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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 22, Number 7 July 2022 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Ann Skea's Bookshelf Carl Logan's Bookshelf Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf
Clint Travis' Bookshelf Israel Drazin's Bookshelf Jack Mason's Bookshelf
John Burroughs' Bookshelf Julie Summers' Bookshelf Leyla Mehmet's Bookshelf
Margaret Lane's Bookshelf Mari Carlson's Bookshelf Mark Walker's Bookshelf
Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf Michael Carson's Bookshelf Miriam Calleja's Bookshelf
Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf Susan Bethany's Bookshelf
Suzie Housley's Bookshelf Willis Buhle's Bookshelf  

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

Galatea: A Short Story
Madeline Miller
9781526652065, A$9.99 HB 64 pages

'...he sculpted white ivory happily

with wondrous art and wondrous skill and gave it form with which
no mortal woman is born, and he fell in love with his own work' (Ovid, Metamorphoses, 10:247-9)

This, then is the ivory statue, carved by Pygmalion of Anathus, which is brought to life by Venus in answer to his prayers. This is Galatea, although Ovid does not name her.

Ovid describes how Pygmalion, an ardent devotee of Venus-Aphrodite, was so offended by the shameless sexual vices of the women of Anathus (who had been cursed by Venus for denying that she was a goddess) that he shunned the society of women and became celibate. His love for this beautiful, inanimate statue which he has created is, however, all-consuming and physical, even in its inanimate state:

He gives it kisses and he thinks kisses are returned. He speaks
and he holds the work and thinks his fingers are sinking into the
limbs and is afraid lest a bruise arise on the touched limbs
And now he offers flatteries and brings
that girl dear gifts. (10:256-260)

No sooner is Galatea brought to life than she is married to him and begets a son, Paphos. What happens after that, Ovid does not recount but Madeline Miller does, although in her story Paphos is a daughter.

Miller brings Galatea to life again and now she has a voice and, like any living woman, she has a mind and a will of her own.

'After I was born', Miller's Galatea says, '- and maybe that's not the right word, but if not, then I don't know what is. Woke? Hatched? No, I am not an egg.

I will say born. After I was born he tried to keep me inside as much as he could'.

Of course that did not work for long. 'I don't think he expected me to speak', says Galatea, and now, ten years later, she and her daughter are being punished by an increasingly tyrannical Pygmalion for trying to run away. They have been separated from each other, and Galatea is confined to bed in a bare room attended only by nurses and a doctor, and told that she is sick. To avoid being made to drink a special tea which stupefies her, Galatea pretends to be comfortable and compliant, and to be waiting only for Pygmalion's visits.

She has become expert at dissembling and faking her responses to others, especially to Pygmalion, who requires her to re-enact the moment she came to life, before having sex with her. 'My job', she tells us, 'was to lie on the couch without moving so that he might murmur 'Ah, my beauty is asleep''. Once or twice she had 'let out a little snore, just for verisimilitude', but Pygmalion didn't like that.

Galatea describes his increasing jealousy when he sees the tutor hired for Paphos looking at her. She no longer blushes, as she did when newly awakened, so he suspects she has become 'shameless' like other women. He sacks the tutor and keeps Galatea and Paphos inside; and he is annoyed by Paphos's youthful impertinence and independence: 'she wasn't quite what her father wished to brood', says Galatea . He is also distressed by the after-birth stretch-marks on Galatea's stomach - she is no longer perfect: 'if you were stone I would chisel them off', he says crossly.

So, Galatea plots and carries out her revenge.

Madeline Miller's Galatea is, as she says in her 'Afterword', 'a small morsel': a short story which her heroine, it seems, dictated to her. Galatea 'broke through' whilst Miller was working on her best-selling novel Circe; and 'demanded her own words'. Miller duly fell in love with 'her startling matter-of-factness, her cleverness and her courage, her complexity, her ability to keep her sanity and still offer love to her daughter'. All of this is true of the Galatea in Miller's small gem of a book: as it was not in Ovid's version. So, like Pygmalion, Miller fell in love with her creation, and, through her, Venus, goddess of love, has once again brought Galatea to life.

Ann Skea, Reviewer

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

Ship Models from the Age of Sail
Kerry Jang
Naval Institute Press
291 Wood Road, Annapolis, MD 21402
9781526777539, $65.00, HC, 240pp

Synopsis: Most period ship models are built from kits, usually primarily of wood with some ready-made fittings. Although these commercial offerings have improved significantly in recent years, all of them can be enhanced in accuracy or detail by an experienced model maker. With the publication of "Ship Models from the Age of Sail: Building and Enhancing Commercial Kits" expert ship modeler Kerry Jang distills lessons gleaned from a lifetime practicing the hobby to the highest standards, setting out methods of improving basic kits and gradually developing the skills and confidence to tackle the construction of a model from scratch.

Using a variety of kits as the starting point, each chapter demonstrates a technique that can be readily improved or a feature that can be replaced to the advantage of the finished model. Topics include hull planking, representing copper sheathing, many aspects of more accurate masting and rigging, and how to replace kit parts and fittings from scratch. The impact of a period model depends on its accuracy, and this book provides guidance on plans and references, including where to find them and how they are best used.

The plank-on-frame model, sometimes with exposed frames in the Navy Board style, has always been considered the crowning achievement of period ship modeling, and this book concludes with coverage of the very latest kits that put fully framed models within the reach of ordinary mortals. Offering a wealth of practical advice, expertise and inspiration, "Ship Models from the Age of Sail" has something for anyone interested in building a period ship model, whatever their level of skill.

Critique: Profusely illustrated throughout with full color photography, this coffee-table style volume (8 x 1 x 10.5 inches, 2 pounds), "Ship Models from the Age of Sail: Building and Enhancing Commercial Kits" by Kerry Jang, will be of special appeal to readers with an interest in model building, and sailing ship histories. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Ship Models from the Age of Sail: Building and Enhancing Commercial Kits" is a highly recommended addition to personal, professional, and community library collections, as well as Hobby/Craft Store inventories.

Editorial Note: Kerry Jang teaches at a Canadian university and is the author of numerous academic books and papers, but in his spare time he has developed his ship modeling skills to professional standards. He has also written "Large Scale Warship Models" (Naval Institute Press, 9781526730961, $44.95 HC, $11.99 Kindle, 144pp.)

The Secrets of Ancient Sea Monsters
Yang Yang, author
Chuang Zhao, illustrator
Chen Mo, translator
Brown Books Publishing Group
16250 Knoll Trail, Suite 205, Dallas, Texas 75248
9781612545196, $24.95, HC, 169pp

Synopsis: The sea-with its unknowable depths, its far-reaching horizons, and its sparkling surface-holds some in fascination, others in fear. But one thing can't be denied by either beholder of the water: it is home to an array of species we can't even begin to know the extent of. But as for the underwater creatures of the past, who have been extinct for millions of years, we can make an attempt at learning all of them.

With the publication of "The Secrets of Ancient Sea Monsters" by author Yang Yang and artist/illustrator Chuang Zhao, children ages 8-12 can explore the depths of ancient waters they never knew of, and the prehistoric aquatic reptiles that ruled that murky world below sea-level. These creatures couldn't be matched, and they are waiting to be discovered in the pages of "The Secrets of Ancient Sea Monsters"!

Critique: A part of the PNSO Encyclopedia for Children series, "The Secrets of Ancient Sea Monsters" is a coffee-table style (9 x 0.75 x 11.75 inches, 2.62 pounds) volume that features a wealth of full page museum quality painting of ancient marine reptiles in support of succinct descriptions of each individual creature. A simply fascinating book to page through, "The Secrets of Ancient Sea Monsters" is an extraordinary and unambiguously recommended addition to family, elementary school, middle school, and community library collections for young readers.

Editorial Note: Zaho Chuang (a scientific artist), and Yang Yang (an author of scientific children's books), started working together when they jointly founded PNSO, an organization devoted to the research and creation of scientific art in Beijing on June 1st, 2010. A few months later, they launched Scientific Art Projects Plan: Stories on Earth (2010-2070). The plan uses scientific art to create a captivating, historically accurate narrative. These narratives are based on the latest scientific research, focusing on the complex relationships between species, natural environments, communities, and cultures.

Carl Logan

Carolyn Wilhelm's Bookshelf

Wilder Girls
Rory Power
Macmillan Children's Books
9780525645610, $9.46, paperback, $16.99 Hardcover, $15.89 Audio Book, 400 pages
B07RWXQ8ZS, $8.99 Kindle

According to Amazon, a "Teacher's Pick," this is a story of an island with a girl's school contaminated with the Tox, which causes menacing problems for humans and wildlife. Reese, Bratt, and Hetty are the three primary protagonist students with strong friendships. Scenes have vivid descriptions.

The first year of Raxter school was typical for Hetty. Then, the Tox changed everything. Some teachers were the first to die. Now, students are quarantined to stay on campus except for the Boat Shift few who go to the pier, collecting meager starvation-level rations occasionally. The first part of the book is a slow read. Hetty learns information bit by bit and, by the end, knows much. We do not learn what caused the Tox, and there is no cure even by the last page.

The Tox is like nothing ever encountered in real life. It affects mostly females, as it seems to look for certain hormones.

Note to parents: graphic bodily harm, starvation, and non-consensual medical treatment. There are few kisses in the story and nothing more.

