that progressives [readers will notice that he doesn't use the word 'liberal'] need to use a deeper reasoning than they have been using when attempting to counter conservative positions. The author warns that if progressives continue to use, and they tend to unconsciously do so, the conservatives' frames of reference in discussion or argument over issues, the progressives will lose every time. People will vote based on how each issue is framed, even though it may go against their very own self-interest. The media, too, states Lakoff, tends to use the conservative frame of reference on issues in thepress, on TV, and over the airwaves. Journalists seem unaware that they are doing so. Of course, this gives the edge to the conservatives' side. George Lakoff teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. He has written other books including DON'T THINK OF AN ELEPHANT! and MORAL POLITICS. Recommended.

Misquoting Jesus
Bart D. Ehrman
Harper SanFrancisco
0060738170 $24.95

As an Evangelical Christian youth, Ehhrman went from conservative Moody Bible College to the somewhat less strict Wheaton College near Chicago where he learned the ways of the world."At Moody," writes the author, "I was warned that I might have trouble finding real Christians at Wheaton--which shows how fundamentalist Moody was: Wheaton is only for evangelical Christians and is the alma mater of Billy Graham, for example. Students talked about literature, history, and philosophy rather than the verbal inspiration of scripture. They did this from a Christian perspective, but even so: didn't they realize what REALLY mattered?"

In any case, with an ingrained interest in the Bible, Ehrman went on with his academics specializing in Bible textual criticism in graduate school at Princeton Theological Seminary. Along with his religious studies, he also mastered Greek and Hebrew languages to help him enhance his field of study. At Princeton, he learned that the Bible was not the inerrant word, nor necessarily the inspired word, of God. The author was exposed to the many additions, deletions, and changes to the various books in the Bible (e.g., see New Testament of John 7:53-8:12 concerning Jesus and the woman taken in adultery; see also last twelve verses of the Gospel of Mark, a complete add-on).

Many changes in the Bible appear intentional for purposes of uniformity of message. For instance, the four Gospels seem tinkered with to agree with one another. Other books are made consistent between the Old and the New Testament, too. This would seem to have been an effort to fight off different, occasionally warring factions, like the Gnostics, of early-day Christianity. Numerous textual mistakes are also found in the Bible thanks in large measure to scribes, willful and otherwise, who recopied the Bible many, many times over the centuries before the advent of the printing press. Often mistakes, which experts estimate to be over 30,000 in total, are found when comparing the oldest existing Bible manuscripts in both the Latin and the Greek versions.

Those mistakes disturbed Ehrman personally quite a lot. He writes, "[...] I kept reverting to my basic question: how does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact we don't have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes--sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times) incorrectly? What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e. the originals) were inspired? We don't have the originals? We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them, evidently, in thousands of ways."

For all of Ehrman's scholarly learning about the Bible's inaccuracies, he ends up soft peddling that situation and remains, if not a fundamentalist, a Christian to this day. That fact, which the reader learns only at book's end, makes ultimately for an unsatisfying conclusion. Bart D. Ehrman is Chair of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina. His other books include LOST SCRIPTURES: BOOKS THAT DID NOT MAKE IT INTO THE NEW TESTAMENT and LOST CHRISTIANITIES: THE BATTLE FOR SCRIPTURE AND THE FAITHS WE NEVER KNEW. This well-written and fully engaging book is recommended.

Richard Dawkins
edited by Alan Grafen and Mark Ridleey
Oxford University Press
0199291160 $25.00

A series of twenty-five brief essays, both pro and con, commenting upon Richard Dawkin's scientific ideas makes up this short volume. Fellow scientists wrote a majority of the pieces, though a philosopher and a novelist contributed, too. They are all admirers of Dawkins. And why not? The editors of this written work, former students of Dawkins, also admittedly look up to him. A fervent Darwinian where evolution is concerned, Dawkins is, perhaps, the leading defender of that concept in the world today. He's held that foremost position at least since the untimely death of Harvard's Stephen Jay Gould. They agreed on evolution except whether it was progressive or not. Dawkins saying it was and Gould taking the other side.

Dawkins is a professor of Zoology at Oxford University in England. He holds the Simonyi Chair for Public Understanding of Science. Until Dawkins, in his seminal book THE SELFISH GENE, formally put forth the theory that it is the gene that is the primary unit in living things that works for its own replication, earlier scientists believed that it was the larger organism itself, such as the human or the plant, that sought its own replication. Dawkins started a revolution in biology with this theory. And time has tested his idea, resulting in his scientific reputation gaining in stature. Besides his theories being cogent, his writing and speaking abilities have added to his lustrous image.

