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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 19, Number 4 April 2019 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Reviewer's Choice Andrea's Bookshelf Ann's Bookshelf
Bethany's Bookshelf Buhle's Bookshelf Burroughs' Bookshelf
Carson's Bookshelf Clint's Bookshelf Gail's Bookshelf
Grace's Bookshelf Julie's Bookshelf Logan's Bookshelf
Margaret's Bookshelf Mari's Bookshelf Mason's Bookshelf
Messenger's Bookshelf Molly's Bookshelf Pedro's Bookshelf
Robin's Bookshelf Suanne's Bookshelf Susan's Bookshelf

Reviewer's Choice

Persimmon Takes On Humanity
Christopher Locke
Fathoming Press
P.O. Box 5362 Torrance, CA 90510
9780990419709, $14.95, PB, 484pp,

Katie Vann

Every Middle and High School Classroom Around the World Should Be Reading This Book!

There's quite simply no other book like this. I remember clearly spending my own adolescence cheering on the rats of "Redwall," seeking justice with Atticus Finch, and wandering the jungles with Jane Goodall. There are books we read for enjoyment, others that we read for information, and then there are the select few that influence our beliefs in such a profound way that we never forget them. "Persimmon Takes on Humanity" is one of those books. It's able to accomplish a powerful thing: changing someone's perspective on the world. The writing in here is wonderful. The characters are lively and lovable. While adults will love it too, every middle and high school classroom around the world should be reading this book.

Texas Women and Ranching: On the Range, at the Rodeo, and in Their Communities
Deborah M. Liles and Cecilia Gutierrez Venable, eds.
Texas A&M University Press
TAMU Press
200 Lewis Street, College Station, TX 77840
9781623497392, $32.00, HC,

Kirk Bane

In the summer of 2016, Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls hosted a popular symposium, "Women Ranchers in Texas." Dr. Leland Turner, organizer of the conference, asserted, "These were women who could ride and work cattle. They were all living in a time and place when it was out of the ordinary to do what they did." This engaging book, ably edited by Tarleton State University Professor Deborah M. Liles and archivist Cecilia Gutierrez Venable, traces its genesis to the Midwestern meeting.

Comprised of an introduction and nine chapters, this volume covers a wide range of subjects. Topics include "Tejanas and Ranching: Maria Calvillo and Her Ranching Enterprises," "In Search of Lucinda: Women in the Cattle Industry in Early Texas," "Cornelia Adair: Transatlantic Panhandle Rancher," "Mabel Doss, Mary Ketchum Meredith, and the Texas Fence-Cutting Wars," and "Alice Gertrudis King Kleberg East: Loving the Land." The women discussed in this study "came from varied backgrounds, personal circumstances, and economic and educational levels, and enjoyed different levels of success, but each of them nonetheless made her mark on history and, in so doing, greatly enriched the ranching heritage of Texas." Readers may recognize many of the anthology's distinguished contributors, including Dr. Light Townsend Cummins (retired Guy M. Bryan Professor of History at Austin College and former State Historian, 2009-2012); Dr. Alex Hunt (Haley Professor of Western Studies at West Texas A&M University and founding director of the Center for the Study of the American West); and Dr. Jean A. Stuntz (Regents Professor of History at West Texas A&M University).

Texas Women and Ranching will appeal to a wide audience, including academics and lay historians interested in women's history, western history, and Lone Star history. In short, with this commendable publication, the editors and their impressive team of scholars have made a significant contribution in several fields.

The Magical Bluebird
Christine Hallowell, author
Serena Hallowell, illustrator
Mystic Pond Media
9780578418674, $13.99, PB, 37pp, Ages 4-10,

Paula Gendreau

A young boy, the beautiful art of origami and a pinch of magic are the setting for this story.

Christine Hallowell captures the imagination of young readers and parent alike. Her story is one of love and understanding for a child learning to accept and use true life values. Serena Hallowell's illustrations of the young character Oshi and is family bring this poignant story to life. This is a book to keep and read often.

PS. There is a surprise at the end of the story, easy instructions to make your own origami blue bird.

New Beginnings
Robyn Washington
Amazon Digital Services LLC
B079PWGLFM, $0.99, 164 pages

Suzie Housley

New beginnings start at the most unexpected times...

Colorado is famous when it comes to hunting season. People come from all parts of the country to try and land a prize trophy. The season is coming to a close with it being the last day. Nobody yet has been fortunate enough to land a prize elk. Just as the group is about to call it quits, they see a Zebra with a gold stomach. Their interest's restored - the hunt is on!

Jerry the Zebra has always had a way of predicting things before they occur. When he spots the hunters, he makes his way to the hills and enters into a mysterious cloud. Unbeknown to him his life is about to change.

A raccoon appears and announces he is in Serenity, the Kingdom for animals. Serenity is like no other land he has seen. There he learns that discovers that he is the son of King Leumah and that he possesses special powers. Will Jerry return to the land that is familiar to him? Or will he find a new life awaits him in Serenity?

Robyn Washington has written an enchanting novel! Her descriptive words and the beautiful illustrations bring the book to life in the reader's mind. This book overflows with a variety of life lessons. Each one will make you stop, think, and reflect on what is occurring. Books like this are a rare jewel, they are ones that are treasured for many generations to come.

The Last Suppers
Mandy Mikulencak
John Scognamiglio Books
c/o Kensington Publishing Corp.
119 West 40th Street, Floor 21, New York, NY 10018-2522
9781496710048, $15.95 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 304pp,

Marj Charlier, Reviewer

Ginny, the protagonist of The Last Suppers, is a cook in a penitentiary in Louisiana in the late 1950s. A woman who sees the humanity in everyone - even criminals destined for the state's electric chair - Ginny fought for the right to cook "last suppers" for death row inmates over the state prison board's objections. Ginny's own father was killed and his accused murderer electrocuted when Ginny was only eight years old, and her mother dragged her to view the execution. The prisoner's pleas of innocence on the chair haunts Ginny, and she seeks comfort from her trauma in the arms (and bed) of the warden, who was her father's best friend. He gives her permission to cook last suppers for the men headed for execution, a concession that puts his own job in jeopardy.

Called "a haunting study of race relations, compassion and mystery" by the Literary Journal (which gave the book a starred review), I expected Ginny - or some major character in the novel - to experience an epiphany or a transformation in racial prejudice or sympathies through this novel, but the book is not about that. Ginny is not color-blind, but her empathy for the prisoners is from the beginning. And none of the other characters change their stripes either, regardless of how they feel about race.

Instead, this is a period piece that evokes a sense of the pervasive racism of its place and time, and the central story is the mystery about who really killed her father. Although it's nicely plotted, the answer to the mystery will be obvious to most readers about a third of the way through the book.

While I generally don't care for mysteries with answers that are obvious from the start, that wasn't the novel's main flaw in my opinion. The main trouble with it is the stereotypical nature of the four (five, if you count the dead father) characters at the center of the novel: the young woman who suffers from early trauma and can't let anyone "in"; the tough warden with the heart of gold who can't express his feelings; the mean mother who never comforted her child; and the bigger-than-life African-American assistant cook with a smart mouth and a motherly instinct. If this hadn't been a book-club choice I felt compelled to finish, I would have stopped early into the book. I still would have known who killed Ginny's father, and I could have moved on to a real mystery much sooner.

All that said, Mikulencak is an engaging writer who keeps her narrative moving in a pleasantly linear and fast-paced fashion. She (rightly or wrongly) keeps most of the grit and violence of a Southern, mid-century prison at a distance, which makes the novel feel a little too easy to digest for its subject matter, but for a quick beach or plane read, this will satisfy and may even bring a tear to the eye.

Is God in That Bottle Cap? A Search for Truth
John D. Sambalino
Vanishing Circle Press
9781732657809, $16.95 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 284pp,

Self-Publishing Review

In Is God in That Bottle Cap? A Search for Truth, a lawyer writes about spirituality in an engaging combination of autobiography and philosophical treatise.

Beginning as a child who resisted having to eat fish on Friday, to his adulthood as a world-traveler who sees that God is found not so much in precepts as in experience, John D. Sambalino has always been seeking truth, and so conveys a sense of exploration that is fortunately free from self-congratulation. The first glimmers of this search came with his interest in martial arts and the understanding that such physical practices have their roots in spiritual discipline. An early transcendent experience in which reality seemed to stand still while he was one with everything around him convinced him that there was a goal to be sought.

Studying engineering at university, he soon realized he must choose a career that would allow him to travel and pursue higher realities. He switched to a degree in finance, and ultimately became a lawyer, married his youthful sweetheart, had children, but never really "settled down." Though that path may seem less spiritual on the surface, it is this story that makes it more accessible to the everyday reader. Sambalino is not a lone monk sitting on a mountaintop, but someone who has tried to mix spiritual discipline with modern life. Almost every year, in addition to work and faithful daily meditation practice, he made time to go to spiritual conclaves, take rigorous meditation courses, and travel - to India, Egypt, Nepal - and delve ever deeper into his inner landscape.

In this way, Sambalino's book is part travel memoir, which is where the book becomes most alive. Traversing the Himalayas, visiting the site of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's one-time ashram, even lying still and corpselike inside the Great Pyramid, Sambalino has embraced each opportunity to understand who and what truth is, and who and what he himself is and might become. He introduces his audience to numerous masters and their spiritual pathways: Sri Ramana Maharshi, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Paramahansa Yogananda, and of course, Jesus, Krishna and Buddha. All in all, the memoir is more informative than the typical work about a spiritual journey.

Sambalino's writing is intelligent and at times humorous, despite its heavy subject matter. The book is not a strict work of self-help, though Sambalino does exhort his readers to abide by many of these precepts, but he is careful to stress that all such advice and apparent wisdom offered in all the holy books of the world will not reveal the truth, which is, he says, "no where, yet every where." This is refreshing in a field with books that are overloaded with authors claiming "I have the answer." He leaves left few stones unturned in his search for what he calls "beingness" - but, as he emphasizes, that beingness is a quality or experience that can't be explained or completely understood by reading or thinking.

Obviously composed to help others make their way to the truth, Is God in That Bottle Cap? presents the example of one man's striving, some of it seemingly haphazard, much of it sincerely aimed at an ultimate goal. By showing himself to be a regular guy gradually growing into this knowledge, Sambalino offers readers hope of success in their own personal journeys.

Self-Publishing Review 4 stars

The Beast of Rose Valley (Lorestalker #1)
J.P. Barnett
Evolved Publishing
1622530713, $14.95 PP
1622530705, $14.95 Kindle, 276pp

K.J Simmill, Reviewer
Readers' Favorite Book Reviews
Rating: 5 stars

Some towns are built on secrets, and its people remain blissfully unaware of what has passed and the monsters forged by their actions. Rose Valley is no different. Time is meant to heal wounds but sometimes, if left untreated, wounds can fester. When a string of livestock killings escalates into sightings of a strange beast, Jake decides to investigate. The local sheriff is spinning a tale of coyotes, but only the naive would buy into such a tale. The truth is, this has happened before. Years ago a similar wave of killings occurred, only this time the pattern is escalating. Livestock aren't the only animals that should live in fear; humans are on its radar now, and they'd best beware.

The Beast of Rose Valley: Lorestalker #1 by J.P. Barnett reminded me of a cross between the old Friday night creature features and the TV series The Chronicle. I really enjoyed the initial slow pacing which allowed J.P. Barnett to set the scene for things to come, as well as giving us an insight into the integral characters' pasts; be they revealed directly through their story arc or as interactions with some of the supporting characters. The deep and evolving characters give the cast members a real feeling to them as they slowly change, not only as individuals, but as the relationships between them grow and alter as would be expected.

It was fun watching the characters dig through old articles and histories to connect past events to the current situation and try to understand its escalation. Intrigue, curiosity, surprises, and the depth of the plot will keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering if they will understand all they need to, and be able to use it in order to save those they care for. As the first book in the Lorestalker series, The Beast of Rose Valley certainly sets a high bar for those to follow, and I look forward to future adventures.

Bay State Skye
Janice S.C. Petrie
Seatales Publishing Company
9780970551047, $14.99 PB, $4.99 Kindle, 298pp,

Publishers Weekly

Petrie's entertaining novel is based on the real story of the Bay State Skye, a ship found floating empty, its crew lost to the sea, near Gloucester, Mass.

In August 1990, Brothers Jimmy and Murph Sweeney are headed to port aboard their lobster boat when they come across the Bay State Skye, awkwardly circling outside the Gloucester breakwater. When they pull alongside, they find that its owner and crew are nowhere to be found, presumed lost at sea. The Sweeneys also note that the boat had been dragging inside state limits, which is illegal, and has gathered hundreds of pounds more than the legal limit of 100 pounds of lobster.

The illegal fishing has also damaged the equipment of lobsterman Johnny Higgins, who could be financially devastated by the loss, but it helps to unite his community in a fund-raiser for him. The fish and lobster catch from the Bay State Skye is brought to market, but when bouts of bad luck and unfortunate events follow various transactions, including sales losses due to shipping accidents, the fisherman begin to believe the catch is cursed.

Petrie's novel includes fascinating details about both the fishing industry and market; readers will find themselves caught up in the stormy excitement and the tantalizing touch of mystery. (BookLife)

Enemy of the Human Race
Henry Balogun
Page Publishing
9781643506104, $21.95 PB, $7.99 Kindle, 164pp,

The International Review of Books

Which line stood out from all the others in the book?

Hate will, in the end, consume and destroy the one who harbors hate. It does not matter what kind of reward you think God is going to shower you with in heaven or what you think you would get for the killing, the persecution, inflicting pain, and making life difficult for all of God's children!

General Summary for Context:

It is hate in its many forms (pride, greed, abuse) that will destroy the human race. While hate grows and is written off or simply ignored, a populism grows that brings forth leaders feed the fears of others. Religion also has a role to play as a force against hate. "When the man of God is no longer the man of God, politics and secular teachings creep in - morality, the truth, and the power of prayer takes the backseat. The church then becomes almost like a club of like-minded people but still retains the appearance of the house of God."

Concise Review:

Balogun's voice rings out like a southern Evangelical preacher on a fifty thousand watt radio station. Hate grows when fears, false history, racial superiority, and messages go unchallenged. Hate expands when leaders use these fears as a form of populism and capitalize on amplifying the same hatred. Lies are repeated so many times without shame that they are accepted as truth.

Even religion is not spared in Balogun's fiery and fact-filled presentation. Enemy of the Human Race is a book that cuts deep into the problem of hate and its methods. It does more than describe the problem; it presents a cure.

General thoughts on the Novel:

Very unique in its message and tone. Something that self-described conservatives would have difficulty in ignoring with the Christian overtones. The fiery tone works well with the message and tying religion, Christianity, into the message should appeal to a large portion of the population. Also, the use of Christianity seems almost weaponized to fight hate.

Star Marque Rising
Shami Stovall
Capital Station Books
9780998045207, $14.99 PB, $4.99 Kindle, 433pp,


Barnes & Noble:

Apple iTunes:


The Prairies Book Review

Tightly written, succinct, stunning, and at times moving, Star Marque Rising is a fascinating read.

Clevon Demarco, a genetically modified human with his brilliant combat skills, is a small-time thug and has only one dream in his life: to leave Capital One, a shoddy space station where he has spent all his youth, and live a carefree life on any free planet. Captain Endellion Voight, captain of the notorious Star Marque is highly ambitious and has set her eyes on the position of a planet governor, a title no human has held since the superhumans won the war. She offers Demarco a position at her starship in exchange of a pardon for his past crimes. Demarco accepts the offer and join the crew at the star ship only to climb to rank of the ship's vice captain in no time. Voight who's determined to achieve her goal and is ready to pay any price, has no qualms indulging in various exploitations - extortion, assassinations, thefts. Demarco, a man with a flexible moral compass has no trouble bending the rules, but how much is too much and when exactly to stop?

The pace of the book is fast and the characterization thorough. Without elaborate wordplay, Stovall manages to communicate the humane side of her characters. The snappish relationships between Demarco and some crew members; Lysander and Sawyer on the Star Marque is wryly depicted. The various missions they attend during their time on the star ship make for a fascinating read (as an action adventure and an intellectually stimulating premise).

Since humans were the first ones to create superhumans and are now condemned to live as inferior beings forever, the continuous advancement of genetic engineering and practices raises moral questions: is it right to attempt therapeutic genetic modification in case of human genes where a defect exists? Would it be equally cruel to leave those individuals to their own means (Mara, for example)? Stovall explores these issues in an intriguing story supported by seamless writing.

The novelization is solid and to the point. Two-third into the book, and the reader could sense impending doom long before the characters do, but the real significance and consequences of the approaching events will come out as a shocker.

A thrilling read!

"i am Elephant, i am Butterfly"
Leslie Tall Manning
Leslie Tall Manning, Publisher
9780960017713, $14.00 Paperback, 308pp
B07KSJC3W7 $2.99 Kindle,

Padgett Gerler, Reviewer
Author of "What Does Love Sound Like?"

Synopsis: When sixteen-year-old Simone Wheeler is accepted into the elite Camp Kamama for obese girls, she unearths a diary belonging to a beautiful girl from the despised Camp Felina across the lake. But Phoebe the Felina has done more than scribble words in a journal: she has carved a cryptic path that Simone must follow - no matter what the consequences.

Critique: No one writes teen angst and emotion like Leslie Tall Manning. After much success with her young adult novel, "Upside Down in a Laura Ingalls Town", Leslie Tall Manning follows with her equally moving new work, "i am Elephant, i am Butterfly".

This touching, insightful novel follows wounded (Aren't all teenagers?) Simone to Camp Kamama, where she meets other equally wounded girls. It is at Camp Kamama that Simone and her campmates learn to trust, share, and heal through life changes. Leslie Tall Manning writes from the heart, holding back nothing. I felt all the pain, anger, confusion, and joy of each teenage girl at Camp Kamama and its neighboring Camp Felina trying to understand herself.

Though written for a young adult audience, "i am Elephant, i am Butterfly" is for everyone -- because we have all been a Simone.

Visits and Passages
Carol Smallwood
Finishing Line Press
9781635348002; $18.99, PB, 134pp

Aline Souls

In Visits and Passages, Carol Smallwood not only writes in multiple formats (short stories, diaries, fantasy, poetry, and others), she offers her explorations of everything from the color pink to a letter to God. All come from the heart of American life. As Roland Barksdale-Hall notes: "Smallwood paints with delicate strokes a splendid cornucopia of lyrical ruminations on family, nature, literature and places."

In her first piece, "A Visit from Caesar's Wife", Smallwood writes: "Avon made me feel a part of things: it was as American as McDonald's, the Fourth of July, or the Reader's Digest." This sets the tone of the entire eclectic collection and the evolution of her world.

In her memoir about a relative, she recalls Christmas in Poland where the table was set with hay under the tablecloth, the common shepherd who was fed in turn by each villager, the swing used by the whole village, and a beautiful brook where the author waded. It's a far cry from a family that grew flax, spun linen thread, and made cloth on a loom to the modern American woman who later writes a piece called Wendy's where she read the Canterbury Tales over chili, a baked potato, and a senior Diet Pepsi, and observed tabloid headlines like "3500-Year-Old Mummy Gives Birth." A woman who observes the humanity around her, wondering if a young teenage couple in line will turn into another couple with kids at a back table.

Interspersed among the prose are poems of memoir and reflection. The poem, "A Lace Piece," ponders the fragile beauty of lace, its history, its universality, its grace. In "Grandmother Said," she mixes a memoir of her grandmother with the universality of sewing with needle and thread, possessions her grandmother obviously valued greatly as social objects that addressed loneliness. As Su Epstein notes: "A picture may paint a thousand words, but Carol Smallwood's words paint a million images." Mary Langer Thompson calls Smallwood "a keen observer collecting fragments that make up a life."

The author raises questions: "What is our definition of home?" she asks in "Home." In "A Letter to God, Revised," she asks, "Why such an odd world of 71% water, a round planet rotating around a boiling star with a moon also held by gravity?" She can question all she wants, but she still has to form an opinion. In her "Dear Diary" section, she lists essay topics for class, which are often questions in another form, for example, "The Importance (or Lack Thereof) of Knowing Why the Sky is Blue."

The author ends the collection with an epilogue, a poem called "Passage," which she starts with "summer ice, pleasure of the moment: / proof of time's passage" and ends with "evaporation could be measured / if there were days enough - /but ice has many forms." The momentary nature of time and the multiplicity of forms, whether of ice or passages, makes this a universal collection.

Editorial Note: Reviewer Aline Soules' work has appeared in such publications as Literature of the Expanding Frontier, Kenyon Review, Houston Literary Review, and Poetry Midwest.

The Necessaries: Stories
Misty Urban
Paradisiac Publishing
978069270655-8, $12.99 PB, 143pp,

Jodie Toohey

The thirteen installments in Misty Urban's The Necessaries: Stories take readers on a journey through the human experience with all of its varied heartbreak and universal desires: death, disease, love, connection, and belonging. Regardless of the time available for reading, there's a story in this book that will fit, from the super-condensed page and a quarter to a near-novella sized fifty-three pages, with various lengths in between. Each of the thirteen stories features fully-formed, nuanced, and distinct characters, each with his or her own personality, ambition, voice, and story to tell. Themes include dealing with a loved one's failing health, the blurred line between sanity and insanity, taking risks, finding love, leading a nation, accepting the way things are, letting go, hanging on, and figuring out who you are. All of it is done in Ms. Urban's poetic style, literary language, and detailed descriptions, which leave you feeling like you are there, witnessing, and forever carrying these characters with you, regardless of the length of time spent with them in the book's pages.

Nomad's Island
Derek E. Keeling
Dare Ric Media
9781792784538, $14.99 PB, 163pp, $2.99 Kindle,

Edward J. Gordon, Reviewer

"Nomad's Island" by Derek Keeling (author of "The Umbras") is a study in existential isolation. It begins with the main character, Damon, a twenty-three-year-old man in search of adventure in his life. He doesn't want the kinds of pseudo-adventures people have, like hiking in the wilderness with a satellite phone, or camping on a beach with a grocery store just walking distance away. Rather, Damon is looking for a true adventure. He's looking for one where the reward is a fantasy of a lifetime, and the risk is quite possibly his own death.

He sets out to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. On the way, the plane crashes and Damon is forced to survive for years on a deserted island that he never planned for. While there, he meets the love of his life, a girl called Willow, who was apparently stranded some time before him.

What he encounters, what he goes through mentally, how she helps him cope, and how their love grows deeper than anything he has ever known, sets up the tragedy of this story. In the end, we are forced to answer what makes a thing real. Can a human being really be an island unto themselves and survive psychologically?

The story borrows from other notable stories of the same theme and genre, namely: "The Beach" (starring Leonardo DiCaprio), "Castaway" (starring Tom Hanks), and even William Golding's novel "Lord of the Flies." But it stands clearly on its own in the suspense of the plot, the twist in the end, and the deep philosophical conflict between isolation vs. the need to connect with others. It's a deep work, with richly symbolic and metaphorical elements (a discussion of which is beyond the scope of this review), and it is beautifully written on top of that.

Like many independently published books, this one suffers for lack of a good proofreading; however, the little punctuation and grammar mistakes do not detract from the overall wordsmithing of an obviously talented writer and the compelling nature of the story that Keeling has written.

Abidance: A Memoir of Love and Inevitability
Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad
Mulberry Hill Press
9780963713902, $16.00 PB, 180pp,

Anne Rankin Mahoney, PhD, Reviewer
Professor Emeritus in Sociology, University of Denver
Co-editor of "Couples, Gender, and Power"

"Lois and Les had been married 64 years - still crazy in love - when they found themselves in a sudden transition from the category of active-old to old-old. This remarkable story of their next five years describes their ongoing effort to maintain their lifelong egalitarian love affair as they cope with health changes.

Hjelmstad, in her lyrical prose and poetry, gives us a rare - sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, but always realistic - view of life from the parallel universe of the old-old. This is a story we rarely hear. It is a book for all of us, and a must for health care professionals with older clients."

Reinventing Hillwilla
Melanie Forde
Mountain Lake Press
9781730785498, $15.95 PB, $7.99 Kindle, 339pp,

Virginia Williams, Reviewer

"Oh, mercy! Sucked in immediately in the prologue when you realize you are reading the POV of an English setter, beloved dog, and pack leader of the llamas (Ralph's Pack) gracing this farm, it's impossible not to continue reading. Then I was devastated when I realized that Ralph had passed away. NOOO...

Still, protagonist Beatrice Desmond is such a powerful, torn, and emotive character that the pages turn themselves as you become totally lost in the hollow in Seneca County, West Virginia. There is a divide in West Virginia. Between the "born-heres" and the "come-heres." Beatrice falls in the latter and tends her animals. Clara Buckhalter, at thirteen and a product of a destructive family life, connected however remotely to Beatrice, had come to live with Beatrice temporarily. As these things sometimes evolve, temporary becomes permanent with Beatrice taking full charge of loving mother duties, something Clara had not received from her own mother. Now Clara is at Beatrice's alma mater on a scholarship. Beatrice is thrilled and proud, but lonely.

In the meantime, Beatrice continues to wrestle with the proposal of marriage from globe-trotting Tanner Fordyce, off on yet another mission while Beatrice works out of her home office telecommuting as a translator and editor. Unfortunately, her old boss is gone and the new one isn't working out - for Beatrice. Tanner, like Beatrice, had experienced a less than stellar childhood of Irish roots, Beatrice's family from Boston. Tanner often harkens to the ancient Irish endearment "mo mhuirnin" (my darling) when signing off on his long distance calls.

The author weaves in the artful and knowledgeable handling of the llamas as Beatrice begins to experience strange happenings around the farm. She desperately misses Ralph, who would have alerted her to anyone on her property, but she does take security measures.

Clara's mother is written as a despot; beyond comprehension how she could treat her daughter as she does, and creates a tension building conflict when Clara is left on the farm alone. (Beatrice has had to leave temporarily.) Clara is young, naive, and sure her own mother could not willfully scheme against her or Beatrice, although it's difficult to imagine how she could not, knowing her mother's past deeds. The character produces a glut of protracted revulsion and sets the reader on edge, anxious to perceive how the author will produce a satisfactory remedy. In the meantime, it's easy to get incredibly angry with Clara for not understanding Beatrice is the "real" mother here, protecting her even against her wishes.

The well-paced, well-plotted story creates that bond with characters struggling through discordance with others, the loneliness, catastrophic illness, coming of age, long-distance romance, and the struggles of survival in harsh, bitter winter conditions. The dialogue is natural and believable, the characters fleshed so well, you cheer for the little triumphs and wish Clara were close enough to slap her up long-side the head. She's eighteen now! Get a grip! And Ralph, even I missed him. Or maybe not - didn't we see him - once or twice?

A unique story for me! The animals are sweet. Then the plummet and anger, followed by a glimmer of hope. Emotions pulling one way, then the other. And always, always, wondering when or how is she going to get another dog? (You can't replace a Ralph. Hubby and I also had one - a yellow lab - too smart for us but we loved him.) The author has an intelligent, articulate writing style that pops with little glimmers of Irish humor. The satisfying conclusion closes the trilogy. This is the first I'd read of the trilogy, but had no problem reading as a standalone.

I was given this ebook download by the author through Sage's Blog Tours for a read and review and absolutely loved the book! It's an amazing read - totally recommended."

The Gift of the Seer
K. B. Laugheed
KB Laugheed, Publisher
9781732886216, #29.99, Hardback, 361pp
9781732886209, $18.00, 401pp
B07L7FHTFC, $7.99, Kindle, 308pp,

Thomas Anderson, Reviewer
Literary Titan -- 4 Stars

When you tire of the overload of digital and technology tools within our 2019 era, K.B. Laugheed's The Gift of the Seer will expedite time travel back with you, and this author will have you writing with a feathered quill by the end of this literary journey! Put on your cultural anthropologist boots and allow this novel to cleverly weave historical yet fantastical plot elements, interestingly complex characters, and a rugged setting that will definitely transport and immerse readers. You will face cultural nuances, norms, spiritual beliefs, worldviews, philosophies, goals, life lessons, conflicts, natural connections, romances, and myriads of adventures via an Indian perspective. Our protagonist, Katie, provides uncensored reflections and stories spanning from the years 1748-1778. Yet Katie, the book's protagonist, is not the docile, silent, subjugated, stereotypical, domesticated wife and mother that many heroines from her time era typically portray. Instead, she is a literary and cultural badass-think Katniss from The Hunger Games -but Katie encompasses more maturity, carnal pleasures, and complexities as a woman struggling to survive among different cultures, determined to sustain her love for her husband against all odds, and abandoning the feelings of guilt and condemnation based on her feeling that she's living a big lie!