Dark Memories (Angel Falls Series Book 7)
Charlene Tess and Judy Thompson
Independently Published
B0B1NXZ35S, $3.99 Kindle
9798832398228, $8.00 Paperback, 278 Pages

Winter is not giving up as Harper travels back to Angel Falls on snow-packed roads to the stables where her husband trains and cares for horses. Their son has found a stranger in the barn, which causes life to take an exciting turn. The stranger has been tortured, and his fingerprints are in a nearby truck with a dead body. Immediately, the reader is drawn into the story. The small-town setting of Angel Falls widens to include travel to Columbia in this book, number seven. Events such as the Quincea¤era for 15-year-olds in Latino culture are seamlessly woven through the plot. Armchair travel at its best because there is danger and intrigue.

From two isolated cabins in the forest miles apart, two worried souls are dealing with terrible memories. The scars they notice on each other help them begin a tenuous conversation. Sydney longs to be confident again. Rafe wants to remember what happened and to stop the mobsters from hurting his family to get to him. A scrappy dog helps distract both people. Carjackings, accidents, an affair, and innocently taken photos by a teenager are all involved in the crimes. Honest and strong, Rafe outsmarts the situation to help the story finally resolve.

I have already reread this book and enjoyed it very much.

Carolyn Wilhelm, Reviewer
Wise Owl Factory LLC

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

HIGH: Confessions of a Cannabis Addict
Leonard Lee Buschel
Logan House Publications
9781737926603, $19.95, HC, 266pp

Synopsis: Funny, informative, and mildly offensive reading,"HIGH: Confessions of a Cannabis Addict" is far more than just an inherently entertaining recovery memoir. It is also an open emotional summons, a sincere invitation to a life lived awake and alert, a life vibrating at a higher frequency of increased creativity and joy, along with social inclusion, fun, fellowship, and plenty of free coffee!

Critique: With a special appeal and resonance with anyone who has every enjoyed smoking weed or who has been part of a treatment program for addiction, "HIGH: Confessions of a Cannabis Addict" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Drug Dependency & Recovery collections. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "HIGH: Confessions of a Cannabis Addict" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.20).

Editorial Note: Leonard Buschel is a California Certified Substance Abuse Counselor with years of experience working with people struggling with addiction. He attended Naropa University in Boulder, CO. Mr. Buschel is the founder of Writers In Treatment whose primary purpose is to promote 'treatment' as the best first step solution for addiction, alcoholism and other self-destructive behaviors. Leonard is the director of the 13 year old REEL Recovery Film Festival & Symposium(R), and for six years has been the editor/publisher of the weekly Addiction/Recovery eBulletin(R). He also directs and produces the annual Experience, Strength and Hope Awards(R) in Los Angeles.

James Hitt
Linford Western Library
c/o Ulverscroft Large Print, Inc.
9781444848441, $TBA, PB, Large Print, 288pp

Synopsis: Lawyer Josh Thorn believes in law and justice. Even so, when he agrees to defend prostitute Rosa May Whitefield at the request of the head of the China Town section, he knows he jeopardizes his standing in the community including the end of a romance with the sister of the man Rosa May blasted with a shotgun.

The California mining town of Bodie averages a killing a day, but Rosa May's revenge broke all the rules when she shot one man dead and wounded two others because they had beaten and raped her in front of everyone in the saloon where she worked. Then Powerful forces line up against lawyer and client, and Rosa May's fate appears sealed - can Josh save her with the assistance of an Indian whose brother he had helped -- only to have him murdered by one of the men now seeking revenge against Thorn?

And then there is an old blood vengeance being sought against Thorn by two additional men that further complicates his and Rosa May's chances of survival as a vigilante posse tracks the fugitives into the High Sierras before events lead Josh back to Bodie for a final showdown.

Critique: An action-packed western with a surprising and complicated finale, this large print paperback edition of James Hitt's novel "Bodie" from the Lindford Western Library is highly recommended for the personal reading lists of all dedicated western fiction buffs, as well as community library collections.

Editorial Note: James Hitt is the author of The American West, From Fiction into Film and Words and Shadows. He is also represented in The Louis L'amour Companion. In 2001, Adventure Books published his novel The Last Warrior. In 2009, his short story "The Boy with Too Much Hair" won the grand prize for best fantasy story from Once In 2010, Aberdeen Bay released Carney, A Novel in Stories, which won the Grand Prize for Fiction at the 2011 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. His novel The Courage of Others was nominated for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. He is a member of The Western Writers of America and has also been a guest speaker at the Gene Autry Museum.

Clint Travis

Israel Drazin's Bookshelf

The Plot to Save America
Avraham Azrieli
Self Published
9781953648112, $9.98

"The Plot to Save America" by Avraham Azrieli, a lawyer, is another brilliant novel by an author who wrote other suspenseful, interesting, and very enjoyable novels. The book contains two main plots. Most startling and fascinating is the idea that followers of President Trump were able to turn the 2020 election results so that President Trump won a second four year term and changed America into a kind of Nazi country, doing things to the president's enemies that equal if not exceed what the Nazis did. Martial Law was imposed, the constitution was suspended, and over 170 Democratic members of Congress and the Vice President are murdered. Many new laws were enacted such as same sex marriages is prohibited and homosexuality is considered a mental illness requiring imprisonment. Second, the investigation by a government pro-Trump investigator of a widely admired American patriot charged with anti-Trump behaviors and sentenced to death.

While the depiction of Trump's second term is horrendous, pro-Trump readers can enjoy the tale by realizing that the anti-Trump depictions are an unrealistic exaggerations, and a skillful, and enjoyable way to give readers a captivating drama.

In the novel, the investigator is called to an apparent suicide of a high-ranking government official. The victim was sitting in a car on top of a single page of an apparent unfinished top-secret document entitled "The Plot to Save America by An Anonymous Eyewitness." The car was closed inside, no one can enter without breaking in. The seeming suicide and discovered first page raise many questions for the investigator. Is what he sees a suicide or a murder? Why did the man commit suicide or why was he murdered? Where is the rest of the document? Why is he sitting on one page? Is the complete document pro- or anti-Trump? The investigator faces more problems. The man being investigated is said to have met with a foreign spy, but no one knows who this person is or even if he is a spy. If he is a spy, what is he spying? Someone poisoned him. How? Why? The wife of the man being investigated is arrested for violating President Trump's "Domestic Terrorism Feminism" which disallows women to work, the male in a marriage is the breadwinner and the female a homemaker. Why was she arrested? Among other things, pro-trump officials wear an SSS pin on their lapel, referring to the 2020 election, standing for "Stop the Steal Soldier" (similar to the Nazi SS symbol). Illegal immigrants are killed - with a goal of two-thousand a day - and their body parts given to the pro-Trump needy. Trump seeks a treaty with like-minded authoritarian governments, including Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Cuba. And Blacks were called Africans and shipped to Africa.

In short, there is lots to enjoy in this novel, and much to think about.

Dr. Israel Drazin, Reviewer

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

The Making of an Antifascist
Dean Krouk
University of Wisconsin Press
728 State Street, Suite 443, Madison, WI 53706-1418
9780299336509, $79.95, HC, 232pp

Synopsis: A young imperialist adventurer turned hero of the anti-Nazi resistance, Norwegian journalist, poet, and playwright Nordahl Grieg (1902-1943) has become more of a national legend than a real person since his death as a war reporter in Berlin on December 3, 1943.

With the publication of "The Making of an Antifascist: Nordahl Grieg between the World Wars", academician Dean Krouk provides a detailed look into Grieg's intellectual development during the dynamic interwar period shedding light on the political and cultural ideologies that competed in a turbulent Europe.

Often portrayed with an emphasis on his humanist and pacifist positions, this antifascist figure becomes more complex in his writings, which reveal shifting allegiances, including an unsavory period as a rigid Stalinist.

A comprehensive and accessible study, "The Making of an Antifascist: Nordahl Grieg between the World Wars" examines this significant public figure in Scandinavian literature, as well as a critical period in modern European history through original readings of the political, ethical, and gender issues in Grieg's works.

This volume also offers a first-rate analysis of the interwar period's political and cultural agendas in Scandinavia and Europe leading to the Second World War by examining the rise of fascism, communism, and antifascism.

Grieg's poetry found renewed resonance in Norway following the 2011 far-right domestic terrorist attacks, making insight into his contradictory ideas more crucial than ever. Krouk's presentation of Grieg's unexpected ideological tensions will be thought-provoking for many readers in the United States and elsewhere.

Critique: A meticulous and comprehensively researched work of original scholarship that is a highly recommended addition to personal, college and university library collections, "The Making of an Antifascist: Nordahl Grieg between the World Wars" by Professor Dean Krouk informatively presents a masterpiece of political and literary biography which is enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of an informative Introduction, twenty pages of Note, an eight page Bibliography, and a seven page Index.

Editorial Note: Dean Krouk is an Associate Professor of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. He is also the author of "Fascism and Modernist Literature in Norway" and has published many articles about modern and contemporary Norwegian literature.

Jack Mason

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

Ice War Diplomat
Gary J. Smith
Douglas & McIntyre
c/o Harbour Publishing
9781771623179, $26.95, PB, 336pp

Synopsis: Amid the tension of the Cold War, caught between capitalism and communism, Canada and the Soviet Union, young Canadian diplomat Gary J. Smith must navigate the rink, melting the ice between two nations skating a dangerous path.

On his first overseas assignment, Smith is tasked with finding common ground and building friendships between the world's two largest countries. Once in Moscow, he opts for sports diplomacy, throwing off his embassy black tie and donning the blue-and-white sweater of the Moscow Maple Leafs.

Trusted by each side with unparalleled access to officials, coaches and players on both teams, Smith witnesses this unique and epic hockey series that has come to transcend time, becoming a symbol of the unity and clarity that sports can offer. The 1972 Canadian-Soviet Hockey Series will go down in history as a pivotal political event, changing the course of two nations and the world of hockey.