In his last chapter of the above-mentioned book, Dawkins looked into, after having earlier explained just how genetic evolution came about, how cultural traits evolved for mankind. He concluded that like the gene there must be some replicating unit tht passes on the culture to new generations. He named that unit a 'meme,' derived from a Greek word. Dawkins, in his tome entitled THE EXTENDED PHENOTYPE wrote: "What is the proper substrate [groundwork] for memes then? It is commonly accepted that the primary repository of memes is the brain. Why? Because memes are supposed to explain cultural change, and the quintessential cultural traits such as beliefs and values which distinguish one culture from another are in people's heads."

Only three of the essays are disagreements with Dawkin's theories. However, they are 'sweet' arguments, revealing the writers' admiration for the prominent zoologist. That is to say, the detractors have chosen gentle words and rhetoric to rebut with. Dawkins has written many books. Most current is THE ANCESTOR'S TALE in which he explains not only how Homo sapiens, present mankind, descended from apes but also how humans came down to today originally from bacteria. Another previous book: THE BLIND WATCHMAKER, disagreed with those who see an intelligent designer in the world. Other worthwhile and seminal books of his that have had an impact in science include CLIMBING MOUNT IMPROBABLE, A DEVIL'S CHAPLAIN, RIVER OUT OF EDEN, and UNWEAVING THE RAINBOW. All are extremely well written, too. The editors, Grafen and Ridley, are both employed at Oxford University. The former is a biology professor. The latter is a teaches in the Department of Zoology. He has also written EVOLUTION, MENDEL'S DEMON and HOW TO READ DARWIN. Most highly recommended!

It's Ok If You're Clueless
Terry McMillan
0670032980 $12.95

Here's two dozen bits of advice for anyone heading off to college. The advice is for both genders and appropriate for any school after graduation from the 12th grade. The counsel begins with "Sit Up Straight and Walk Tall" in which the author strongly suggests that college students shouldn't act like or walk as if they're afraid. Also, they ought not to look slovenly or uncomfortable with themselves.

"Don't listen to your Parents" is a following section. This paragraph-long advice tidbit refers to living and going after your own dreams, not those of your mom and dad or grandparents. "Read Anything and Everything" is brief, too, and the title says it all. Broaden yourself! Especially peruse books on subjects you know little or nothing about. You'll be surprised, amazed even, what you learn! Other chapters, such as "Try to Get at Least Eight Hours of Sleep at Night, Not During the Day," "Get a Job During the Summer," and "If You Drink, Try Not to Get Sloppy Drunk, and If You Can, Avoid Doing Drugs," are self-explanatory, yet interesting perspectives.

Terry McMillan writes, "These tips are no panacea. They are no guarantee for anything, but what I hoped they would do is cut these kids [her son's high school graduating class for which she wrote and spoke this advice] some slack when jumping into the sea of uncertainty called life without a raft, and that they know that this is what the journey is all about; that it's okay to be scared, but just paddle, and here were a few things to watch out for while they searched and sometimes stumbled while finding their very own little patch of the world that made them light up inside. "It has worked for me." The author has written a half dozen novels prior to this book. Among those fiction volumes are WAITING TO EXHALE and HOW STELLA GOT HER GROVE BACK. Both were made into feature films. Recommended.

Jim Sullivan

Theodore's Bookshelf

The Second Mouse
Archer Mayor
Mysterious Press
1271 Sixth Ave., NY, NY 10020
0892960729 $24.99 1-800-759-0190

Joe Gunther, veteran Vermont Bureau of Investigations detective, wanders in one day, being in the neighborhood, to the site of an apparent death by natural causes. The scene already is in the hands of a local cop, but the situation appears to be a little unusual, leading Joe to look into it further. From this innocuous beginning develops a complex and suspenseful tale. Although there are no clues or signs of violence, Joe is intrigued, more by instinct than anything else. Although suicide is a reasonable assumption, Joe and his team discover various facts that make them wonder about a few suspects. Following a trail of false leads and half-truths, they begin to unravel the circumstances of the death, only to uncover a series of other crimes. Serendipity often plays a part in solving mysteries. And this novel is no exception. The characters and topography always play a part in this author's writing, and these attributes are no exception in this novel. From the highways to the Green Mountains, the reader is brought into the atmosphere of New England. The writing and plotting are superb, and one should only sit back and enjoy the book. Recommended.

