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The Bookwatch

Volume 18, Number 7 July 2023 Home | BW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice International Studies Shelf Architecture Shelf
Philosophy Shelf Comix/Graphic Novel Shelf Mystery/Suspense Shelf
Fantasy/SciFi Shelf    

Reviewer's Choice

Time Served
T.L. Cromwell
KP Publishing
9781960001207, $24.95 hardcover, $19.95 paperback, $9.99 ebook

Time Served is a memoir written by a retired Correctional Captain who worked in the California prison system for over twenty years, and is highly recommended reading for anyone interested in the daily activities and nuts and bolts of the modern American prison system.

The memoir is particularly notable in two ways: T.L. Cromwell is a Black female in a system dominated by male correctional officers, and she covers the process of overseeing inmates in contrast to the many prison stories written by those who have done time behind bars. Having an exploration from the other side of the bars provides many eye-opening insights that will prove especially valuable to students of law, justice, and those aiming for jobs in the correctional system.

Another important note is that Cromwell worked in some of the toughest prison systems in the nation. This background lends further interest to her story, which navigates the social and political issues of maintaining a prison and dealing with inmates as a female in a decidedly male-dominated environment.

The story opens with Cromwell's childhood and the candid note that she never saw herself being in the position she wound up in as an adult: "Nobody says they want to work in prison when they grow up. Who would want to be a prison guard? I certainly didn't. I wanted to be what all kids say they want to be when they grow up: a doctor, a lawyer, a social worker, or maybe even a teacher." Growing up in the 'concrete jungles' of Los Angeles, however, Cromwell knew many who were incarcerated, including her own father.

When, as an adult, she divorced and was faced with raising a daughter alone, Cromwell was determined to obtain a job that paid well, keeping them out of poverty and the cycles she'd seen too many fellow women fall into as single mothers. Her search for a stable career kept leading her back to corrections work. It was a job she would excel in, grow and learn from, and ultimately would share with the world in this memoir of her experiences, which dovetails the routines and requirements of the prison system with insights on inmate/correctional officer relationships and the dangerous psychological undercurrents that often affect and direct them.

Through Cromwell's eyes, readers learn of these threats and the reactions that saved her career and life. The psychological insights are not only impeccably described, but offer rare insights into the dangers of the prison system that go well beyond physical violence and into the territory of psychological danger: "Inmates had 365 days to focus on us; to find any little thing they think they can use to manipulate us. It is insidious and before you know it you have fallen into their trap. When they target you, they usually start small by being friendly, jovial, and very complimentary. If they work for you, they make sure they do the best job they can while putting you at ease in their presence. They want you to think they are different from any other inmate you have ever met. Lulling you into a false sense of security and pushing you to lower your guard. They attempt to get you to do something small, something seemingly innocuous that you know you're not supposed to do, just this one time, just for him. Nobody will ever know. It will be just between you and him."

More so than almost any other prison system title, Cromwell provides an invaluable and rare look at inmate relationships and how they are affected by imprisonment. Students of prison system and justice issues, as well as anyone thinking of entering this milieu who wonders what these daily encounters translate to in terms of motivation and experiences, will find that Time Served pulls no punches in revealing all the underlying emotional challenges of the job. It humanizes the correctional officer's job and relationships in many different ways.

Time Served should ideally be included in general-interest collections, inner city libraries, and any library strong in books about social issues. It should also be used as debate material in classes and book clubs examining prison system operations and experiences.

The International Studies Shelf

Splendors of Quanzhou, Past and Present
William N. Brown
9789811980350, $58.50 Hardcover, $49.99 Paper

Quanzhou (Zayton) was Marco Polo's departure port and Columbus' goal in China. It fostered the Maritime Silk Road and, perhaps more importantly, was centuries ahead of its time in fostering tolerance and diversity among its populace, housing Muslims alongside Christian, Hindu, Taoist, and Jewish spiritual centers. Splendors of Quanzhou, Past and Present surveys this city (now a World Heritage site) and its culture, from early to contemporary times. Why should modern readers care about this place? Because it's not just a singular piece of Chinese history or a world wonder, but a representation of architectural, cultural, and social ideals that can serve as a mirror of achievement and possibility for developing nations around the world.