In short, adventures, dangers, thrills, and chills will bombard you on every page. Yet instead of feeling defeated and exhausted, you will experience the triumphs and evolution, right alongside Katie, as if you were a passenger in her canoe! The book is brilliant in terms of its vivid, sensory details that paint a no-nonsense picture of life during this era. The characters also conjure feelings of fables and folk tales via the author's unique, authentic style. At times, I noticed hints of magical realism, which further add pizazz to this riveting book. While there are so many positive qualities about this book, especially the way in which the author develops her vast array of characters and executes her dramatic dialogue, all with cultural relevance and sensitivity, I was a bit overwhelmed with the plethora of social, historical, political, cultural, marital problems and themes that she tries to address all at once. At times it was slightly too ambitious for me to keep track of all the family members, neighbors, friends, and foes. Although they are important, especially to comprehend the larger scope of the historical fiction milieu, some of the symbols were slightly perplexing and some plot events were mentioned but not fully explained.

All in all, because readers can sense the imminent danger on every page, as evident from the great use of foreshadowing and cautionary notes to build suspense throughout the text, as in "til the ocean wave of Colonists comes crashing down upon us - then we will see which of us is right," We not only learn cultural and historical information through characters with real vulnerability and authenticity, but we also find solace in our own journeys about how to fit into this world and all its challenges! We obtain a true sense of empowerment within this challenging piece of art. Try this time travelling and cultural anthropological plight by K.B. Laugheed in The Gift of the Seer!

Challenges of The Gods
C. Hofsetz
The Wild Rose Press
P.O. Box 708, Adams Basin, NY 14410-0708.
9781509224326, $16.99, PB, 374pp
9781509224333, $5.99, Kindle,

Grant Leishman, Reviewer
Readers' Favorite

Challenges of the Gods by C. Hofsetz is a fantasy/science fiction adventure that takes us into the world of Pangea that exists in the minds of its inhabitants and can only be visited when asleep. Here, in this quasi-heaven exist the gods and their messengers. When Mike discovers himself in Pangea, he is confronted with the realization that his beloved Earth is under threat and he has been chosen by the messengers to be the one to ensure that his planet and civilization endure. Unfortunately, in order to achieve this, Mike must destroy another Earth planet and its population that exist in this multiverse and is the equivalent planet to his own. Somehow Mike must battle his moral qualms and act decisively to save civilization, but what he doesn't bank on is his inherent morality and the relationships he develops in this new world, which interfere with his decision making.

The basic construct of Challenges of the Gods was uniquely exciting to me as a reader. The initial little twist that was revealed over Mike's origins was enough to suck me into the story completely. Author C. Hofsetz has created a twin reality that at times threatened to spill over into confusion. The idea of one mind with two different bodies, depending on where Mike was, had the potential to be confusing to the reader, but I thought the author did an excellent job of keeping the narrative on track and the reader informed. The character of Mike was well written and his relationships and interactions with his friends Ravi, Jane and the others was the key to a good story and a thought-provoking read. Many of the issues faced by Mike were not dissimilar to those being faced today, with blind obedience to a cult-like personality figure being uppermost of those. I thoroughly enjoyed this fresh and exciting read and can highly recommend it to all lovers of fantasy and science fiction.

Voting With a Porpoise
Russell Glass and Sean Callahan
Books With a Porpoise
9781732745407, $24.99 HC
9781732745414, $14.99, 32pp.
$9.99 Kindle,

Steff Pasciuti, Reviewer

With simple and catchy rhymes, Sean Callahan and Russell Glass' Voting With a Porpoise is one of the most important children's books that I've seen published lately. Using captivating illustrations and a clever story to entice children into understanding the importance of voting so that one day, when they're old enough, they will not succumb to the unfortunate habit many people have today of not going to vote.

The dolphins and the porpoise have all lost their food and have to decide whether to move in order to find some or to remain where they have always been and simply hope that the food returns. Two dolphins on opposing sides argue their positions and rather quickly the idea of having an election is proposed. And so they do.

This book is told with rhymes, which I enjoyed, but I definitely enjoyed the overall message of the story more. Voting is important. Otherwise we may be stuck with situations and lives that we don't want. The book's commentary on the importance of elections, the horror of the trash dump into the sea, and the fact that it provides parents with information they can use to set their children up for a healthy future make this book one worth buying for your children.

The only complaint I really have is about the text placement, which occasionally covered parts of the illustrations that I felt it shouldn't. But that is quite menial in comparison to how much this book will help young minds. And an exciting thing about this book is that the proceeds will be going to non-partisan organizations that work to increase voter turn out.

Editorial Note: The authors created this book to help change the culture around elections and voting. To that end, 100 percent of the profits for Voting With a Porpoise will be donated to 501(c)(3) non-partisan voting-related causes focused on getting more people of all backgrounds to the polls, such as Rock the Vote,, TurboVote, and others.

The Size of Everything: a memoir
Erin Cole with Jenna McCarthy
Bella Luna Press
P.O. Box 215 Santa Barbara, CA 93102
0979913519, $17.95 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 386pp,

Carla Rohlfing Levy, Reviewer
Editor-at-Large, Features and Books, Good Housekeeping

"I've been raving like a maniac about this book ever since I read it. I haven't seen a memoir this compelling and inspirational since The Glass Castle."

A Family Garden
Frank Zajaczkowski
Lincoln Imp Publishing
1728771595, $10.49 PB, 259pp, $2.99 Kindle, $7.49 Audiobook

Amy Shannon, Reviewer
Bookshelf Reviews

5 Star Review - Wonderfully magnetic story!

Zajaczkowski pens a magnificent story in A Family Garden. This is the first book of Zajaczkowski that I've read, and I found that this author is a wonderful story teller. The characters are vivid and full of depth, and much of this story is emotionally charged. The reader is taken on the journey and gains a sense of family and triumph, as well as dealing with obstacles and pain. It's a story that takes the reader back in time, as the narrator of the story tells the perspective of one of the characters, Chris. It's a remarkable journey when the past feels incomplete and unresolved, but there is a major task at hand, a new adventure, journey, a dangerous journey. I was on the edge of my seat, and I liked how it was all put together. A real page-turner. I look forward to reading more by this author.

Andrea's Bookshelf

Defining You
Fiona Murden
Nicholas Brealey Publishing
9781473668386, $24.95, HC, 272pp,

Author Fiona Murden has a BSc in Psychology from Warwick University, a Master of Arts in Organizational Studies from Warwick University Business School and a Master of Science in Psychology, gained with distinction, from the University of London. She lectures widely at academic and city institutions. Fiona Murden helps some of the most successful people in the world to understand their behavior and improve their performance. In "Defining You: How to profile yourself and unlock your full potential " she draws upon her years of experience and expertise to guide her readers through the professional profiling assessment process in private, to help them discover their strengths, understand what really drives them, as well learn which environments will help them to excel. Expertly organized and presented, "Defining You" is impressively informative and thoroughly 'user friendly' throughout. While appropriate and unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Self-Help/Self-Improvement instructional reference collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Defining You" is also available in a paperback edition (9781473668409, $9.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.99).

Sophie Johnson, Unicorn Expert
Morag Hood, author
Ella Okstad, illustrator
c/o Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 4th floor, New York, NY 10020
9781534431614, $17.99, 32pp,

Sophie is a little girl who is a unicorn expert! She dresses up her toys, stuffed animals, and even her baby brother as unicorns! But living with enchanted animals can be tricky business. And Sophie is so caught up in teaching others that she fails to notice the magic right under her nose. "Sophie Johnson, Unicorn Expert" by the team of author Morag hood and illustrator Ella Okstad is funny and fresh picture book for children ages 4-8 that tells the wonderfully charming and entertaining story of a unicorn hiding in plain sight and a little girl who is totally oblivious to his presence! While especially recommended for family, daycare center, preschool, elementary school, and community library picture book collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Sophie Johnson, Unicorn Expert" is also available in a paperback edition (9781471145629, $10.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.99).

Esther's Gragger
Martha Seif Simpson, author
D. Yael Bernhard, illustrator
Wisdom Tales
c/o World Wisdom
1501 East Hillside Drive, Bloomington, IN 47401
9781937786755, $16.95, HC, 40pp,

Young Esther has earned a special gragger (whirling noisemaker) by delivering charitable gifts on Purim, a Jewish holiday based on the story of Queen Esther. Now she is ready to carry her gragger in the festive Purim parade! Like the legendary Queen, Esther displays courage and wit when an older bully tries to steal her gragger. The lively cast of characters quibble and carouse in a bygone world of warmth, surprise, and generosity. There is even a parade for children only. The appendix helps readers understand the history of Purim, how it is celebrated today, what a "gragger" is, and how to make a simple noisemaker. "Esther's Gragger: A Toyshop Tale of Purim" by author Martha Seif Simpson and illustrator Yael Bernhard is a picture book tale that is ideal for reading aloud for fun, also for teaching children ages 4-8 about the Jewish holiday of Purim. Entertaining and informative, "Esther's Gragger" is unreservedly recommended for family, daycare center, preschool, elementary school, and community library collections.

Andrea Kay

Ann's Bookshelf

Joan Silber
9781640091139, $16.95 pbk / $7.48 Kindle

Well-known novelist, Rachel Cusk, claims that she does not think "character exists anymore" in novels, and that in a world full of transience and fragmentation it is difficult to represent real life in the way that has traditionally been done in linear narratives; see her 'conversation' with Alexandra Schwartz in the New Yorker

The novelist, therefore, now has to find new ways to represent real life.

Joan Silber's Improvement achieves this beautifully. There is no consistent, clear, linear story. Instead, there are lives linked by events, objects, relationships and casual encounters. Her characters reveal themselves through their thoughts, opinions and actions. Sometimes they speak for themselves, at other times the author is in control and describes their thoughts and feelings. All of Silber's people come alive through their actions and idiosyncrasies and all are completely believable characters.

We meet Reyna first and she appears at regular intervals throughout the book. She is a young, white, single mother living in Manhattan with her small son, Oliver. Her boy-friend, Boyd (not Oliver's father, although Oliver clearly adores him), is black and is on remand from Rykers Island penal institution: "I'd gone to see him once a week", Reyna tells us. "He was there for selling five ounces of weed (who thinks that should even be a crime?)". And at one point she describes the humiliating visiting rituals, the searches, the rules: "you couldn't wear anything too revealing - no rips or see-through...Visitors must wear undergarments".

Boyd clearly loves Reyna and Oliver but things change quickly when Boyd's friends begin to make money by running illegal cigarettes from Virginia to sell on the black market in Manhattan. Reyna's decision not to get involved has disastrous consequences for Boyd's friends and for her.

Meanwhile, we meet Reyna's older aunt, Kiki, whose 'hippy' style elopement from Istanbul with a Muslim Turkish carpet-seller, and then her return to the USA eight years later, intrigues Reyna. "Kiki had never been a practicing Muslim but she liked a lot of it", Reyna tells us. Kiki's family was from "a forward-thinking, leftish strain" of Jews so "no-one had any objections to her Turkish boy-friend". But when her boy-friend moved back to his home village to help his father raise pumpkins for their seed oil, and Kiki wrote to tell her family she was getting married, "They were surprised about that part. Were they invited to the wedding? Apparently not. In fact it had already happened by the time they go the letter".

"Kiki was always like a bird", says Rayna's father, who is Kiki's brother. "Flying here and there". "What a corny thing to say", thinks Rayna, but her own meetings and conversations with Kiki reveal much about both of them. Kiki, Reyna says, "used to try to get me to read this unreadable guy Averroes and also another one, Avicenna. Only my aunt would think someone like me could just dip into twelfth-century philosophy if I felt like it. She saw no reason why not".

But we also learn from the author about Kiki's life on a Turkish farm, and her experiences of being part of a Turkish family. Kiki speaks a little Turkish: no-one but her husband speaks English. "I know it is hard for you to imagine", Kiki writes to her family after they have sent her wedding presents including "a microwave oven, a Mister Coffee, an electric blanket for the cold mountains"...."but we do very well without electricity. Every morning I make a wood fire in the stove. Very good-smelling smoke. I make a little fire at the bottom of the water-heater, too". Yet we learn that the Turkish family scolded her "about the mistakes she made at first" and "each task required attention and the day was one task after another".

Other people become connected to Kiki and Reyna through happenstance. At the farm, Kiki meets and becomes friendly with three German tourists, Dieter, Bruno and Steffi, who are illegally collecting Turkish antiques to sell back home in Berlin. The character of each becomes apparent as they all interact and we learn something more of them later in the book when Dieter travels to New York and sees a cuneiform tablet in the gallery of Near Eastern Art at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art which he is sure is the one he sold in Berlin. Meanwhile, Bruno's daughter, Monika, unbeknown to him, has temporary work at the museum doing provenance research.

Another random connection is made as Monika chats to Lynette, who runs a beauty salon, and who was in love with Boyd's close friend Claude, one of the cigarette smugglers. Rayna, too, knows Lynette and feels guilty because she thinks she has caused the accidental death of Claude. And linking all these people, in accidental ways, are the old Turkish carpets which Kiki brought back with her to New York, one of which, she gave to Rayna.

On the last page of the book, Rayna imagines how one of the people we have got to know will react to something she (Rayna) has secretly done. "I was making it up but it gave me great pleasure, and it wasn't all that far from whatever happened".

In many ways this sums up the book. Joan Silber is making it up, but her characters are believable and all their actions are, too, so it is probably not far from whatever can and does happen in real life.

As a novel, Improvement is a fine example of contemporary novel-writing. It is skillfully structured, well-written, and the reader briefly shares fragments of the lives of its characters, whose thoughts, beliefs, actions, worries, guilt, ambitions and humour are wholly human and easily believable.

Improvement was winner of the 2018 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction.

Jessica North
Allen & Unwin
9781760527372, A$29.99, paperback, 277 pages

Do not be misled, as I was, by the cover of this book, which shows a young woman in a long, fashionably elegant, green gown gazing out from a hillside over the fledgling British settlement of Sydney, Australia. This image, and the large, single-name title, Esther, scrawled in flowing script across the cover suggests that the book is romantic fiction. It is not.

Instead, it is a carefully researched, largely true account of the life of a remarkable woman who, in 1786, at the age of sixteen, was sentenced to transportation to Australia and who, once there, rose through society to become the most prominent woman in the colony.

Jessica North documents the known facts of Esther's life relying on 'personal journals, letters, family and historical records, transcribed conversations' and the published work of other historians but she has, as she says, 'woven together the tapestry of Esther's life' from these sources and has imagined, invented and supposed 'possible sets of events', situations and conversations in order to make this more than a dry history. In case North's mixture of fact and fiction is not obvious, she provides notes to each chapter at the end of the book, making clear what is historical fact and what is her own invention.

Little is known of Esther's origins and her maiden name is uncertain. When she stood in the dock at the Old Bailey in London she was 'Esther Abrahams' but later in life she chose to be known as 'Esther Julian'. During her trial she was, unusually for that time, represented by a barrister, which suggests that someone close to her was reasonably affluent. Three people appeared in court on her behalf to declare that she was of very good character and, after her sentencing, someone also paid for her to be accommodated in the Master's Side of Newgate Prison. Yet all we know for certain is that she was Jewish, that she was convicted of 'stealing twenty-four yards of black silk lace worth fifty shillings', that she was sentenced to be 'transported beyond the seas for seven years', and that she was pregnant.

A note to Chapter One, for example, tells us that 'Nelly Kerwin (also known as Eleanor Kirvein)' was, in fact, Esther's cellmate in the Master's Side of Newgate Prison, and that North has 'supposed the friendship' between the Nelly and Esther. She supposes, too, a rather questionable scenario at the birth of Esther's daughter, Rosanna:

"As the hours pass, Esther's contractions became stronger and more frequent until Nelly judged it was time to take her to the prison infirmary, where there were clean rags and fresh water....Not long afterwards [Esther] was squatting upon the birthing stool. Nelly supported her young friend's straining body and offered encouragement, assuring her that her work was nearly done. At last, with a mighty effort, Esther pushed her child into the world."

Transported on the Lady Penrhyn, it was eight harrowing months before Esther and the other convicts on board the First Fleet reached landfall in Botany Bay on the coast of Australia. During that voyage, North imagines that Esther became responsible for the care of a goat belonging to 22-year-old Lieutenant George Johnston, a seasoned officer in the British Marines and one of the small corps of soldiers who would be in charge of the convicts in the new colony. Johnston's 'purchase of a she- goat is recorded', North tells us, 'but I have supposed that Ester asked to milk it' and 'I have imagined how Esther' relationship with Johnston may initially have developed'. In whatever way that relationship first came about, twenty-six years later, and after bearing Johnston eight children, Esther became his wife.

In such a small community, and in spite of being a convict, Esther inevitably knew and mixed with those in positions of power and those they governed and controlled. North uses this to bring to life those early years, the colonists, and the aboriginals with whom they established contact, and she does this well. Esther, like everyone in this unfamiliar land with its strange vegetation and harsh climate, experienced and helped with the first clearing of trees and the pitching of tents. She, like everyone else, struggled through primitive conditions, near starvation, isolation, fire, devastating floods, and rebellion until, eventually, a stable, ordered society emerged.

Esther's own sudden and unexpected elevation to what North chooses to call 'First Lady', was the result of the dramatic events surrounding the arrest in 1808 of the Governor of the colony - Captain William Bligh. Bligh's experiences as captain of the Bounty and his subsequent navigation of a small boat across 3,618 nautical miles of the South Pacific to Timor, were well known. So, too, was his reputation for being able to withstand intimidation. It was for this reputation that he was sent by the British Government to govern the colony and deal with the corrupt and widespread trading of rum by officers of the New South Wales Corps (as the marines had become known) and by other prominent figures in the colony. But as North points out

"Bligh was yet another naval-officer turned governor, who was used to a crew trained to obey his every command, not a community of seven thousand, largely free, people. The colonists came from a wide variety of social and economic backgrounds, and now included many entrepreneurial ex-convicts. The colony needed a governor with strong diplomatic skills who could foster its growing economy. Bligh had many good qualities, but diplomacy wasn't one of them - instead, he had an explosive temper and a knack of upsetting people".

Bligh, as governor, became more and more dictatorial until even Lord Castlereagh in the Colonial Office in England heard of his behaviour and wrote to castigate him for 'actions not reconcilable with the principles of British Justice'. Eventually public unrest became so bad that Johnston, who was now a Major in charge of the New South Wales Corps, was persuaded by prominent citizens in the colony to arrest him. Because this was a treasonable action, Johnston was give a written petition, signed by 150 people, stating that

"The present alarming state of this colony, in which every man's property, liberty and life are endangered, induces us most earnestly to implore you instantly to place Governor Bligh under an arrest, and to assume the command of the colony. We pledge ourselves, at a moment of less agitation, to come forward to support the measures with our fortunes and our lives."

North quotes from historical documents to support all she writes about this arrest.

With Bligh under house arrest, Major Johnston became acting lieutenant-governor of the colony and Esther, was 'thrust into the role of First Lady, the highest female rank in the land'. For seven months, until a superior officer arrived in the colony to take over command from George Johnston, Esther fulfilled that role.

As an ex-convict and not yet Johnston's wife, North imagines that when Esther became aware of her new position in society

"It filled her with dread. How would the townsfolk respond? Would she be able to conduct herself to their satisfaction?"

However, Esther was a strong and capable woman. She and Johnston now lived in a large house with extensive gardens and they were owners of substantial agricultural estate which, earlier, Esther had managed for many years whilst Johnston had been away in England, and which she later managed when Johnston returned to England to be being tried for treason (he was cashiered and some of his property was confiscated). One of the first things Esther did in her new position was to organise a very successful dinner and ball in celebration of the 70th birthday of King George III.

But Esther's marriage to Johnston did not take place until after the arrival of the new governor, Lachlan Macquarie in 1810.

Amongst other reforms, Macquarie announced that he wanted to remove

"the scandalous and pernicious custom so generally and shamelessly adopted throughout this territory, of persons of different sexes cohabiting and living together, unsanctioned by the legal ties of matrimony".

So Esther and Johnston married and Esther's social position was formalised. North briefly describes the wedding and this, essentially, is where she ends Esther's story. The book ends with Esther's observations that

"her own life reflected that of the colony itself: a remarkable transformation from an inferior convict beginning, through drama and hardship, to finally achieving a position of respect."

In an Epilogue, North provides notes about some of the prominent figures in the book and gives a brief outline of Esther's final years, when her son, Robert, attempted to have her declared insane and sought to take over the Johnston estate. Esther successfully contested this.

Esther was clearly an intelligent, resourceful, independent and determined woman. Her remarkable life is well worth telling and North tells it well, but her strength is in weaving historical facts into a depiction of life in general, rather than in the development of the character of those involved. I was never fully convinced by the thoughts and actions which North invented for Esther and, for me, her Esther remained a shadow of the strong woman she certainly must have been. Nevertheless, I found this an interesting and enjoyable book.

Dr Ann Skea, Reviewer

Bethany's Bookshelf

Dance in America
Mindy Aloff, editor
The Library of America
14 East 60th Street, New York, NY 10022
9781598535846, $40.00, HC, 650pp,

Synopsis: From the very beginning of the country, American dance has been an exciting fusion of many disparate influences, with European traditions of ballet and social dancing encountering Native American rituals and African American improvisations to create something new and extraordinary.

Compiled and edited by dance critic Mindy Aloff, "Dance in America: A Reader's Anthology" is a landmark collection that brings together an astonishing array of writers including dancers and dance creators, impresarios and critics, and enthusiastic literary observers, to tell the remarkable story of the artistry, innovation, and sheer joy of a great American art form. Here is dance in its many varieties and locales: from tap and swing to ballet and modern dance, from Five Points to Radio City Music Hall, and from the Lindy Hop to Michael Jackson's Moonwalk.

With 100 selections spanning three centuries, "Dance in America" is the biggest and best anthology on American dance ever published. Here are the most acclaimed dance critics, including Edwin Denby, Joan Acocella, Lincoln Kirstein, Jill Johnston, and Clive Barnes; the most inventive and influential choreographers and dancers, among them George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, Allegra Kent, and Mikhail Baryshnikov; and a dazzling roster of literary figures, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Hart Crane, Edmund Wilson, Langston Hughes, and Susan Sontag.

Here too are rare and hard-to-find texts, several previously unpublished, among them Jerome Robbins's reflections on the secret of choreography and an inspiring commencement address from Mark Morris.

Brilliant profiles of unforgettable performers ranging from Stuart Hodes on Martha Graham; John Updike on Gene Kelly; to Alastair Macaulay on Michael Jackson, join incisive, often deeply personal pieces like those of Zora Neale Hurston on hoodoo ritual; Arlene Croce on dance in film; Yehuda Hyman on Hasidic dances, forming a one-of-kind reading experience every dance lover will cherish.

Of special note is the inclusion of a twelve-page color insert presenting iconic photographs of key figures from Isadora Duncan to Michael Jackson.

Editorial Note: Mindy Aloff has taught dance criticism and history at Barnard College and serves as editor of the Dance Critics Association News and consultant to The George Balanchine Foundation. She is the author of Dance Anecdotes: Stories from the Worlds of Ballet, Broadway, the Ballroom, (2007); Modern Dance (2006); and Hippo in a Tutu: Dancing in Disney Animation (2008). She edited Agnes de Mille's Leaps in the Dark: Art and the World (2011).

Critique: A comprehensive history of the many and varied forms of dance in American popular culture, "Dance in America: A Reader's Anthology" is enhanced with the inclusion of a listing of illustrations, an informative Foreword by Robert Gottlieb and Introduction by Mindy Aloff, five pages of Editor's Notes and Acknowledgments, thirteen pages of Sources and Permissions, and a twenty-four page Index. Impressively organized and presented, "Dance in America" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Dance History/Popular Culture collections and supplemental studies curriculums. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Dance in America" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $19.99).

Working with Kundalini
Mary Mueller Shutan
Findhorn Press
9781620558812, $16.99, PB, 208pp,

Synopsis: Kundalini in Hinduism refers to a form of divine energy (or shakti) said to be located at the base of the spine (muladhara). It was originally an important concept in ?aiva Tantra, where it was seen as a force or power associated with the divine feminine, which when cultivated and awakened through tantric practice, could lead to spiritual liberation. The term along with practices associated with it, was adopted into Hatha yoga in the 11th century and other forms of Hinduism as well as modern spirituality and New age thought. (Wikipedia)

Kundalini awakenings can have profound physical, emotional, and mental effects, making it difficult to cope with everyday life, yet these powerful awakenings can also allow you to release past trauma, see past the illusions of the false self, and awaken your spiritual heart, enabling you to recognize the divine self.

"Working with Kundalini: An Experiential Guide to the Process of Awakening" by acupuncturist, herbalist, craniosacral therapist, zero balancer, and spiritual healer Mary Shutan is a step-by-step guide to the 3-phase process of Kundalini awakening.

"Working with Kundalini" delivers practical information on how to deal with such a spiritual emergence in our modern world. Starting with her own story, Mary describes the nature of Kundalini energy, the reasons for the energy rising, and the connection to the chakra system. Debunking the myths associated with Kundalini awakening, she explains how the first phase of Kundalini rising involves a surging up of fire--the fire of purification. It releases the past, liberates you from past bondages and beliefs, and disrupts the neuro-endocrine systems of the body.

The second phase involves expansive experiences of ecstasy, peace, bliss, and emptiness states as the upper chakras open, greater perspective on life comes in, and you connect with cosmic consciousness.

The third phase, the opening of the spiritual heart, is a shift from upward-flowing energy to a downward flow of grace into the heart center, leading to compassion, re-anchoring in the world, and the embodiment of light.

Exploring how Kundalini profoundly rewires the physical body and the mind, "Working with Kundalini" describes the rerouting of digestive fire during the rising of Kundalini energy; explores the relationship between Kundalini and food allergies and sensitivities as well as supportive dietary and alternative health modalities, including fasting; paleo, keto, vegetarian, vegan, and mono diets; herbal allies; and mineral supplements; and explores sexual practices that may help or hinder the process and meditation techniques to facilitate Kundalini awakening during each phase.

Providing detailed guidance for each phase of Kundalini awakening, "Working with Kundalini" is experiential guide supports the readers to transform themselves not only emotionally and spiritually, but also physically and socially into their divine selves.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Working with Kundalini: An Experiential Guide to the Process of Awakening" is an ideal and comprehensive introduction to the subject, making it a very highly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, and academic library collections. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Working with Kundalini" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).

Death in Cold Water
Patricia Skalka
University of Wisconsin Press
1930 Monroe Street, Third Floor, Madison, WI 53711-2059
9780299309206, $24.95, HC, 256pp,

Synopsis: On a bracing autumn day in Door County, a prominent philanthropist disappears. Is the elderly Gerald Sneider (who is known as "Mr. Packer" for his legendary support of Green Bay football) suffering from dementia, or just avoiding his greedy son? Is there a connection to threats against the National Football League?

As tourists flood the peninsula for the fall colors, Sheriff Dave Cubiak's search for Sneider is stymied by the FBI. When human bones wash up on the Lake Michigan shore, the sheriff has more than a missing man to worry about. With the media demanding answers and two puzzles to solve, Cubiak must follow his instincts down a trail of half-remembered rumors and local history to discover the shocking truth.

Critique: A deftly crafty mystery set in Door County, Wisconsin, "Death in Cold Water" showcases author Patricia Skalka's genuine flair for originality, her narrative storytelling skills, and her mastery of the genre. While certain to be an enduringly prized addition to community library Contemporary Mystery/Suspense collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of dedicated mystery buffs that "Death in Cold Water" is also available in a paperback edition (9780299309244, $16.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.49).

Israel for Perplexed Beginners
Angelo Colorni
Gefen Publishing House
11 Edison Place, Springfield, NJ 07081
9789652299604, $16.95, PB, 120pp,

Synopsis: "Israel for Perplexed Beginners" is the third book in Angelo Colorni's 'Israel for Beginners' series in which he once again uses his personal experience to highlight the challenges of non-natives (about 40 percent of the Israeli population) as they negotiate life in their adoptive country.

Through a collection of insightful essays, Israelis are once again wittily "explained" to prospective immigrants, new immigrants, and the public at large.