Critique: Enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of seven pages of Notes and a nine page Index, "Ice War Diplomat: Hockey Meets Cold War Politics at the 1972 Summit Series" will have a very special appeal to hockey fans, political science students, and sports biography enthusiasts. An extraordinary, well written, inherently interesting, and impressively presented true life story, "Ice War Diplomat: Hockey Meets Cold War Politics at the 1972 Summit Series" by Gary J. Smith is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Sports & Politics collections, as well as supplemental curriculum Cold War History studies lists.

Editorial Note: Gary J. Smith was a diplomat at the Canadian embassy in Moscow in 1972. He was instrumental in making the 1972 Canadian-Soviet Hockey Series happen -- and keeping it from falling apart. Smith had a more than thirty-year career as a Canadian Diplomat and Canadian Ambassador, with eight foreign assignments. He was honored with two Government of Canada Merit Awards and was named a Fellow by the Harvard University Center for International Affairs. Gary J. Smith is on YouTube discussing "Ice War Diplomat" at

John Burroughs

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

Unknown Past: Layla Murad, the Jewish-Muslim Star of Egypt
Hanan Hammad
Stanford University Press
425 Broadway Street, Redwood City, CA 94063-3126
9781503629424, $90.00, HC, 328pp

Synopsis: Layla Murad (February 17, 1918 - November 21, 1995) was once the highest-paid film star in Egypt, and her movies were among the top-grossing in the box office. She starred in 28 films, nearly all of which are now considered to be classics in Arab musical cinema.

In 1955 she was forced to stop acting -- and struggled for decades for a comeback. Today, even decades after her death, public interest in her life continues, and new generations of Egyptians still love her work.

With the publication of "Unknown Past: Layla Murad, the Jewish-Muslim Star of Egypt", Professor Hanan Hammad recounts Murad's extraordinary life, including the rapid political and sociocultural changes she witnessed. Professor Hammad has written a biography centered on Layla Murad's persona and legacy, and broadly framed around a gendered history of twentieth-century Egypt.

Murad was a Jew who converted to Islam in the shadow of the first Arab-Israeli war. Her career blossomed under the Egyptian monarchy and later gave a singing voice to the Free Officers and the 1952 Revolution. The definitive end of her cinematic career came under Nasser on the eve of the 1956 Suez War.

Egyptians have long told their national story through interpretations of Murad's life, intertwining the individual and Egyptian state and society to better understand Egyptian identity. As "Unknown Past" so ably recounts, there's no life better than Murad's to reflect the tumultuous changes experienced over the dramatic decades of the mid-twentieth century.

Critique: Informatively enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of an informative Introduction (Why Layla Murad?), thirty pages of Notes, a fourteen page Bibliography, and a nine page Index, "Unknown Past: Layla Murad, the Jewish-Muslim Star of Egypt" is a descriptively compelling and detailed account of the life and work of a culturally, artistically, and politically influential Egyptian woman through modern Egypt's complicated and perilous times. A consummate work of impeccable scholarship, no Egyptian Cinema or 20th Century Egyptian Biography collection would be complete or comprehensive without the inclusion of a copy of "Unknown Past: Layla Murad, the Jewish-Muslim Star of Egypt". It should be noted for personal and professional reading lists that "Unknown Past" is also available in a paperback edition (9781503629776, $28.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $21.49).

Editorial Note: Hanan Hammad is Associate Professor and Director of Middle East Studies at Texas Christian University. She is also the author of Industrial Sexuality: Gender, Urbanization, and Social Transformation in Egypt (2016), which won prizes from the National Women's Studies Association, the Association for Middle East Women's Studies, and the Arab American Book Awards.

Butter-Side Up
Jane Enright
She Writes Press
9781647420758, $16.95, PB, 248pp

Synopsis: How often have you said, "I hate change?" -- it's what most people do. But the reality is, whether we like it or not, life puts us all through changes (some challenging, and many joyful) that shape our day-to-day experiences. Sometimes, though, in the blink of an eye, the unthinkable can happen. This begs the question: when the unexpected occurs, how do you successfully navigate change so you can land butter side up when life turns the tables?

"Butter-Side Up: How I Survived My Most Terrible Year and Created My Super Awesome Life" is not just another self-help jargon laden 'how-to' book. Rather it is an 'edutainment' for the soul.

It's Jane Enright's true story of having survived three life-altering events in the span of twelve months Of losing everything, and coming out the other end stronger and more resilient than ever before. It is compelling, riveting, and filled of sage and practical advice for how to do the same.

Simply stated, "Butter Side Up"is feel-good true life proving that there can be happiness and joy after an unplanned change.

Critique: An inherently fascinating, inspiring, and deeply personal account, "Butter-Side Up: How I Survived My Most Terrible Year and Created My Super Awesome Life" by Jane Enright is exceptionally well written, organized and presented, making it an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to personal reading lists and community library Biography/Memoir collections. With a special appeal to anyone having to deal with sudden loss in their lives, their families, or their careers, it should be noted that "Butter Side Up" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $8.99).

Editorial Note: Canadian-based Jane Enright is a former kindergarten teacher, strategic planner, and university lecturer, as well as the founder of My Super Awesome Life Inc. She speaks to audiences seeking answers to overcome a fear of the unknown, grief, stress, loss, depression, anxiety, stagnation, indecision, sadness, and more. From top executives to stay-at-home moms, she is helping audiences throughout North America land "butter side up" and find joy after unplanned change. Jane can be followed on LinkedIn and Instagram, as well as having two websites: and

Magnolia's Wedding Journey: A Storybook Planner for Your Special Day
Denise Fehler
Morgan James Publishing
11815 Fountain Way, Suite 300, Newport News, VA 23606-4448
9781631957673, $49.95, HC, 128pp

Synopsis: Based on her 20 years of experience and expertise in the bridal industry, Denise Fehler is very familiar with the issues brides have when using different wedding planners. That is why she has incorporated the magical journey of Magnolia and Cashmere in "Magnolia's Wedding Journey: A Storybook Planner for Your Special Day" by weaving helpful hints throughout the story.

"Magnolias Wedding Journey" is a wedding story about the journey of Magnolia, a whimsical Bunny rabbit, in planning her wedding. Magnolia's story sets the tone for a beautifully illustrated, highly detailed, practical wedding planner. Brides will be delighted by the enchanting story and full-color illustrations, along with the worksheets that will serve as preparation and a treasured memento of their special day.

Critique: Directly drawing upon her professional experience and expertise, wedding planner Denise Fehler's "Magnolia's Wedding Journey: A Storybook Planner for Your Special Day" will have a special appeal for women wanting to make the most out of their wedding day. Every aspect of this event is covered, Enhanced for personal use as a wedding planning guide are the DIY check lists and fill in the information forms for participants and guests. Comprehensive and thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "Magnolia's Wedding Journey: A Storybook Planner for Your Special Day" is the perfect instructional resource guide for planning a special and memorable wedding. It should be noted that "Magnolia's Wedding Journey: A Storybook Planner for Your Special Day" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Denise Fehler has twenty years of experience in the bridal industry. She owns a wedding venue, Roberts Mansion, and works with brides daily to plan their perfect wedding. They discuss everything from dresses to honeymoons. Through the years, she has designed over 950 weddings. Roberts Mansion has received the top wedding venue award from Wedding Wire for the past three years. Brides themselves vote for this award.

Saint Eleazar Fills His Cups
Melinda Johnson, author
Kristina Tartara, illustrator
SVS Press
575 Scarsdale Road, Yonkers, NY 10707
9780881417043, $10.00, Board Book, 22pp

Synopsis: "Saint Eleazar Fills His Cups" by the team of author/storyteller Melinda Johnson and artist/illustrator Kristina Tartara, is a board book story in which young readers encounter a Russian hermit who some 400 years ago went to Anzersk Island to live alone with God. But he encounters a serious problem -- he has run out of food. In the end, God answered his pray and with a little help from some friendly fishermen, he manages to fill his cups.

Critique: Beautiful artwork supports an engaging story that is especially recommended for family, daycare, preschool, community library board book collections, and children of the Orthodox Christian community ages 2-5.

Editorial Note #1: Melinda Johnson is an Orthodox Christian, wife, and mother. She loves writing for children and has authored several books, including the Sam and Saucer series, and Saint Ia Rides a Leaf.

Editorial Note #2: Kristina Tartara is an Orthodox mom, children's book author, and illustrator. She has illustrated several books and also created the board books, What Do You See at Liturgy, What Can I Do at Divine Liturgy, and Saint Ia Rides a Leaf.

Julie Summers

Leyla Mehmet's Bookshelf

When Her Hand Moves
Omar Imady
Villa Magna Publishing
9781940178523, $18.95 PB, 514pp
9781940178547, $9.99 Kindle
9781940178561, $11.99 Audiobook

There were many features which compelled me to keep reading this novel. One of these was the characterisation - each character is so vividly portrayed with such humanity that it was actually difficult to read this as a fiction book - in a good way. It made it even more suspenseful and heightened the impact of the events that occur.

All three stories also left me reflecting afterwards on what I had just read and wanting to analyse this which is always satisfying.

I think the choice to have three stories with very separate narratives and yet overlapping similarities also worked really well, with each unravelling a mystery. The shifts between Fatima and Idris' narrative perspectives were also great as they allowed deeper insights into both characters and the dynamic between them. Their character growth and change was additionally pleasing to follow.

Overall, I found When Her Hand Moves to be an interesting and engaging read that was different to the majority of books I have read before with its unique lyricism.