William N. Brown spent three decades in China, traveling the country and speaking with citizens and exploring every aspect of the city's history and culture. His visits there, which began in 1989, documented the city's balanced approach to preserving its heritage while becoming a forceful example of success for the 21st century and beyond. Readers who anticipate the tone of this survey will limit its audience to scholars alone will be delighted to discover these travels lend to a lively observational style which juxtaposes Chinese historical and cultural insights with personal experiences, from shopping to Quanzhou's world-famous puppets.

Color photos of travel experiences, personal reflections, and sidebars of additional information create a rare combination of travelogue and cultural study which will prove accessible to a large audience, from readers interested in studying China's culture in general and Quanzhou in particular to travelers who will find these encounters perfect armchair reading.

Splendors of Quanzhou, Past and Present's multifaceted approach and depth lends to its consideration by a variety of library collections, from college-level holdings seeking in-depth explorations of China's history and cities to general-interest libraries that will discover the scholarly-looking cover masks an appealing survey filled with not just information, but lively personal encounters. These will educate and attract general-interest readers - especially those attracted to cities that practice diversity and tolerance.

Quanzou's special attraction is that it has done so for centuries, long before the concept of inclusion become contemporary and widely supported.

The Architecture Shelf

Opulence and Ostentation: Building the Circus
Steve Ward, Ph.D.
Modern Vaudeville Press
9781958604021, $25.00

Opulence and Ostentation: Building the Circus is a history of the circus buildings which helped house and perpetuate the popularity of the circus, particularly during the nineteenth century. Readers with only a casual familiarity with architectural history and the circus may not realize the long-standing nature of this subject: "During the latter half of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century many circus owners, and indeed civic authorities, commissioned buildings specifically for circus. Why, you may ask, for such an ephemeral entertainment? I consider that this growth in circus building reflects the popularity of the art form at that time. Some of these buildings were vast cathedrals of circus which could accommodate thousands of people, regularly reaching capacity."

Audiences of architectural students and circus historians will find that Opulence and Ostentation holds many powerful examinations, but it also will attract general-interest audiences who may relish the circus, but are unaware of the structures that contributed to its popularity and mythos. Dr. Ward doesn't intend this book to be a definitive history of either the circus or its buildings. It celebrates the opulence and wealth of this approach to promoting the circus, examining how these structures contributed to the mystique and allure of the circus over the centuries. Vintage black and white photos, footnoted references, and quotes from publications that described early circus buildings and atmosphere make for a scholarly yet accessible survey designed to educate and attract.

Students of architectural history, in particular, will find the notes and illustrations on design choices and the mechanics of translating a building's use to both theater and circus applications to be specific and intriguing. Circus history is incorporated into these building descriptions, bringing a satisfyingly lively tone to the fine art of capturing opulence and the moveable art of the circus both within and between nations: "The (then) modern building was very tall, 36 metres in height, with a cupola 46.5 metres in diameter. The standard 13.5 metre circus ring had the facility to be lowered and flooded with water for water spectaculars. The arena was complete with a fully equipped stage and orchestra pit, and could seat almost 4000 spectators. The building included a restaurant and an 'American Bar'; an American Bar being a 'long bar' arrangement as opposed to the more intimate tavern style bar. Behind the circus was stabling for up to 130 horses and space to accommodate a menagerie. The building survived successfully until the bombing of Dresden in 1945, when it was completely destroyed. The circus survived but Sarrasani, having problems with Hitler's regime, decided to move to South America in 1934. Hans Stolsch-Sarrasani died there shortly afterwards and the circus was continued by his son.