Editorial Note: Angelo Colorni was born in Mantua, Italy, in 1947. In 1973, he moved to Israel. Fascinated by the Israelis, he has been studying the species in its natural habitat ever since. He is a marine biologist and senior scientist at the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research, National Center for Mariculture in Eilat. Married to an American wife, he sees himself as an Italian Israeli, his two children as Italo-American Israelis, and his grandchildren as Israeli Israelis.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Israel for Perplexed Beginners" is an impressively informative and thoroughly enjoyable read that is unreservedly recommended for those immigrating to Israel or are vacationing or considering to do business there. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Israel for Perplexed Beginners" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.49).

Love between Equals
Polly Young-Eisendrath
Shambhala Publications, Inc.
300 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, MA 02115-4544
9781611804782, $16.95, PB, 240pp,

Synopsis: A committed relationship, as most people see it today, is a partnership of equals who share values and goals, a team united by love and dedicated to each other's growth on every level. This contemporary model for coupledom requires real intention and work, and, more often than not, the traditional archetypes of relationships experienced by our parents and grandparents fail us or seem irrelevant.

In "Love between Equals: Relationship as a Spiritual Path", and utilizing the wisdom of her years of personal and professional practice, Jungian analyst, psychologist, and psychotherapist Polly Young-Eisendrath dismantles our idealized projections about love, while revealing how mindfulness and communication can help us identify and honor the differences with our partners and strengthen our bonds.

These practical and time-tested guidelines are rooted in sound understanding of modern psychology and offer concrete ideas and the necessary tools to reinforce and reinvigorate our deepest relationships.

Critique: Impressively well written and extraordinarily accessible for non-specialist general readers in organization and presentation, "Love between Equals: Relationship as a Spiritual Path" is an especially recommended addition to community and academic library Self-Help/Personal Growth/Couples & Family Life Improvement collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Love between Equals" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.99).

Suffragette Planners and Plotters
Kathryn Atherton
Pen & Sword Books
c/o Casemate (distribution)
9781526722966, $39.95, HC, 192pp,

Synopsis: Emmeline and Frederick Pethick-Lawrence were an extraordinary couple and theirs is an extraordinary political and personal story. Emmeline was treasurer of Mrs Pankhurst's militant Women's Social and Political Union. Fred was the only man to achieve leadership status in the organization.

Without their wealth, determination and skills we might never have heard of the 'suffragettes'. Emmeline was always at Mrs Pankhurst's side whilst Fred was the 'Godfather' who stood bail for a thousand women. Both were imprisoned and force-fed. They provided the militant movement with its colors, its home, and much of its vision, and it was their associates who initiated the hunger strike and who brought force-feeding to national attention.

But in 1912 the couple were dramatically ousted from the organization by the Pankhursts in a move that has often been misrepresented. "Suffragette Planners and Plotters: The Pankhurst, Pethick-Lawrence Story" is a portrait of the couple and their relationship with the Pankhursts, and of their inspirational fight, not just for the vote for women, but for freedom and equality across the world.

The Pethick-Lawrences were once as well known as the Pankhursts. But they have been neglected by history. "Suffragette Planners and Plotters" is the first study to give the Pethick-Lawrences the recognition that their part in the fight for the vote deserves, shedding new light on the development of the militant campaign. It is also the first to address in detail the complexities of the dramatic split with the Pankhursts which has been misunderstood for a hundred years.

Editorial Note: After an MPhil in 17th Century Studies, Kathy Atherton wrote much of 'H' as an editor at the Oxford English Dictionary. She then spent 10 years as a city lawyer during which time she came across the plaque marking the site of Fred and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrences' London home, once the headquarters of Mrs Pankhurst's Women's Social and Political Union. She has been researching the lives of Fred and Emmeline ever since, and the fight for the vote in the Surrey Hills area for more than ten years. She is currently responsible for exhibitions at Dorking Museum and regularly leads guided walks and speaks on local history on radio and television. She has published five books of local history and has recently completed a short film on the lives of the Pethick-Lawrences.

Critique: An inherently fascinating, impressively informative, and exceptionally well presented study, "Suffragette Planners and Plotters: The Pankhurst, Pethick-Lawrence Story" by Kathryn Atherton is an extraordinary, unique, and unreservedly recommended addition to community and academic library American History collections in general, and the Suffragette Movement supplemental studies lists in particular. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Suffragette planners and Plotters" is also available in a paperback edition (9781526751683, $24.95).

Women with Money
Jean Chatzky
Grand Central Publishing
c/o Hachette Book Group
1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104
9781538745380, $28.00, HC, 288pp,

Synopsis: Ask successful women what they want from their money and they'll tell you: independence, security, choices, a better world, and, oh yes, way less stress, not just for themselves but for their kids, partners, parents, and friends.

Through a series of HerMoney Happy Hour discussions (when money is the topic, wine helps) and one-on-one conversations, financial journalist Jean Chatzky gets women to open up about the one topic we still never talk about. Then she flips the script and charts a pathway to this joyful, purpose-filled life that today's women not only want but also, finally, have the resources to afford.

Through Chatzky's candid three-part plan (which was formed through detailed reporting with the world's top economists, psychiatrists, behaviorists, financial planners, and attorneys, as well as her own two decades of experience in the field) her readers will learn to: 1. Explore their relationships with money; Take control of their money; 3. Use their money to create the life they want.

"Women with Money: The Judgment-Free Guide to Creating the Joyful, Less Stressed, Purposeful (and, Yes, Rich) Life You Deserve " shows readers how to wrap their hands around tactical solutions to get paid what they deserve, become inspired to start businesses, invest for tomorrow, make their money last, and then use that money to foster secure relationships, raise independent and confident children, send those kids to college, care for their aging parents, leave a legacy, and (best of all) bring them joy!

Critique: Exceptionally well written and presented with the non-specialist general reader with no previous money management training in mind, "Women with Money" is an extraordinary and thoroughly 'real world practical' course of instruction and inspiration that should be a part of every community, college, and university library Financial Management instructional reference collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Women with Money" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (9781478995913, $35.00, CD).

Grand Slam Murders
R. J. Lee
Kensington Publishing Corp.
119 West 40th Street, Floor 21, New York, NY 10018-2522
9781496719140, $15.95, PB, 304pp,

Synopsis: When the four wealthy widows who make up the venerable Rosalie Bridge Club never get up from their card table, this quiet Mississippi town has its first quadruple homicide. Who put cyanide in their sugar bowl? An aspiring member and kibitzer with the exclusive club, Wendy takes a personal interest in finding justice for the ladies.

She also has a professional motivation. A frustrated society columnist for the Rosalie Citizen, she's ready to deal herself a better hand as an investigative reporter. This could be her big break. Plus, she has a card or two up her sleeve: her sometimes boyfriend is a detective and her dad is the local chief of police.

Partnering up with the men in her life, Wendy starts shuffling through suspects and turning over secrets long held close to the chest by the ladies. But when a wild card tries to take her out of the game, Wendy decides it's time to up the ante before she's the next one to go down!

Critique: An impressively original and deftly crafted mystery from first page to last, "Grand Slam Murders" by R. J. Lee will prove to be an inherently riveting read and an immediate and enduringly popular addition to community library Mystery/Suspense collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Grand Slam Murders" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Dreamscape, 9781974952250, $29.99, CD).

Susan Bethany

Buhle's Bookshelf

American Indian Myths & Mysteries
Vincent Gaddis
Adventures Unlimited Press
PO Box 74, Kempton, IL 60946
9781948803076, $16.95, PB, 240pp,

"American Indian Myths and Mysteries" by Vincent Gaddis is an authoritative and scrupulously researched account of the mythology of the Native American in the form and format of an all-encompassing collection of American Indian legends, truths, and myths.

Although much of this ancient heritage has been lost, a great deal has been saved, and there are men and women alive today who remember the lore of their ancestors. Scholarly, but highly readable and entertaining, "American Indian Myths & Mysteries" is a must for students of the Native American culture, ceremony and prophecy.

In vivid detail Gaddis traces the forgotten knowledge of the megalithic stone builders; the vast networks of subterranean tunnels and caverns where hoards of Incan gold still lie hidden; the cyclopean ruins of Tiahuanaco and cities lost deep in the Amazonian jungle; and legends of the world-wide cataclysms that destroyed these pre-historic civilizations.

"American Indian Myths & Mysteries" divides its chapters into two groupings: the Historical Mysteries and the Mystical Mysteries.

Section one deals with the origins of the American Indian, artifacts, megaliths, totems, and lost colonies. Section two deals with ritual ceremonies such as the shaking tent, medicine man magic, secrets of the shamans, and other interesting topics.

In "American Indian Myths and Mysteries" the reader will learn the power of the medicine man and be present at a contest of magic between two rival medicine men; he will discover the origin of the curse of Tippecanoe and the secrets of the shamans. "American Indian Myths & Mysteries" sheds new light on the motivations of Native Americans when faced with a deluge of European settlers.

Editorial Note: Vincent H. Gaddis (December 28, 1913-February 26, 1997) was a former newspaperman, perhaps best known for giving the "Bermuda Triangle" its name. He specialized in exploring the borderland between fact and myth. He published thousands of articles in hundreds of national periodicals, among them True, Argosy, Saga, and Fate. He is the author of seven books on occult and anthropological puzzles, including Mysterious Fires and Lights, Invisible Horizons, and The Curious World of Twins.

Critique: Impressively researched, organized and presented, "American Indian Myths & Mysteries" is an inherently engaging and exceptionally informative study that is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, community, and academic library Native American Culture & History collections and supplemental studies lists.

Never Gets Old
The Boston Globe
Triumph Books
814 N. Franklin Street, Chicago, IL 60610
9781629376110, $14.95, PB, 128pp,

Synopsis: For Tom Brady and Patriots fans this was the sweetest championship of them all. But more pointedly, could it be the last of an era? "Never Gets Old: Tom Brady's Patriots Are Six-Time Super Bowl Champs" takes a good, long look at pro football's acknowledged greatest dynasty, one equally revered and reviled.

It started out 17 years ago when, as lovable 14-point underdogs, the New England Patriots pulled off one of the game's biggest upsets. Now, with their record-tying sixth Super Bowl title in their record 11th appearance, they may have earned their final acclamation against a team that was seeking to avenge that very loss in 2002 that started the Patriots on their path to greatness.

In the Boston Globe's "Never Gets Old", New England fans far and wide can savor this sixth championship, earned in spite of the usual accompanying distractions. There were questions about the quarterback: was he finally too old, at 41, to carry what some saw as a mediocre team? But those who were convinced by reports that a major rift among New England's holy trinity of owner Robert Kraft, mastermind Bill Belichick, and field marshal Brady (first reported last season) would deter them from their appointed task, simply hadn't been paying attention. This triumvirate tunes out the noise and shows its opponents how the game should be played.

Fans can now relive every moment of the 2018 regular season and 2019 NFL playoffs, from opening kickoff to the latest hoisting of the Vince Lombardi Trophy. There's also a comprehensive Super Bowl retrospective section, which chronicles all 11 of the Patriots' appearances in the big game since 1986. With its vibrant color photographs, essential statistics, memorable quotes, and acclaimed commentary by some of the nation's best sportswriters, this profusely illustrated book is the ultimate New England Patriots keepsake.

"Never Gets Old" goes inside the legacy and behind the scenes on an all-access pass, providing commentary and insights on Brady, Belichick, All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore and the rest of a roster that silenced the doubters once again. And it fully commemorates what Patriots Nation has known for most of the 21st century: This is a team for the ages.

Critique: A visual tour-de-force that is impressive informed and informative, "Never Gets Old: Tom Brady's Patriots Are Six-Time Super Bowl Champs" by the sports reporting staff of The Boston Globe is an absolute 'must' for all dedicated New England football enthusiasts in general, and Tom Brady fans in particular.

Nero: Emperor and Court
John F. Drinkwater
Cambridge University Press
One Liberty Plaza, Fl. 20, New York, NY 10006
9781108472647, $44.99, HC, 464pp,

Synopsis: Nero (15 December 37 - 9 June 68 AD) was the last Roman emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. He was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius and became Claudius' heir and successor. Like Claudius, Nero became emperor with the consent of the Praetorian Guard. Nero's mother, Agrippina the Younger, was likely implicated in Claudius' death and Nero's nomination as emperor. She dominated Nero's early life and decisions until he cast her off. Five years into his reign, he had her murdered. (Wikipedia)

"Nero: Emperor and Court" by John F. Drinkwater (Emeritus Professor of Roman Imperial History at the University of Nottingham, England) portrays Nero, not as the murderous tyrant of tradition, but as a young man ever-more reluctant to fulfil his responsibilities as emperor and ever-more anxious to demonstrate his genuine skills as a sportsman and artist. This reluctance caused him to allow others to rule, and rule surprisingly well, in his name.

On its own terms, the Neronian empire was in fact remarkably successful. Nero's senior ministers were many and various, but notably they included a number of powerful women, such as his mother, Agrippina II, and his second and third wives, Poppaea Sabina and Statilia Messalina.

Using the most recent archaeological, epigraphic, numismatic and literary research, "Nero: Emperor and Court" explores issues such as court-politics, banter and free speech; literary, technological and scientific advances; the Fire of 64, 'the persecution of Christians' and Nero's 'Golden House'; and the huge underlying strength, both constitutional and financial, of the Julio-Claudian empire.

Critique: An impressive work of impeccable scholarship, "Nero: Emperor and Court" is enhanced for academia with the inclusion of figures, tables, a twelve page listing of References, and a fifteen page Index. Exceptionally well organized, this seminal biographical history will prove to be an enduringly valued contribution to the Imperial Roman History collections and supplemental studies reading lists. It should be noted for students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Nero: Emperor and Court" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $27.83).

Layered Landscapes Lofoten
Magdalena Haggarde & Giles Lokken
Actar D
c/o Actar Publishers
355 Lexington Avenue, 8th Floor, New York, NY 10017
9781948765060, $39.95, HC, 388pp,

Synopsis: "Layered Landscapes Lofoten: Understanding of Complexity, Otherness and Change" by Norwegian architects Magdalena Haggarde and Giles Lokken discusses approaches towards landscapes under pressure and transformation, and the importance of unprejudiced and experimental investigations to reveal its natural and cultural complexity.

"Layered Landscapes Lofoten" seeks to challenge internalized concepts about how landscapes are considered and investigated, to open for alternative research, and legitimize subjective, singular and experimental approaches as valid and appreciated as a foundation for an informed process. These approaches take into consideration both the landscape and the practices taking place in the landscape, that are consistently full of individual and collective stories and experiences -- the complexity created in both time and space, which influences our societies not only as traces of historical events, but as present realities and even expectations and what is to become.

Under the concepts of complexity, imbrication, vulnerability, fieldwork, flexibility and reorientation ideas are developed, all based in the contemporary and historic layers of the dramatic and contested landscapes of the Lofoten Islands in Northern Norway -- where pressure from political decisions and structural changes, increasing tourism, a potential new oil industry and uncontrollable global forces' impact on nature and societies and cause continuous transformation and alteration of landscapes and topography, surrounding the traditional and modern fishing communities.

Editorial Note: From their architectural practice in Tromso, Northern Norway, Magdalena Haggarde & Gisle Lokken have developed experimental and critical approaches to architecture and planning - in an Arctic context, but also concerning general perspectives on urban development in the light of severe global changes. The working methods, investigations and proposals are centered on notions of openness and planning for an unknown future, encompassing issues of multiplicity and indeterminacy - and are tested and processed through competitions, teaching, academic work and architectural practice.

Critique: A densely and impressively informative work of experience based collaborative scholarship, "Layered Landscapes Lofoten: Understanding of Complexity, Otherness and Change" is a unique, seminal and unreservedly recommended addition to professional and academic library collections.

Willis M. Buhle

Burroughs' Bookshelf

All Hell Can't Stop Them
David A. Powell
Savas Beatie
PO Box 4527, El Dorado Hills, CA 95762
9781611214130, $14.95, PB, 192pp,

Synopsis: To many of the Federal soldiers watching the Stars and Stripes unfurl atop Lookout Mountain on the morning of November 25, 1863, it seemed that the battle to relieve Chattanooga was complete. The Union Army of the Cumberland was no longer trapped in the city, subsisting on short rations and awaiting rescue; instead, they were again on the attack.

Ulysses S. Grant did not share their certainty. For Grant, the job he had been sent to accomplish was only half-finished. Braxton Bragg's Confederate Army of Tennessee still held Missionary Ridge, with other Rebels under James Longstreet threatening more Federals in Knoxville, Tennessee. Grant's greatest fear was that the Rebels would slip away before he could deliver the final blows necessary to crush Bragg completely.

That blow landed on the afternoon of November 25. Each of Grant's assembled forces (troops led by Union Generals William T. Sherman, George H. Thomas, and Joseph Hooker) all moved to the attack. Stubbornly, Bragg refused to retreat, and instead accepted battle. That decision would cost him dearly.

But everything did not go Grant's way. Despite what Grant's many admirers would later insist was his most successful, most carefully planned battle, Grant's strategy failed him -- as did his most trusted commander, Sherman. Victory instead charged straight up the seemingly impregnable slopes of Missionary Ridge's western face, as the men of the much-maligned Army of the Cumberland swarmed up and over Bragg's defenses in an irresistible blue tide.

Caught flat-footed by this impetuous charge, Grant could only watch nervously as the men started up the incline.

"All Hell Can't Stop Them: The Battles for Chattanooga -- Missionary Ridge and Ringgold, November 24-27, 1863" deftly details the dramatic final actions of the battles for Chattanooga: Missionary Ridge and the final Confederate rearguard action at Ringgold, where Patrick Cleburne held Grant's Federals at bay and saved the Army of Tennessee from further disaster.

Editorial Note: David A. Powell is a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute (1983) with a BA in history. He has published numerous articles in various magazines, and more than fifteen historical simulations of different battles. For the past decade, David's focus has been on the epic battle of Chickamauga, and he is nationally recognized for his tours of that important battlefield. The results of that study are the volumes The Maps of Chickamauga (2009) and Failure in the Saddle (2010), as well as The Chickamauga Campaign trilogy. The Chickamauga Campaign: A Mad Irregular Battle was published in 2014, The Chickamauga Campaign: Glory or the Grave appeared in September 2015, and the final volume, Barren Victory, was released in September 2016.

Critique: A densely informative, exceptionally well presented, and at times simply riveting read, "All Hell Can't Stop Them: The Battles for Chattanooga -- Missionary Ridge and Ringgold, November 24-27, 1863" by David A. Powell is an absolute 'must have' addition to personal, community, college, and university library American Civil War History collections and supplemental studies reading lists.

Southern Gambit
Stanley D. M. Carpenter
University of Oklahoma Press
2800 Venture Drive, Norman, OK 73069
9780806161853, $34.95, HC, 328pp,

Synopsis: In a world rife with conflict and tension, how does a great power prosecute an irregular war at a great distance within the context of a regional struggle, all within a global competitive environment? The question, so pertinent today, was confronted by the British nearly 250 years ago during the American War for Independence.

The answer, as Stanley D. M. Carpenter (Professor of Strategy and Policy and Naval War College Command Historian at the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island) makes plain in "Southern Gambit: Cornwallis and the British March to Yorktown" is not the way the British, under Lieutenant General Charles, Earl Cornwallis, went about it in the American South in the years 1778 - 81.

"Southern Gambit" presents a closely observed, comprehensive account of this failed strategy. Approaching the campaign from the British perspective, this informed and informative study restores a critical but little-studied chapter to the narrative of the Revolutionary War -- and in doing so, it adds detail and depth to our picture of Cornwallis, an outsize figure in the history of the British Empire.

A distinguished scholar of military strategy Professor Carpenter deftly outlines the British strategic and operational objectives, devoting particular attention to the strategy of employing Southern Loyalists to help defeat Patriot forces, reestablish royal authority, and tamp down resurgent Patriot activity.

Focusing on Cornwallis's operations in the Carolinas and Virginia leading to the surrender at Yorktown in October 1781, Professor Carpenter reveals the flaws in this approach, most notably a fatal misunderstanding of the nature of the war in the South and of the Loyalists' support. Compounding this was the strategic incoherence of seeking a conventional war against a brilliant, unconventional opponent, and doing so amidst a breakdown in the unity of command.

Ultimately, strategic incoherence, ineffective command and control, and a misreading of the situation contributed to the series of cascading failures of the British effort. Professor Carpenter's analysis of how and why this happened expands our understanding of British decision-making and operations in the Southern Campaign and their fateful consequences in the War for Independence.

Critique: Enhanced with the inclusion of illustrations, an appendix (Short Biographies0, twenty pages of Notes, a fourteen page Bibliography, and an eleven page Index, "Southern Gambit: Cornwallis and the British March to Yorktown" is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library 18th Century American History collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and the non-specialist general reader with an interest in the American Revolutionary War that "Southern Gambit" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $29.95).

Scott Curtis, editor
Rutgers University Press
106 Somerset St., 3rd Floor, New Brunswick, NJ 08901
9780813570266, $99.95, HC, 248pp,

Synopsis: From the earliest motion pictures and cartoons of the 1900s, to the latest 3D animated feature and CGI blockbuster, animation has always been a part of the cinematic experience. While the boundaries between animation and live-action have often been carefully tended, the ubiquity of contemporary computer imaging certainly blurs those lines, thereby confirming the importance of animation for the history of American cinema. '

The last installment of the acclaimed Behind the Silver Screen series for the Rutgers University Press, "Animation" by Scott Curtis (who is an Associate Professor of Radio, Television, and Film Studies at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and the Director of the Communication Program at Northwestern University in Qatar) is comprised of eight informative essays that deftly and collectively explore the variety of technologies and modes of production throughout the history of American animation: the artisanal, solitary labors of early animators such as Winsor McCay, or of independent animators such as Mary Ellen Bute; the industrial assembly lines of Hollywood studio-unit animation; the parsimonious production houses of the post-studio, post-war era; the collaborative approach of boutique animation and special-effect houses.

Drawing on archival sources, this unique compendium provides not only an overview of American animation history, but also, by focusing on the relationship between production and style, a unique approach to understanding animation in general.

Critique: Enhanced for academia with the inclusion of a six page listing of Academy Awards for Animation; twenty-five pages of Notes; a twelve page Glossary; two pages of Notes on Contributors; and a twelve page Index, "Animation" will prove to be an enduringly valued contribution to the history of animation. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Theatre/Film/TV collections and supplemental studies curriculums, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Animation" is also available in a paperback edition (9780813570259, $28.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $26.91).

The True Face of Sir Isaac Brock
Guy St-Denis
University of Calgary Press
2500 University Drive, N.W., Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2N 1N4
9781773850207, $34.99, PB, 338pp,

Synopsis: Major General Sir Isaac Brock is remembered as the Hero of Upper Canada for his defence of what is now Ontario during the War of 1812, and also for his noble death at the Battle of Queenston Heights.

In the more than two centuries since then, Brock's likeness has been lost in a confusing array of portraits -- most of which are misidentified or conceptual.

The 1824 monument constructed to honor Brock's sacrifice was destroyed in 1840 by Benjamin Lett, a disgruntled disciple of William Lyon Mackenzie and critic of the Upper Canadian elite. The replacement and subsequent commemorations emphasized a patriotic desire to visualize the hero's appearance.

But despite uncovering an authentic portrait painted only a few years before Brock's death, a series of false faces were promoted to serve competing claims and agendas.

With the publication of "The True Face of Sir Isaac Brock", Canadian historian Guy St-Denis situates Brock's portraits within an emerging English Canadian imperial nationalism that sought a heroic past which reflected their own aspirations and ambitions.

A work of detailed scholarship and an inherently fascinating detective story, "The True Face of Sir Isaac Brock" details the sometimes petty world of self-proclaimed guardians of the past, the complex process of identification and misidentification that often occurs even at esteemed Canadian institutions, and St-Denis' own meticulous work as he separates fact from fiction to finally reveal Brock's true face.

Critique: An extraordinary well researched and seminal study of simply outstanding scholarship that Guy St-Denis expertly accomplished, organized and presented, "The True Face of Sir Isaac Brock" is a unique and extraordinary work that is unreservedly recommended for academic library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The True Face of Sir Isaac Brock" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $21.74).

John Burroughs

Carson's Bookshelf

The Economics of Business Enterprise
Martin Ricketts
Edward Elgar Publishing
9 Dewey Court, Northampton, MA 01060-3815
9781785360923, $240.00, HC, 688pp,

Synopsis: Now in a fully updated and revised fourth edition, "The Economics of Business Enterprise: An Introduction to Economic Organisation and the Theory of the Firm" by Martin Ricketts (Professor of Economic Organisation, University of Buckingham, UK) explores how economic activity is organized from a new institutional economics perspective.

Using transactions costs as a continuing theme, "The Economics of Business Enterprise" delivers the necessary skills to understand the evolution of organisational forms and the strengths and weaknesses of different varieties of private and public governance.

The importance of entrepreneurship is emphasized throughout. Public policy concerning competition, regulation and the public utilities is used to illustrate the involvement of subjective judgements about transactions costs in all types of organizational choice.

Key features for this new edition include: Using impartial analysis, Martin Ricketts evaluates business enterprise through Neoclassical, Austrian and Evolutionary economics, allowing students to learn the strengths and weaknesses of each methodological perspective; Using a clear conceptual framework, the author explains principal-agent theory and the transaction cost paradigm in detail; The chapters are designed around a set of classic papers, giving students an understanding of the historical development of the discipline; Updated examples emphasise the applicability to different technological circumstances and the dynamic nature of studying economic organization; Additional examples are included for teachers to further discussion or create extended seminar work.

Critique: Comprehensive, exceptionally well organized, and expertly presented, "The Economics of Business Enterprise: An Introduction to Economic Organisation and the Theory of the Firm" is an ideal and highly recommended curriculum textbook. While recommended as a core addition to college and university library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, corporate executives, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Economics of Business Enterprise" is also available in a paperback edition (9781785360947, $69.95).

The Wilted Flower District
Martin Niewood
9780999361498, $9.99, PB, 156pp,

Synopsis: At sixteen Violet Noone is thrown into a world of deception and betrayal when her sister, Ophelia, missing and presumed dead for the last four years, suddenly reenters her life.

Violet and her brother, Weylin, venture into in a desolate district of Fairhaven to meet Ophelia but instead of finding her, they discover the brutally murdered body of a young man, Claude Cole. Fleeing the scene, they become suspects, relentlessly pursued by Penny, the officer in charge of the investigation. They soon learn that this murder is no isolated incident as they unravel its mysterious connection to the forbidden fruit, Elsyn.

Things in the Domain are different than they were on Earth. For one thing, death there holds no promise of rebirth into another realm.

Fairhaven is an energized and diverse city with many neighborhoods including the Wilted Flower District, where Violet lives with her adoptive family. Having lost her parents many years ago, Violet relies on her brother, Weylin, and her best friend, Deena, for support while concealing the truth from her adoptive mom, Ivy, whose help she needs the most.

Determined to solve the mystery and reunite her family, Violet confronts her own beliefs, the political order, and the physical world. The question is how far is she willing to go?

Critique: Showing a genuine flair for originality and an impressive talent for narrative driven storytelling, Martin Niewood's "The Wilted Flower District" is a fully entertaining page turner of a read from beginning to end. While certain to be an enduringly popular addition to community library Contemporary Fantasy Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Wilted Flower District" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $2.99).

Black Lives Have Always Mattered
Abiodun Oyewole, editor
2Leaf Press
PO Box 4378, Grand Central Station, New York, NY 10163-4378
9781940939612, $24.99, PB, 388pp,

Synopsis: Compiled and edited by poet, teacher, and founding member of the American music and spoken-word group Abiodun Oyewole, "Black Lives Have Always Mattered: A Collection of Essays, Poems, and Personal Narratives" extends beyond the Black Lives Matter movement's primary agenda of police brutality to acknowledge that even when affronted with slavery, segregation and Jim Crow, racial injustice and inequality, black lives have always mattered.

This unique anthology of essays, personal narratives, poetry and prose is deftly organized into five sections: "Mourning Black Lives That Mattered," "Black Skin/White Masks," "Black Spaces/Black Places," "Black Lives Remembered/ Reclaimed," and "The Legacy of Black Protest Continues" that addresses a wide range of hot-button issues that disproportionately impact the black community.

While written primarily by African American poets, writers, activists and scholars, there are also selections from people of the Latino and African diasporas, as well as white activists. Collectively, these 79 contributors provide a call-to-action that challenges readers to confront long-held values and beliefs about black lives, as well as white privilege and fragility, as it surveys the historical and contemporary ravages of racism and its persistence of structural inequality.

"Black Lives Have Always Mattered" provides its readers with a first-hand perspective to a problem known to the African American community long before the Black Lives Matter movement revealed it to the general public -- that black lives have always mattered.