The Collectors
David Baldacci
Warner Books, 1271 Sixth Ave., NY, NY 10020
044653109X $26.99 1-800-759-0190

The Camel Club has reconvened in this sequel to the book of that name. The unusual foursome, led by Cemetery caretaker Oliver Stone (nee John Carr, former CIA operative), also includes Caleb Shaw, who works in the Rare Book Room of the Library of Co1ngress, which provides the starting point of this mystery. Caleb comes to work one morning to discover the body of his boss, Jonathan DeHaven, dead, of undetermined but apparently natural causes, perhaps a heart attack (although he had received a clean bill of health the previous day at Johns Hopkins). This death followed the assassination of the Speaker of the house, and the burning of his home. These seemingly unrelated events set the stage for a haphazard investigation by the Camel Club. Joined in their effort by Annabelle Conroy, con artist par excellence, the group encounters a master of murder who leads a spy ring selling secrets to foreign terrorists. Along the way, Oliver is kidnapped, as are Caleb and Annabelle, by the opposition. A couple of side stories provide some amusement. Caleb is named executor of Jonathan's rare book collection in which he discovers a very rare book—the first ever printed in the United States. Only 12 are known to exist and this is the 13th. Is it real or a fraud? Then there is Annabelle's long con in which she bilks a murderous Atlantic City casino operator out of $40 million.

Tightly written, this novel is as entertaining as its predecessor. After it is all over, Oliver and Annabelle, who was married to Jonathan for a year and gave him the gift of the rare book, are left musing about the past and the future. She came to Washington to attend Jonathan's funeral, changing her plans to flee the country to avoid capture by the casino operator. Why is she still there? Perhaps to set the stage for a third Camel Club adventure? If so, we'll look forward to it.

Ask the Parrot, a Parker Novel
Richard Stark
Mysterious Press
1271 Sixth Ave., NY, NY 10020
089296068X $23.99 1-800-759-0190

Master criminal Parker encounters more troubles in this follow-up to Nobody Runs Forever by Richard Stark, better known as Donald Westlake. It seems that if anything can go wrong, it will. The story opens with Parker trying to evade a wide search for him and two confederates following a bank heist in Massachusetts that went wrong. Just as the dogs are about to find him, he is rescued by a man pointing a rifle at him, who takes Parker back to his house. Then the fun begins. Right off, his rescuer is visited by a neighbor to inform him that the State Troopers are asking everyone to join in the hunt for the fugitives. So he and Parker join the posse. One of their team members mistakenly shoots a harmless bum in the belief that he is one of the bank robbers, and Parker has to talk him out of giving himself up to the troopers (since Parker obviously would be exposed). Later, Parker's rescuer tells him he is a whistleblower to whom nobody listened, was fired from his job at a local racetrack and knows how to get his hands on the weekend's take—a couple of hundred thousand dollars, if Parker would help him (the reason he rescued Parker).

Meanwhile twin brothers have come to the conclusion Parker is one of the bank robbers and would like him to share his ill-gotten wealth. The only problems are that the loot was abandoned and the .serial numbers are known, even if the money were available. The plot progresses and Parker and his rescuer, who is more interested in revenge than the money, undertake the caper—but not without several more mishaps. The story is a lot of fun, and is a fast read. Parker certainly is a different type of character than the usual protagonist. After all, he is one of the bad guys. Nevertheless, you can't help but liking him—he has principles.

The Naming of the Dead
Ian Rankin
Orion Books, Orion House,
5 Upper Saint Martin's Lane, London, WC2H 9EA
0752868586 24.95

The G8 Summit Meeting in Scotland during July, 2005, provides the background for this latest—and perhaps penultimate---Rebus novel (Ian Rankin has been quoted as having started on the last but promising not to kill off the dour detective). The setting allows the author to sound off on a variety of political topics: third world debt, arms sales to these needy nations, poverty at home, big business vs. funds and programs for the impoverished. Additionally, Rankin's knowledge of contemporary music—the combos, albums and songs of the past couple of decades--threads its way thro ughout. And in the middle of the G8 conference are the London underground and bus bombings and the Live8 concert. Days before the world leaders are to arrive, on Friday, July 1st, while at Gleneagles, site of the meeting, being briefed on the overwhelmingly tight security, Siobhan (Shiv) Clark , Rebus' Sergeant, wanders off to the woods where local residents hang mementos of their dear departed on tree branches. There she finds a patch cut from a jacket worn by the victim of an unsolved murder (a bouncer at one of gangster Ger Rafferty's clubs, thus bring Rebus' arch enemy into play). SOCO and forensics soon find two additional mementos of unsolved murders. Are they related? Clarke is given until the following Tuesday to work the situation as head of the inquiry, with Rebus assisting providing a role reversal of sorts and setting t he stage for his usual insubordination.