Leyla Mehmet, Reviewer

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

The Little Book of LGBTQ+
Harriet Dyer
Cleis Press
101 Hudson Street, Suite 3705, Jersey City, New Jersey 07302
9781627783231, $13.95, PB, 128pp

Synopsis: Language is a key path to awareness, acceptance and empowerment. It's central to understanding the world and the communities we live in, but it can often be tricky to keep up with correct and an ever-evolving terminology with respect to gender identity.

With the publication of "The Little Book of LGBTQ+: An A-Z of Gender and Sexual Identities", women's rights advocate Harriet Dyer presented an easy-to-use dictionary that introduces the most essential vocabulary surrounding LGBTQ+ identities. Whether you're questioning your own identity or simply interested in learning more, this useful guide will help you navigate the world with knowledge, understanding and kindness.

Critique: Exceptionally comprehensive and well ordered, "The Little Book of LGBTQ+: An A-Z of Gender and Sexual Identities" is an ideal and unreservedly recommended reference resource, not only for members of the gay community, but straight men and women who want to accommodate (and understand) their gay friends and family members.

Editorial Note: Currently residing in London, England, Harriet Dyer is a freelance writer and editor with a passionate interest in women's rights.

Short Stories in a Long Journey
Richard R. Troxell
Plain View Press
9781632100887, $23.99, PB, 276pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Short Stories in a Long Journey: What It Takes to End and Prevent Homelessness", author Richard Troxell deftly blends his personal life story with the life of an activist for ending and preventing homelessness.

"Short Stories in a Long Journey: What It Takes to End and Prevent Homelessness" highlights the structural defects in our system and laws and proposes common-sense economic solutions to the problems of homelessness and substance abuse, such as the Universal Living Wage to address income inequality, a modest liquor surcharge to finance substance treatment, and a bronze statue to memorialize the struggle.

Critique: With homelessness being both a pressing local and a growing national issue, "Short Stories in a Long Journey: What It Takes to End and Prevent Homelessness" is a timely and invaluable contribution to our national dialogue about one of the most pressing social, cultural, economic, and political problems of our day. Exceptionally well written, informative, and thought-provoking, "Short Stories in a Long Journey: What It Takes to End and Prevent Homelessness" is thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Poverty & Political Advocacy collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists, it should be noted for students, academia, political activists, anti-homeless advocates, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the issue, that "Short Stories in a Long Journey: What It Takes to End and Prevent Homelessness" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99).

Editorial Note: For over 40 years, Richard R. Troxell has been a leader in the charge to defeat homelessness, bringing to the table specific and viable economic solutions. After serving honorably as a U.S. Marine 1969-1972, Vietnam 1970-1971, Richard saw the beginnings of homelessness as a mortgage foreclosure preventionist in Philadelphia in the 1980s. In Austin, TX, he was the creator and Director of Legal Aid for the Homeless where he had daily interaction with disabled homeless citizens for 35 years. He founded House the Homeless, Inc. (HtH) in 1989 to help homeless and formerly homeless citizens protect their civil rights and find solutions that will end and prevent their homelessness. He still serves as the National Education Director, NED for HtH. Richard wrote the Homeless Protected Class Resolution, and devised legislation to prevent Hate Crimes against the homelessness.

Women's Work: From Feminine Arts to Feminist Art
Ferren Gipson
Frances Lincoln
c/o Quarto Publishing Group USA
100 Cummings Center, Suite 265D, Beverly, MA 01915
9780711264656, $38.00, HC, 224pp

Synopsis: In the history of western art, decorative and applied arts (including textiles and ceramics) have been separated from the 'high arts' of painting and sculpture and deemed to be more suitable for women. Artists began to reclaim and redefine these materials and methods, energizing them with expressions of identity and imagination.

With the publication of "Women's Work: From Feminine Arts to Feminist Art", Ferren Gipson tells the story of this radical change, highlighting some of the modern and contemporary artists who dared to defy this hierarchy and who, through, experimentation and invention, transformed their medium. The work of these women has helped underscore the ongoing value of these art forms within the history of art, championing 'women's work' as powerful mediums worthy of celebration.

With biographical entries on each artist featured, as well as beautiful images of their artworks, "Women's Work" raises up the work of these visionary and groundbreaking artists, telling their stories and examining their artistic legacies.

Critique: Enhanced for students, academia, and the non-specialist general reader with an interest in the subject with the inclusion of a two page listing of More Artists to Explore, a four page Bibliography, and a four page Index, "Women's Work: From Feminine Arts to Feminist Art" will be of special interest and appeal to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Art History, Feminist Theory, and Artist Biography collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted that "Women's Work: From Feminine Arts to Feminist Art" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $33.72).

Editorial Note: Ferren Gipson is an art historian, writer and presenter. She is also the host and producer of the Art Matters podcast, a doctoral researcher at SOAS, University of London, and the author of "The Ultimate Art Museum" (Phaidon, 2021). She has her own website at:

Margaret Lane

Mari Carlson's Bookshelf

Crooked Little Pieces
Sophie Lambton
Crepuscular Press
B09XPB1BTX, $15.59 Barnes and Noble

Josef, a professor, takes a new teaching position, and moves with his twin daughters, Anneliese and Isabel, and his largely absent wife, from Zurich to London shortly before WWII. In London, while Anneliese aims with laser focus to pursue medicine, and Isabel follows her music passion, a tragedy in their teens shifts the focus of their interests.

Set against the impending war, the book proceeds toward chaos rather than resolution. Tension builds between the siblings throughout the book. Halting, fraught dialogue conveys their trouble relating. What they fail to say, expressed in unfinished sentences and realistic pauses, is how much they care for each other. This comes across in constant references to the other. The plot is tightly wound around these two foils. Anneliese's obsession with her therapist and Isabel's many boyfriends draw out facets of the siblings' relationship. Lyrical and poetic prose captures all that goes on below the surface action, and within these staid and inhibited characters, starting with stuffy Josef. Together, they stand for a generation of people coming out from under societal restrictions. Sequences move in chronological order that builds in intensity and yet the conclusion is an unsolved mystery that leaves the reader itching for more pent up drama. Luckily, the book is the first of a series.

Mari Carlson, Reviewer

Mark Walker's Bookshelf

The World Against Her Skin
John Thorndike
Beck & Branch Publishers
9780999445747, $15.00

I connected with the author through a shared appreciation of the author of Living Poor, Moritz Thomsen. He also reviewed Thomsen's book Bad News from a Black Coast, and it was so good I asked to include it in a novel I'm working on about the influence of Moritz Thomsen on other writers, and he agreed.

I learned that he traveled to Cuba with fellow author and friend, Tom Miller, which resulted in his best-known book, One Hundred Fires in Cuba. I soon became aware that the author was also a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who also married a lady from his host country, El Salvador, and went to Chile. My wife is Guatemalan, and we lived there for many years.

Thorndike is a talented writer, so I was pleased to receive his new book with the following note:


Here it comes, at last, the novel I always wanted to write. It was actually a memoir that turned into a novel, as I invented some scenes and filled in the details. Really, it's a full mix of fact and fiction. As the Spanish novelist, Javier Cercas says, "My aspiration was to lie anecdotally, in the particulars, in order to tell an essential truth." The story is a bit scandalous in places, but I don't shy away from that. The full scoop is below.

Tom Miller's book sits on my bedside table, and I'll get to it soon, along with yours. But today, on Mother's Day and the publication day of The World Against Her Skin, I'm a bit overwhelmed! This is the book I've always wanted to write about my mother.
The author always starts his books with an epitaph of the author, James Salter, which in this case sets up what the reader is about to embark on:

There are really two kinds of life. There is, as Viri says, the one people believe you are living, and there is the other. It is the other which causes the trouble, this other we long to see.
Initially, I found the book challenging, as the author writes about things I don't even think about - touchy things like his mother's addictions and sexuality but in an understated and elegant way. The author explains this phenomenon in a brief "Author's Note" at the beginning of the book:

There can't be many men in America who have heard this kind of intimate report about their mother. But I am that strange guy who would like to see the complete video of my parents' lives, every delicate or searing moment...I figure that as I grew up, all those secrets were playing out in my family every day. Now, starting with what I know, I have imagined the rest and written this book, which is as close as I can get to my mother's life.

Writing this book was the author's way of keeping his mother's memory close to him. Virginia and Joe Thorndike have been married for twenty-two years, and now she's in love with a surgeon thirteen years her junior. Although the author never saw his mother and father fight, she leaves her husband and flies to Miami to start living with Rich Villamano, but there he tells her he has changed his mind and they must go their separate ways. In a flash, their four-year affair is over. She takes off in his car, heading north with no luggage, no hope or destination. She buys a bottle of gin and drinks it straight. She abandons the car, flies to New York, and takes an airport hotel room. She has no home and nowhere to go.

In this biographical novel, much is remembered and much imagined. Emotional flashbacks from Virginia's youth expose the sexual abuse by her father, an affair with her high school diving coach, and her marriage to a jealous first husband. Then, after her divorce from Joe Thorndike, she fights to hold onto her sons. She even studied and became an anesthesiologist, which allowed access to the medications and drugs she'd abused, and which led to an untimely death at 57. When sober, she can rise to the occasion. Other times not.

The author describes the deterioration of their tightly knit family in one scene where their estranged father calls and the sons, "They admit their mother is drinking, but claim it's not that much, keeping from their father a knowledge that will only hurt him. Six months ago, they were kids in a family. Now they're young men doing what they can to protect their parents."

According to the author, her two sons are not her real sons, but the sons in this story pursue as unconventional a lifestyle as their mother. Neither of her sons care much for monogamy. "Jamie and Miles pay it little heed (Jamie is gay), and Rob, "with his six marriage, is clearly on a campaign against it." (Rob lives in a commune).