The Sarrasani Circus became popular in Argentina and in the 1940s was proclaimed the 'Argentine National Circus' by Eva Peron." The detailed nature of such passages and references will require that readers already have a basic interest in the circus environment in order to appreciate the depths of research and the social, historical, and cultural connections Dr. Ward makes in his survey.

Libraries strong in circus topics or architectural explorations will find Opulence and Ostentation: Building the Circus is an opulent and potent examination indeed, juxtaposing complexity with a freestyle survey of the circus world that is not commonly accessible to general-interest audiences.

The Philosophy Shelf

Asimov's Foundation and Philosophy
Joshua Heter and Josef Thomas Simpson, editors
Carus Books
9781637700303, $24.95

Asimov's Foundation and Philosophy is the ninth volume in the Pop Culture and Philosophy series and links philosophical inspection to Asimov's famous series of books and its TV show incarnation. The process of creating a galactic history holds many fascinating accompanying philosophical considerations, explored in such diverse essays as Leonard Kahn's 'Morality and Manipulation' or Walter Barta and Graham Lee's 'An Interstellar Leap of Faith.'

A prerequisite to successfully utilizing these references is an intimate familiarity with the Foundation series and its basic concepts. Readers with such a background (which may require re-reading these classics, for those who absorbed them decades ago) will find these essays thought-provoking, enlightening, and worthy of debate and discussion in sci-fi book reading circles and classrooms. They take a leap of logic and philosophical inspection in encouraging a closer inspection of the Foundation series as a whole and Asimov's underlying messages, making this book a strong adjunct to any assignment of the Foundation series and for any modern philosophy class.

Queen and Philosophy
Jared Kemling and Randall E. Auxier, editors
Carus Books
9781637700327, $22.95

Queen and Philosophy: Guaranteed to Blow Your Mind is the sixth volume in the Pop Culture and Philosophy series, and gathers delightful philosophical and musical connections in exploring the music of Queen. Here are discourses on Queen's music, impact, and controversy that raises key questions about the group's perception and evolution, as in Megan Volpert's essay 'Is Adam Lambert a Killer of Queen or Somebody to Love?': "There are as many versions of Queen as there are people who perceive the band because the way Queen is in our minds doesn't necessarily have any connection to the way Queen exists outside of our minds."

Heavy, thought-provoking reading is featured which is eminently suitable for a musical group such as Queen, linking modern philosophical thinking and perception with elements of the group's music and presentation. In delving into the quintessence that is Queen, this volume will draw in non-philosophy and philosophy readers alike, making the case to prove that, in modern society, philosophy can still be relevant and, indeed, is an intrinsic part of how we look at life and absorb its icons of culture.

The Comix/Graphic Novel Shelf

Destroyer Duck: Graphite Edition
Jack Kirby & Steve Gerber
TwoMorrows Publishing
10407 Bedfordtown Drive, Raleigh, NC 27614
9781605491172, $31.95

Destroyer Duck: Graphite Edition is a revealing and satirical survey of the legal battle writer Steve Gerber found himself in against Marvel Comics over the ownership of his creation Howard the Duck. He tapped artist Jack Kirby to contribute to a benefit comic called Destroyer Duck, and thus a five-issue biting attack was created which is reproduced here, relettered from Kirby's pencil art and featuring examples contrasting Alfredo Alcala's inking style over Kirby's on original issues, Gerber's scripts and plots, and more. Authoritative collections on comic book history need this survey, which covers the hidden jabs in Destroyer Duck and reproduces Kirby's pencil art in a black and white celebration of both art and efforts to foster creative license and freedom. Definitive comic book history collectors and libraries should consider this a mainstay of historic import.

The Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Stan Charnofsky
Hawkshaw Press
9781957224077, $14.99 Paper, $4.99 ebook

Cozy mystery readers may recognize Stan Charnofsky's name from the prior Charlotte Smart stories, and will be delighted to find this third book in the series also cultivates a special flavor of discovery that brings its characters and setting to life. Broadway Farivar is a devotee of Charlotte. The son of immigrant parents, he and his sister Brooklyn were on the road to success when their train derailed, causing Charlotte's investigative skills to enter the picture.