Meanwhile, back in Edinburgh, a popular MP falls to his death from a rampart on the castle. Is it an accident, suicide, murder? Rebus draws the case. Complicating the time line, Shiv's parents are attending the protests, and her mother gets hit in the face and taken to the hospital. Believing this may have been an act of police brutality, she wastes a lot of her limited time looking for the culprit. Needless to say, all these factors contribute to a tightly woven tale in the usual Rankin style which somehow drifts to a somewhat unsatisfactory and unfulfilling conclusion. However, Rebus, being Rebus, provides us with hope that he'll never give up. And, frankly, we hope that Rankin won't either.

Jar City
Arnaldur Indridason.
Translated by Bernard Scudder
c/o St. Martin's Mintaur
175 FifthAve., NY, NY 10010
0312426380 $14.00 212-674-5151/646-307-5560

This novel, now out in paperback, was published in hardcover a year ago, and we've been tardy catching up to this wonderful new author. He's on a par with the best of them, Rankin, Mankell, Connolly, et al. And the setting is different: Iceland. His protagonist, detective Erlendur, also holds his own with the best of them, Bosch, Rebus and their confreres. He's moody, intuitive, introspective, dogged and morose: "You think," he muses, "it won't affect you. You reckon you're strong enough to withstand that sort of thing. You think you can put on armour against it over the years and can watch all the filth from a distance as if it's none of your business and try to keep your senses. But there isn't any distance. And there's no armour. No one's strong enough. The repulsion haunts you like an evil spirit that burrows into your mind and doesn't leave you in peace until you believe that the filth is life itself because you've forgotten how ordinary people live. This case is like that. Like an evi l spirit that's been unleashed to run riot in your mind and ends up leaving you crippled."

The body of an old man is discovered, murdered in his basement apartment, unleashing a series of events and secrets as the investigation unfolds. It is possible that the victim was a rapist some 40 years previously. Clues and forensic evidence lead Erlendur forward into revelations that have been hidden for decades. Jar City was a collection of organ specimens collected and saved at the medical school in the past for research and study. Among them is the brain of a four-year-old girl who died of a brain tumor. Genetic coding plays a part in uncovering the truth of her death and provides an essential link to the ultimate solving of the mystery. The sequel to this fine novel, Silence of the Grave, was published last month, and is next on the agenda. Stay tuned.

Silence of the Grave
Arnaldur Indridason.
Translated by Bernard Scudder
St. Martin's Minotaur
175 Fifth Ave., NY, NY 10010,
0312340710 $22.95 212-674-5151/646-307-5560

This novel is the second in the Detective Inspector Erlendur series, and was the winner of the CWA Golden Dagger Award, with good reason. It has arrived in the United States to great critical acclaim, also with good reason. This review is no exception. The mystery opens with the discovery of a bone—a partial rib. Further investigation results in the discovery of a buried skeleton. Erlendur enlists the aid of an archeological team to uncover it, which painstakingly takes most of the rest of the novel. Meanwhile the inspector and his team follow up clues despite the fact that the skeleton appeared to have been buried about 70 years before. This is a grim tale of two dysfunctional families. We know from the debut novel that Erlendur has his problems, having walked out on his wife 20 years before, and suffers poor relations with his daughter and son. His daughter is an addict and irresponsible, and early in this book phones her father for help. After a frantic search he finds her, seven months pregnant, lying in a pool of blood in the street and in a coma. She remains in a coma after surgery, and in several visits to her hospital room, we learn some of the factors in Erlendur's past which have contributed to his personality.

The other family is the heart of this mystery. The father is an abuser, the mother long suffering from physical and mental torture; there are two sons and a crippled daughter. They live in a hillside chalet rented from a man whose fiancee disappeared many years before. Is it her skeleton? Or is it someone else? Indridason has followed up a most excellent first novel with one of equal quality. It is a gripping tale from start to finish. As in the initial novel in the series, the translator has done a more than workmanlike job.

Silence of the Grave
Arnaldur Indridason.
Translated by Bernard Scudder
A Thomas Dunne Book for St. Martin's Minotaur
0312340710 $22.95

This novel is the second in the Detective Inspector Erlendur series, and was the winner of the CWA Golden Dagger Award, with good reason. It has arrived in the United States to great critical acclaim, also with good reason. This review is no exception. The mystery opens with the discovery of a bone—a partial rib. Further investigation results in the discovery of a buried skeleton. Erlendur enlists the aid of an archeological team to uncover it, which painstakingly takes most of the rest of the novel. Meanwhile the inspector and his team follow up clues despite the fact that the skeleton appeared to have been buried about 70 years before. This is a grim tale of two dysfunctional families.