Eventually, his mother Ginny's stressed life is straightened out when she joins the Peace Corps and is sent to the gorgeous region of Temuco, which is the entrance of the Lake Region in Southern Chile. Part of her therapy is learning to appreciate the traditional drinking of mate the author describes beautifully:

She puts her kettle on to boil, scoops some mate into a cup and explains the basics of the ritual. One person drinks at a time, but the cup is communal. The bombilla is also shared but wiped clean each time the cup passes. "Old-timers" use a gourd, and you add some sugar if you like. I always take it without. I like it bitter.

Despite these nostalgic images of Ginny's Peace Corps experience, the novel ends with a poignant scene in which Ginny finally succumbs to the pills she's depended on over the years, "But now she's alone and her house is cold. She reaches for the glass of water by her bed and takes a sip. She can still move her arm. She can still raise her head, but not for long. Her body is fading and all thought as well. She needs to sleep and not wake up."

IndieReader sums up the author's intentions well, he "...tells the story of his mother's life, marriages, and addictions as a novel, real events mixed with imagined scenes and dialogues tell the story of his mother's life, marriages, and addictions as a novel, real events mixed with imagined scenes and dialogue, to great - and devastating - effect."

The Author

John Thorndike grew up in New England, graduated from Harvard, took an MA from Columbia, then lit out for Latin America. He spent two years in the Peace Corps in El Salvador and two, with his wife and child, on a backcountry farm in Chile. Eventually he settled with his son in Athens, Ohio, where for ten years his day job was farming. Then it was construction. His first two books were novels, followed by a memoir, Another Way Home, about his wife's schizophrenia and his life as a single parent. A second memoir, The Last of His Mind, describes his father's year-long descent into Alzheimer's, and was a Washington Post Best Book of 2009. His third novel, A Hundred Fires in Cuba, follows the love affair of a young American photographer and Camilo Cienfuegos, one of the heroes of the Cuban Revolution. The author's website is

Mark D. Walker, Reviewer

Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf

White Gold
Michael E. Jimerson
Atmosphere Press
9781639883059, $15.99 PB

White Gold is a captivating modern Texas tale.

Texas is most likely the only place in the world where the story in White Gold could take place. The backdrop is the oil business, which in the novel is dirty in more ways than one. And the characters on one level are so prototypically Texan as to be parodic, from a corrupt police chief named B.B., his son called "Son," a slick con woman named Widow Welchel, a virtuous woman Texas Ranger called Cooper, and, finally, a very rich big oil company owner, Rex Ashe. And we haven't even got to the hero yet, and all the other rococo characters who fuel the plot.

E.J. is the hero of the novel, but he is far from perfect, being a washed out Texas Ranger who has turned to a private security job with Rex Ashe. And he's a bit of a tortured soul who suffers an almost debilitating remorse on account of a wife, Rebecca, who left him, a son killed in Afghanistan, and a drug addicted daughter, Sharla. On account of this background and a long list of torments, he is not exactly on his game, and in the novel he struggles mightily to keep his life together, including a botched undercover operation, a failure at first to detect Widow Welchel's deviousness, and a rescue operation that escalates into a gun battle. And Jimerson has done such a brilliant job of making a real person out of E.J., a man whom a reader cannot help but get behind him and cheer his efforts, despite his stumbles. This talent for character development was displayed in the author's first novel, Where No Man Pursueth, and is magnificently expanded in White Gold. The employment of so many characters in White Gold, as well as their frailties and some questionable moral decisions, is reminiscent of Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove. Sometimes it's a minor character that strikes a chord, like McMurtry's Wilbarger in that novel. In White Gold, such a character is Son, one whom a reader first sees as despicable, but many pages later becomes a somewhat endearing fellow, as far as deputy sheriffs go. Thankfully, he doesn't meet the same end as Wilbarger.

Despite a pickup truck full of characters coming and going in different directions, Jimerson expertly keeps the plot paced toward a reckoning. But the plot is not so much driven by action as it is by realization. A reader can easily miss the jury's verdict but certainly won't miss the family therapy session with Sharla. For E.J. there's comfort in finding "shades of gray." Black and white won't ever work for him, just like most things in Texas nowadays aren't always cut and dried. But one thing for certain is that E.J.'s adventure is a beautifully crafted modern Texas tale.

Mark Zvonkovic, Reviewer

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

Dead Lines: Slices of Life from the Obit Beat
George Hesselberg
Wisconsin Historical Society Press
816 State Street, Madison, WI 53575
9780870209666, $20.00, PB, 208pp

Synopsis: With the publication of "Dead Lines: Slices of Life from the Obit Beat", veteran newspaper reporter George Hesselberg presents a lively and fascinating collection of feature obituaries and related news stories, celebrates life, sharing the most fascinating stories that came from decades of covering the obit and public safety beats.

In some 43 forty years working at the Wisconsin State Journal, (and a columnist for 18 of them), Hesselberg frequently found himself writing about fatal accidents, crime investigations, and the deaths of the wealthy, famous, or notorious. But he was most drawn to the curious, the unknown, and the unsung -- the deaths that normally wouldn't make much of a splash, if any mention at all, in the news columns of a daily paper.

Digging deeper, he uncovered the extraordinary among the ordinary, memorializing the lives of a sword designer, a radio villain, a pioneering female detective, a homeless woman who spoke fluent French, a beloved classroom tarantula, and many more. Their stories are alternately amusing, sad, surprising, and profound. Together they speak to a shared human experience and inspire us to see the people around us with new eyes, valuing the lives while they are still being lived.

Critique: Having a special appeal to readers with an interest in journalism, memorable true life characters, lexicography (the writing, editing, or compiling of biographical dictionaries), "Dead Lines: Slices of Life from the Obit Beat" is an inherently compelling, absorbing, and engrossing read from cover to cover. While an extraordinary and highly recommended acquisition of for community, college, and university library Journalism & Biography collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Dead Lines: Slices of Life from the Obit Beat" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).

Michael J. Carson

Miriam Calleja's Bookshelf

Niki Tulk
Driftwood Press
9781949065213, $14.99

Spelling Out the Unsayable

Content Warning: abuse, rape

How often does a book scare you while it intrigues you? O is an infinite shape. It is awe. It is fright. It is surprise. It is disbelief. It can stretch out large or become a tiny, insignificant dot.

As we climb an arc with Tulk, we go on a journey with O in this narrative written in poetry. On the cover we get an idea that O is an owl, or that at least part of O is an owl. With its poker face, it takes a moment to rest - it has caught its prey. O is also Ophelia in a few guises. But we consequently learn that O is multiple beings, multiple doings.

At first, we are lulled into a false sense of security as the fable unfolds. O is seemingly born of nothing. We are invited in, to get to know or understand her. She is sifr: secret letter or code.

A woman receives a proposal from a bird
the whole
sky for breakfast if she would only exchange her human feet for
the bird's wings

And, feeling safe, she says yes. She wakes up feathered. What follows is stark and exact imagery, taking us into O's life as an owl.

The owl and thin carving of moon, hiss of nearby sea.

As I read about desire reimagined, I wonder whether it is wrong to feel a heart practically pounding for this deep and pure love plump with longing. The poems are silent and soft thus far, even as they are full of shocking life events: the blood, the scars, and the birthing are, at first, seemingly soft enough.

How many times (here is O's question)
can you tell one story and each time
that story gets whiter until there is no stain?

And tender as belly flesh punched in broad daylight, we are moved between the present and the past in a wave of realization (and recognition, for some) of violence and violation.
it was hanging you were hanging by a
thread, as they say.

Those lines: they say/said sit on my chest, heavy. And then, the shocker. Although we can hardly call it a shocker if it happens once every 9 minutes in the US. at 2:15 pm should have looked behind you. at
2:15 you passed the boys' bathroom no you climbed a tree
and then fell into the water

Should have. With every violation against a woman's will, every touch of her body she has not consented to, every mouth sewed up in fear, the hurt spreads out like oil on water, oil on feathers, blood in water, blood on feathers. Mothers, daughters, and lovers drown with each victim. As Tulk herself puts it,

Stories cooked up by fear can be heavy

but they are crucial exactly because they are steeped in fear and precisely because they are somewhat difficult to read and difficult to put down. Tulk's O writes a woman in many characters. And like all woman, I more than connect with this. Oh, how tiring it is to be so many O's so much of the time.

The highlight of this book for me was the futile knocking on authority's door. How women are made to feel small, to feel feeble, or as though they are perhaps losing their mind, making things up, inviting these horrific events upon themselves. How they should perhaps keep quiet. I'm downright done with this.

We might read these stories in poetry and prose poetry with urgency, with raw hands. Maybe we should shout about them until the fear is dampened, made sharp enough for us to get up again.

Attraversiamo. Let's make this crossing.

Let's do it because we love every woman who has had to live with fear and pain.

Miriam Calleja, Reviewer

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

Peter Boyer: Ellis Island: The Dream of America
Peter Boyer, composer
Philharmonia Orchestra, performer
Peter Boyer, conductor
Naxos American Classics
B0008JEKFY, $8.99

It is a pleasure to hear and to review the work of a young, rising American composer. Peter Boyer (b. 1970) has written many splashy, extroverted orchestral works. The large-scaled work on this CD, "Ellis Island: The Dream of America" is an immediately endearing work which captures much of the American immigrant experience. The work is ceremonial music, what some would call "political music", and effective. Since its first performance in 2002, it has been performed [2005] approximately forty times by twenty orchestras. It has also been broadcast on NPR. This performance, recorded in 2003, is conducted by Mr. Boyer leading the prestigious Philharmonia Orchestra and includes an impressive group of seven actors who masterfully perform the spoken dialogue.