Connecting the past to the present, the contributors of "Black Lives Have Always Mattered" provide an eye-opening and engaging collection that has the potential to reignite a broader push for black liberation and equality for all.

Critique: Impressively diverse in scope and substance, "Black Lives Have Always Mattered: A Collection of Essays, Poems, and Personal Narratives" is an impressively thoughtful and thought-provoking anthology that is impressively organized and presented so as to be of enduring value for both academia and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject of contemporary social and political issues regarding racial discrimination in the United States today. While very strongly recommended for both community and academic library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Black Lives Have Always Mattered: A Collection of Essays, Poems, and Personal Narratives" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Our Man Down in Havana
Christopher Hull
Pegasus Books
9781643130187, $27.95, HC, 352pp,

Synopsis: When U.S. immigration authorities deported Graham Greene from Puerto Rico in 1954, the British author made an unplanned visit to Havana and discovered that "every vice was permissible and every trade possible" in a Caribbean fleshpot of mafia-run casinos and nude revues.

The former MI6 officer had stumbled upon the ideal setting for a comic espionage story. Three years later, he returned in the midst of Fidel Castro's guerrilla insurgency against a U.S.-backed dictator to begin writing his iconic novel Our Man Down in Havana: The Story Behind Graham Greene's Cold War Spy Novel. Twelve weeks after its publication, the Cuban Revolution triumphed in January 1959, soon transforming a capitalist playground into a communist stronghold.

Combining biography, history, and politics, "Our Man Down in Havana: The Story Behind Graham Greene's Cold War Spy Novel" by Christopher Hull, PhD, (who is the Senior Lecturer in Spanish & Latin American Studies at the University of Chester, England) investigates the real story behind Greene's fictional one. This includes his many visits to a pleasure island that became a revolutionary island, turning his chance involvement into a political commitment.

His Cuban novel describes an amateur agent who dupes his intelligence chiefs with invented reports about "concrete platforms and unidentifiable pieces of giant machinery". With eerie prescience, Greene's satirical tale had foretold the Cold War's most perilous episode, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Critique: Meticulously researched, impressively informative, exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Our Man Down in Havana: The Story Behind Graham Greene's Cold War Spy Novel" draws from a wealth of archival material and interviews with key protagonists and is enhanced with the inclusion of sixteen pages of photographs and two maps. While very highly recommended for community and academic library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Our Man Down in Havana" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99).

Mythologies of State and Monopoly Power
Michael E. Tigar
Monthly Review Press
134 W. 29th Street, Suite 706, New York, NY 10001
9781583677438, $95.00, HC, 160pp,

Synopsis: In "Mythologies of State and Monopoly Power" veteran human rights lawyer and academician Michael Tigar writes that: "Mythologies are structures of words and images that portray people, institutions, and events in ways that mask an underlying reality."

For instance, the "Justice Department" appears, by its very nature and practice, to appropriate "justice" as the exclusive property of the federal government. In his brilliantly acerbic collection of essays, Professor Tigar reveals, deconstructs, and eviscerates mythologies surrounding the U.S. criminal justice system, racism, free expression, workers' rights, and international human rights.

Lawyers confront mythologies in the context of their profession. But the struggle for human liberation makes mythology-busting the business of all of us. The rights we have learned to demand are not only trivialized in our current system of social relations; they are, in fact, antithetical to that system.

With wit and eloquence, Professor Tigar deftly draws on legal cases, philosophy, literature, and fifty-years' experience as an attorney, activist, and teacher to bust the mythologies and to argue for real change.

Critique: Michael Tigar has worked for over fifty years with movements for social change as a human rights lawyer, law professor, and writer. He has taught at law schools in the United States, France, South Africa, and Japan, and is Emeritus Professor at Duke Law School and American University Washington College of Law. In the pages of "Mythologies of State and Monopoly Power" he has provided a seminal study that will be an enduringly valued contribution to the field of legal studies. While an especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers that "Mythologies of State and Monopoly Power" is also available in a paperback edition (9781583677421, $22.00) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $20.26).

Michael J. Carson

Clint's Bookshelf

Moctu and the Mammoth People
Neil Bockoven
Waldorf Publishing
2140 Hall Johnson Road 102-345, Grapevine, TX 76051
9781642550771, $16.95, PB, 300pp,

Synopsis: "Moctu and the Mammoth People" is the story of a strong, young, dark-skinned Cro-Magnon boy who must fight his rival for leadership of his tribe and the right to mate the beautiful Nuri. Additionally, Moctu has confrontations with the Pale Ones, a fierce group of Neanderthals also called the People Eaters, as the two cultures interact in Paleolithic Italy 45,000 years ago.

Besides having dangerous encounters with mammoths, wolves, and saber-tooth tigers, Moctu has to deal with his older rival, Jabil, who fights and undermines him at every opportunity. After Jabil murders several elders who go against him, he deftly shifts blame onto the Pale Ones. He takes over as the tribes leader and makes Moctus life miserable.

On a hunting trip, Moctu is captured and enslaved by the Pale Ones. While with them, Moctu is shocked to discover that, although these primitive people know little about spear-throwers or making clothes, they can make fire, and he learns the skill.

He meets the blond and fair-skinned Effie and over time, he recognizes that his hate for the Pale Ones was misplaced. Realizing that Nuri by now has been mated to Jabil, Moctu falls in love with Effie and has a child. But when he uncovers evidence that Jabil murdered his tribesmen, Moctu knows he must return home and mount a challenge.

In the interim, Nuri has had to deal with emotional and physical adversities including coming of age and being mated to a man she despises. When Moctu returns, can he overcome Jabil? How will Nuri react?

Critique: A deftly crafted, impressively original, and absorbing read from cover to cover, "Moctu and the Mammoth People" by geologist, journalist and author Neil Bockoven is a thoroughly entertaining, highly recommended, page-turner of a novel that will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to community library collections and personal reading lists.

Waters Plantation
Myra Hargrave McIlvain
White Bird Publications
PO Box 90145, Austin, TX 78709
9781633633513, $19.99, PB, 368pp,

Synopsis: It is 1875 in Texas, and Albert Waters takes pride in his image as a prosperous merchant and plantation owner who freed his wife's slaves before the Civil War and gave them land after her death. Then his son Toby, ready to depart for Harvard Medical College, demands answers. Was his mother a slave?

How does a man account for the truth that on a drunken night, when all he could think about was Amelia, his long-ago lover, he gave in to the touch of a slave girl?

Al and the Waters plantation co-operative of former slaves create a community that prospers as they educate their children and work their land. They organize against political forces re-exerting control through rape, lynchings, and the rise of the KKK.

Al believes he has been given a new life when Amelia arrives in the midst of the turmoil to rekindle the passion of their love. But, in this rapidly changing world swirling around him, Al will have to confront the image he has held of himself if he wants to keep Toby and Amelia, the two people he loves most.

Critique: As thoughtful and thought-provoking a novel as it is an inherently entertaining, original, and skillfully crafted read from beginning to end, "Waters Plantation" by Myra Hargrave McIlvain is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community library Historical Fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Waters Plantation" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $5.99).

L. Williams
Archway Publishing
1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403-5161
9781480863316, $33.95, HC, 212pp,

Synopsis: Laramy is a genius physicist who has stumbled upon a revolutionary breakthrough based on the theory that every particle, atom and subatomic structure possess a common resonant vibrational pattern. His discovery allows those who can harness this convergence to detect and see all things once hidden. The ramifications are staggering.

But just as Laramy and his team prepare to unveil their discovery in Jerusalem where the breakthrough will have especially significant implications, unprecedented military forces begin aligning against Israel. Will Laramyand Israel survive long enough for the discovery to be revealed and potentially change the world?

Critique: A deftly scripted novel that will hold the readers entertained interest from beginning to end, "Y" is an extraordinary story that showcases the author's genuine flair for originality and narrative driven storytelling. While unreservedly recommended for community library Contemporary General Fiction & Suspense/Thriller collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Y" is also available in a paperback edition (978-1480863330, $15.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $3.99).

Dark Inheritance
P. B. Lawson
Independently Published
9781790974122, $13.50, PB, 406pp,

Synopsis: A serial killer is on the loose and a prominent doctor discovers she is not the person she grew up believing herself to be. These seemingly unrelated characters find themselves drawn together by an ancient lineage.

Detective Doug McKenna is baffled by a series of bizarre killings that have shocked the city of Toronto. All the victims have had their throats brutally slashed, yet there is little blood at any of the crime scenes!

Critique: "Dark Inheritance" by P. B. Lawson is a deftly crafted psychological thriller of a novel that questions the concept of good and evil and looks at how an ancient predisposition for evil might be genetically passed from generation to generation. A riveting read from beginning to end and recommended for community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Dark Inheritance" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $2.99).

The Dark Side Of Isaac Newton
Nick Kollerstrom
Pen & Sword Books
9781526740540, $39.95, HC, 224pp,

Synopsis: Sir Isaac Newton (25 December 1642 - 20 March 1726) was accorded a high social and professional status in the 18th and 19th centuries, whereby his image linked together religion and science. The real human being behind now legendary image has tended to be lost in the mists of time.

Upon closer historical inspection, it turns out that Isaac Newton was a person who took credit from others, and crushed the reputations of those to whom he owed most. This most brilliant of mathematicians could alas be devious, deceptive and duplicitous.

"The Dark Side of Isaac Newton: Science's Greatest Fraud?" by Nick Kollerstrom doesn't go looking at unpublished alchemical musings as is nowadays fashionable, rather it sticks to the historical record.

At the time when the new science was born, this ground breaking study scrutinizes the ways in which Newton failed to discover the law of gravity or invent calculus. What exactly did Leibniz mean by describing him as 'a mind neither fair nor honest'? Why did Robert Hooke describe him as 'the veriest knave in all the house' and why was the astronomer Flamsteed calling him SIN (Sir Isaac Newton)?

"The Dark Side Of Isaac Newton" gives Newton credit for what he did discover -- which may not be quite had been told to us in school. Rather, "The Dark Side Of Isaac Newton" redefines the genius of Isaac Newton, but without the heavily mythologised baggage of a bygone era. He believed in one God, one law and one bank.

Editorial Note: Following the completion of his Natural Science degree At Cambridge University and specializing n the history and philosophy of science, Nick Kollerstrom worked for the Medical Research Council's Air Pollution Unit. While living in Guildford, England, Kollerstrom worked as a Secondary School Maths teacher for five years. Kollerstrom worked in the local Green Party. While studying at Emerson College and working on a bio-dynamic farm he became interested in planting by the Moon and Lunar influences.

Critique: Exceptionally well researched, written, organized and presented, "The Dark Side Of Isaac Newton: Science's Greatest Fraud?" is an extraordinary, iconoclastic, thoughtful and thought-provoking documented study that is especially and unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library collections, as well as Sir Isaac Newton supplemental studies reading lists

Clint Travis

Gail's Bookshelf

The Persian Gamble
Joel C. Rosenberg
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
351 Executive Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188
9781496406187, $27.99 hc / $15.39 Kindle

"The Persian Gamble," Joel C. Rosenberg's newest political suspense releases March 12 with a riveting story that "closely mirrors current Middle East events" while foreshadowing other "geopolitical realities." Such as growing tensions between the United States and Russia in addition to possible top-secret North Korean, Iran and Russian nuclear alliances.

The captivating and complex tale is also wrapped in multifaceted, multi-layered international conspiracies and counter conspiracies, complete with dynamic power struggles and intense political intrigue with the ultimate threat - worldwide, nuclear war.

Against this backdrop the story opens in the skies over northwestern Russia after six Russian MiG fighters aim heat seeking missiles at a private Gulfstream jet. Seconds later bright orange flames light up the sky and the once sleek jet, now in fiery pieces, plummets toward the icy earth below. The Russian pilots cheered, justified at their swift and deadly response to their President's assassination 90 minutes earlier.

However, Marcus Ryder, retired U.S. Secret Service agent, Oleg Kraskin, son-in-law of Russian President Aleksander Ivanovich Luganov, known as the "Raven," and Jenny Morris, Moscow's CIA station chief had lunged from the jet seconds before the missiles hit. Even though a blinding blizzard prevented them from knowing whether they were over land or water, they knew it was their only chance of survival.

Now, free-falling toward the icy earth below, Marcus, the only one trained to jump, knew Oleg was terrified and his own actions were limited with the wounded, unconscious body of Jenny strapped to the front of his tandem jump suit.

He scanned the sky and saw Oleg thirty yards away and waved his arm, their prearranged signal to pull the rip cord and open Oleg's chute. "There was no response." Either he couldn't see Marcus in the raging blizzard, or he was unconscious. Marcus didn't know, even if they survived the jump, how they would get out of Russia since Raven was a Russian assassin and double agent and Marcus, former secret service, would be considered a rogue agent, persona non gratis by the United States.

Thus, begins another terrifying thriller from Joel C. Rosenberg, an author who U.S. News & World Report called a "modern-day Nostradamus" because of his ability to prophesy worst-case future scenarios in fiction.

Although the complex story moves swiftly through parts one and two, setting the characters and reader firmly into the story, part three begins at a "blistering pace" that crackles with faith, tension and a masterful jaw-dropping ending. All of which happens because of Rosenberg's meticulous research and connections to world-wide global leaders make the "Persian Gamble" realistic, timely, and eye-popping riveting!

Walking with Henry: Big Lessons from a Little Donkey on Faith, Friendship and Finding Your Path
Rachel Anne Ridge
Tyndale Momentum
351 Executive Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188
9781496430106, $25.99 pbk / $9.99 Kindle

Author, professional artist and designer, Rachel Ann Ridge releases "Walking with Henry" March 5, an inspirational true story of faith wrapped in hope, trust and rescued donkeys. It's also Rachel's story of her journey into intimacy with God, a journey that would restore her soul and rekindle her faith and spiritual life.

Her story begins with a decision about a "wingman" for Flash, a bedraggled donkey her family adopted when he wandered down their farm driveway seven years ago. She knew adopting a second donkey would be a hard sell to her husband, but recently Flash had become "bored and destructive, chewing on fences, barns," or anything else he could find. Maybe a new friend was the answer.

Around that time Doc Darlin, a burro-wrangler from Texas who rescued donkeys, sent Rachel a picture, writing he had "found a good buddy for Flash." The picture was of a tiny miniature donkey from Henderson County Texas named "number ten." From the minute Rachel saw him she just knew he would be the perfect pasture mate for Flash. What she couldn't know was that it wouldn't quite work out the way she planned or how "rocky" her path with donkeys would become.

Thus, begins an engaging story of Henry and Flash wrapped in snippets of Bible stories and Rachel's account of what two endearing, but stubborn donkeys taught her about life, God, faith and trust as they journeyed together, "a book of prayers in hand."

Chapters note and are defined by "The Book of Common Prayer" first penned in 1549 by Thomas Cramer, a book long known by Christian clergy and lay people alike as a "spiritual treasure chest." A sampling of prayers includes the well-known "Apostle's Creed," "Psalm 23," "The Prayer of Zechariah" and "The Lord's Prayer." However, Flash and Henry's story define the story with touches of delightful humor, warmth and compelling insights.

"Walking with Henry" is a wonderful story of faith wrapped in life lessons that encourage practical, personal and often profound personal growth as readers learn "big lessons from a little donkey on faith, friendship and finding your path."

Gail Welborn, Reviewer

Grace's Bookshelf


The White Card, a play by Claudia Rankine. Graywolf press. 89 pages.
Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky. Graywolf Press.76 pages.
A Cry In The Snow by Stella Vinitchi Radulescu. Translated by Luke Hankins. Seagull Press. 73 pages.
Nouns & Verbs, New and Selected Poems by Campbell McGrath. HarperCollins. 272 pages.
Still Life With Mother And Knife by Chelsea Rathburn. LSU Press. 67 Pages.
Camouflage by Lupe Gomez, translated by Erin Moure. Circumference Books. 105 pages.
The Art of Voice: Poetic Principles and Practice by Tony Hoagland with Kay Cosgrove. W.W. Norton &Co. 160 pages.
A Crown of Hornets by Marcia Pelletiere. Four Way Books. 70 pages.
Tsunami vs. The Fukushima 50 by Lee Ann Roripaugh. Milkweed Editions. 95 pages.
Intrusive Beauty by Joseph J. Capista. Ohio Univ. Press. 75 pages.

Also listed with March's Best Books: Nancy Huxtable Mohr, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Jessica Jacobs, Diane Mehta.

The White Card
Claudia Rankine
Graywolf Press
9781555978396, $16.00, 89 pages.

A major voice in American poetry has turned to playwriting. Rankine knows how to do it - taking a powerful topic and putting it in the hands of epitomized characters. Her characters include an American businessman, and his family, who wish to buy the latest work of art by a celebrated African-American artist. Theater is about ideas and the conflict that polarizes its people, and it helps that Rankine has the gift of dialogue and a subject no one can look away from. It's the white card that dogs our society when do-gooders are wrongheaded proving, over and again, that all motion is not progress. The wealthy people in Rankine's play try hard to understand why they're not wonderful and progressive: they walk the walk, yet inherently aren't able to grasp racial nuance. As the great poet Sterling Brown once said: "They mean so well, but they do so poor." In fact, well-meaning could be a character in this play. Only the son (i.e. the next generation) fathoms the difficulties. Rankine's play shows that even today we cannot agree on the basic facts of race relations; and we have a long way to go to assume healthy responsibility. The play is about viable conversations that fail-- if, say, a philanthropic art owner owns private prisons but wants 'to help black people' - and if human rights and humanity are not seen as the same thing. But, for now, we have this play that opens it all up; and this exposure of differences is where we begin - as we now begin, over and over.

Deaf Republic
Ilya Kaminsky
Graywolf Press
9781555978310, $16.00, 76 pages.

Former Soviet citizen Kaminsky writes of authoritarianism, military invasion, and resistance in a harrowing tale involving puppets, puppeteers, lovers, and children. The writer writes what we don't want to hear; and makes it something we cannot live without hearing. The villagers' resistance is to make up a language the soldiers cannot understand, using deafness as a weapon of power. This is so true of many stories where victims coalesce to be victors - yet, with oppression and violence in enemy occupation there're no human aspiration - only whose blood flows and when. Especially effective are Momma Galya's puppeteers who strangle soldiers (after sex) with puppet strings.

Kaminsky's written a work that's a symbol of all times when one dominant force overtakes a people. Throughout history, victims will always develop a codified message to endure and sustain. Kaminsky's writing is one percent sociology and 99% poetic genius - making explosive realities manageable -- even when writing of cruelty-- giving us lines that are so gorgeous, and original, and breathtakingly visual, we marvel at the human being who wrote them.

Value added. In the notes at the book's end is this: "ON SILENCE: Deaf people don't believe in silence. It is the invention of the hearing."

Firing Squad

On balconies, sunlight. On poplars, sunlight, on our lips.
Today no one is shooting.
A girl cuts her hair with imaginary scissors -
the scissors in sunlight, her hair in sunlight.
As soldiers wake and gape at us gaping at them,
what do they see?
Tonight they shot fifty women on Lerna Street.
I sit down to write and tell you what I know:
a child learns the world by putting it in her mouth,
a girl becomes a woman and a woman, earth.
Body, they blame you for all things and they
seek in the body what does not live in the body.

A Cry In The Snow
Stella Vinitchi Radulescu
Translated by Luke Hankins
Seagull Books
9780857425973, $21.00, 73 pages.

The poet lived during the communist regime in Romania and brings her sense of dread and survival into a meditative journal. Radulescu begins her book with speculation on her existence, corporality, and mortality. She writes the poetry of her culture using her own processes as central. Imagistic and beautiful, the poems create moments of reverie and melancholy. These are patient observations and internal monologues - they speak of a larger presence - the competing realities of a life limited in freedom except for the imagination and the pen.

what life on earth is all about

in the garden among leaves

have the birds gone away?

where is this noise at the bottom of the ocean coming from

this avalanche of human forms?

enough? of course not, it's starting again

the empire is drowning

they're hanging innocents

and it's up to the wind to listen to their cries

to soften their souls

Nouns & Verbs
Campbell McGrath
c/o HarperCollins
9780062854148, $24.99, 272 pages.

Don't bother looking for any words today. Campbell McGrath has them all, and then some. He can craft formally, bop playfully, and speculate philosophically. He's known for the long form, the prose poem, social commentary, and nostalgia - once I worried about slander when he wrote an exegesis about the Chuck E. Cheese establishment, but thankfully those people don't read poetry. The intellect is the thing with McGrath, but the best part is we don't know it's there, as we're on the roller coaster of his ideas and verbiage and never want to stop to find who's running the machinery.

I've known his work for 30 years so I started reading the new poems first, and they are new, but thankfully they have semblances of former poems - a sweet smartass approach to life's degradations, and an astounding encyclopedic mind for science, literature and pop culture. You can find a 'happy meal' in a soliloquy, or poems written at 'Jiffy Lube, - then find a 'Smirnoff' or 'Bruce Springsteen' deepening a poetic thought. You can also find eloquence and lyricism, enough to take your breath away. He simply has it all.

McGrath is ubiquitous, although he'd be able to do something more spectacular with that word - his craft is impeccable when he wants it to be - he's incorrigible and lovable - he's an American patriot trying to shape up the country from its television to its most elemental problems. This book is McGrath's roadmap and is worth the trip. He did win the MacArthur "genius" award once, and I second that award.

The Human Heart

We construct it from tin and ambergris and clay,
ochre, graph paper, a funnel
of ghosts, whirlpool
in a downspout full of midsummer rain.

It is, for all its freedom and obstinance,
an artifact of human agency
in its maverick intricacy,
its chaos reflected in earthly circumstances,

its appetites mirrored by a hungry world
like the lights of the casino
in the coyote's eye. Old
as the odor of almonds in the hills around Solano,

filigreed and chancelled with flavor of blood oranges,
fashioned from moonlight,
yarn, nacre, cordite,
shaped and assembled valve by valve, flange by flange,

and finished with the carnal fire of interstellar dust.
We build the human heart
and lock it in its chest
and hope that what we have made can save us.

Still Life with Mother and Knife
Chelsea Rathburn
LSU Press
9780807169742, $18.95, 67 Pages

I'm so glad I've read Rathburn, to be reminded once again how poetry can encapsulate story powerfully, formalizing events, making them well worth it. Everyone has childhood memories and discordant pasts; then why do this poet's gifts seem incomparable? As if no one has experienced it all quite well enough before? It could be her craft and form, invisible to the eye and ear, holding feeling and language together with a special chemistry.

Deft explorations into the soul are not for everyone - not even for all poets - examining shame, humiliation, blame. Only the richest mind can refashion into vivid tableaux. We might see Rathburn as a visionary for the way she converts circumstance into hologram - the actual is transformed by language's internal radiance - so careful, so exact, unaware of its utility.

Knowledge of the visual arts is everywhere; and one long poem on Delacroix's "Medea" is a masterwork. Mother and child are the source and subject of Rathburn's poems - the push/pull of emotions - the shared knife - but unlike Medea we do not kill, we find the divine; the only way this art can be described - a collection of poems with the divine.

Variations on a Theme: Delacroix's Medea, 1820 - 1862

Part ll.

For years he seeks a way into the work.
He sketches the children sucking at her breasts,

he studies her neck and torso, turning her
this way and that, in motion and repose.

Why am I not a poet? the painter writes.
But at least let me feel as much as possible

in each of my paintings, what I wish to produce
in the souls of others. He draws the dagger

from every angle but does not let her use it.
It's always the moment just before she kills.

Lupe Gomez
Translated by Erin Moure
Circumference Books
9781949918007, $16.00, 105 pages.

On each page are two poems, one written in Galacian, and its counterpart in English. Sometimes the poems are only one line: "death was a white horse bathing in a river;" and every page is beautiful. The theme is grief - a mother's death - but the story is birth, the life from this mother and an unspoiled village not touched by modern configurations - a rural land that still carries on its ancient practices. This is a treasure of language imagined, and translated with an exquisite hand. It constantly amazes how few words can be said to open up a world. It's apparently the poet's sacred obligation to preserve her language, her culture, shaping contours of meaning from fragments of thought - each word precise to its mission.

You had no dreams
because women in villages don't dream.

The economic backwardness of Galicia
was a form of artistic avant-garde.

The Art of Voice: Poetic Principles and Practice
Tony Hoagland with Kay Cosgrove
W. W. Norton & Company
9781324002680, $22.95, 160 pages

Hoagland was one of our most energetic and beloved writers who died recently, leaving this "craft guide" with dozens of poems referenced, and his own personal explorations and explanations. The book is about 'Voice' in 12 chapters: Showing the Mind In Motion; The Sound Of Intimacy; The Warmth of Worldliness; The Tribal Bond of The Vernacular; etc. As we see, the mysterious subject "WHAT IS VOICE," heard in every classroom, is answered thoughtfully, from various perspectives. Hoagland is said to have been a superior teacher - a final chapter is on "Prompts, Exercises and Skillbuilding," and Hoagland infuses his own versatility and effortless elegance in sharing his knowledge. Tony Hoagland's own voice beams from the page, invested, influential, strong, imperative - just the way we like to remember him.

"One of the most difficult to define elements in poetry is voice, the distinctive linguistic presentation of an individual speaker. In many poems voice is the mysterious atmosphere that makes it memorable, that holds it together and aloft like the womb around an embryo. Voice can be more primary than any story or idea the poem contains, and voice carries the cargo forward to delivery. When we hear a distinctive voice in a poem, our full attention is aroused and engaged, because we suspect that here, now, at last, we may learn how someone else does it - that is, how they live, breath, think, feel, and talk."

A Crown of Hornets
Marcia Pelletiere
Four Ways Books
9781945588280, $15.95, 70 pages

Without self-pity, these poems chart the course of a wounded brain coming to life from injury. Each poem is a genuine straightforward account of this reckoning. Where is wellness and how does it feel? The whole person and the damaged person coexist, composing a series of elements - fear, sorrow, memory loss - but from all, emerges strong clear writing that lives the only life it has, and does it meaningfully.

The Habit of

We put on crinkled patient gowns
and clicked the snaps, each time,
like children, obedient,
accepting what we got.
Finally, the strangers
finished reaching underneath
our paper sleeves, said we
could take them off for good,
but after so much time
in those light robes, we paused
before we moved into
the lack of them, the letting go.

Tsunami vs. The Fukushima 50
Lee Ann Roripaugh
Milkweed Editions
9781571314857, $16.00, 95 pages

"This book is a tribute to, in memory and honor of, the victims and survivors of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and the subsequent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster."

When a tsunami hit a nuclear plant (Fukushima Daiichi), 50 stayed, risking their lives, to man the reactors.

Natural elements are beyond human scale. Maybe that's why we need poetry that encapsulates so much and provides the only shelter we have from calamity. Roripaugh uses our oldest beliefs to confront the disruption of nature's harmony. Characters and situations are her choice of tools as she tackles an enormous task. Fortunately, she's equal to the painful subject with good technical skills and an ability to find subtleties within a horrible story. Some poets were destined to write something on a timescale we cannot even imagine and yet make it germane to every moment. Part historian, mostly artist, this poet restores life from the rubble.

hulk small

because it was afternoon
and I was at the carnation farm
when the earthquake struck

because by the time I arrived
back home to help my family
traffic jams had clogged shut
the main arterial roads leading
inland from Futaba-machi

because when the tsunami
breached the sea wall,
and concrete disintegrated like
strewn chunks of soft plywood,
we had to leave our car
and flee for higher ground

because the elevated hill
marked as the evacuations point
for an elementary school
seemed like it should be safe,
until the tsunami rose like
a thundering wall of water
and blotted out the sky

because there wasn't time
for us to climb all the way

Intrusive Beauty
Joseph J. Capista
Ohio University Press
9780821423769, $16.95, 75 pages.

Capista has his hand on all aspects of this art. His craft is impeccable, often witty, and always refreshing. The poet shows extreme versions of himself - he can lullaby you with perfect tone in moments of tranquility; he can write social issues via poetry; he writes referendums on college teaching and his students. The poems allow an emotional exposure, so the reader has full access to thoughts behind the line. Some poems are simple; some complex - Capista has a certain gift to allow quiet around experience and this has to do with word choice and aesthetics on the page. Most of all, we find the poet expresses essential goodness in daily acts, and takes on this art to prove it to us. This is a reward for the writer and the reader.

History of the Inevitable

Fire wants to be ash, which wants
a bucket to hold it with unsleeping certainty.