We know from the debut novel that Erlendur has his problems, having walked out on his wife 20 years before, and suffers poor relations with his daughter and son. His daughter is an addict and irresponsible, and early in this book phones her father for help. After a frantic search he finds her, seven months pregnant, lying in a pool of blood in the street and in a coma. She remains in a coma after surgery, and in several visits to her hospital room, we learn some of the factors in Erlendur's past which have contributed to his personality. The other family is the heart of this mystery. The father is an abuser, the mother long suffering from physical and mental torture; there are two sons and a crippled daughter. They live in a hillside chalet rented from a man whose fiancee disappeared many years before. Is it her skeleton? Or is it someone else? Indridason has followed up a most excellent first novel with one of equal quality. It is a gripping tale from start to finish. As in the initial novel in the series, the translator has done a more than workmanlike job.

Triple Cross
Kit Ehrman
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. First Ave. #103, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
1590583027 $24.95 1-800-421-3976

What would you say to an all-expense-paid two-week vacation to Louisville leading up to the Kentucky Derby? Steve Cline, a 23-year-old barn manager, who in three previous novels managed to get into all kinds of trouble and solve various mysteries, of course said yes when his father asked him to substitute for an ill employee. And thus begins another tale in which Steve suffers numerous assaults. How he survives these beatings is beyond comprehension—but he usually comes up on top. Steve is contemplating leaving the horse world and has enrolled in an investigations course. His last assignment to be completed is a sort of background check on someone—anyone. He intends to complete the assignment while tending to two horses—so much for the vacation—one of which is entered into the Derby. The subject he picks is a young Churchill Downs marketing employee he meets in the barn. It's a simple records search—but it sets off all kinds of ramifications.

The story progresses with the customary flavor of previous novels, excellent descriptions of caring for horses and the racing world—especially the flavor of Derby fever. Steve is invited to a posh party, exposing him to the rich world where greed and revenge rear their ugly heads. Meanwhile, the woman he is investigating seems to have disappeared. Steve is attacked several times by two thugs who believe he has a tape. Once, they attempt to run him over. Because he is looking into the missing person, he becomes a subject of interest to the Louisville Police Department. It becomes a race to solve the woman's disappearance. All in all, this is another great read, right down to the finish line—will the horse win the Derby?

A Hard Bargain
Jane Tesh
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. 1st Ave., Ste. 103, Scottsdale, AZ 85251,
159058354X $24.95 1-800-421-3976

Madeline Maclin makes a repeat performance after her debut in A Case if Imagination, in which she solved her first murder in her new hometown, Celosia, NC, where she is now attempting to establish her own detective agency. So far, she has garnered a few nickel-and-dime assignments—a lost umbrella, recovering library books and locating a man who has left personal belongings at someone's home and not reclaiming them.And then a movie director comes to town to make a film. A few days later he is poisoned, and the numbers of suspects are numerous. Now Mac has her work cut out for her. Mac is a former beauty pageant queen, and continues to be haunted by her past in this novel, as in her debut appearance. She is also haunted by her unrequited love for Jerry Fairweather, who has inherited a home in Celosia in which they both live separately. Jerry is haunted by his past, feeling guilt for the deaths of his parents when he was two. He believes he was responsible for setting the fire that killed them. Another mystery to be solved. Like the initial novel in the series, this one is "cutesy." The characters remain true to form, the writing flows and the plot moves forward. Based on the conclusion, a third entry seems likely, and we will be interested to see the development of the characters.

By the Chimney With Care
Edited by Tony Burton
Wolfmont Publishing
POB 205, Ranger, GA 30734
0977840239 $10.95 702-543-8386

There are 17 short stories and one poem in this slender volume, all revolving around the Christmas season. Some have been previously published elsewhere. There are tales of burglars posing as Santa getting stuck in the chimney attempting to enter a home (and getting arrested), and a missing young woman discovered stuck in a chimney while trying to deliver a surprise gift to her boyfriend. Other stories describe thefts of Christmas gifts from under trees. And a few murders as well. One yarn is by the editor (and publisher), a heart-felt description of a young Vietnam-era widow and her small son's stolen Xmas gifts. In keeping with the Christmas spirit, the profits from this book will go to the Toys for Tots Foundation to brighten up some children's Holiday. So you can read the stories and feel good for an even better reason.