Broadway is determined to find answers to his sister's dilemmas at all costs. Charlotte, used to a small-town atmosphere, finds the call to enter New York's milieu both alluring and challenging. Can small-town detective skills translate to solving a family's pressing questions in the Big Apple? Charlotte may have bitten off more than she can chew, because the combination of unfamiliar territory and a family who only knows her via a newspaper article create a perfect storm of challenge to her instincts and abilities as they translate to appearances on a bigger stage than she's ever imagined.

As Detective Cavanaugh and Charlotte Smart turn up clues about Brooklyn's deadly accident, they stumble into subcultures that range from immigrant communities to counter-culture enclaves, all operating in New York's underworld and each holding answers that work together to create the puzzle's bigger picture.

Author Stan Charnofsky crafts a sultry, revealing tone in his story that immerses readers in Charlotte's sleuthing abilities and the backdrop of New York City. He takes the time to test the interplays between various characters, from brother and sister to Charlotte's intuitive intelligence, which gets " the heart of an issue, tear away the cobwebs, ignore the superfluous." Charlotte uncovers more than one crime, and her instincts lead her into uncharted territory to give the story a special atmosphere of discovery that will surprise even avid cozy mystery fans.

Whether or not libraries have the prior Charlotte Smart books in their collections, Broadway both supports this savvy investigator's professional and personal evolution and stands nicely alone as a solid cozy mystery attraction. In the end, Charlotte's realizations about her choices are powerful portents of endings and new beginnings: "Now it is resolved, and, yes, there is an empty feeling, as there is after a war is won, after a race is over, when a compelling piece of theater ends. Challenge gone. Something larger than yourself had a life of its own and now has died.

Uncovering material and the intricate details of the conundrum are no longer required. Thank goodness for being an optimist, for viewing endings as opportunities. As they say, a door closes and a window opens." Will Charlotte use her remarkable skills and discoveries to change her life yet again?

Cozy mystery readers are in for a treat, both with the mystery component developed in Broadway and its vision of how detective skills change lives. Its ability to build strong characters who step out of their familiar roles to tackle unprecedented issues makes for a riveting story that's hard to put down, powered by the attraction of a small-town investigator operating in big-city environments of stage productions and an older female detective who is faced with either retirement or developing more skills to address ongoing mysteries.

The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf

Baen Books

Tim Akers's Wraithbound (9781982192556, $18.00) provides dark fantasy readers with a Spiritbinder saga which is replete in epic fantasy adventure and highly recommended both for prior Akers fans and newcomers to his works. This first book in a series follows the dreams of young Rae Kelthannis to become a stormbinder like his father, whose reputation experiences blows that cause the family to be banned to the edge of the Ordered World. Rae decides to defy his fathers orders and enter into his own effort to fulfill his destiny, but his inexperience leads him to become conjoined not with an air elemental that would lend him stormbinding powers, but a wraith with dangerous powers and unknown purposes. The adventure is tense, unpredictable, and thoroughly engrossing as Rae steps into his destiny and uncharted territory.

Escape Orbit: The Unknown Awaits by Patrick Chiles (9781982192549, $18.00) tells of a lost astronaut's return from space when his ship suddenly reappears five years later. How did he survive, and how can he continue to survive when his life support is running out? Jack's former crewmate Traci is determined to rescue him, but agencies with special interests in Jack's fate also become involved and a tangled situation emerges to test both of their lives.

Both of these new Baen Books science fiction titles are powerful adventure stories that lead characters to more closely examine their callings, efforts, and the mysterious forces that influence their futures, and deserve a place in any sci-fi library.

James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Diane C. Donovan, Editor
Midwest Book Review
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Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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