"Ellis Island: The Dream of America" celebrates the immigrant experience. Musical selections alternate with spoken passages, with accompaniment, culled from the oral history project on Ellis Island. Immigrants gave interviews explaining their reasons for coming to America, their passage, experiences upon arriving at Ellis Island, and their initial response to being in the United States. Boyer includes excerpts from seven oral histories from immigrants, four women and three men, from as many different countries (Poland, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Belgium, Ireland, Russia.) Four of the immigrants are Jewish.

The texts are inspiring and beautifully read, and Boyer's music captures and enhances the excitement of coming to the United States. The work opens with a long orchestral introduction that sets the stage for what follows -- with a slow opening featuring the trumpet and a splashy transition to a lively theme featuring brass, percussion, and bells. Each of the speakers offer their story about coming to America in language that frequently is eloquent. The first speaker, an immigrant from Poland, concludes her history with the realization that in America "you are free!" and her understanding is captured in the musical interlude which follows. The young Greek fisherman who follows makes his own decison to leave his family for America, and his speech and the interlude which follows surges with hope and gratitude. The Italian immigrant rejoins her family and procaims "we are all together now!" to triumphant music. The Hungarian immigrant recognizes that "I became a man here" with the opportunity for a free life, and his realization is accompanied by a reflective meditative passage. The Jewish woman immigrant from Belgium tells her story to the accompaniment of a wailing solo violin. The liveliest passage belongs to the Irish immigrant, a raconteur and non-stop talker who tells his story to the accompaniment of a bouncy, popular theme in the piano and the orchestra. The final speaker is an immigrant from Russia who describes her first sight of the Statue of Liberty as "a vision from heaven". The work concludes with a recitation of Emma Lazarus's great sonnet "The New Colossus" which adorns the base of the statue.

This is open-hearted, patriotic and inspiring ceremonial music about what coming to the United States meant to generations of dispossessed people seeking a better and a free life. Many composers, including Handel, Haydn, Beethoven, and Brahms have written works directed to patriotic purposes. Boyer does well here, and I think his message allows the listener to reflect on our country as a source of hope, promise and freedom. This is a worthy addition to the ongoing Naxos series of American Classics.

Siegmeister: Piano Music: vol. 1
Elie Siegmeister, composer
Kenneth Boulton, performer
Naxos American Classics
B00000JMYK, $5.95

Elie Siegmeister (1909 - 1991) grew up in New York City and studied composition with Nadia Boulanger in the 1920s. He returned to New York City and enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a composer. His music, alas, is not well-known today. The Naxos "American Classics" series has made a noteworthy attempt to rectify this situation by issuing two albums of Elie Siegmeister's solo piano music. The music is beautifully performed by pianist Kenneth Boulton, a specialist in modern American music. Mr. Boulton also wrote the program notes which, on both albums, are highly informative. These albums will repay the attention of any listener interested in modern American music or in modern piano music.

Early in his career, Siegmeister incorporated elements of American folk culture and song into his compositions. These compositions are tonal, lyrical, jazzy, and accessible. In the 1960's, Siegmeister's style changed. Although still greatly influenced by folk music, ragtime, jazz, and the blues, his style became atonal and increasingly hermetic. With all that, the music has a distinctive lilt to it and an American feel. It deserves a hearing.

Siegmeister reminds me a great deal of Charles Ives and, to a lesser extent Aaron Copland. Like Ives, Siegmeister wanted to create an American music and was deeply influenced by American folk song and jazz. Ives frequently incorporated large elements of folk songs in his work while Siegmeister did so only rarely. Siegmeister's work reflects folk and jazz influences but rarely borrows themes from existing works. Ives and Siegmeister are also alike in that both composers moved from a style of Americana to a more demanding and difficult atonal idiom.

Volume I of the Naxos albums opens with Siegmeister's "American Sonata" of 1944. This is a three movement work with brash, boogie-woogie themes in the two outer movements and a slow bluesy middle movement. This music is engaging.

The next work on the CD is a five movement suite "On this Ground." For me, this work is the highlight of the collection. This piece consists of short music in an atonal, difficult style that still capture, as the title indicates, something of the American experience. The movements are title "Dream Freely", "Where", "Ariel" "Summer" and "Mr. Henry's (Monday Night".) For all its difficulty, something of America and of joy come through here. The interested listener might want to compare this work with Siegmeister's 1985 suite "From These Shores" which appears in volume 2 of the Naxos compilation.

There are two late sonatas on this CD. Siegmeister's Piano Sonata number 4, Prelude, Blues and Toccata (1980) was commissioned by the American University in Washington, D.C. Although the work is highly atonal, it too features the sound of American jazz, particularly in the slow blues of the middle movement.

Siegmeister's Piano Sonata No. 5 (1987) is his final work for solo piano and is much more abstruse than its predecessor. Yet it too has a blues-like slow second movement.

A great deal of outstanding American art music waits to be discovered. Although our country has produced composers of worth, such as Siegmeister, it perhaps has not accorded them the recognition they deserve. This album will introduce the listener to a composer who, as did Charles Ives, captured much of himself and of the American spirit in a difficult, modern musical idiom.

Siegmeister: Piano Music, vol. 2
Elie Siegmeister, composer
Kenneth Boulton, performer
Naxos American Classics
B00000JYTR, $4.38

Elie Siegmeister (1909-1991) is a too-little known American composer, a student of Nadia Boulanger, who wrote in a variety of musical idioms, ranging from rather traditional, tonal music to modern music full of dissonance and atonality.

In all his different styles, Siegmeister maintains, I think, a distinct American voice full of brashness, newness, and hope. His models are in his various styles George Gershwin and Charles Ives, with jazz influences added for good measure. His work deserves to be included in Naxos' "American Classics" series.

This disc is the second volume of Siegmeister's piano music recorded by Kenneth Boulton, a specialist in contemporary American piano music. Mr. Boulton also wrote the program notes for the disc which are full and informative.

Of the five selections on the CD, there are two suites which are programmatic in character. The first "Sunday in Brooklyn" (1946)describes in a conservative jazzy idiom the bustling mid-20th century American metropolis, (including traffic jams) but includes quiet, domestic scenes as well. This piece was popular when written and deserves to be better known. It is the most accessible piece on this CD.

The second suite, "From these Shores" celebrates five American authors: Whitman, Mark Twain, Thoreau, Langston Hughes, and Faulkner. It is modernistic and discordant, but I found it fascinating. To me, the music captures something vivid about the work of each of the five authors it describes, the vision of Whitman, the bluesy character of Hughes, the meditative quality of Thoreau. Siegmeister's own notes to this music, which Boulton summarizes in his notes, are useful here.

The remaining three works on this disc are non-programmatic and modernistic in character. There is a sense of verve, of eclat, which comes through this music for me. The early "Theme and Variations No. 1" (1932) is modeled on Beethoven's "32 variations in C minor" and consists of 26 short variations in a work of 10 minutes.

The "Piano Sonata No.2" (1964) is a tightly-written single-movement work which undergoes 10 changes of tempo in about 11 minutes. The work is cohesive and taut and distinctively modern.

Siegmeister's Piano Sonata No. 3" (1979), written 15 years after the second piano sonata, is in three movements with a mixture of modernist and jazzy passages. It has some traditional aspects, particularly in its form, while remaining unmistakably a work of 20th century modernism.

This is a rewarding disc of modern American piano music by an American composer of stature.

Strauss, Spinoza, and Sinai: Orthodox Judaism and Modern Questions of Faith
Jeffery Bloom, Alec Goldstein, and Gil Student, editors
Kodesh Press
9781947857728, $19.95 (paperback)

This recent book, "Strauss, Spinoza and Sinai: Orthodox Judaism and Modern Questions of Faith" (2022) attempts to show the vitality of Orthodox Jewish faith in light of the questions raised about Orthodoxy by Spinoza and the partial defense of Orthodox belief by Leo Strauss.

Some brief background may be appropriate. Spinoza (1632 -- 1677) was excommunicated, age 24, by the Amsterdam Jewish community. He went on to write two important books: the "Theological Political Treatise" which challenged Revelation, divine authorship of the Bible, and miracles, among other things and the "Ethics" in which Spinoza set forth his own philosophical system which taught determinism and the lack of a personal God who gave commands, acted with purpose, and was involved in human affairs.

Leo Strauss (1899 -- 1973) was an important, if controversial German-American political philosopher of great erudition. In 1965, Strauss' book "Spinoza's Critique of Religion" was published in English for the first time. It was originally written in 1930 in Germany. Strauss examined the "Theological Political Treatise" and, in a newly written preface concluded that Spinoza had failed in his aim of refuting Orthodoxy. His position was complex, but Strauss essentially argued that Spinoza had essentially replaced one set of unproven assumptions with another. Thus Spinoza had not so much "refuted" Orthodoxy as bypassed it. Orthodox Judaism would not run afoul of Spinoza's critique as long as Orthodoxy was framed in terms of "belief" rather than "knowledge".

I was fascinated with this new book because I have long studied Spinoza and was familiar with Strauss' book from my unfinished dissertation on the "Theological Political Treatise" of many years ago. The book deserved more attention than I recall giving it at the time. Much more recently, I have seen an approach almost the reverse of Strauss. I participated in a reading group on philosopher-novelist Rebecca Goldstein's book, "Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew who gave us Modernity." Goldstein was raised in Jewish Orthodoxy which she abandoned. In her book, she recalls her experience in an Orthodox Jewish high school for girls in which one of her teachers spent a great deal of time, and showed some insight, in urging her charges to reject Spinoza and his thought. Questions about Spinoza and religion have fascinated me for most of my life.