Case Histories
Kate Atkinson
Back Bay Books, Little Brown & Co., 1271 Sixth Av., NY, NY 10020
0316010707 $13.95 1-800-759-0190

In an intricately plotted novel, the lives of the characters intertwine in a totally unexpected fashion It took us a while to find and read it, and are we glad we did. How the author managed to weave it all together is beyond comprehension. The book begins with a series of what appear to be short stories. But then, slowly we begin to learn about the lives and circumstances of each character. There is Theo, an overweight solicitor and attorney-at-law who dotes on his 18-year-old daughter, Laura. He asks her to take a part-time position at the firm, and on her first day there a man in a yellow golf sweater bursts in looking for Theo, who is elsewhere. He slashes the arm of a partner and Laura's throat. She bleeds to death. Then we have the Land family—four daughters. One night three of them sleep in a tent in the backyard and the three-year old goes missing along with her favorite toy, a doll called Blue Mouse, which is discovered many years later upon the death of the father, locked in his desk drawer. Michelle and Shirley are involved in the axe murder of Michelle's husband; Michelle is convicted and sent to jail. The couple's baby is handed over to the incapable paternal grandparents and when she is 15 she runs away.

Finally we have Jackson Brodie, a private detective who is retained in each case, either to discover the murderer or find the missing person. It is his role to tie all three mysteries together. Each family and Jackson himself represents dysfunction, insecurity and all kinds of shortcomings. The descriptions are penetrating and human, with unusual twists. Yet there is a hint of optimism despite the sordid background as the novel progresses. Each story probably could have stood on its own as a novel, but somehow the author weaves them together very well. Jackson returns in the author's most recent novel, One Good Turn, previously reviewed. In that novel, he plays an entirely different, but equally interesting role.

Hundred-Dollar Baby, a Spenser novel
Robert B. Parker
G. P. Putnam's Sons, 375 Hudson St., NY, NY 10014-3658
0399153764 $24.95 1-800-847-5515

This novel is pure Spenser. And we thank Mr. Parker for it. 'nuff said. April Kyle has appeared in two previous Spenser novels. In each, Spenser tried to save her from herself. It is no different this time. But she's her own worst enemy, as always. There is no point in recounting the plot line because it would only spoil the reader's suspense. And when it comes to a Spenser novel, there is always plenty, along with great dialogue and good fun. So get a copy and enjoy.

City for Ransom
Robert W. Walker
Avon Books
10 East 53rd St., NY, NY 10022, 212-207-7000/1800-242-7737
0060739959 $6.99

This novel introduces Chicago Detective Inspector Alastair Ransom, a hard-drinking, opium-smoking iconoclast who is constantly in pain from injuries sustained while on duty during the Haymarket explosion in 1886. The year is 1893 and the Columbian Exposition is in full and glorious swing. A series of gruesome murders haunts the city, casting a pall over the exposition. The murderer uses a unique garrote to kill his victims, then setting them on fire. With each successive assault, the murderer comes closer to Ransom as his ultimate victim. The depiction of the Second City is detailed, with intriguing bits of information on medical and police procedures and the introduction of more modern methods of detection, surgery and autopsies. The characters are portrayed in such detail as to allow the reader almost to read their minds. Interspersed in this crime-noir tale are social commentaries depicting the time, especially women's rights to vote. Apparently there have been two sequels to this debut novel in the series, which this reviewer has not yet seen—but intends to.

Hollywood Station
Joseph Wambaugh
Little, Brown and Co.
1271 Sixth Ave., NY, NY 10020
0316066141 $24.99 800-759-0190

This book is classic Wambaugh at his best; it's been a long time since his last one. It appears that he collected all kinds of anecdotes, situations and observances from many police officers in several jurisdictions and wove many of them into this novel. The cop talk and descriptions of every day patrol and response certainly is up there with the best he has written in the past. Threaded into the string of tales and descriptions is a sort of plot that comes and goes. It begins when a couple of tweakers [smokers of crystal meth, to the uninitiated] rifle a mail box and get hold of a letter indicating arrival of a diamond shipment to a local jewelry store. They pass the letter along to a couple who then rob the jeweler, improvising an ingenious escape: a hand grenade is placed between the victim's knees with the admonition that pressure be maintained or the pin would fall out and the grenade explode. Naturally, when the LAPD officers arrive on the scene, the knees give way, setting up for an act of heroism as everyone waits for the explosion.

The robbers are not finished. They are told of a delivery of cash to an ATM that should be an easy job. It turns out that the man has to shoot one of the guards, murdering him as they get the $93,000. The getaway car is a clunker and they narrowly escape. The rest of the story is sort of serendipity, along with irony and poetic justice. The long wait certainly was worth it because this novel is most readable and enjoyable. The cast of characters is poignant and their lives and personalities are made real. The reader is immersed in the daily comings and goings of the men and women—those on patrol, in the station house and detectives—of Hollywood Station.