The bucket wants to look like the moon,
which it does some nights, while the moon

wants to be the storefront window, full
of something. But the window's coats

are tired of town's dull hooks and long
to be pitchforks, which long to be trees.

The trees envy the slow-moving cow
beneath their boughs, and the cow wants

an engine to propel it though the sharp
fence where the man rests, wondering

how he will ever go to his desire when
the universe so needs his tending hand.

Also, Best Books for March:

The Well: Poems from Twin Pines Farm
Nancy Huxtable Mohr
Butternut Press
9780996705653, $15.00, 106 Pages

Honoring the farm women of family lineage from the 1700's to present time, Mohr immortalizes history and tiny acts that create the past. "Storms coming but the tubs/ are full - one wash, the other butter/ for you on the next train..."

One Minute More

A man and a woman sit
after dinner, stare at sun's
reach over oak crusted hills,
the long light on green lawn.
They drink wine and talk
of those not seen in years,
of hope and not despair.
The dusk around them
holds itself taut, as robins
search for their evening meal.
Let's not go in yet, he begs.
One minute more.

Best Books from Four Way Books:

Take Me with You, Wherever You're Going
Jessica Jacobs
Four Way Books
9781945588266, $15.95, 109 pages.

A powerful autobiography of friendship, love, marriage; "...we knew what we were getting into. Each of us/ holding the hand of the most/ stubborn person we knew, the only one capable/ of wrenching the other/ greater than the sum of her parts..."

Leaving Home

The koi were killed by a possum killed by
our dog, whose barks brought my dad to the dark

yard, along with me - his stand-in son, his
midnight shadow. In the glower of the flashlight,

the dog's eyes were red and rolling, the possum's
fur bright as an errant scrap of daylight.

The dog wouldn't put it down, bent the pipe
of the pool skimmer my father used to lever

the body free from his jaws. My parents
gave the dog away soon after. Because, I suspect,

wildness can live in the suburbs only so long
as it doesn't bare its teeth; so long as when the light

finds it, it drops its prey and wags its tail;
so long as we confine our darkness to the dark.

Forest with Castanets
Diane Mehta
Four Way Books
9781945588259, $15.95, 96 pages

From the essay "Sex & Sensibility:" "...The sexual vulnerability so specific to postdivorce love is the very thing that rekindles your relationship to experience, but it is also what makes you that much more lonely..."

Dirt Maid

My tough blue hands are veined with a thousand rivers
navigated or drowned in.

But I have roots to care about, moss to take me in;
earth-maid, dirt-maid, pages of trees grow within.

Chasing down my blue-dark conversations,
cockatoo creations, I ration thought, chase elation.

Lakes move in their reflections of trees
where light swims with full-floating ease.

A thousand years from now,
love will wonder why it ever lost its vigilance.

Perhaps: dream-crazy midnights, illicit scenes,
walking roughly into grief, casketed in it.

While stars telescope me into new geography.
Gravity claims down trees and follows me.

The Book of Ruin
Rigoberto Gonzalez
Four Way Books
9781945588327, $15.95, 86 pages

A book of pain and sorrow expiated by lyricism. "... I'm simply an entity misunderstood, I only do/what you do to me. Since I am no longer free, /the cloud of me becomes the shroud of you."

Portrait of a Father After His Son's Memorial Service

There's a man who sits on a bench
waiting for a train, though the trains
arrive and depart and the man remains
seated, the heaviness of resignation on

his face. As evening falls the light flickers
awake in the waiting room and a moth
begins to flutter in and out of sight
until it rests finally on the white bulb

above his head. All things come to calm
this way - even the trains. The cycles
of grinding metal stretch out into yawns -
each iron wheel a flower folding its petals in.

Night concludes its hymn. The man rises but
hesitates to leave this station of his cross.

Grace Cavalieri, Reviewer & Maryland's Poet Laureate
Washington Independent Review of Books

Julie's Bookshelf

The Best of Us
Robyn Carr
Mira Books
195 Broadway, 24th Floor, New York, NY 10007
9780778351306, $26.99, HC, 336pp,

Synopsis: Dr. Leigh Culver loves practicing medicine in Timberlake, Colorado. It is a much-needed change of pace from her stressful life in Chicago. The only drawback is she misses her aunt Helen, the woman who raised her. But it's time that Leigh has her independence, and she hopes the beauty of the Colorado wilderness will entice her aunt to visit often.

Helen Culver is an independent woman who lovingly raised her sister's orphaned child. Now, with Leigh grown, it's time for her to live life for herself. The retired teacher has become a successful mystery writer who loves to travel and intends to never experience winter again.

When Helen visits Leigh, she is surprised to find her niece still needs her, especially when it comes to sorting out her love life. But the biggest surprise comes when Leigh takes Helen out to Sullivan's Crossing and Helen finds herself falling for the place and one special person. Helen and Leigh will each have to decide if they can open themselves up to love neither expected to find and seize the opportunity to live their best lives.

Critique: Another gem of a novel from the mind and imagination of author Robyn Carr, "The Best of Us" is a deftly scripted and thoroughly entertaining read from beginning to end. While very highly recommended for all community library Contemporary General Fiction & Romance collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Best of Us" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Introduction to Magic: The Path of Initiatic Wisdom
Julius Evola
Inner Traditions International, Ltd.
One Park Street, Rochester, VT 05767
9781620557174, $29.99, PB, 448pp,

Synopsis: A controversial philosopher and critic of modern Western civilization, the late Julius Evola (1898-1974) is considered one of the foremost authorities on the world's esoteric traditions. He wrote and published widely on Eastern religions, alchemy, sexuality, politics, and mythology.

"Introduction to Magic: The Path of Initiatic Wisdom" is the second of a two volume set providing the novice metaphysical student with an a basic introduction to the arcane science of metaphysics called Magic. In it, Julius Evola shares a rigorous selection of initiatory exercises, including instructions for creating the diaphanous body of the Opus magicum, establishing initiatic consciousness after death, and the construction of magical chains (the enchained awareness of initiates).

"Introduction to Magic: The Path of Initiatic Wisdom" also offers the initiate with studies of mystery traditions throughout history, presenting not only the principles themselves but also witnesses to them and their continual validity today

Critique: An impressively informative and exceptionally well organized and impressive study, "Introduction to Magic: The Path of Initiatic Wisdom" is unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and academic library Metaphysical Studies collections. It should be noted that it is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $21.99). Also very highly recommended is Julius Evola's "Introduction to Magic: Rituals and Practical Techniques for the Magus", which is volume one of this outstanding two volume body of work (9780892816248, $24.95 PB, $16.99 Kindle).

Love You Hard
Abby Maslin
c/o Penguin Group USA
375 Hudson Street, 3rd floor, New York, NY 10014-3657
9781524743314, $27.00, HC, 320pp,

Synopsis: When Abby Maslin's husband, TC, didn't make it home on August 18, 2012, she knew something was terribly wrong. Her fears were confirmed when she learned that her husband had been beaten by three men and left for dead mere blocks from home, all for his cell phone and debit card.

The days and months that followed were a grueling test of faith. As TC recovered from a severe traumatic brain injury that left him unable to speak and walk, Abby faced the challenge of caring for (and loving) a husband who now resembled a stranger.

"Love You Hard" is the raw, unflinchingly honest story of a young love left broken, and the resilience required to mend a life and remake a marriage. Told from the caregiver's perspective, this book is a daring exploration of true love: what it means to love beyond language, beyond abilities, and into the place that reveals who we really are.

At the heart of Abby and TC's unique and captivating story are the universal truths that bind us all. "Love You Hard" is a tale of living and loving wholeheartedly, learning to heal after profound grief, and choosing joy in the wake of tragedy.

Editorial Note: Abby Maslin is a writer and a public school teacher. Through her speaking and blogging, she is passionate about bringing awareness to the challenges of traumatic brain injury and caregiving. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and two children.

Critique: If you only have time to read one memoir this year, make it "Love You Hard" by Abby Maslin. An extraordinary and vividly engaging true life story, this is one that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book has been finished and set back upon the shelf. While very highly recommended for community library Contemporary American Biography collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Love You Hard" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Poison in the Colony: James Town 162
Elisa Carbone
Viking Children's Books
c/o Penguin Putnam Inc.
345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780425291832, $17.99, HC, 320pp,

After the colony of James Town is founded in 1607. After Captain John Smith establishes trade with the Native Americans. After Pocahontas befriends the colonists. After early settlers both thrive and die in this new world a girl is born and named Virginia.

Virginia Laydon, an infant at the end of Blood on the River, has now grown up in a colony that is teetering dangerously on the precipice of conflict with the native Algonquins. Virginia has the gift, or the curse, of the knowing-an ability that could help save the colony, and is equally likely to land her at the burning stake as an accused witch.

Virginia struggles to make sense of her own inner world against the backdrop of pivotal years in the Jamestown colony. The first representative government is established, the first enslaved Africans arrive, and the self-righteousness of the colony's leaders angers the Algonquin.

When Virginia's mother first learns of her gift, she is terrified. Kill it, her mother says, or they will kill you. When accusations and danger threaten, Virginia learns that she is on her own; her mother must protect her young sisters rather than stand up for her. So begins a journey of self-realization and increasing strength, as Virginia goes from being a self-protective young girl to someone who knows she must live her own truth even if it will be the end of her.

Editorial Note: In addition to being a writer and historical researcher, Elisa Carbone is an accomplished rock climber, wind surfer, white water kayaker, and cross-country skier. She has masters degrees in Communication and Education, and has taught on the college level. She now divides her time between Silver Spring, Maryland, and Hendricks, West Virginia. She can be visited at her web site:

Critique: A deftly written historical novel that will have a very special and enduring appeal for young readers ages 8-12, "Poison in the colony: James Town 162" by Elisa Carbone is an especially and unreservedly recommended novel for family, school, and community library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Poison in the Colony: James Town 162" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.99).

Living on the Borderlines: Stories
Melissa Michal
The Feminist Press
365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10016
9781936932467, $16.95, PB, 250pp,

Synopsis: Melissa Michal's work has appeared in The Florida Review, Yellow Medicine Review, and others. She currently teaches Native American/Indigenous literatures at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"Living on the Borderlines: Stories" is her debut anthology which is comprised of thirteen of her short stories ranging a teenager struggling to understand her grandmother's silences; to a family seeks to reconnect with a lost sibling; to a young woman searches for a cave that's called to her family for generations.

With these stories, Melissa Michal weaves together an understated and contemplative collection exploring what it means to be Native.

Critique: Deftly crafted, inherently interesting, thoughtful and thought-provoking, but above all entertaining, "Living on the Borderlines: Stories" is an extraordinary collection that is unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Living on the Borderlines: Stories" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.98).

Tilly and the Crazy Eights
Monique Gray Smith
Second Story Press
20 Maud Street, Suite 401, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5V 2M5
9781772600759, $19.95, PB, 230pp,

Synopsis: When Tilly receives an invitation to help drive eight elders on their ultimate bucket-list road trip, she impulsively says yes. Before she knows it, Tilly has said good-bye to her family and is on an adventure that will transform her in ways she could not predict, just as it will for the elders who soon dub themselves "the Crazy Eights."

The Crazy Eights each choose a stop somewhere or something they've always wanted to experience while on the way to their ultimate goal -- the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow in Albuquerque.

Their plan is to travel to Las Vegas, Sedona, and the Redwood Forests, with each destination the inspiration for secrets and stories to be revealed. The trip proves to be powerful medicine as they laugh, heal, argue, and dream along the way.

By the time their bus rolls to a stop in New Mexico, Tilly and the Crazy Eights, with friendships forged and hearts mended, feel ready for anything. But are they?

Critique: An engagingly entertaining and impressively original novel by an author with a genuine flair for narrative driven storytelling, "Tilly And The Crazy Eights" by Monique Gray Smith is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community library Contemporary General Fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Tilly And The Crazy Eights" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Hunters' Watch Brigade: The Game
Paula Millhouse
ImaJinn Books
c/o BelleBooks
PO Box 300921, Memphis, TN 38130
9781611948813, $14.95, PB, 222pp,

Synopsis: All monster hunter Samantha Silverton wants is a little R&R. She and her sexy partner/cat shifter Max have a week off in the city that never sleeps, and she intends to enjoy it. But before she can pack her suitcase, she's caught up in the middle of a wicked game -- a smartphone app driven scavenger hunt that's bringing all the big, bad supernaturals to NYC to play. The bad part? The game was the brainchild of Alex Van Dam -- Sam's first love. What's worse? Sam will have to play the game alone.

Maximillion Ra hasn't quite got a handle on his unique shifter magic yet. He's in love with Sam, but if he's ever going to be any good to her, he has to face his family's curse. But how can he leave Sam now, especially with her old flame in the picture?

Alex Van Dam isn't interested in who wins his game. He just wants to find the final prize -- an ancient Greek relic. Once he has it, he'll use the artifact's magic to control all the supernaturals in Manhattan, starting with the Hunters' Watch Brigade.

Only Sam stands in his way. And without Max by her side, even the monster hunting daughter of Poseidon has to wonder if she stands a chance . . .

Paula Millhouse was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia, where Spanish moss whispers tales in breezes from the Atlantic Ocean to her soul. As a child, she soaked in the sunshine and heritage of cobblestones, pirate lore, and stories steeped in savory mysteries of the South.

She lives in the mountains now, but honors her Southern heritage as a storyteller by sharing high-heat adventures with her readers. Escape your daily routine with books where justice does exist, true love is worth fighting for, and happily ever afters are expected.

Critique: The sequel to author Paula Millhouse's fantasy novel "Hunters' Watch Brigade: Initiation " (9781611948523, $14.95 PB, $4.61 Kindle), "Hunters' Watch Brigade: The Game" continues to document her master of the fantasy action/adventure format. A simply riveting read from beginning to end, "Hunters' Watch Brigade: The Game" is unreservedly recommended for community library Fantasy & Science Fiction collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of dedicated fantasy fans that "Hunters' Watch Brigade: The Game" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $5.39).

Cha Cha's Rainbow End
Jerry Brown Schwartz
Deeds Publishing LLC
9781947309357, $19.95, HC, 167pp,

Synopsis: Cha Cha, like all children, lives in a dream world, wandering the prosperous fields of her family's tree farm and wondering what the future will bring. However, not all is as it seems in this idyllic little home.

Because while Cha Chas father loves her dearly, her mother has expectations; expectations Cha Cha can never hope to live up to. Then tragedy strikes, turning Cha Chas world upside down and forcing her to grow up and fast.

Though kind neighbors and a helpful town do all they can for the now broken family, one loss follows another, and Cha Cha soon finds herself adrift in a storm of confusion and heartbreak.

Thinking that perhaps it is time she leaves the tree farm and the ghosts of her past behind, she sets off in her fathers peach-colored wagon in search of happiness at the end of the rainbow.

And she will find it in perhaps the most unexpected of places a small Southern town called Divine, with a donkey named Ariabella, an extraordinary little boy, and a man who just might be the love of her life.

Critique: An inherently engaging and deftly crafted story that will hold the readers full interest from beginning to end, "Cha Cha's Rainbow End" is one of those novels that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. Indeed, "Cha Cha's Rainbow End" will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to community library collections.

Broken Bone China
Laura Childs
Berkley Books
c/o Penguin Group (USA)
375 Hudson Street, 4th floor, New York, NY 10014
9780451489630, $26.00, HC, 336pp,

Synopsis: It is Sunday afternoon, and Theodosia and Drayton are catering a formal tea at a hot-air balloon rally. The view aloft is not only stunning, they are also surrounded by a dozen other colorful hot-air balloons. But as the sky turns gray and the clouds start to boil up, a strange object zooms out of nowhere. It is a drone, and it appears to be buzzing around the balloons, checking them out.

As Theodosia and Drayton watch, the drone, hovering like some angry, mechanized insect, deliberately crashes into the balloon next to them. An enormous, fiery explosion erupts, and everyone watches in horror as the balloon plummets to the earth, killing all three of its passengers.

Sirens scream, first responders arrive, and Theodosia is interviewed by the police. During the interview she learns that one of the downed occupants was Don Kingsley, the CEO of a local software company, SyncSoft. Not only do the police suspect Kingsley as the primary target, they learn that he possessed a rare Revolutionary War Union Jack flag that several people were rabidly bidding on.

Intrigued, Theodosia begins her own investigation. Was it the CEO's soon-to-be ex-wife, who is restoring an enormous mansion at no expense? The CEO's personal assistant, who also functioned as curator of his prized collection of Americana? Two rival antiques' dealers known for dirty dealing? Or was the killer the fiancee of one of Theodosia's dear friends, who turns out to be an employee and a whistle-blower at SyncSoft?

Critique: Another superbly crafted and inherently riveting novel in author Laura Childs' outstanding Tea Shop Mystery series, "Broken Bone China" will easily prove to be an enduringly popular addition to all community library Mystery/Suspense collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of all dedicated mystery buffs that "Broken Bone China" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Julie Summers

Logan's Bookshelf

Blood in the Water
Joan Mellen
Prometheus Books
59 John Glenn Drive, Amherst, NY 14228-2197
9781633884649, $27.00, HC, 446pp,

Synopsis: On June 8, 1967, the USS Liberty, an unarmed intelligence ship reporting to the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the auspices of the National Security Agency, was positioned in international waters off the coast of Egypt when it was attacked with deadly violence by unmarked jet planes firing rockets and machine guns and throwing napalm onto its deck. This ambush was followed by a torpedo strike that blew a forty-foot hole in the starboard side of the ship. Lacking the capacity to defend themselves, thirty-four sailors were killed and 174 wounded, many for life. By the end of the day, Israel had confessed to having been the aggressor, simultaneously arguing that the attack had been an "accident" and a "mistake".

The facts said otherwise. So intense and sustained was the attack (it lasted for nearly an hour and a half) so specific was the aiming for the antennae and satellite dish on deck, that it was scarcely credible that Israel's aggression was not deliberate. This was the view of Marshall Carter, the director of the National Security Agency, his deputy director Louis Tordella, and Richard Helms, the Director of Central Intelligence.

Based on interviews with more than forty survivors, knowledgeable political insiders, and Soviet archives of the period, investigative writer Joan Mellen presents evidence suggesting complicity between US and Israeli intelligence in the attack on Liberty and the more than fifty-year long cover-up. What were the underlying motives? Was this a false flag operation conducted in the midst of the Six-Day War? Was it conceivable that Israel would have initiated such an operation without a green light from the United States?

For the sake of justice, truth and the murdered and surviving sailors, this is a story demanding to be told.

Critique: Impressively well researched, written, organized and presented, "Blood in the Water: How the US and Israel Conspired to Ambush the USS Liberty" is an extraordinary and seminal study that is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Blood in the Water" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Brilliance Audio, 9781978670488, $14.99, MP3 CD).

House of Assassins
Larry Correia
Baen Books
PO Box 1188, Wake Forest NC 27588
9781481483766, $25.00, HC, 416pp,

Synopsis: Ashok Vidal was once a member of the highest caste in all of Lok. As a Protector, he devoted his life to upholding the Law, rooting out those who still practiced the old ways and delivering swift justice with his ancestor blade Angruvadal. None was more merciless than he in stamping out the lingering belief in gods and demons among the casteless. His brutality was legendary and celebrated.

But soon Ashok learned that his life to that point had been a lie. He himself, senior member of the Protector Order, was casteless. He had been nothing more than an unwitting pawn in a political game. His world turned upside down and finding himself on the wrong side of the Law, he began a campaign of rebellion, war, and destruction unlike any Lok had ever seen.

Thera had been first daughter of Vane. A member of the Warrior Order, she had spent her life training for combat. Until a strange sight in the heavens appeared one day. Thera was struck by lighting and from that day forward she heard the Voice. A reluctant prophet with the power to see into the future, she fought alongside Ashok Vadal and his company of men known as the Sons of the Black Sword until a shapeshifting wizard with designs on her powers of precognition spirited her away. He holds her prisoner in the House of Assassins.

Ashok Vadal and the Sons of the Black Sword march to rescue Thera. With his sword Angruvadal, Ashok was unstoppable. But Angruvadal is gone, shattered to pieces on the demon possessed husk of a warrior. Now, Ashok must fight without the aid of the magic blade for the first time. Thera's life depends on it.

But there is much more at risk in the continent of Lok. Strange forces are working behind the scenes. Ashok Vadal and the Sons of the Black Sword are caught up in a game they do not fully understand, with powerful forces allied against them.

Ashok no longer knows what to believe. He is beginning to think perhaps the gods really do exist.

Critique: Another inherently riveting action/adventure fantasy saga from the pen of Larry Correia, "House of Assassins" showcases the author's total master of the genre and genuine flair for originality and narrative storytelling. While very highly recommended for community library Fantasy & Science Fiction collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of all dedicated fantasy fans that "House of Assassins" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.97) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Brilliance Audio, 9781978678576, $14.99, CD).

Small Town, Big Music
Jason Prufer
The Kent State University Press
1118 Library, P.O. Box 5190, Kent OH 44242
9781606353479, $29.95, HC, 280pp,

Synopsis: Relying on oral histories, hundreds of rare photographs, and original music reviews, "Small Town, Big Music: The Outsized Influence of Kent, Ohio, on the History of Rock and Roll" by Jason Prufer is the product of eight years of research and deftly explores the counter-cultural fringes of Kent, Ohio, over a four decade time frame.

Firsthand reminiscences from musicians, promoters, friends, and fans recount arena shows featuring acts like Pink Floyd, The Clash, and Paul Simon as well as the grungy corners of town where Joe Walsh, Patrick Carney, Chrissie Hynde, and DEVO refined their crafts. From back stages, hotel rooms, and the saloons of Kent, readers will travel back in time to the great rockin' nights hosted in this small town.

More than just a retrospective on performances that occurred in one midwestern college town, Prufer's illustrated history illuminates a fascinating phenomenon: both up-and-coming and major artists knew Kent was a place to play -- fertile ground for creativity, spontaneity, and innovation.

From the formation of Joe Walsh's first band, The Measles, and the creation of DEVO in Kent State University's art department to original performances of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and serendipitous collaborations like Emmylou Harris and Good Company in the Water Street Saloon, the influence of Kent's music scene has been powerful. Previously overshadowed by our attention to Cleveland as a true music epicenter, "Small Town, Big Muse" is an excellent and corrective addition.

Critique: Impressively informed and informative, "Small Town, Big Music" is exceptionally well written, organized and presented. The result is an unreservedly recommended study that will be of immense and enduring interest to community and academic library American Rock Music History 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 "Small Town, Big Music" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $20.79).

The Handy Accounting Answer Book
Amber K. Gray
Visible Ink Press
43311 Joy Rd., #414, Canton, MI 48187-2075
9781578596751, $21.95, PB, 416pp,

Synopsis: Everyone needs to budget money and manage costs, whether for groceries and everyday purchases, rent or mortgage, education, retirement, or even a business. Like it or not, accounting infuses most everything in life. From credits, debits, and basic bookkeeping to getting the most out of tax deductions and from reading or creating a business' financial statement to better understanding accounting lingo, "The Handy Accounting Answer Book" by Amber Gray (who is a full-time accounting professor at Adrian College in Adrian, Michigan) can help anyone acquire the skills to start or run a business, plan for retirement, set money aside for a big purchase, establish everyday budgets, and improve their money management.

Readers will learn about the concepts and assumptions behind the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Understand tax returns and maximize write-off. Manage retirement account statements and find ways to improve their results. Learn how to create a business plan. Learn about a business' financial ratios, cost of goods, depreciation, tax planning, recognizing revenue and expenses, financial audits, year-end closing the books, and other terms and rules. Maximize profits and improve personal or business bottom lines.

Covering accounting fundamentals, concepts, and jargon, "The Handy Accounting Answer Book" is for everyone who wants to understand the language of money and business. It uses basic terms and simple examples to illustrate complex accounting topics and can help you make better decisions about your business or personal finances. This handy primer answers nearly 800 specific questions and offers fun facts covering the basics of accounting.

Critique: Enhanced for the non-specialist general reader with an interest in the subject, "The Handy Accounting Answer Book" includes a glossary of commonly used terms to cut through the jargon, a helpful bibliography, appendices providing examples of accountancy practices, and an extensive index, adding to its usefulness. Impressively comprehensive and thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, "The Handy Accounting Answer Book" is an especially recommended addition to personal, community, and academic library collections.

The Ducati 750 Bible
Ian Falloon
Veloce Publishing Ltd.
9781787114463, $49.95, PB, 160pp,

Synopsis: When Ducati's great engineer Fabio Taglioni designed the 750 Ducati in 1970 there was no way he could comprehend how important this model would be. His design was unlike any other before or since: a 90-degree V-twin with single overhead camshafts driven by a train of bevel gears. Taglioni soon developed his 750 into a Formula 750 racer, and in 1972 beat the rest of what the world had to offer at the Imola 200. With this victory, the desmodromic 750 became a legend.

Ducati responded by producing a hand-built limited production desmodromic Super Sport. They also continued to produce the touring 750 GT and sporting 750 Sport until legislation killed them at the end of 1974. Today, this triumvirate of 750s represents the end of an era; the era before cost accounting and government design requirements. These were amongst the last pure, unadulterated sporting motorcycles built and it is not surprising they have inspired a new generation of retro classics, the Sport Classic of 2005 and 2006.

Critique: Profusely illustrated throughout, "The Ducati 750 Bible: 750 GT, 750 Sport and 750 Super Sport 1971 to 1978" by Ducati expert Ian Falloon (who has owned several 750s over the years) is a seminal study that is a 'must read' for all motorcycle sports enthusiasts in general, and Ducati fans in particular. While a unique and unreservedly recommended addition to community and academic library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Ducati 750 Bible" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $21.99).

Carl Logan

Margaret's Bookshelf

Broccoli Boot Camp
Keith E. Williams & Laura Seiverling
Woodbine House
6510 Bells Mill Road, Bethesda, MD 20817
9781606132890, $22.95, PB, 198pp,

Synopsis: Collaboratively written by licensed psychologists Keith Williams and Laura Seiverling, "Broccoli Boot Camp: Basic Training for Parents of Selective Eaters" is a comprehensive guide for parents of children who are selective or picky eaters, and can be used with children with or without special needs (e.g, autism or Down syndrome). It presents commonsense behavioral interventions to successfully expand children's diet variety and preferences for healthy foods.

"Broccoli Boot Camp" starts with the simple premise that when children are encouraged to taste and consume tiny portions of new foods, repeatedly and with lessening resistance, they learn to accept and enjoy the foods as part of their regular diets. Real-life, compelling case studies and abundant research findings support the authors' advice on how to overcome a child's selective eating. "Broccoli Boot Camp" also describes ways to increase compliance, factors to consider when choosing an intervention, and strategies to shape behavior.

Finally, five intervention plans are presented with step-by-step procedures, modifications, and tips on maximizing success. Parents can choose the intervention which works best for their family's circumstances. "Broccoli Boot Camp" also contains forms to track data, incentives, and meals, and a behavior contract to use with older children. "Broccoli Boot Camp" gives parents the tools they need to promote healthy eating for their child as well as improve the family mealtime experience!

Critique: Thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, "Broccoli Boot Camp: Basic Training for Parents of Selective Eaters" will prove to be a welcome and enduringly valued addition to professional, community and academic library Parenting Skills & Issues collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Broccoli Boot Camp" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $19.50).

Landscape Painting Now
Barry Schwabsky, et al.
Todd Bradway, editor
Distributed Art Publishers
155 Sixth Avenue, 2nd floor, New York, NY 10013-1507
9781942884262, $55.00, HC, 368pp,

Synopsis: Although the fact may be surprising to some, landscape painting is positively thriving in the 21st century -- indeed, the genre has arguably never felt as vital as it does today. The reasons why, if speculative, surely include our imminent environmental collapse and increasingly digitally mediated existence. "Landscape Painting Now: From Pop Abstraction to New Romanticism" is the first study to take a global view of its subject, featuring more than eighty outstanding contemporary artists (both established and emerging) whose ages span seven decades and who hail from twenty-five different countries.

Through its thematic organization into six chapters (Realism and Beyond, Post-Pop Landscapes, New Romanticism, Constructed Realities, Abstracted Topographies, and Complicated Vistas) "Landscape Painting Now" affords a generous window into the very best of contemporary landscape painting, from Cecily Brown's sensual, fleshy landscapes to Peter Doig's magic realist renderings of Trinidad, Maureen Gallace's serene views of beach cottages and the foaming ocean, David Hockney's radiant capturings of seasonal change in the English countryside, Julie Mehretu's dynamically cartographic abstractions, Alexis Rockman's mural-sized, postapocalyptic dioramas, and far beyond.