In "Strauss, Spinoza, and Sinai", seventeen Orthodox Jewish scholars wrote essays on Spinoza and on the attempted defense of Orthodoxy by Strauss. The issue was whether Strauss' defense was adequate or whether there was something more and different to be said. This book is probably the first in which Orthodox Jewish scholars attempted to respond to Strauss. It proved to be a valuable project.

Besides the difficulty of essay summation of the thought of Spinoza or Strauss, there is a difficulty in understanding the nature of Orthodox Judaism. Strauss and, in my reading, many of the seventeen contributors to this volume are not comfortable with the efforts of Liberal Judaism to compromise in various ways between modernity and Judaism. Among other differences, many of the participants in this discussion tend, in contrast to adherents of Liberal Judaism, to be on the socially conservative side of issues, particularly those issues involving gender. It is valuable to see and to respect this. An essay in the volume by Joshua Golding offers a definition of Orthodox Judaism which, I think, is shared by most if not all of the contributors to this volume. Golding writes in part:

"Judaism is that religion or way of life which affirms as true the 'traditional Jewish understanding of Tanach,' In turn, the 'traditional Jewish understanding of Tanach' runs as follows: The Torah of Moses is God-given, it is an accurate and true record of historical events that happened to the Jewish people, and it represents the divine will for how the people of Israel should act.... The teaching that God ordained to the people of Israel is not confined to the text of the Scriptures: it also includes an Oral tradition which is represented by the Talmud and the rabbinic literature. .... While the Tanach does use metaphorical language to describe God, the traditional understanding is that God is the Supreme Person who created the world as we know it, who has control over nature, and who communicates with mankind through prophecy and who listens to prayer."

The seventeen essays in this book take a variety of approaches in explaining the sources of Orthodox Jewish faith. Many of the essays show a great deal of erudition and thoughtfulness. Several essays explore and try to rephrase the distinction Strauss draws between "belief" and "knowledge". Other essays bring the history of philosophy to bear using philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Heidegger, and, especially, Maimonides. Many of the essays challenge the nature of the concept of reason developed by Spinoza and other Enlightenment thinkers. Other essays are less concerned to explore the question from the standpoint of philosophy. Instead, the argue that Strauss, and Spinoza, did not understand the depth of the Jewish tradition and its approach to questions of belief and faith. Some essays discuss the approach of the Talmud while others discuss Jewish mysticism and argue that Strauss had little knowledge of these sources. The essays seem in general agreement that there is a more personal, intuitive understanding of reason and truth than found in the grand abstractions of Spinoza. (This position is shared in part by many others, including Goldstein in "Betraying Spinoza".) In general, the essays argue that the case for the existence of God and for the Jewish Scriptures is stronger than the case for disbelief and that it isn't a matter of accepting either the Orthodox Jewish or the secular account because the Orthodox account is persuasive.

In addition to the essays, the book includes and Introduction by Jeffery Bloom which argues that the "great dilemma of liberal Judaism": "how to maintain adherence to the particulars of Judaism without belief in a God who commands them" is misplaced. Bloom says that the more fundamental question, explored in the book, is "if it possible to recover belief in the God who commands the particulars of Judaism in the first place." The book ends with a lengthy unattributed conclusion which attempts to summarize the many points made and approaches taken in the essays.

Many of the insights in this volume will apply to people of faith from other religions. Some of the essays and arguments are limited specifically to Orthodox Judaism.

I was not at all convinced by this volume but I found it refreshing. I was reminded of the difficulties and challenges both in philosophical thought and in understanding and following a religious life. For myself, I tend to have the same trouble that most of the contributors to this volume have in finding a plausible middle course between Orthodoxy and secularism. I learned from this volume and from Strauss, but I have learned more from Spinoza.

This book will reward reading by those interested in Spinoza and in religious philosophy. The publisher, Kodesh Press, kindly sent me a review copy.

Robin Friedman

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

Our Child of Two Worlds
Stephen Cox
9781787471627, $26.99

Our Child of the Stars is a book that lingered on my Kindle for far too long. Having now read it, I wasted no time reading its sequel Our Child of Two Worlds. Like its predecessor, it is a gem of a book, a quiet, emotional story while the action has been amped up with an alien invasion. It is a poignant look at the life of one particular, peculiar family who have adopted a purple, tentacled alien child, Cory. Set in the 1960s in Amber Grove, a small New England town, the Myers family has found a modicum of peace from the tumult Cory's arrival caused in their lives. Author Cox does a splendid job of recreating the tensions of the 1960s and 1970s: the long-haired, pot-smoking hippies; Woodstock; the straight folks who toed the line; the Cold War; the Vietnam war; the constant fear of atomic bombs.

Cox captures the youthful exuberance of this alien child down to his voice, that of a boy so eager to get the words out that they come out in a staccato rat-tat-tat. His physical description is vague enough readers can draw their own versions of the boy in their minds. He is smart, curious, and adventurous - and utterly endearing. Despite the Myers' efforts to normalize his life, Cory is from a planet where there is communal sleeping - and communal dreams. His own people, who are supposed to rescue him, are millions of miles away. The stresses of having an alien child, which initially pulled the Myers' together, tugs them apart as their views of their marriage shifts.

Our Child of Two Worlds is a poignant portrait of an American family, the ties that bind this family, and the strength of those ties. The novel is also a portrait of humanity with its light and its darkness and explores what it means for humans to be in touch with aliens and upends the expected human-centered expectations. Cory encourages humanity - as well as his own kind - to rise above their darker sides.

The Midcoast
Adam White
9780593243152, $27.00

The Midcoast, Adam White's debut novel, is a small town with dark secrets family saga. He tells the story of Andrew, who as a teenager, worked for Ed Thatch, a down-and-out lobsterman. Andrew leaves for college. Later as a coach and teacher, he and his family return to his home town of Damariscotta and finds Ed's life has changed immensely. He's now a well-to-do businessman, and his wife is the manager of Damariscotta, a little haven on the Maine coast known for its oysters and antiques. Andrew's interest in the Thatches is piqued by their rags-to-riches story and culminates in his writing a novel about them. He interviews them as well as does other research, and this investigation drives the unfolding of events in the Thatches' lives.

White's characters are well-developed and multifaceted, and he juggles different time frames and points of view well. Having spent time on the Maine coast, I could readily identify with both the characters and the not-as-idyllic-as-it-seems village.

The Actual Star
Monica Byrne
Harper Voyager
9780063002890, $27.99

I finished The Actual Star a couple of days ago and have had to consider how to write this review. I definitely have a love-hate relationship with this book; I found it fascinating and thought-provoking, enough so that I discussed it with my ex.

Things I loved:

The epic scope of The Actual Star. Byrne rotates through three time lines from ancient Maya (1021) to near-contemporary (2012) to 1000 years in the future (3012).

The fresh treatment of reincarnation, family, gender, pronouns, sexuality, and how complex the relationships between her characters are.

The sole thing I didn't like: I found the use of Kriol so difficult to read. I am an avid reader and speak several foreign languages, but found the Kriol too dense. I nearly put the book aside a couple of times due to my difficulties reading the Kriol (I had to read each line aloud several times and try to parse what was being said). Here's an example, one of the easier ones, from page 177 of the hardcover edition: Yu no laik di chaaklit gyal dehn?

Twins and their relationships with each other and their milieu center this book. The first set of twins, in 1012, develop an incestuous relationship. Just as they are about to become the king and queen on their Mayan kingdom, they are torn apart. The next set of twins in 2012, the year of the highly-anticipated apocalypse (end of the world according to the Mayan calendar), separate themselves and must live and die with the consequences of their actions. The final set of twins in 3012 are separated due to the unusual sociological structure prevalent at that time.

Overall, I ended up being glad I persevered and will add this book to my permanent collection.

The Final Strife
Saara El-Arifi
Del Rey
9780593356944, $28.99

The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi is an amazing fantasy/fiction/scifi novel that is the first in a trilogy. This first book is an exciting read for many reasons. The world-building is excellent. A lot of time is spent delineating the various racial groups that populate this world. These can be told apart only by the color of their blood and their role in society: the Embers have red blood and hold all the power; Dusters have blue blood and are destined for labor; and Ghostings have clear blood and delegated to being servants. Physically, they are set apart from the other two as their hands and tongues are amputated at birth as a retaliation from an insurrection from 400 years earlier.

There are three main characters, Sylah (an Ember stolen from her family and raised as a Duster), Anoor (a Duster raised as an Ember), and Hassa (a Ghosting). These three women are likable though flawed, as they search for the truth about their homeland. There are plenty of plot twists and characters who aren't what they seem.

The novel seems a bit long in the introductory phase while the climax seems a bit hurried, but that doesn't overshadow what is great about this book: depictions of strong females of varying sexuality, the female/female enemies to lovers romance trope, and the consistent - and correct - usage of the their/their pronouns in referring to characters of indeterminate gender and the sensitivity in depicting trans and disabled characters.

A Bride's Guide to Marriage and Murder (A Countess of Harleigh Mystery Book 5)
Dianne Freeman
9781496731616, $26.00

A Bride's Guide to Marriage and Murder is the fifth in the entertaining Countess of Harleigh cozy mystery series in which readers follow both the exploits of the heroine, Frances, the Countess of Harleigh (an American bride) and her romance (once her down-and-out English nobility spouse dies) with George Hazelton, her next-door neighbor.

This is such a remarkably engaging series. I particularly enjoyed the dry quips and witty dialogue which is so appropriate in this historical series. Author Dianne Freeman combines rich historical details with her knowledge of the ton and its customs and locations in London and its environs.