Conan Doyle Detective
Peter Costello
Caroll & Graf Publishers
245 W. 17th St., 11th fl., NY, NY 10011-5300
0786718552 $15.95 1-800-788-3123

This is a scholarly attempt to trace the development of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as a writer and of Sherlock Holmes, and to draw parallels between them. The work also traces any number of actual cases which Conan Doyle investigated himself, and upon which he drew for his various detective stories. The author relies on a wide variety of sources, documented at the back of the book, to substantiate his thesis: Conan Doyle's literary output directly resulted from his own hidden career as a consulting detective and criminologist. There certainly are similarities between the deductive reasoning of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and the methods his creator used in his real-life consultations. The book traces Conan Doyle's life from that of a young boy to medical school to his medical practice, before he turned his attention full-time to writing. There are numerous case studies—from Jack the Ripper to Sacco and Vanzetti—to illustrate the interest and ability of Holmes' creator as a criminologist., as well as his fascination with spiritualism in his later life in attempting to draw clues from crimes. For anyone interested in Sherlock Holmes, this work is a major source of information.

A False Mirror
An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery
Charles Todd
William Morrow
10 E. 53rd St., NY, NY 10022
0060786736 $23.95 800-242-7737

In A False Mirror, ninth in this series written by a mother and son writing team, Inspector Rutledge continues to be haunted by his experiences in the trenches in France during the First World War. An unusual co-protagonist is the "ghost" of a corporal executed for failure to follow orders in the conflict to whom the inspector supplied the coup de grace; he continually speaks to Rutledge with warnings and advice. Rutledge is summoned from London to a southern English seaside hamlet when a man he has no respect for, a lieutenant who served under him in France, takes as hostage a woman to whom he was formerly engaged in an attempt to stave off arrest for an assault on her husband. He professes innocence and the local police have him targeted as the culprit. He seeks the inspector's aid in finding the real attacker. The emotional strains on all the characters is overwhelming, especially on Rutledge, suffering from shell shock and his own lost love when he left for France. Not only does he have to overcome his own demons affecting his objectivity, but must also find the person responsible for the attack as well as a careful and methodical murderer of two persons. I'm sorry to have discovered this series so late in the game because it is so interestingly written and characterized that I suspect its predecessors are equally well-drawn. Well, better late than never, there are always eight others to turn to.

The Crimson Portrait
Charles Todd
Little, Brown and Company
1271 Sixth Ave., NY, NY 10020, 212-364-1100/800-759-0190
0316785288 $23.99

Detail piled on detail characterizes this unusual story set in England during World War I. When Catherine's husband Charles leaves to join his regiment in France he stipulates that their mansion and estate be used as a military hospital. The transformation in the home and Catherine's life is momentous, soon made even more so with the news that Charles has been killed at the front. A hospital for surgery on soldiers with grotesquely wounded or destroyed faces is established. At the time, little is known about the procedures for reconstructing destroyed faces. The surgeons improvise and pioneer many new methods. Meanwhile an artist is transferred from the front to assist the surgeons in their efforts. One of the artist's tasks is to make a mask for one patient to hide his face, since further surgery is not considered possible. He bears some resemblance to Charles, and Catherine in an effort to bring her husband back substitutes his photograph for that of the patient. The novel explores the medical staff's difficulties, along with the psychological traumas of the wounded, as well as Catherine's attempt to create a loving relationship. It is a deep study of human nature and individual identity. It is well-written and the characters are excellently drawn, as nature takes its course.

An Eye for Murder
Libby Fischer Hellmann
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. 1st Ave., Ste. 103, Scottsdale, AZ 85251, 800-421-3976
1590583760 $14.95

One of the characters in this novel tells Ellie Foreman, the protagonist, that she has a propensity for getting involved in all kinds of weird situations. It was true in preceding entries in this series, and even truer in this one. It all begins when Ms. Foreman receives a letter from the landlady of a 90-year-old boarder who has just died of an apparent heart attack - or was it murder?

From such an inauspicious beginning the ramifications almost defy belief. Ellie begins by visiting the landlady because her tenant had mentioned the Foreman name to her. There Ellie finds three cartons of belongings, two of clothes, the third papers, plus a metal box and a photograph of a man, woman and child near a bridge and castle. An hour later, after Ellie runs an errand for the woman, she returns to find her dead and one carton and the strongbox missing. A series of further murders follows, presumably all related to the original. Ellie's home is broken into and the two cartons stolen. Her father is beaten, perhaps because he has some knowledge relating to the original victim. The progression of violence proceeds unhampered. It all stems from an episode during World War II and a document passed by a resistance fighter to an OSS operative. The story flows forward, the plot is intriguing, the writing fluid. The novel was originally published in 2002, and this reissue by Poisoned Pen Press is most welcome.