Barry Schwabsky's informative text weaves throughout "Landscape Painting Now", tracing the history of landscape painting from its origins in Eastern and Western art, through its transformation in the 20th century, to its present flourishing.

Shorter texts by art historians Robert R. Shane, Louise Sorensen, and Susan A. Van Scoy introduce each artist, situating the importance of landscape within their practice and addressing key works.

With over 400 color reproductions, including many details, this ambitious survey makes a compelling case for the continued relevance of landscape painting in our time.

"Landscape Painting Now" also features an extensive essay by Barry Schwabsky, art critic for The Nation.

Critique: An inherently fascinating and impressively diverse art history, "Landscape Painting Now: From Pop Abstraction to New Romanticism" is profusely illustrated throughout with each painting accompanied by an informative and succinct biographical commentary on the artist. Certain to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to personal, community, and academic library Art History collections, "Landscape Painting Now: From Pop Abstraction to New Romanticism" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition.

Plastic Soup: An Atlas of Ocean Pollution
Michiel Roscam Abbing
Island Press
2000 M St NW Suite 650, Washington, DC 20036
9781642830088, $26.00, HC, 136pp,

Synopsis: Plastics have transformed every aspect of our lives. Yet the very properties that make them attractive (they are cheap to make, light, and durable) spell disaster when trash makes its way into the environment.

Michiel Roscam Abbing is a political scientist who has been active in the battle against plastic soup since 2011 with the Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF), one of the leading international groups fighting plastic pollution. He reports on scientific research and current developments online at and lectures about plastic soup in the Netherlands and around the world.

In "Plastic Soup: An Atlas of Ocean Pollution" Abbing has produced a beautifully-illustrated survey of the plastics clogging our seas, their impacts on wildlife and people around the world, and inspirational initiatives designed to tackle the problem.

In "Plastic Soup" starkly reveals the scope of the issue: plastic trash now lurks on every corner of the planet. With striking photography and graphics, "Plastic Soup" brings this challenge to brilliant life for readers. Yet it also sends a message of hope; although the scale of the problem is massive, so is the dedication of activists working to check it. "Plastic Soup" highlights a diverse array of projects to curb plastic waste and raise awareness, from plastic-free grocery stores to innovative laws and art installations.

According to some estimates, if we continue on our current path, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by the year 2050. Created to inform and inspire readers, "Plastic Soup" is a critical tool in the fight to reverse this trend.

Critique: A seminal and ground-breaking work that will hold intense interest for environmentalists and unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary Environmental Issues collections and supplemental studies curriculums, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, environmental advocates, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Plastic Soup" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $25.65).

Teaching Authentic Cooking Skills to Adults With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Janice Goldschmidt
8403 Colesville Road, Suite 900, Silver Spring, MD 20910
9780996506885, $39.95, 213pp

Synopsis: "Teaching Authentic Cooking Skills to Adults With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: Active Engagement" is a unique instructional tool with which direct support professionals and program directors can address two critical issues in working with adults with IDD: promoting healthy eating habits and teaching real-life skills that will develop greater independence and self-determination.

Active Engagement is the program developed by the author and tested and proven through her years of teaching these skills successfully. Traditionally, people with IDD are the passive recipients of meals prepared by others. But everyone, regardless of ability level, should be able to make choices concerning the food they eat and to learn to prepare food or to actively participate in preparing food for themselves and others.

Teaching these skills to adults with IDD requires a new instructional model, which "Teaching Authentic Cooking Skills to Adults With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities" provides.

Active Engagement is based on a framework of good nutritional principles and evidence-based instructional practices, including individualization, direct instruction, and experiential learning.

"Teaching Authentic Cooking Skills to Adults With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities" is not a cookbook, although there are a number of adaptive recipes embedded as examples throughout.

"Teaching Authentic Cooking Skills to Adults With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities" provides detailed information on the Active Engagement program and how to implement it, organized into the following topics: Cooking as nutritional intervention A teaching framework for cooking skills, Developing cooking instruction around the patterns of American consumption, Teaching basic skill sets with adaptive tools, A new approach to recipes, Appliances from the universal to the specialized, Exploring different contexts for the development of cooking skills, Supporting cooking skills with food skills.

Critique: Impressively informative and offering a complete and comprehensive course of instruction, "Teaching Authentic Cooking Skills to Adults With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities" is a unique and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, and academic library collections.

A Return of Devotion
Kristi Ann Hunter
Bethany House Publishers
c/o Baker Publishing Group
6030 East Fulton Road, Ada, MI 49301
9780764230769 $14.99 pbk / $7.02 Kindle

Synopsis: Daphne Blakemoor was perfectly happy living in her own secluded world for twelve years. She had everything she needed--loved ones, a true home, and time to indulge her imagination. But when ownership of the estate where she works as a housekeeper passes on, and the new marquis has an undeniable connection to her past, everything she's come to rely upon is threatened.

Critique: The second novel in the "Haven Manor" romance series by award-winning author Kristi Ann Hunter, A Return of Devotion follows Daphne Blakemoor, the housekeeper of an estate, and William, Marquis of Chemsford, who has inherited not only his father's title and property, but also a burning drive to differentiate himself in every way from his sire. The conflicts and development of strong-willed characters form the core of this involving romance, highly recommended for fans of the genre. It should be noted for personal reading lists that A Return of Devotion is also available in a Kindle edition ($7.02).

Driftwood Bay
Irene Hannon
c/o Baker Publishing Group
6030 East Fulton, Ada, MI 49301
9780800728816 $15.99 pbk / $9.99 Kindle

Synopsis: After tragedy upends her world, Jeannette Mason retreats to the tiny Oregon seaside town of Hope Harbor to create a new life. Vowing to avoid emotional attachments, she focuses on running her lavender farm and tea-room--until a new neighbor with a destructive dog and a forlorn little girl invades her turf. But she needn't worry. Dr. Logan West is too busy coping with an unexpected family, a radical lifestyle change, and an unruly pup to have any interest in his aloof and disagreeable neighbor.

Yet when both Jeanette and Logan find themselves pulled into the life of a tattered Christian family fleeing persecution in war-torn Syria, might they discover that love sometimes comes calling when it's least expected?

Bestselling and award-winning author Irene Hannon invites readers back to the charming seaside town of Hope Harbor, where they are sure to find peace, healing, and a second chance at happiness.

Critique: Driftwood Bay is a unique romance novel touching upon the fallout of the current Syrian war. Jeannette Mason, an ordinary woman with an unhappy past, and Dr. Logan West find themselves entangled in the troubles of a family of refugees from the violent war in Syria. Ranging in tone from harrowing to heartwarming, Driftwood Bay is character-driven, thought-provoking, and highly recommended for connoisseurs of the genre. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Driftwood Bay is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).

Margaret Lane

Mari's Bookshelf

The Intrinsic Self: How Defining yourself and Measuring your Worth by your Achievements and Usefulness is Undermining your Happiness and Serenity
Dennis Portnoy
9780578445526, $17.95

The Intrinsic Self, Dennis Portnoy's second self-help book, is refreshingly insightful, as opposed to the typical overly simplified, patronizing tone of many self-help books.

Happiness and serenity are often at odds with success and doing well in the world's eyes. In his thirty years as a therapist, Portnoy sees that success often comes when we conform to external standards instead of our own inner values, with the result of risking our well being. Portnoy helps people discover their intrinsic worth, and shift from an outward orientation to a more internal one by using a method he refers to as "piercing the threat".

The method is straightforward. In seven short chapters, Portnoy defines external versus internal foci, demonstrates how to identify and confront external threats to inner focus and how to cultivate healthy ways of living from within. Addressing "you" throughout the book sets an informal and intimate tone, as though Portnoy is speaking in a therapy session or conference. This personal perspective also makes identifying with all the challenges cited natural and easy. Quotes from psychological and spiritual literature are relevant and illustrative, and encourage further inquiry. Each chapter contains examples from real situations and exercises to try. One of the most illuminating is to list your most important qualities then ask whether you'd be okay with yourself if you don't exhibit the inner qualities you list. Why or why not? How do you feel about yourself if you are achieving less or giving less to others? Portnoy is pointing out that the very ways that we define ourselves and our sense of worth is often the source of our unhappiness. More than a self-help guide, the book expands its focus with the claim that external focus is a "modern day epidemic" (24). A topic for a future book?

Organized, easy-to-read, and insightful, The Intrinsic Self convinces that working toward inner harmony is worth the effort.

The Tunes of Lenore
J.T. Blossom
9781386444398, $11.99 pbk / $2.99 Kindle

J.T. Blossom's, The Tunes of Lenore, sings of a hopeful future.

Ella considers the boarding school her divorcing parents send her to, a prison. Limited wifi, bugs, lots of hard classes with lots of homework, sports, work, chores and a small dating pool - Wandering Pines is a far cry from the cushy life she's used to in suburban Northern California, 2026. Prison becomes opportunity, though, as Ella immerses herself in her junior project and befriends an eccentric boy who loves his dog and his instrument as much as she loves her dog, Jenny, and her violin, Lenore. Together, these companions adventure into adulthood.

Ella's maturing comes about as she discerns problems and meets them with aplomb.

The challenges she discovers aren't obvious at first. Despite her initial reactions, Wandering Pines seems like a utopia. But her thoughts, in italics, and Jenny's reactions, depicted in images, suggest suspicions about some of her classmates and teachers. The more perfect the school seems, the more the questions mount. Is the niceness a facade? A nearby zoo owned by a famous rapper is also cause for concern. On top of these micro troubles, there's global climate change and food shortage to consider. The book builds tension surrounding these problems through a series of increasingly fraught encounters between Ella, her parents, and school mates. The scenes are vivid and steady pacing increases interest in the plot. Dialogue doesn't always help, however. Ella speaks like an adult, too self-aware and articulate, as though she's already developed, not still developing.

The fantastical elements of the story add intrigue to Ella's development. The future setting sets an imaginative tone. The book accurately describes music's magical effects on players and listeners alike. Jenny is an extraordinary dog, the result of engineering experimentation. While scientific, she also reminds of Philip Pullman's spiritual daemon characters in the Golden Compass series. Love emerges realistically, subtly, starting as friendship and growing into something deeper, more pervasive and sensual. Ella's ability to navigate and harness these mystical forces in the face of conflict shows the curious and critical, ambitious and eager - the best side of teen-dom.

This third novel by J.T. Blossom isn't just a coming of age story about a teenage girl, but about the potential for human society to be shaped and informed by shifting natural forces. Stay tuned for a sequel coming out soon.

Departure from Indifference: Probing the Framework of Reality
Octavio Melo
Fallen Leaf Publishing
9780983804727, $7.95

Octavio Melo's second philosophical work, Departure from Indifference, argues that consciousness matters in a material world.

The book uses questions to frame the argument. Is the material world all there is? What else is there? Is there a God? Is death the end? Careful to adhere to the premise of the question, answers are reasoned in succinct language, without jargon, and with reference to common experience, not unfamiliar ancient texts.

The book addresses a message in today's culture: that humans are ruining the planet. Is Earth better off without us? Melo argues that this question answers itself. The material world doesn't (can't) care. It is indifferent. Matter can't feel. But people do. People manifest intangible elements - consciousness, feelings, good, bad, right, wrong - in our actions. Our very questions and concerns, which drive us to act, we are evidence that we have a purpose here. These questions and concerns in turn become a defense of yearning to learn and understand as the means of expanding and perpetuating human consciousness in the material world.

"[O]ur mere presence on this Earth - on this field of obstacles - is indicative of our desire to take the opportunities found herein and use them as catalysts for growth" (76). Consciousness not only matters, but is our, and the world's, greatest asset. A tight and positive conclusion to a pithy philosophical inquiry.

Mari Carlson, Reviewer

Mason's Bookshelf

Walmart: Diary of an Associate
Hugo Meunier
Fernwood Publishing
9781773631325, $22.00, PB, 184pp,

Synopsis: In 2012, journalist Hugo Meunier went undercover as a Walmart employee for three months in St. Leonard, Quebec, just north of Montreal.

In great detail, Meunier's "Walmart: Diary of an Associate" charts the daily life of an impoverished Walmart worker, referring to his shifts at the box store giant as "somewhere between the army and Walt Disney". Each shift began with a daily chant before bowing to customer demands and the constant pressure to sell. Meanwhile Meunier and his fellow workers could not afford to shop anywhere else but Walmart, further indenturing them to the multi-billion-dollar corporation.

Beyond his time on the shop floor, Meunier documents the extraordinary efforts that Walmart exerts to block unionization campaigns, including their 2005 decision to close their outlet in Jonquiere, QC, where the United Food and Commercial Workers union had successfully gained certification rights. A decade later he charts the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that exposed the dubious legal ground on which Walmart stood in invoking closure and throwing workers out on the street.

In "Walmart: Diary of an Associate", Meunier reveals the truths behind Walmart's low prices.

Critique: A classic muckraking expose of corporate greed and its impact on employees and their communities, "Walmart: Diary of an Associate" is an exceptionally well written, insightfully informative, and inherently riveting account from cover to cover. An absolute 'must read' for anyone who shops at Walmart or is involved in unionization efforts with respect to one of the country's most influential 'brick & board' retailers whose main competition these days in, "Walmart: Diary of an Associate" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library collections. It will make you think twice before shopping there.

EC Comics: Race, Shock, and Social Protest
Qiana Whitted
Rutgers University Press
106 Somerset St., 3rd Floor, New Brunswick, NJ 08901
9780813566320, $99.95, HC, 196pp,

Synopsis: EC Comics (Entertaining Comics Group) is perhaps best-known today for lurid horror comics like Tales from the Crypt and for a publication that long outlived the company's other titles, Mad magazine. But during its heyday in the early 1950s, EC was also an early innovator in another genre of comics: the so-called "preachies" -- socially conscious stories that boldly challenged the conservatism and conformity of Eisenhower-era America.

In the pages of "EC Comics: Race, Shock, and Social Protest", Qiana Whitted (Professor of English and African American studies at the University of South Carolina in Columbia) examines a selection of these works including sensationally-titled comics such as "Hate!", "The Guilty!", and "Judgment Day!" -- and explores how they grappled with the civil rights struggle, antisemitism, and other forms of prejudice in America. Putting these socially aware stories into conversation with EC's better-known horror stories, Professor Whitted discovers surprising similarities between their narrative, aesthetic, and marketing strategies. She also recounts the controversy that these stories inspired and the central role they played in congressional hearings about offensive content in comics.

The first serious critical study of EC's social issues comics, "EC Comics: Race, Shock, and Social Protest" will give readers a greater appreciation of their legacy. They not only served to inspire future comics creators, but also introduced a generation of young readers to provocative ideas and progressive ideals that pointed the way to a better America.

Critique: A seminal work of meticulous and original scholarship, "EC Comics: Race, Shock, and Social Protest" is enhanced for academia with the inclusion of a four page Appendix (Annotations of key EC Title), twenty-four pages of Notes, a twelve page Bibliography, and a four page Index, making it an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Popular Culture collections in general, and EC Comics supplemental studies lists in particular. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "EC Comics: Race, Shock, and Social Protest" is also available in a paperback edition (9780813566313, $29.95).

First the Jews
Rabbi Evan Moffic
Abingdon Press
2222 Rosa L. Parks Blvd.
PO Box 280988, Nashville, TN 37228-0988
9781501870835, $22.99, HC, 256pp,

Synopsis: "All Jews must die." is what Robert Bowers screamed as he walked into a Temple and commenced murdering 11 people. Where does this hate come from? Why is it rising again in America? What do we need to do to stop it? In the pages of "First the Jews: Combating the World's Longest-Running Hate Campaign" Rabbi Evan Moffic answers these questions.

Rabbi Moffic reveals why the world's oldest hatred (once thought to be over after the Holocaust) keeps coming back to life. "First the Jews" gives the clearest and most concise explanation of where antisemitism comes from, why it continues, and how to stop its resurgence today.

Interwoven throughout "First the Jews" is Rabbi Moffic's own personal story as one who led his Jewish community in responding to antisemitic attacks and working with Christian leaders to stand up to them.

Rabbi Moffic directly answers the age-old charge that Jews killed Jesus and the on-going canard that Jews still dominate the media and Hollywood.

But in the end, "First the Jews" reveals the path to moving beyond old ways of thinking and is ultimately a redemptive story of overcoming the extremism and hatred spreading across our world today and reemerging in the American political culture of Trump and his followers today.

Critique: Given today's political climate under a president who has notoriously equated neo-Nazis as being on the same moral plane as those who opposed them in Charlottesville, "First the Jews: Combating the World's Longest-Running Hate Campaign" is an strongly urged and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "First the Jews" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Blackstone Audio, 9781982544850, $29.95, MP3 CD).

Living in the Presence
Benjamin Epstein
Urim Publications
c/o KTAV Publishing House
527 Empire Boulevard, Brooklyn, New York 11225
9781602803190, $24.95, HC, 240pp,

Synopsis: Rabbi Benjamin Epstein, Ph.D. is an experienced psychologist, author, and speaker who blends traditional Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) with cognitive behavioral, spiritual, and acceptance techniques. Dr. Benjy works effectively across a broad spectrum of age groups to enhance well-being by teaching how to live more mindfully and in the present. In addition to his private practice and mindfulness seminars, he spends his summers as the Director of Staff Development and Clinical Research in Camp HASC.

In "Living in the Presence: A Jewish Mindfulness Guide to Everyday Life", Rabbi Epstein explains that living in the present has become a therapeutic cornerstone; that living in the presence transforms the technique into a life-changing experience.

With exquisite simplicity, straightforwardness, and heartfulness, ''Dr. Benjy'' presents an approach culled from the teachings of the great Jewish spiritual masters that span thousands of years.

This approach demonstrates how Jewish tradition is extraordinary in conjoining the Divine and the mundane, essentially postulating that the present moment (each present moment) holds the key to connecting to the Divine.

Imbuing workaday life with transcendent meaning, "Living in the Presence" demonstrates that our awareness of the divinity manifest within the present moment consecrates the present with presence, and makes it both meaningful and holy.

Designed to introduce his readers to who they are, as God made them, and to the gift God has placed within them. "Living in the Presence" provides a practical and hands-on roadmap to discover purpose in our lives.

Critique: An exceptionally well written, organized and presented treatise, "Living in the Presence: A Jewish Mindfulness Guide to Everyday Life" is an erudite, articulate, thoughtful and thought-provoking work that is aptly divided into four major sections: In the Beginning; Kavanor (Intentions); Avodah (With Each and Every Breath); Shabbat: A Day of Yishuv Hada'at, and features an Appendix (Hashkatah: The Subject of Quieting the Mind: A Practice). "Living in the Presence" is an unreservedly welcome addition to personal, college, and university library Judaic Studies collections and supplemental studies lists.

A Town Called Malice
Adam Abramowitz
Thomas Dunne Books
c/o St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9781250076304 $28.99 hc / $14.99 Kindle

Synopsis: Boston's fastest-talking, baddest bike messenger Zesty Meyers is back in town...Bosstown.

Boston's Big Dig has put a brand new shine on the city, its once insular neighborhoods awash with new money and runaway development. Not everybody is happy with the change. Zesty is struggling to keep his courier business afloat and is falling behind on rent, while his brother, Zero, owner of a moving company stocked with ex-cons has hired an unemployed rabbi who begins to exert a strange influence on the family and delivers most of his sermons with his fists.

When a rock and roll legend suspected of murdering his girlfriend reappears after thirty years on the run, Zesty is once again haunted by his family's dark past and the mounting evidence that his father, Boston's former Poker King now suffering from Alzheimer's, has long been dealing from the bottom of the deck. From shady bars to college campus underground poker leagues, Zesty's speeding toward trouble, desperately trying to map out a future in a town where stop signs are optional, signaling is for the weak and Karma lurks around every corner with payback on its mind.

Critique: The sequel "Bosstown" (9781250076298, $25.99 hc / $13.99 Kindle), A Town Called Malice is a dark crime novel set in a gentrifying neighborhood of Boston. Fast-talking bike messenger Zesty struggles to his courier business afloat amid rising rents, and the shadows of his father's past as a possibly crooked poker king. Meanwhile Zesty's brother Zero, who runs a moving company of ex-con employees, hires a most unusual rabbi who tends to deliver "sermons" with his fists! Fast-paced, precarious, at times violent, and offering a wry look at changing urban landscapes, A Town Called Malice is a choice pick for crime fiction connoisseurs. It should be noted for personal reading lists that A Town Called Malice is also available in a Kindle edition ($14.99).

Jack Mason

Messenger's Bookshelf

Two Natures
Jendi Reiter
Saddle Road Press
9780996907422, $22.00, pbk

Jendi Reiter's wise and ambitious novel Two Natures is the story of young gay man Julian Selkirk who, Crusoe-like, finds himself washed ashore in New York in 1991 and 'dependent on the kindness of strangers.' Julian is an aspiring fashion photographer, whose career lows and highs quickly alternate, mirroring his personal exploration of the gay scene and his search for love. The spiritual and the carnal, the beautiful and the sordid, interweave in complex patterns, overshadowed by the gathering AIDS crisis, as the years to 1996 become increasingly hostile to difference. The intensely personal is the politically fraught, and Julian has to cope with the vagaries of love and ambition while mourning friends and lovers.

Two Natures is an all-encompassing work that plunges us into New York's rent-controlled apartments, gay bars and nightclubs, and the overlapping world of fashion shoots and glamour magazines, in pursuit of the spirit of the times. We accompany Julian in his life of one-night stands and copious casual sex, his interactions with models and photographers, and the conversational jousting with publishers and agents on whom his career depends. A great deal of this whirl is ephemeral, but then, every so often, something permanent is created - a beautiful design, a miraculous photograph, a loving relationship.

Accurate assessment of a life requires perspective. Photography also has two natures, its concern with surface and space, texture and composition sometimes piercing the veil of appearances to reach something beneath that is true and profound. In Paris on a shoot, Julian stands at the top of the Eiffel Tower: 'I felt like so far I'd stumbled into beauty, taking lucky shots of miracles I didn't cause, being praised for effects I couldn't control.' The professional and the personal are imbricated here, and neither offers a smooth ascent to fulfilment.

In 1991 Julian shares a flat with Dmitri, whose poster of Andres Serano's polyvalent photograph Piss Christ is a symbolic bone of contention. '"All I ask," [Julian] said slowly, "is for one fucking place ... where I don't have to walk on fucking eggshells ... for once in my fucking life."' Julian's appetite for some kind of congenial faith that has the grace to accept him has survived his conventional Christian upbringing in Georgia. Somewhere concealed in religion there exists 'a picture of life where nobody's trapped by being different. I feel like, if I took a fresh look at myself, I don't know what I could find.' But then: 'It's always the wrong people who can't see themselves in mirrors.'

In 1992 the pace quickens:

Now Sundays were the only day Phil and I both had off, so the closest I generally came to a house of worship was driving Dane to important funerals. The back pages of the Times were full of them, those discreet half-columns for designers dead at 38, 40, 46; lived, loved, invented the T-shirt dress, died, details of last illness not disclosed.

Phil has a secret life starring as Randy O'Tool in the Pump Me Hard gay porn movies. This is an era of frantic post-sex hygiene, of taking 'the test', of waiting weeks for the result, of not daring to open the envelope when it arrives from the clinic. It's also a time of more subtle cruelties and exclusions: barred from visiting lovers in hospital, uninvited to their funerals. Even when Julian and his friends turn up anyway, he cannot express his sorrow: 'Any break from my invisibility would be read as drama, not grief.'

Yet all this sadness and anger is laced with humour. 'Nobody puts adhesive on a good suit,' Julian quips as an ultimate insult. 'Saturday I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and watched the sun set over the Jehovah's Witnesses world headquarters.' Anger and humour mix it up when Julian's family visits New York and he feels he has to put on a heterosexual front in order to keep the peace. 'My family. Here. Next week.' We share his dread at the prospect even as we are told that 'Lying is my family's preferred form of communication. It's traditional and cultural, like chopsticks.' Another time, Julian's father gives 'a coherent toast about being proud of his children, including me. He told several of his friends that I'd been working in Paris, though he said the ads were for Christian Dior.' They weren't.

Behind the profane - and sometimes mixed in and virtually indistinguishable - is the sacred, glimpsed in little experiential epiphanies, such as the unexpected response of a homeless man to the gift of a dead lover's clothes: 'Have a bleshed day, man.' Sometimes the gift of happiness is hard to accept, as when Julian's friend Peter looks love in the eye: 'It feels like a mistake - this can't be for me, it's too good.' The lucky ones among us, surely, have all felt as unworthy.

Above all, there is sex, described in minute anatomical detail, in all its sticky mess, pain and pleasure, guilt and innocence. There is an awful lot of it in Two Natures (some of it quite possibly with the Angel of Death himself) - perhaps too much to make its point or avoid repetitiveness. Yet the point seems to be this: sex is not essentially the opposite of the sacred; rather, it can be a manifestation of the sacred, surprising us as such even when our appetites are at their most lustful. In the milieu of Two Natures, sex is a refuge and reassurance, at once dangerous and companionable, an assertion of togetherness and belonging in a wider culture that rebuffs and ridicules:

I felt the chill of embarrassment, the familiar sickness. From the locker rooms of my suburban high school to the bars of New York, that echo would never die, the baying of the pack.

Jendi Reiter's work in Two Natures is quite different to that in An Incomplete List of My Wishes. The novel largely eschews the poeticism of the short stories and is told exclusively from Julian's point of view, so that what happens to him, happens to us. A great deal happens to Julian, all of which we believe but some of which might get lost in the mix. Along with the copious sex, there is perhaps too much narrative in Two Natures, or too much narrative that is too similar. There is room for something qualitatively different to occur, such as a dramatic family confrontation with grievances aired and secrets exposed. Drama tout court. There are fights and falling outs, failures and successes aplenty, but the passing of time - reading it as well as living it - probably requires more variety to be made completely memorable. Julian himself is memorable even though his emotions can sometimes feel not quite his own, filtered through his self-reports as if they are happening to someone else.

Two Natures re-creates the pain and the glory of New York's gay community and the awful pressures it faced in the 1990s. It's an enlightening and challenging novel that is often compelling and always frank. Above all, it is a book for gay and straight readers - anyone, in fact, with a love of fine writing, witty repartee and genuine feeling.

'The birds of the air have nests, and the foxes have holes, and Julian Selkirk needs a place to bring his boyfriend if he should ever find one who returns his phone calls.' Jokingly, Julian echoes the complaint of the Son of Man and, for one brief instant, shows us the sorrow and significance that unites them.

Come the Tide
Sam Reese
Platypus Press
9781913007003, $18.00, pbk

Come the Tide is a sun-soaked, water-drenched, variegated collection of thirteen short stories that explores the ambiguous psychic implications of the now-you-see-it/now-you-don't liminal terrain where dry land meets restless water. Ancient myths haunt these tales of oceans and islands, lakes and swimming pools, while bodies of water of all kinds - with their dangers and temptations, promises and secrets - weigh heavily on human protagonists drowning in uncertainty, insecurity and betrayal.

It is rare for a book's title to be so exactly appropriate to what's within. The thematic unity of these stories is rarer still, for they are all concerned in one way or another with Nature's rising tide - usually, a rising tide of water, but oftentimes a wind-borne current of dead leaves or a surging mass of semi-sentient vegetation. Nature is a menace and a mystery in these stories, capable of abrupt metamorphoses that signify more than individuals can articulate, but which suggest an alarming eagerness for a rapturous swoon into self-destruction.

Author Sam Reese is from Aotearoa/New Zealand, a nation of islands amid the vast southern ocean, so I presume his preoccupation with the delicate balance of elements, the microscopic and the macroscopic, and the ever-present threat of inundation is not entirely coincidental. However, his stories of sunlight and storm, forest and desert also take in such places as Tangier and Sydney, Sri Lanka and Florence. Many of his characters are travellers in a foreign land who are obliged to confront the unexpected and uncanny in each other, in friends and lovers, in Nature itself:

I've started dreaming of cities overgrown with green... Skyscrapers swallowed by ivy - monstrous monstera suffocating long-abandoned rooms, craning their necks through broken windows towards the sun ... The wind skirts up beneath the floorboards, the blue-grey paint peeling like leaves from cracks on my bedroom wall, and something dark is growing beneath the bathtub, behind the sink, always just out of reach.

The ecological overdrive in stories such as 'Overgrown,' where vegetation infiltrates the built environment, taking it over and transforming it, is like something out of Malcolm Devlin's You Will Grow Into Them. Reese, however, takes overt inspiration from classical mythology, with its permeable frontiers between human, animal and vegetable. For instance, in 'Circe in Furs,' mythology and Nature join forces to convert people into strange beasts who merge before our eyes into forests dark and deep.