The murders and the plot twist and turns are creative and fun, yet kept me guessing. I especially like that Frances, an American, has worked to be as British as the Brits themselves and blends in well with that society. My favorite thing about her is that she fits within her historical time-frame, and despite the romance aspect, she never pulls the too-stupid-to-live stunts that many romance heroines do.

Frances, George, and their families are a true mix of family characters and provide a mix of the zaniness, mayhem, and madcap stunts that mark true families.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

The Horse Lover's Quotation Book
Jackie Corley
Hatherleigh Press
9781578268771, $12.50, HC, 96pp

Synopsis: Comprised of meaningful quotes and humorous one-liners, "The Horse Lover's Quotation Book: Celebrating Grace, Beauty, Spirit & Freedom" compiled by Jackie Corley brings readers into a deeper connection with these majestic creatures, highlighting on all the joy and surprises that come from loving these animals.

Full of wonderful quotes about horses, riding horses, owning horses, loving horses, and everything in between, "The Horse Lover's Quotation Book" must be considered especially essential reading for anyone who has had an equine companion of their own.

Critique: Wonderfully well organized and presented, "The Horse Lover's Quotation Book: Celebrating Grace, Beauty, Spirit & Freedom" is a highly recommended part of every personal, professional, community, or academic library equine themed collection. For horse lovers everywhere and offering an extended time of contemplative and reflective enjoyment, "The Horse Lover's Quotation Book" is something to be savored as one of those quotation compilations that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf.

Editorial Note: Jackie Corley is a writer and editor based in the Hudson Valley. A graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars, Jackie's writing has appeared in Fourteen Hills, Redivider and 3AM Magazine, among others, and in various print anthologies.

Through Forests of Every Color: Awakening with Koans
Joan Sutherland
Shambhala Publications, Inc.
300 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, MA 02115-4544
9781611809862, $19.95, PB, 208pp

Synopsis: A koan is a story, dialogue, question, or statement which is used in Zen practice to provoke the "great doubt" and to practice or test a student's progress in Zen.

With the publication of "Through Forests of Every Color: Awakening with Koans", renowned Zen teacher Joan Sutherland re-imagines the koan tradition with an allegiance to the root spirit of the koans and to their profound potential for vivifying, subverting, and sanctifying our lives. Her decades of practicing with koans and of translating them from classical Chinese imbues this text with a warm familiarity, an ease still suffused with awe.

Interlinked essays on "koans as art," "keeping company with koans," and "walking the koan way" intersperse with beautifully translated renditions of dozens of traditional Zen koans. Sutherland also shares innovative koans culled from Western literature, as well as teachings on how to create idiosyncratic koans or "turning words" from the circumstances of one's own life.

"First honored is your yearning, the preparation made on faith that there is something that will receive you if you make yourself ready," writes Sutherland of the koan seeker. "Bathed - attended to, washed free of complications - and then aspiring to the deepest kind of beauty - receptive, brave, dedicated, openhearted. Already you've begun to look like the thing you're looking for."

Critique: Inherently thoughtful and thought provoking, informed and informative, exceptional in organization and presentation, "Through Forests of Every Color: Awakening with Koans" will have a very special appeal to students and practitioners of Zen Buddhism and a highly valued addition to personal, professional, community, and academic library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject of personal transformation self-help that "Through Forests of Every Color" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.99).

Editorial Note: Joan Sutherland has also written "Vimalakirti and the Awakened Heart : A Commentary on the Sutra that Vimalakirti Speaks", and her work has been published in Shambhala Sun, Lion's Roar, and Buddhadharma magazines. She was also the co-founder of the Pacific Zen School and founder of The Open Source, a network of communities in the western United States led by her dharma heirs. She has an informative website at

Particle Pinata Poems
Margaret A. Harrell
Saeculum University Press
9798986052625, $36.00, HC, 168pp

Synopsis: "Particle Pinata Poems: Messages to the Earth: Guides, Initiations, Word Play In Partnership with the Spirit World" by Margaret Ann Harrell (who has a website at is a compendium of her work that spans over forty years of 'life tackled from the heart'.

The genesis emerged when, living in Morocco in 1980, Margaret began recording her dreams. And they poured in, introducing her to "image trails." She was in deep contact with the unconscious. In it resided this poet, a "second-class citizen" of herself. The poet to whom words came easily because after all she was in the unconscious, whereas the conscious prose author struggled, edited, cut, sweated, and was published.

Now no longer a poet in the closet and having been a spokesperson for "the unconscious," or collective unconscious, before, in her poetry Margaret brings in the transpersonal nature of us all.

From after-death communications to stimulating RUMI-nations to metaphysics in "a bottle", her poems bring puzzles, thought-provoking, with depth. Many are "To the Earth," announcing prophetically, in the 1980s, the upheaval we are seeing today. True to the brand of humor of the unconscious, there is a section of brilliant word play, narrating insights about the untold stories of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, the Christ spirit, and the universal Christ consciousness.

Critique: An inherently fascinating read, thoughtful and thought-provoking read from cover to cover, "Particle Pinata Poems: Messages to the Earth: Guides, Initiations, Word Play In Partnership with the Spirit World" manifests a very special elegance and eloquence. "Particle Pinata Poems" is a unique volume that will linger in the mind and memory of the reader long after it has been finished and set back upon the shelf. While highly recommended for community and academic library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Particle Pinata Poems" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9798986052649, $28.00) and in an inexpensive digital book format (Kindle, $0.99).

Danny Dowdells: Angel Jo and the Brackish People
Cresson McIver
Independently Published
9798562561015, $20.63 (Amazon), PB, 386pp

Synopsis: The focus of "Danny Dowdells: Angel Jo and the Brackish People" by Cresson McIver is the way the people of Ulster (Protestant and Catholic), think about each other in the fictional townland of Ballybracken, somewhere in mid-Ulster in the 1950s.

An Irish community peopled by a gaggle of unforgettable countryfolk including characters like the philandering Robbie, social climbing Rosie, the hapless Jim McKnight and his mother, with her subtle but toxic use of 'petticoat power', the wealthy grand dame, Mrs. McKendry's and so many more that will live long in the reader's imagination.

Readers will thoroughly enjoy follow the antics of likeable, clever and wily Danny, his useless self-admiring guardian angel Jo. Then there is Danny's striving mother, Rosie, and her partner, Robbie, whose hand-to-mouth existence intertwines and contrasts so skillfully with that of the immensely wealthy McKendry and the noble Roxborough families.

Critique: Although a work of fiction, "Danny Dowdells: Angel Jo and the Brackish People" is a story populated with recognizable characters and richly written with satirical and engaging humor throughout. An exceptionally well written literary experience, "Danny Dowdells: Angel Jo and the Brackish People" clearly showcases author Cresson McIver's genuine flair for originality, insights into the human character, unfailing humor, and the kind of narrative storyteller style that holds the reader's rapt and appreciative interest from cover to cover. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community library General Fiction and academic library Literary Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Danny Dowdells: Angel Jo and the Brackish People" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle. $9.99).

Susan Bethany

Suzie Housley's Bookshelf

An Eclectic Collection of Psychedelic Poetry to Stimulate the Senses and Open the Mind
Ryan M. Becker
Trippy-Ass Books

"True happiness is to enjoy the present,
without anxious dependence upon the future."
-Lucius Annaeus

Feelings of intense excitement and happiness characterize euphoria. It allows a person's emotions the opportunity to be released into the world. Step into the pages of this book, and you will discover a rich collection of poems that will take you on an emotional rollercoaster of self-discovery.

Each one is unique in its creation; you will find no two topics are ever the same. You will get to dive deeply into the author's mind and soul as each word penetrates deep within your body. The words he uses are bold and intense. They can make the reader stop, think, and absorb what is trying to be communicated.

Ryan M. Becker's book provides a fresh feel-good appeal that other authors lack. These poems can open the mind to new and uncharted territory. I predict this book is about to make a lasting impression in the literary world.

Suzie Housley

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

Retire and Go!: Two Seniors and a Year of Slow Travel on a Budget
Russ Firlik
c/o McFarland & Company
PO Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640
9781476687803, $29.95, PB, 236pp

Synopsis: Millions of individuals retire each year, and retirement provides an opportunity for a fresh start. The possibilities are endless (even on a budget) for those prepared to open their minds and dream big.

Russ and Emily Firlik, who had just retired from teaching, dared to rethink their more traditional retirement plans to embark on 9 months of slow travel in France and Italy, keeping a strict budget in mind and guided by their passion for the arts, history and architecture. "Retire and Go!: Two Seniors and a Year of Slow Travel on a Budget" is their memoir of the experience and details the their personal travel experience.

Also included are insights and instructions for the thrifty long-term traveler. "Retire and Go!: Two Seniors and a Year of Slow Travel on a Budget" will most certainly inspire others to dream big and plan their own adventures, while helping them with the practical details of sticking to a budget and anticipating the unexpected.

Critique: Simply stated, "Retire and Go!: Two Seniors and a Year of Slow Travel on a Budget" by Russ Firlik must be considered essential reading for anyone contemplating (or already experiencing) retirement on a fixed (and usually limited) income and have a desire to see the world. An inherently fascinating, engaging, and inspiring read from first page to last, "Retire and Go!: Two Seniors and a Year of Slow Travel on a Budget" is strongly recommended for personal and community library Travel Guide collections. Exceptionally 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of Seniors and anyone (of any age!) who aspires to travel on a budget that "Retire and Go!: Two Seniors and a Year of Slow Travel on a Budget" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.49).

Editorial Note: Retired educator Russ Firlik has had several peer reviewed articles published in professional journals. Currently residing in southern Florida, Russ writes travel articles for travel magazines.

Willis M. Buhle

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