Theodore Feit

Tracy's Bookshelf

Fatal Justice
Faye Snowden
Kensington Publishing Corp.
850 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022
0758207514 $15.00

Dr. Kendra Hamilton returned to Dunhill County two years later a different person: consumed with retaliation, resentment and anger toward Luke Bertrand. Kendra vowed to avenge her mother's murder…justice would be served by any means necessary. She knew getting justice could become fatal but she also knew if she didn't, justice would not be served. Kendra was not willing to allow her mother's murderer to continue to walk around "a free man" any longer. After Dunhill County didn't convict the prominent and reputable Luke Bertrand, Kendra left the small community without a word to anyone. She knew if she stayed she would run in to him, and she couldn't imagine that after what he had done.

Since Kendra had returned, she has been committed to not allowing anything and especially anybody deter her. Kendra met a family, father and daughter, in desperate need of help. The father is physically ill and his daughter is a very attractive mentally ill woman with the mind capacity of a child. They have life threatening and life altering legal situations that need to be investigated which she could not overlook or ignore. Kendra knew the perfect person that could help her and this family was Richard T. Marvel, ex-homicide detective and also the man that was in her life before she left without a word two years ago. Rich wasn't receptive to Kendra when he saw her for the first time after she had returned. Rich life had changed drastically; he had become an alcoholic with a bitter and broken heart. Rich was at a place in his life Kendra had never seen before, and she didn't like what she had seen. Rich finally agreed to help Kendra because he knew she was not going to stop lurking in to Luke's past until she could find something incriminating against him --- even if it meant losing her life in the process. In their pursuit of justice, they discovered a link between the two cases that would lead the two of them on a trail of corruption, betrayal and lies.

Fatal Justice is an excellent sequel to The Savior, Faye Snowden's debut novel. Faye didn't miss a beat picking up right where The Savior left off. This book is filled with suspense, which had me on the edge of my chair throughout the entire book, mystery and romance. Fatal Justice is well plotted with enough twists and turns to hold readers interest. It is interesting to see how a catastrophic event molds the thinking and actions of a person. This book makes a great discussion. You instantly love, hate, sympathize and understand these characters as though they are personal friends. And on a final note, I was truly impressed with the picture selected for the book cover, very nice and enticing.

Quigley McCormick And the Curse of the Polka Dotted Pig
David Hollaway
Quackenworth Publishing
P.O. Box 4747, Culver City, CA 90231
1933211547 $15.95 U.S.

Eleven-year-old Quigley McCormick lives with his grandparents and his little sister, Moxy, in a spectacular town called Buckletuckle, a fun and magical town where a kid could be a kid. In the summer, the outside water fountains are filled with cherry soda pop and lemon popsicles hang from the trees downtown. The boys and girls have a special holiday just for them on the first day of spring called "National Gift Day" where the parents have to buy their children something special…a toy, a game, something cool…Parents that don't celebrate this day have to do their children's chores for a whole week. Buckletuckle is filled with so many more exciting things but the best thing the boys and girls love about Buckletuckle is Jelly Bean Park…the best amusement park in the world…the park has jelly beans the size of small apples hanging from the trees…the park is opened every Saturday and Sunday…teenagers and adults are not allowed in the park…all the fun is "For Kids Only" and all the food and rides are free.

Quigley, who was known as the Hero, and his best friend, Oskee, who was known as Loyal Oskee, were excited this morning because it was Saturday and they were going to Jelly Bean Park…That was until Quigley's plans were crushed when his grandparents told him at breakfast they wanted him and Moxy, who was known as the Tattletale, to do chores today while his grandmother was gone. Quigley knew he wouldn't be able to go to the park now…While he was doing his chores, Oskee and Flip, who was known as Disrespectful Flip, rang the bell ready to go to the park…Once they found out Quigley had chores to do, they came up with a plan to help Quigley with the chores, sneak him out of the house, then get him back home before Quigley's grandmother returned home while his grandfather was asleep. After the chores were completed, they were on their way to Jelly Bean Park for the adventure of magical rides, colorful creatures, and the discovery of the curse.

Quigley McCormick And the Curse of the Polka Dotted Pig is a great highly entertaining children's novel. I enjoyed how David Hollaway combined a creative magical story with a valuable message for children. This novel creates parent-child bonding moments, which are priceless. This book is a joy to read, I love Quigley he has a compassionate understanding by the end of the novel and plus he never gives up. I look forward to seeing what Quigley is up to next!

Tracy Hudson

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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