In stories like 'Atlantis,' 'everything is on the verge of being swallowed by nature,' and ancient mythical cities embody grieving characters' quests for certainty and peace. In 'Which Way to Ithaca?', for example, a flimsy film set of classical columns made from plywood and string frustrates a young woman's longing to recapture a mythical moment from her own past. The people in Reese's stories invariably have something inside themselves they wish to protect or conceal; sometimes they need to revisit or reinvent that something in the external world. As one of them explains in 'Circe in Furs':

Everybody has a private space somewhere inside of themselves. For some people, it's a dainty, pretty plot, properly fenced in. For others, it's a forest - a wide-rambling, untamed soul. Yet others have bonsai spirits; full of giant dreams but trimmed to fit a smaller space ... Whatever your inner space is like ... make sure you tend to it, fill it with life.

Yet, always and everywhere, there is remorseless erosion - 'the water lapping at the base of cliffs, lapping at the base of us all.' As this line suggests, erosion is more than simply a physical process. It is also a condition of existence and a harbinger of extinction. This world is 'A living wall of water, an endless, aching tide' which drowns everything in its path. Come the Tide presents water as friend and foe, life and death. Earthquake and tsunami register abrupt seismic shifts in couples' relationships, while dreams of drowning, and visions of towns submerged in depthless lakes, thrust readers into the precarity of human existence.

Many of the women in Come the Tide know more than they're prepared to tell, especially when they possess secret knowledge and artistic gifts. They can exercise a strange power over others - particularly men. And women frequently exercise control over the image itself: in photographs, for example, that reveal more than they show, or the broken fresco in 'Counterfeiting,' which conveys a mystery, a secret from the past, via the frank gaze of figures who stare outwards at the spectator, at the reader: 'An image is a trap you get caught inside. No matter how I tried, I was never going to dream my way back.'

There are many memorable images in Come the Tide, among them hotel rooms imagined as beneath the sea, with crabs scuttling across the carpet ('Atlantis'), or the recurrent image of a dive - be it a swimmer plunging athletically into the water or the terrible slow-motion plummet of a car off a cliff. 'Lake Country' has many such images and is perhaps the most unsettling story in the collection. It is set in a converted pump house at the end of a pier over a bottomless artificial lake. Vast turbines - fifty years old and never used - stand in silence beneath the building, connected to a labyrinth of tunnels and pipework that stretches through the mountainous forest to an enormous dam. Awful secrets are unearthed by story's end.

Occasionally, Reese's writing slips into self-parody. In 'Under the Wave', for example, 'It reminded me of being in Sri Lanka again, in the forest, just after the rain had passed' brought to mind Phil's chat-up line in Groundhog Day: 'I think of Rome, the way the sun hits the buildings in the afternoons.' In addition, there is very little dialogue in these stories, and none of it is signalled with quotation marks. This stylistic choice is occasionally confusing and a little bothersome, as it is not always clear who is speaking. It also has a distancing effect, as if there were a glass wall between reader and narrator, rather like the glass window in an aquarium that separates one character from a silently judging octopus.

However, admirers of the short story will savour Come the Tide's blend of the numinous and the normal. Like many of its characters, I could feel the sand between my toes, the glare of the sun in my eyes, and the pain of broken love. Come the Tide shows the world as an island in space, less hospitable and more unpredictable than we often like to think. The book's aquatic settings emphasize the immensity of the sky at night and the power of the wind and the rain, so that the act of reading becomes an unusually visceral and enlarging experience. Readers will need to take a deep breath before they dive in.

What Stella Sees
Sarah Kornfeld
Cove International Publishers
9780692161579, $14.00 pbk / $2.99 Kindle

What Stella Sees, Sarah Kornfeld's complex debut novel, is about convergence and displacement. Above all, it is about perception: the consequences of its absence and the obligations of its presence. Young Stella is ill, it seems, with a peculiar form of epilepsy that eludes diagnosis and treatment. Her parents Rachel and Michael are in the throes of divorce, increasingly estranged from their own selves as well as one another, while they careen off specialists and medical regimes, a process that takes them from New York and San Francisco to Paris in search of a cure for their daughter. Yet Stella sees other things, too. Her seizures are a kind of vision-state in which she is able to explore the ocean depths, discovering real and imagined creatures that inform her art - the art of creating worlds of meaning inside the tiny whorls of seashells.

At its most basic, what Stella sees is What Maisie Knew - that the adults around her are an inconstant and unreliable bunch, prone to objectify (later, commodify) her as the sum of her symptoms. Importantly, however, what Stella sees is also the return of the repressed or, at any rate, the suppressed. The past - never dead, never passed - catches up with Michael and Rachel, and later with Mo, whose cerebral palsy sculpts his body into agonizing deformations. His body and Stella's brain enjoy a mutual self-recognition that leads to catharsis of sorts, where that which has been forgotten or buried is brought to consciousness, examined and integrated.

In truth, Stella is not drowning but waving; not simply an artist but also a scientist:

Rachel, it's something we've not seen. After each seizure she comes out ready to learn! She's not deadening, see? She reads advanced books on biology. She reads graduate and postgraduate-level research on the marine and tidal patterns ...

Michael, eager to love and be loved, is able to recognize his daughter's gifts earlier than is Rachel, who is consumed by rage at each unsuccessful treatment. The world does not always bend to our wishes, but Rachel and Michael are graduates of Yale, movers and shakers in contemporary Art with a capital dollar sign, and they are used to telling others what to think and who to buy. Yet Rachel's rage is also a symptom of her own shame and guilt, the deep causes of which lie buried in Israel - Palestine.

There are many pleasures in What Stella Sees that one might call incidental. Rachel herself is one of them - an elegant woman whose carefully maintained facade of urbane sophistication and skin-deep friendships cracks before our eyes. Her lengthy conversation with Julian, an ageing aesthete once friends with Peggy Guggenheim and an Art Whore if ever there was one, is masterly in its delineation of character and a shifting balance of power. They both get what they want, which is somewhat less than they need and always open to reversal. Perceptions support reputations which garner income, but the whole edifice is only as solid as the latest deal, the most recent recommendation. 'Then it happened. She forgot for a minute why she was there, what she was angling for, and what she was pretending to be. A dealer? An historian? A personal shopper; high-end, like Julian?'

What Stella Sees provokes us to ask what, exactly, is the good of art to those who cannot really see it. Isn't it supposed to make us better people than we would otherwise have been? I am reminded of the affluent gallery trustee I once saw interrupt her conversation about the architecture of the new wing in order to stamp on a spider that had the innocent temerity to scuttle across the spotless wooden floor - an act that immediately negated all her fine words about beauty and balance.

In novels as in life, incidentals are the things we tend to remember when what seemed important is long forgotten. Michael and Rachel, for example, learned that the strangest things count for love in a hospital room ... all of them showed different forms of neglect, but also often small bits of love. When the vending machine wasn't broken and it gave Stella a chocolate; that was love. When the social worker asked Rachel a good question and got her through the paperwork quickly; that was love. When the night nurse (at 3:45 a.m.) brought Michael a Starbucks coffee - that was true love.

These little epiphanies are what art can also provide. Although I cannot quite visualize Stella's own artworks, nevertheless I believe them, and what they convey is very real:

Almost three years of shells: large, small, white, painted, glittery, wrapped like a miniature Christo's or filled with poems painted carefully on the insides ... the shells were artifacts and the answer to the riddle of her body: each seizure forced her into a private place that returned her just a bit harder; an outer casing that was growing calcified over time and protecting a discrete, private experience.

To his credit, Michael is much more open to these incidentals than anyone else and is moved by them: unexpected kindnesses provoke tears. And he can still talk Art, even when it comes to Stella's shells: 'They're good because they utilize an archetype - the hidden architecture of shells to explore personal narratives. OK?' Yes, we see.

What Stella Sees avoids all sentimentality about Stella's condition. Stella is not unreservedly 'blessed' to be as she is. 'She suffers multiple seizures a week. Do you understand that's like microwaving your head three times a week on "High"?' The seizures make her 'smarter' each time, so that she arrives at a 'deeper knowing', but they render her vulnerable to accident and injury. Nor is the novel concerned to inspire us to greater understanding and 'acceptance' of difference by presenting us with a brave young girl, a savant. Instead, we are shown the human, and we recognize it, incidentally and thus for always.

Sarah Kornfeld's writing is frequently surprising and audacious, with passages of sustained concentration. She is unafraid to report how people feel when they do not know it themselves; occasionally, she hints at a future with which they cannot possibly be acquainted. This is all excellent stuff, unabashed to 'digress' or to break rules that are there to be broken. Most of it occurs early on while, later, the writing can occasionally slip into na´vety and redundancy, suggesting a lot of time has passed in composition or else authorial indecision has clouded artistic judgement.

What Stella Sees is a bivalve shell that turns on a hinge, and I found the first half the most interesting. I should have been delighted had the novel remained within the family dynamic and chosen to explore it in more detail. It seems to me there was a great story to be written about Stella, Rachel and Michael. Instead, the scene shifts to Paris, where the novel becomes a little diffuse, with too many things to get through and out the other side. Mo, in particular, as important and as interesting as he is, often forms an obstruction, while lengthy passages about a luxuriant techno-medical apparatus fail to resonate (at least, with me), even at the meeting point of art, science and psychology.

In short, despite many excellent qualities, the second half of What Stella Sees attempts to cover too much ground for its own good and does not quite live up to its beginnings. However, it concludes on a note that is both satisfying and disturbing. It is to do with contamination and human responsibility, and brings us back to the fragile plenitude experienced by Stella in her oceanic wanderings. Suddenly, the world is too much with us, and in our end is our beginning. Life, exhausted and bewildered, once crawled out of the sea to look about in fear and trembling. Today, depleted and poisoned, those same oceans are rising to reclaim the very thing they spewed forth.

Jack Messenger, Reviewer

Molly's Bookshelf

North Woods Poachers
Max Elliot Anderson
Baker Trittin Concepts
9780972925686, $10.95, Paperback, 160 pages

Max Elliott Anderson's North Woods Poachers introduced Andy Washburn who is less than elated; every summer his family, both the immediate and extended all join to make the same journey to the same place and do the very same thing year after year after year. Stuffing his backpack, he is mumbling to himself.

Andy and CJ, his cousin, are about as dissimilar as two fellows can be. Andy is agile, CJ has all the computer contraptions you can think of. Nine-year-old Sarah, Andy's sister, and CJ's sis Jessica could almost pass for twins.

To top off his gloom Andy recollects; his is the only family on the entire block with a fish mailbox. Now, how uncomfortable is that?

The journey from Fargo to Canada is not one Andy is looking forward to at all. Neither family stays in motels during the yearly fishing trip. They each bring tents and sleeping bags. Andy is sick of all of it. This summer, he decided, was going to be different. He could not imagine how different it was to be.

At the border both families are astounded to find many vehicles stopped and have most of their belongings placed on the ground beside their cars.

Poachers have been thieving animals. The worst part of the situation included many of the animals died before the poachers reached their destinations. Security has been augmented, and the guards must take a second look at everyone. With the internet being obtainable worldwide it is possible for the poachers to do their dirty work and not have much fear that they will get caught.

Even after the two families arrive at Dore Lake Andy could not stop thinking about the poachers and how he hoped there were none in the area. The campers next to Andy's family had a trailer and even a TV. Everyone in Andy's camp except Andy was asleep. On the other hand, the neighbors were watching the evening news. Hearing that poachers had been apprehended at Moose Jaw and over two million dollars in cash had been found did not make Andy feel any better.

Buying fishing licenses for each member of the family, trying out some of CJ's computer gadgets, spotting a moose, cabins near the lake, camping along the road during a trip to Dore Lake, bears near the campsite are all part of the narrative.

Float planes ferrying happy fishermen in from the lake, CJ and his computer gear comes in handy, two odd looking black float planes that land only at night and take off early the next morning, rain which brings the hope there will be no fishing until it stops, the adults go fishing and the kids set out to reconnoiter the woods as the account continues.

Before the narrative ends Andy and CJ will find themselves facing more peril than either might have realized. In the end, Andy discovers the notions of family practices and the importance of impartiality.

I found North Woods Poachers to be a riveting narration for the middle grade -tweener- readers, boys and girls alike like the tale. Max Elliott Anderson has again set down a captivating work with his fast paced, must read narrative driven by two inquisitive lads who are certain wrong doing is taking place, and, that they are the ones to right the wrong and bring the bad guys to the notice of the powers that be.

Talented author Anderson once again has fashioned a feisty anecdote for tweener readers ages 8 - 13. Full to the top with continuous fervency, jeopardy and action so enjoyed by readers in the target audience. Anderson makes constructive use of reasonable choices of words to further the narrative from occurrence to occurrence as well as add a pleasant sense of drama and added breadth to the story.

As with this author's others works; the writing used in North Woods Poachers is excellent. Child fascinating feats presented in probable demeanor grasp reader awe from the opening lines of the work. An exhilarating plot line compels readers to continue to turn pages so they may soon determine what is going to happen next.

Jam-packed with a positive narrative positioned around right doing and family traditions intended to be appreciated especially by boys, in the tweener 9-13-year age range; the writing is plain, to the point, verbiage. North Woods Poachers is an anecdote sure to grip and hold the interest of the target audience.

Packed with stimulating situations and characters, mechanisms, along with a plot line that imparts a lesson without moralizing. I like the manner in which author Anderson works a bit of science, a bit of social skill, as well as bit of parent and child accountability into his works without their taking over the tale.

I used the book in my classroom during the two years I taught 4th grade. Chosen as DEAR reading material, take home to share with family, and read a chapter a day following lunch North Woods Poachers was never on the shelf for long. Were I still teaching 4th grade I am confident this is a book that would often be chosen especially by my 4th grade boys. Both my girl and boy students all enjoyed the book.

Now that I am retired, I will place my review copy in my sub bag for use on days I fill in at local school for an absent teacher.

I received a trade paperback for review, enjoyed the read, happy to recommend.

An Incidental Death in Monterey
Series: The Mission Murders (Book 2)
John O'Hagan
Zumaya Enigma
9781612713038, $14.99, Paperback, 238 pages

John J Hagan's An Incidental Death in Monterey begins as a grey robed monk readies himself to begin a medical exam of a young woman who drowned in the sea during a storm the previous night.

Father Juan Ibarra is not only a Franciscan; he is also a physician.

The narrative moves next to Don Pedro Fages, Governor of Alta California, he is awaiting arrival of a boat from the American ship out in the bay. The boat is to carry him, and his aide, a servant girl, Jacinta, to the vessel for a meeting with the captain. The ship is in need of repair before it can return to the east coast of the continent. While the Captain asks permission of the Governor to beach his ship and get the repairs done; the governor knows the rule of the sea demands that a ship needing repair must be allowed to make those repairs before moving on

The governor determines that a dinner party with Captain McHugh the American ship captain along with some of his officers, the new commander from the Presidio and Eulalia's widowed friend Sylvia de Anda is in order.

The dinner was pleasant, Sylvia and the new commander appeared to strike up friendship and the tale meandered on with the American ship moving to gently ground itself to effect the needed repairs, and a series of firm restrictions regarding behavior were issued to the Americans.

From that beginning the reader is carried along on a fast moving narrative filled with perfidy, deceit, a husband's philandering and a wife's angry scorn and loud, angry demand for a divorce, Don Fages' desperation as he realizes his career is now in jeopardy, a servant who is little more than a slave, a murder, theft of money from the crown and the imprisonment of Eulalia Fages at the mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. It is a somewhat breathless rush from one sticky wicket to the next.

The good Franciscans have been convinced by the Governor that his wife is overwrought, telling tales to everyone, wants a divorce, and he is not guilty of any wrong doing.

Father Ibarra quietly moves through the various strata of society, listens well and soon has most of the mystery unraveled.

While interest in the area by the British and the Russians has waned, and mounting interest by the fledgling government along the East Coast of the Continent is becoming well known, it is the heavy hand of the Spanish Empire weighing upon the people of Alta California. Native people are falling prey to diseases introduced by the European priests and other who come and go in the area. Father Junipero Sera, the mission system, and Spanish rule are discussed as is the little footpath widened and smoothed with travel until today El Camino Real is a major roadway along the California Coast..

I very much enjoyed this trek through 'might have happened that way' history of the California I knew, and loved most of my life. I was born in the Bay area, raised in the San Joaquin Valley, grew up learning of El Camino Real, the kings highway, with it system of missions a day's walk apart from the Bay Area north to San Diego South, and visited many of the restored missions.

The rule of Spanish governors in California was something we studied in school. This particular narrative set down by John O'Hagan is well written, filled with credible characters, well detailed settings, and plenty of conspiracy, trickery and intrigue to keep the reader turning the pages.

Note: the author relates this much of the story is true:

In 1775 Dona Eulalia Fages, wife of the Governor of California, Pedro Fages, caught the governor en flagrante delicto with one of the servants in the kitchen of their home

She flew into a rage, chased the servant from the house, spread the story of her husband's perfidy and immediately began petition for divorce.

Because she would not relent spreading the story, the governor had his wife imprisoned at Mission San Carlos for four months. The servant was never heard from again.

All else is fiction.

I really enjoy historical fiction based upon an actual event and a coulda, mebbe was, mighta been tale woven in a highly readable manner. One of the better efforts in this field I have read, Stimulating Read, happy to recommend.

Antique Trader Salt And Pepper Shaker Price Guide
Mark F. Moran
Krause Publications
9780896896369, $19.99, Paperback 272 pages

Mark F. Moran's - Antique Trader Salt And Pepper Shaker Price Guide is a convenient orientation work, as well as just plain thought-provoking read for accumulators or those who have even a short-lived curiosity in novelty salt and pepper shakers.

I particularly like that listings contain a color photo to aide in positive proof of identity of specific shakers, over and above a clarification, some history, and collector pricing of the items.

Moran's - Antique Trader Salt And Pepper Shaker Price Guide illustrate cases of some 1,000 of the author collector's 3,000 set assortment; with millions if not billions of shaker sets in being it is not possible to show every set available in a single tome. It is not projected to do so. Moran's many-hued, comprehensive reference work DOES list some 1,000+ salt & pepper shakers, offered as shakers by appearance in addition to shakers by producer.

Although I do not collect salt and pepper shakers; I do collect depression era glassware and identify many of the producer names including Shawnee, Fenton Art Glass Co., Goebel, A.H. Heisey & Co., American Bisque, Rosemeade, Goebel, Westmoreland Glass Co. and others.

Of special worth for novice collectors is the chapter regarding imitations and replicas penned by well-known consultant Mark Chervenka. I know reproductions are being presented in the collecting area of depression glass, and, am dismayed to learn that the same ruse, presented as original by unscrupulous or non-well versed dealers, is being perpetrated for collectors of these novelty pieces of our communal history.

Not all and every person on earth amasses shakers of course. Then again, I suppose few alive have not at least seen some of the extensive range of shakers which have been mass-produced, devotedly collected and perchance are placed in jubilant exhibition. Or, even, have perhaps been boxed up following death or impairment of the collector and now can be found in a odds and ends shop or on the shelf of thrift shop where another advocate of the hobby can find them.

Accumulating salt and pepper shakers is said to be a satisfying pastime with a bit of something for everyone. Many families collect as a group, often complete with family get togethers accomplished with names drawn and shaker sets given or traded.

In our family one beloved auntie prized the things gift; buying was simplified, a visit to her home was at all times an adventure to see what new shakers she had gotten.

The somewhat dedicated semi-serious collector soon realizes there is a complete new terminology to learn if shaker accumulating is something to be enjoyed. Various sets possibly will be made up of carriers holding nodder shakers having one or both of the shakers nodding while placed in a base, receptacle, carts or other containers.

There are creature, living beings, or character shakers, including those appearing as animals, cartoon characters or entertainers, people including famous personages, state, country, folkloric or other ethnic groups. I collect all things Dutch, shoes, tiles, etc., and should I find a set of little Dutch girl and boy would happily add it.

Other types of sets include go-togethers; some with hangers those having a hook for hanging from the base, huggers with one partially wrapped around the other in a hug, kisser shakers sit on the table, have lips touching or lips to cheek, kissers may be people or critters, may have magnets to hold them together, others are nesters, stackers, sets consist of two different but related objects with a common theme ie mitt and glove. Tall boys measuring over 6 inches tall as well as some sets over 10 inches tall or long-boys, one-piece shakers are a single shaker having the salt coming from the front side of the shaker and the pepper coming from the other.

Moran proffers specificity concerning a great many, but not all shakers available of course. It is impracticable to include everything in a single volume; he does include categories of graphic vocabulary and photos of shaker sets including a diversity of identifying particulars, producers, years when the specific shaker set first appeared, as well as suggested pricing guides and the like for those who have conceivably assimilated a few sets and may want to try to supplement, vend or otherwise need to learn an estimated value of their collection.

Moran's Salt and Pepper shaker guide includes a detailed Table of Contents, collector resources, contact information, and is separated into shakers acknowledged by category and manufacturer. Included are 1000 color photos of some of the author's collection of innovative shakers.

There may have been millions if not billions of shakers manufactured and collected during the last 100+ years. Pinpointing a specific shaker, set or other collectible including depression glass pieces, in any reference work is always exhilarating, while not finding one is not very surprising given the massive volume of various collectible to be had.

I adored my auntie, found her shakers enthralling, but limit my own collecting to depression glass dishware, and leave actual shakers for others. I do appreciate reading collectible books, including this eye-catching, well developed work by Mark Moran, on the subject of shakers.

Happy to recommend Mark F. Moran's - Antique Trader Salt And Pepper Shaker Price Guide

The Golden Thread
Ann Copeland
Goose Lane Editions
9780864921598, $12.95, Paperback, 274 pages

Ann Copeland's The Golden Thread stories by Ann Copeland introduces Sister Claire who ruminates first about elementary and high school days attending Catholic schools where she received instruction presented by nuns prior to herself entering the religious life she felt would be the fulfillment of her life.

Claire, a teaching nun, knew religious life was her choice from an early age. One plus she mentions regarding her attending the one Catholic girl's school in her town; while Holy Angels did not have boys it did have a shorter school day and school year, and, it had, music.

Table of Contents lists eleven short story titles, including Sins of Omission, Taking the Discipline, Obedience, Higher Learning, Cloister, The Golden Thread, The Nature of Love, Angeles of Love, Jubilee, The Perils of Translation, At Peace

Sins of Omission: We first meet Claire as a high school student. Even though she was to have a part Claire skips the Christmas music program to attend the Holiday Party at the local country club. Mother Magdalena proves a capable mentor for Claire during her high school years. However Claire does learn to rationalize a lie now and then to bridge her behavior against expectations of others.

Taking the Discipline: It is August, Sister Claire has begun her journey as a nun. 'On Fridays the nuns take discipline in memory of Christ's Passion.' Claire is now 21-years-old and is confused, appalled and left chagrined to realize 'disciple' includes primitive methodology practiced by herself upon herself.

Obedience: Fifteen novice nuns are sweltering in old fashioned habits, starched head vises, and heavy veils. During a trek with the group a pair of kittens are seen. Later Claire is convinced that her superior, Our Mother's words regarding the kittens and her own misdeeds must be appeased by herself drowning the kitten as penance for those misdeeds.

Higher Learning Sister: Claire is now busy teaching school. 'After profession young sisters who had already earned their B.A. would be given two years to complete a master's degree at Catholic University.' Claire receives an invitation to a conference, and then must wait for Reverend Mother's permission to take part, and, cannot attend the function alone when permission does come. She then finds herself unable to accept a cup of coffee following her presentation as non religious participants gather to chat lest other's might see her mingling as a lapse in obedience rather than freedom of spirit as Reverend Mother seemed to find.

Cloister: It is now 1963 and Sister Claire hated having to go for permissions. 'I humbly beg you to renew my permissions for the following things, toothpaste, deodorant, an extra supply of note cards, and a file, a new winter nightgown, aspirin.'

The Golden Thread: Sister Claire's class is wrapping up discussion Faulkner for an upcoming test. 'Ariadne brings the golden thread.' The test will consist of a single essay question. Turmoil becomes rampant upon the order as many of the schools begin to close and everyone wonders where, what next.

The Nature of Love: After Vatican 2 things are beginning to loosen a bit. Sister Claire, now a grad student is attending a Modern Poetry class. 'Already a few nuns about the province had been allowed to travel alone.' Reverend Mother allowed Claire to spend the day in class and on campus alone. Claire is startled as she realizes 'a responsive' pertaining to the subject of men.
Angeles of Reality During her fourth year at St Gertrude's Sister Claire creeps up to the attic in 1965 where she prepares for tomorrow's class, Claire is now teaching 7 classes including the extra class, Geography, she agreed to take due to need and few on staff to cover it, and prays each night she will not get caught. Claire had expected Reverend Mother would understand when Claire sought permission to stay up an hour later to prepare for her class. 'Surely you do not need to prepare every day for every class, Sister.'

Jubilee: Elderly, seventy-five-years old, Sister Gertrude will be preparing for her upcoming Jubilee to celebrate her many years of religious service has a request; 'I would like Sister Claire play the pipe organ at Mass, ... and then sit at the head table with us.'

'Sister Claire is leaving us. She has asked for immediate exclaustration.'

It was only later that the aged Sister Gertrude had not been allowed to know that Claire had asked to be able to attend the Jubilee, take part and was told she was to leave immediately.

The Perils of Translation: Claire suffers unanticipated, unexplained pain when twelve years beyond the novitiate after having given so much of herself she prepared to leave the life she had enjoyed very much early on in her career. A stint in the hospital unsuccessfully searching for cause of the pain, her statement letter written, Claire tried to envisage 'what a freshly sprung ex nun might need for a trip to Florida.' She goes on a date, with the brother of her high school friend now Sister Hilary, it is the first since her high school days, tries out some of the modern cosmetics and even gives dancing a whirl on the floor with her date.

At Peace: Almost by accident Claire discovers Barney, Sister Barnabas has died. Calais Maine has not changed much since Claire's days as young novitiate assigned to help Sister Barnabas in the kitchen.

Barney, a crotchety, hearty, uneducated sister who managed the jumbled kitchen, cooked meals, fed kittens at the back door, brooked little nonsense with the 'help' sent by Reverend Mother, had a mutt who had his own spot next to the wood stove in the kitchen, grew a garden, made cards and pretties for delivery persons, raised plants on every available space in her kitchen, loved and was loved by the little town where the convent stood.

Then came change when the old House was closed and Barney and another sister were sent to Calais where cloistered teaching sisters needed a cook. She loved that little animal, wanted to bring her mutt with her, they said no. Now pictures of the little dog graced the walls of her room. Barney, remained a crotchety, hearty, uneducated sister who managed the always jumbled kitchen, cooked meals, fed kittens at the back door, brooked little nonsense with the 'help' sent by Reverend Mother, continued to grow a garden, continued to raise plants on every available space in her kitchen, loved however, because this was a cloistered house she no longer was allowed to trek into town, no longer made cards and pretties for delivery persons and no longer felt loved by those living not so far away.

Barney made birthday cakes decorated with kittens or roses or puppies for the sisters until Reverend Mother voiced opinion that more religious motif might be in order.

Barney grew to love Claire, prepared a secret going away party for her when Claire was preparing to leave to teach in St Gertrude's school, baked a huge going away cake and gave her several small gifts including a special bookmark. The pair gorged on cake and Coke, said their goodbyes and parted.

Five years after she had been transferred from Our Redeemer's to St Gertrude's Claire decided to leave the Order. She moved far away, found a job, married, and began life as wife and mother.

She and Barney corresponded for four years and now during a trip, Claire and the other passengers were taken from their ailing train to the local Holiday Inn where Claire found the local newspaper and read the announcement of Barney's death.

She had not planned to trek to the old convent...

Nearly a dozen short stories regarding a convent sister prior to Vatican II who eventually leaves her order thoughtfully and effectually probes into diverse aspects of the religious life. The complete discipline vital to religious community living is judiciously evoked by Copeland as she also explores how suppressive it became to various of the younger, more educated women dropped with little preamble into the world also peopled with many older nuns apprehensive of continuing deviations and introduction of what many felt to be worldliness.

Copeland's gripping short story collection bursting with riveting, gifted wordage produces a representation of dynamic and both comforting and quest filled convent life that this non Catholic might never easily have equated with nuns. I have only known one former nun other than on a surface acquaintance, and worked many years ago with a woman whose auntie was a nun.

My co-worker did talk of the particular sister's in auntie's realm as content, living full lives, happy with free time, singing, and etc at the end of the work day. I do not remember if they were nurses, a teaching group or followed another vocation. They were not cloistered.

Authors guild site includes: A comment from Ann Copeland: "So much for the official resume. They never really tell the story. I started to write fiction in 1974 when I had moved to Sackville, New Brunswick. I had recently married and become a mother, and before that had emerged relatively intact from 13 years as a nun, which had included teaching English literature on both the high school and college level.

In Canada, I wanted to reach out beyond my boundaries, make contact with other readers and writers. My list of rejected stories in the early years appalls my students. Sometimes I sent out a story 20 times before it saw light in print.

Meanwhile, life went on, I grew as a writer, came to better understand the challenges and rewards or writing fiction, and kept at it.

Copeland's ability to balance her insightful penning between religious and secular are portrayed in a believable manner, not always easy to achieve I suspect. I found these stunningly toned narratives draw the reader into the small world of first one religious community and then another, as they once were prior to Vatican II; this poignant, illusory perhaps memoir is both evocative and perceptive.

I bought the book at a local jumble shop, and am happy I did, I often read, review and then donate to local thrift shop, this is one tome I will keep to place on my always over stuffed book shelf.

Enjoyed the read, Happy to recommend.

Eyes of Truth
Linda Suzane
Writers Collective Assoc
9781931201384, $TBA, Paperback, 236 pages

Linda Suzane's Eyes of Truth introduces the reader to the Kingdom of Naj where the Insu-ha, a dynasty of divine descent sovereigns in the Kingdom of Naj are endowed with metaphysical perception.

The eyes tattooed upon their foreheads confirm the control the Insu-ha possess. Playing cards with an Insu-ha undoubtedly means you will lose. Not so when Insu-ha Zomo plays nu with his sidekick, the retired murderer Waulo.

Dar who is known as an advocate for the underprivileged and over laden along with Waulo are quickly entangled in a desolate rowdy adventure in the border domain of Fanara. When trouble arises in the border province of Funara, the ruler of Naj sends his brother, Dar, to investigate.

Insu-ha Dar is sent to Dak-moon by Dyamu Cojii, the ruler of Naj, to check out a recent, peculiar, murder, the body located in Funara Province has been drained of blood. The Insu-ha's aptitude for deducing if a person is deceitful should simplify the job for Dar to determine the killer, but to his chagrin Dar finds it isn't. With Waulo, sent not so much for her special talents as Dyamu Cojii's desire to protect the citizenry from her card playing skills, Dar searches for the truth.

Ruling Dak-moon with a heavy hand is Dar's old adversary the reclusive Magistrate Insu-ha Shoki.

Dar learns the city is beleaguered by an enigmatic illness, there has actually been a series of gruesome murders and the area is obsessed with terror of perilous night creatures. The cryptic Dolzi, Shoki who slumbers by day and is seen only at night, along with ghost sickness no one can clarify, bugling watch dragons kept busy as their sensitive natures realize impending dangers all play a part in the conundrum Dar must unravel.

The answers Dar uncovers including a shocking truth that the Magistrate Insu-ha Shoki does not want uncovered; not only dismay but come close to killing him. Insu-ha Shoki has stolen the secret of immortality from the Dolzi and now forces others to pay the price for his obsession. Three blameless farmers have been wrongly accused of the crime, can Dar save them from punishment? Can he evade the assassin's knife? Can he thwart Insu-ha Shoki's treacherous plans before they destroy the whole Kingdom of Naj?

Waulo's secondary talent, the facility to prevaricate undetected by Insu-ha will prove to have huge worth as Dar and Waulo disentangle the circumstances surrounding the strange situation in which they find themselves.

Writer Linda Suzane has again fashioned a work of epic flair via the lexis of a nifty narrative woven in multifaceted chronicle, seething with conspiracy and peril, peopled with distinctive characters driven with uncommon motivations while ignoring formula regarding vampire and fantasy novels sans reluctance. I find the product to be a satisfying escapade mingled against a well-developed developed backdrop.

The mythical world Suzane has created on the pages of Eyes of Truth is filled with a broad spectrum of characters, localities, mores and situations. All are designed to carry the reader along on a wild ride of excitement. Writer Suzane wisely offers a list of characters, along with explanation of the various localities found in her created world. The mores of the land are interwoven within the well-wrought tale author Suzane has crafted.

The reader is presented with commanding exploit, enjoyable lively dialogue, and compelling dilemmas. From the opening line when Insu-ha Zomo confronts Waulo right down to that last paragraph as Raku the young clerk for Funara province reads through his report of activity in the region; the reader is carried along on a fast-paced page turner filled with spirited tradeoffs, powerful performances and potent quandaries. Eyes of Truth is certain to hold enormous appeal for those who enjoy exhilarating escapade interlaced against a well-developed invented background. ...surprising ending and I hope that there will be more puzzles for Dar and Waulo to solve.

Interesting Read, Happy to Recommend

Reviewed first for author who states on Darkhour Vampire site: I have loved vampires for years. The Darkhour Vampires Saga came out of a short story about a mother of two typical teenagers, who just happens to be a vampire. Written at a time when my own daughter was a teenager, it reflects some of my own frustrations.

Later a character from that original story demanded I tell how he was first bitten, literally taking over my life until I had the rough draft of five books. Now I am working on completing the Saga. I will be sharing with you the Darkhour Vampires and my own love for vampire literature of all kinds.

I hope you will join me, Linda Suzane or Vampire Oma (Oma means grandmother).

I have two grandchildren, neither one old enough yet to read my somewhat erotic vampire stories, but someday I hope they will think it is cool to have a Grandmother who writes about vampires.

What I Know Now: Simple Lessons Learned the Hard Way
Sarah Ferguson The Duchess of York
Simon and Schuster
0743246128, $16.00, Hardcover, 192 pages

The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson's What I Know Now: Simple Lessons Learned the Hard Way is offered as a sequence of outlines tete-a-tete regarding a liberal multiplicity of subject matter.

One composition I particularly appreciated reading is entitled Keeping Rituals in which the Duchess speaks to the importance for maintaining the structure of family customs, routine, practices and how vital rituals are for the well-being of children. Sarah Ferguson tells of her own favorite childhood ritual practiced with her own Mother, in addition to, re-counting practices she observes with her own daughters.

On the pages of her reflective work embracing a compilation of short narratives and personal indices. Ferguson discloses her school of hard knocks, matter-of-fact and identifiable viewpoint vis-a-vis life.

Each of the forty-six illustrations offered are practical enough be called demonstrably apparent; despite often being overlooked during introspective moments. The vocabulary in addition to 'voice' of her quick reminiscences chaperon the reader on the way to an enlightenment that we may eat for incentives that have nothing to do with hunger. The writer states that brilliance comes from within.

Article titles include Slowing Down, Choosing Battles, and Finding Empathy in which the writer presents in, lucid, unadorned verbiage the importance of clear thinking and prudent selections.

Ferguson says she has learned that it is imperative for us all to take time to stop and gaze at pheasants, or to smell the flowers. She teaches her children to have and use good, acceptable, manners because she knows the importance of doing so. And, she says; she has learned to laugh ardently and to breathe deeply.

Forgiving the Past, Laughing Out Loud and Finding Empathy are a threesome of brief contributions in which the author takes herself to task and comes out the better for the procedure.

Teeming with generously accumulated accounts, at times biting, unembellished verbiage and a sagely entwined foundation of a woman who has come to grips with herself and with life; What I Know Now: Simple Lessons Learned the Hard Way is an enjoyably penned, invigorating gathering of sketches reaped by Sarah Ferguson from her own, at times, turmoil filled life.

Ferguson's childhood and teen years, her marriage to British Prince Andrew, along with her amity with Princess Diana are depicted in unambiguous detail. Blunders the Duchess has made along the way, along with her, frequently, well documented gaps in correctness are all set down with straight forward nostalgia on top of a bit of self needling without even a tic of 'expert' amplification to jumble thinking.

What I Know Now: Simple Lessons Learned the Hard Way is reminiscent of Maria Shriver's Ten Things I Wish I'd Known-Before I Went Out into the Real World with its commonsensical, self-effacing comicality, and paparazzi pestered point of view.

Ferguson makes use of innumerable of her high-status quandaries to reflect on the lessons she has learned in daily life. Her procedure soundlessly reveals a maturing of herself that has, nearly gone largely overlooked in the tabloids.

Living Small is a tribute to the wholly advanced, confident, woman who is today in charge of her own life that Sarah Ferguson has become. From a young girl who was self-doubting, permitted others to direct her views and practicality Sarah Ferguson has become a responsible woman who is observant to her powers and her weaknesses and is fully able to face each with like composure.

The writer talks about security, associations, confidence, and her self-assurance in the significance of appreciation as opposed to feelings of preeminence. Readers will appreciate this lark through interesting situations set down in Fergie's, at times, painful, although by no means wearisome expedition.

Author Ferguson imaginatively generates a set of easily read episodes which grip reader attentiveness from the opening lines and holds inquisitiveness fast right to the last paragraphs. As Sarah Ferguson came to distinguish that life may not always run exactly as we might wish; she matured and became a prominent figure quite capable of facing life head-on while standing on her own two feet.

From being focused as an unknown, even perhaps an interloper in newspapers in addition to often being thought to be an absurd, plump spendthrift; has appeared a pleasant woman for whom suspension, alteration, anticipation and purposes all have had a part in shaping what her life was, is and will be.

What I Know Now: Simple Lessons Learned the Hard Way is an interesting work, written in unembellished and uncomplicated writing style good for upper middle grades to high school libraries, the home personal bookroom and home school library.

I especially enjoyed reading What I Know Now: Simple Lessons Learned the Hard Way and coming away having gained a feel for this out-of-the-ordinary, affable woman who today fills her days with her daughters, good works and a large modicum of good common sense.

Sarah Ferguson has mellowed from a girl so anxious in her effort to please and willing to let others voice what her life 'should be' that neither she nor others were pleased; into a magnetic, atypical woman worthy of mimicry. Girls and women especially likely will delight in the book.

Enjoyed the read, happy to recommend.

Molly Martin, Reviewer

Pedro's Bookshelf

The Clash of the Cultures: Investment Versus Speculation
John C. Bogle
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
9781118122778, $29.95

John Bogle created the Vanguard Group in 1976. He is also known as the creator of the index fund. Bogle was born on May 8, 1929 and passed away on January 16, 2019.

Bogle wrote over thirteen books. What makes the Clash of the Cultures: Investment Versus Speculation a fascinating book is Bogle's prescience as a thinker. This will surprise many readers. Not just a book of financial advice, which financial publications are replete with - some of it actually bogus - instead, Bogle concerns himself with the underlying aspects of finance and political economy. This means the interaction of people and markets, and a person's ability to make rational choices. Investment, bogle is adamant, is done with the head not the heart.

In the Clash of the Cultures, Bogle puts on display the tradition of investment as a conservative and prudent way of life. Investment, he suggests, must be patient and always concerned with the future. In contrast to this, he highlights the brash and often irresponsible financial speculation of the last 50 odd years. On the other hand, speculation is about the present. The latter, Bogle is persuasive in his arguments, is made up of the post-modern mentality that stakes well-being and stability in exchange for short-term gratification. In other words, reckless speculation is like an ill-advised trip to a casino.

Bogle is one of the few financial thinkers who understands the relationship between finance, wealth and culture. Reading Clash of the Cultures makes the diligent reader visualize the vast chasm that exists between Bogle's generation and younger financial analysts and planners, people who ignore the big picture principles of sound investment logic. Bogle explains the rise of speculation and high-frequency trading, and the effect this has for financial markets. More importantly, Bogle understands the corrosive effect that speculation has on public companies and the people who are taxed with running them efficiently.

An enlightening read by any account, Clash of the Cultures speaks to more than just investing and finance. The book is a warehouse of knowledge about human behavior and values. Yes, Bogle also offers classic tables of statistics, facts and an abundance of data that back up his proficient arguments.

Bogle's solid grasp of the changes that have taken place in Western culture in the last five plus decades, speaks to the dissolution of traditional values in Western democracies. No doubt, in their place a vacuum has taken over where sound judgement once ruled. An axiological vacuum creates moral mayhem. Bogle is clear about what this means for culture overall: "Throughout my long career, I've observed firsthand the crowding-out of the traditional and prudent culture of long-term investing by a new and aggressive culture of short-term speculation."
The Clash of the Cultures is worthy of attention on many levels: financial, sociological and philosophical, quickly come to mind. All of this in a book about the sound principles of saving money practiced by people in a previous age. Who would have thought?

A Catalogue of Crime: Being a Reader's Guide to the Literature of Mystery, Detection, and Related Genres
Jacques Barzun & Wendell Hertig Taylor
Harper & Row, Publishers
0060157968, $TBA

Jacques Barzun is best known as a man of letters. His book The House of the Intellect and his best-selling history book From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present have garnered him a reputation as a gifted thinker, historian and effective writer.

In A Catalogue of Crime: Being a Reader's Guide to the Literature of Mystery, Detection, and Related Genres, Barzun teamed up with his boyhood friend and writer, Wendell Hertig Taylor. The marvelous book that resulted from this literary collaboration is a first-rate lyrical account of crime fiction up to 1989, the year of the book's publication.

A Catalogue of Crime is a massive work of short reviews and literary assessment of 5,042 entries of writers and publications. The book has 952 pages. One glaring aspect of the book is the vast number of detective fiction works that had been published up to the time of the book's publication. With this number of publications also comes the Herculean effort of the two authors in reading, writing, ordering and indexing the book. This colossal effort is truly a love of literature.

Another enlightening aspect of A Catalogue of Crime is its lack of pretense. Absent from the book is any trace of fashionable academic theories, which are so much in vogue in our time, and which contribute in destroying the beauty of literature as a disinterested human art. Barzun and Taylor take childlike delight - I dare say - in offering the reader an honest portrayal of writing that is reminiscent of the "book reports" written by students in elementary schools of old. Diligent and thoughtful readers will quickly notice the enjoyment the authors take from their chosen task. They dedicate the book to Edgar Allen Poe "who purloined the letter and disseminated the spirit."

In the Preface and Introduction, the authors explain the logic behind the order of the chapters and the method by which they critique the books. Particularly important to their criticism is the understanding of the literary conventions that have informed detective fiction. Following in Poe's footsteps, who they credit as being the creator of detective fiction, the authors delve into some of the changes that this literary genre, criticism and eventual acceptance has undergone. The Introduction also offers intelligent discussion on the differences between tales and novels, and which of the two is more realistic.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book has to do with how the reader's assessment of a given book or writer compares with that of the authors of A Catalogue of Crime. The authors assess books depending on how true writers remain to the conventions they represent. There is no pedantry involved in this, for the authors are interested in common sense and cohesion, and how well stories excite the reader's imagination. Reading enough of their reviews, which in itself becomes addictive, thoughtful readers begin to puzzle together what and why the authors consider the strong traits of a given writer's craft.

Also, of interest in this informative book is discovering an abundance of writers who are not household names but who have produced quality work. Yet the two authors of this fine encyclopedic volume treat famous writers the same as the lesser known.

Pedro Blas Gonzalez

Robin's Bookshelf

The Undressing: Poems
Li -- Young Lee
W.W. Norton & Company
9780393065435 $25.95

Poems Of Metaphysics And Love

The American poet Li-Young Lee's (b. 1957) short collection of poetry, "The Undressing" combines meditations on the broad nature of reality and God with its expression in human love and sexuality. The poems often are autobiographical and describe Lee's early life as a refuge to America fleeing brutality in his native country. This collection includes many movingly lyrical, thoughtful works and passages together with some works that are less effective.

The book consists of four parts with the first part consisting of the lengthy title poem and the fourth part consisting of another long poem, "Changing Places in the Fire". Both these poems consist of a dialogue between the poet and another speaker. In the first the poet is undressing his beloved and speaking of sex while the woman returns his ardor with reflections on the spiritual character of love. The latter poem raises similar themes but also, as the poet talks with a woman-like bird, involves themes of the nature and value of poetry and of the word against its detractors. There is much beautiful language and thought in these poems even though the works are somewhat didactic.

On the whole the second and third sections of the book which include shorter more focused poetry are more effective. Lee is at his best when he expresses strong religious feelings about Eternity and timelessness. He is able to share broad reflection on the mystery of life and being. Among the metaphysical poems, I most enjoyed "God is Burning", "Three Words" and "His Likeness" from part 3 of the book. In "His Likeness", the poet describes the elusive character of what we conceive as reality and concludes:

"God's love. Exhausted.
God slips me unfinished
under God's pillow.

I sleep as long as God sleeps.
And time is a black butterfly, pinned

While someone searches for its name in a book."

Many of the poems use metaphors involving birds and the power of song as a key to approaching reality. The poems with these themes that I enjoyed include "Spoken For" ("I didn't know I was blue/until I heard her sing.") ; "The Word From His Song" ("God seeks a destiny in all things fixed/in the kiln of the mind. / That's the word from his song".) and "All About the Birds".

Among the best of the love poems in the book, is the final work in the collection, "Sandalwood".

I enjoyed getting to know the poetry of Li-Young Lee though this collection and hope to have the opportunity to explore his work further.

Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War
Elizabeth R. Varon
Oxford University Press
9780190860608 $34.95

Deliverance And The Civil War

Learning about the United States and its history is a never-ending rewarding experience. In particular, the study of the many facets of the Civil War can bring insights over a lifetime to amateurs, Civil War "buffs", and scholars alike. In times of turmoil it is good to think closely about America.

The joy and the rewards of learning about the Civil War are amply fulfilled in Elizabeth Varon's new (2019) one-volume history of the conflict, "Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War". The Langbourne M. Williams Professor of History at the University of Virginia, Varon has written extensively on the Civil War, including a book I have read and reviewed, "Appomattox: Victory, Defeat and Freedom at the End of the Civil War" (2013). Varon's new study of the entire conflict is elegantly and seriously written, displays great knowledge of the source material and the work of other scholars, and displays thoughtful judgment. The book also develops a fresh perspective on the war and on the reasons why it was fought.

The book brings together the military, social and political history of the war, with the discussion of battles and campaigns receiving somewhat less attention than in other studies. Varon's focus is on the reasons which led the Union to conduct and persevere in the long, bloody difficult four-year conflict with the Confederacy. Typically scholars have offered and given different emphases to two different answers to this question: 1. the desire to preserve and restore the Union and 2. the desire to end slavery. Varon tries to find a third answer to the question that combines the strengths of the two most common answers: she finds the Civil War constituted a War of Deliverance. She argues that both North and South saw the war in this fashion but in mirror-image ways. Most of her book is given over to explaining what a "War of Deliverance" meant to the participants and how it was waged. Her understanding of the conflict is set out in the book's lengthy Introduction, titled "We are Fighting for Them" which sets the stage for the treatment in the body of the study.

Varon argues that the Union fought the war for the benefit of the white southern population as much as for the slaves. The North saw the white population as in part a "deluded mass" under the control of the small aristocracy of the Slave Power which fought the war for its own benefit and used and cared little for the southern people. White southerners were victimized by lack of economic opportunity, lack of education, poor living conditions, and restrictions on their thought and expression by the small aristocracy of large slaveholders. The Union sought to deliver southerners into the benefits of free society. Hence, it fought the Civil War as a War of Deliverance. Varon argues in detail how this understanding of the aims of the war helped united the disparate Union coalition which included Abolitionists, moderate Republicans, War Democrats, and more. Her view of the war focuses even more attention on the importance of the Border States than they receive in most studies. And it shows, in Varon's account, how the Union could combine elements of "hard" war as waged by Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan with many conciliatory gestures towards southerners, former Confederates, and border state residents who came over to the Union cause. Varon also discusses who the Confederates cast their own efforts as a "war of deliverance" to free themselves from the Yankees and their alleged barbarism, brutality, and materialism.

The North over-estimated the strength of Southern Unionism and the degree to which southern whites felt themselves in the thrall of the aristocracy. Varon recognizes this fact, which is critical to understanding her study. She writes "In hindsight, Lincoln and other Northern political figures and writers were clearly wrong about a Southern populace deceived and coerced into supporting the secession movement." She finds that "far greater evidence exists of the robust support of white Southerners for secession on the eve of war." In the short concluding chapter of the book, Varon stresses the faulty assumptions on which the deliverance theory of the war was based by examining the fate of Reconstruction. Still, understanding the Civil War as motivated by an aim of delivering and redeeming the "deluded masses" of the South has a great deal to commend it in explaining the conduct of the war.

Varon's study itself consists of three large parts, well-titled, "Loyalism" which covers the period up to the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, "Emancipation", which takes the war through Gettysburg, Vicksburg, the New York City Draft Riots, and Fort Wagner, and "Amnesty" which covers the last year and one-half of the war. Throughout the book, Varon weaves together the military aspects of the war with the political history, a rare and important accomplishment, and with the social history of the war, with substantial consideration of the role played by women in each side's pursuit of its war aims. While she discusses the Emancipation Proclamation at length, she focuses even more on Lincoln's Ten Percent Plan late in the war as evidence of Lincoln's attempts to offer a conciliatory approach to southern whites. She also treats extensively and well the 1864 presidential election and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, often considered his greatest speech and maturest statement of his war aims. The study throughout shows Lincoln's evolving attitude towards the slaves and his necessary efforts throughout the war to maintain the allegiance of the border states, included repeated attempts at compensated emancipation.

The word "deliverance", Varon concludes, remains of critical importance in understanding how the Union viewed the "deluded" southern whites and, ultimately, how it viewed the slaves. She writes: "the story of Civil War-era deliverance politics is both bounded by a specific time and place and boundless, with modern echoes. In the Civil War era, more than today, the term and the Union War aims were resonant with Biblical overtones derived from the Book of Exodus. "Over the course of the long civil rights crusade" Varon writes, "generations of African American activists together with their white allies have again and again drawn on the symbolic power of the Exodus story and of deliverance narratives."

Varon's book offers a moving account of the Civil War and of deliverance. The book is a joy to read and ponder for those who want to learn about the United States and the seminal event of its history.

Robin Friedman

Suanne's Bookshelf

The Girls at 17 Swann Street: A Novel
Yara Zgheib
St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9781250202444, $27.99

As a physician, I am aware of anorexia and its lasting effects on the human body and psyche, but Yara Zgheib's debut novel put heart and soul into my physician's view of the disease. Zgheib's prose is lyrical, at times stream-of-consciousness and fully captures Anna's struggle. Told in present time with flashbacks to the early days of her marriage, before anorexia really set in, readers can see the contrast in Anna-before and Anna-after. When her husband finally takes her for inpatient treatment, she weighs a mere 88 pounds and subsisted on apples and popcorn.

Anna meets several women in the treatment center on Swann Street and with their help and that of the staff - and of course, her beloved husband - Anna relearns to eat and appreciate the flavor of foods.

The emotion was taut, real, heartbreaking. This book frequently had me in tears.

Integrity, 130,000 BC
Bonnye Matthews
Publication Consultants
9781594338458, $15.95

I read this book, hoping to find something of the qualities I enjoyed when reading the entire series of Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear series. Unfortunately, this book is only an average book. Though not that long, it drags and is rather repetitive in parts. At $8.99 for 178 pages, much of which is appendix, it seems expensive for what you get. I learned that this was a part of a series that deals with various time frames within prehistory. I would never read the full series based on my reactions to this one book.

There is a Clan of the Cave Bear premise behind this story about a primitive people in prehistory. Integrity is used to represent the wellness of the whole whether that whole be a person or a village, so the book sounded interesting initially, but became rather preachy. The dialogue felt stilted and too modern. The best part was the appendix which listed the plants and animals mentioned in the book.

On the other hand, Bonnye Matthews has clearly researched her subject and is fully familiar with the flora and fauna of her settings. Her depictions of the people tend to stretch commonly held views of prehistory, but scientific theories are often later proven wrong. The best part was the appendix which listed the plants and animals mentioned in the book.

Light from Other Stars
Erika Swyler
Bloomsbury Publishing
9781635573169, $27.00

Having recently finished Mike Chen's Here and Now and Then, I undertook another sci-fi novel - and was blown away by Light from Other Stars. Wow!!! - exquisite prose in an ambitious novel told in two timelines, the present (with the protagonist, Nedda Pappas, on a space voyage with three other crew members) and the past which looks at the effects of a machine Nedda's father built intended to fight entropy - he wants to give his daughter all the time she needs to mature. Instead, his machine, the Crucible, wreaks havoc on the Florida town of Easter, its orange groves, kudzu, and its inhabitants, particularly Nedda's best friend Denny and her father.

Light from Other Stars starts with Nedda at age eleven, watching the Challenger disaster, and mourning her idolized astronauts. She is a prodigy who feels "it was stupid to send grown men into space when a girl would be a better fit." Later, she is an astronaut whizzing through space with three other crew members with an ailing life support system.

This is a book that tears at your heart and soul. I sobbed through a goodly portion of it. It's hard to imagine a sci-fi book so focused on pure, deep emotion while centered on the Earth and the wonders of space. Light from Other Stars hits big issues: loneliness, the bond between parent and child; grief; death and what happens to us after death. Theo, Nedda's father is an archetypal absent-minded professor character, but her mother, Betheen, is unique. She goes from being a mother unable to bond with her daughter to one who handles the biggest crisis in her daughter's life with aplomb, giving incredibly poignant advice that both comforts Nedda and admits to its own limitations.

Plain and simple, I loved this book.

The Fourth Courier
Timothy Jay Smith
c/o Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018
9781948924108, $24.99

Set shortly after the Soviet Union imploded, this international intrigue takes FBI agent Jay Porter into Poland. There he's quickly involved in a case where three men have been found dead on a riverbank. All have a minor genetic deformity: the stub of a sixth finger. The more pressing concern, however, is that they all have radioactive hands.

Porter and CIA agent Kurt Crawford along with their Polish counterparts are concerned about the security of nuclear material stockpiled by the USSR during the Cold War. Power in the Communist countries now lies in the hands of a Mafia-esque cohort composed of former intelligence and military men.

The cast is interesting. First, General Drako Mladic, the head of Yugoslavia Secret Services. He dreams of being the next leader of his country and plans to consolidate his power by buying the most dangerous weapon imaginable. Dr. Sergej Ustinov is a Russian scientist who has developed a portable nuclear bomb and thus can answer Mladic's prayers. The Director of Organized Crime, Basia Husarska, is a femme fatale well-worthy of such a name. She beds Mladic and anyone else necessary to achieve her personal goal of escaping Poland. CIA agent Kurt Crawford is the gay black male version of Husarska who doesn't hesitate to use his sexuality or his coloring to gain information. The protagonist, Jay Porter, handles his current case while, in the background, dealing his divorce and custody battle and looking toward a new love.

The Fourth Courier is well-plotted with murders, crosses, and double-crosses enough to snag any reader's interest. Smith captures the late-winter gloom of Poland as well as the edgy nervousness of the 1990s post-Cold War uncertainty in the Communist bloc. As someone who grew up with parents who considered putting in a bomb shelter, The Fourth Courier played upon those uncertainties. Though at times the writing was a bit superficial, it was action-packed from start to finish and kept me turning pages.

The Lieutenant's Nurse
Sara Ackerman
9780778307914, $16.99

Because I had read Sara Ackerman's debut novel, Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers, I continued with her second novel. Told in the dual, third-person perspectives of Eva Cassidy and Lieutenant Clark Spencer interspersed with real memos, headlines, and military communications from before, during, and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, The Lieutenant's Nurse is a fascinating interweaving of real and fictional events. Eva, an army nurse, comes to Hawaii carrying a secret that isn't revealed up front. The reader must seek clues that are sparsely given relating to an incident back in Michigan that nearly ruined her life and became the reason she joined the Army Crops nursing division. Clark's POV reveals the tragic loss of a beloved wife and their unborn child. Rich in historical details, the novel doesn't get bogged down in too many details about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Instead, the novel focuses on Clark and Eva, and their experiences before, during, and after the attack. The characters are likeable and sympathetic, but the crossing the Pacific on the ship, the Lurline, even with its requisite shipboard romance, seems too long an introduction to the real action.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan's Bookshelf

You Can't Drive Your Car to Your Own Funeral
Ann Marie Hancock
Page Publishing, Inc
9781641386432, $16.95, 106 Pages

Ann Marie Hancock, the author of this book is a retired television personality, talk show host and model, but she is also a wife, mother, grandmother and daughter. In this, her third book she shares with her readers how she had a life changing experience in 1981, when she visited the Medjugorji in Yugoslavia.

Her experiences at Medjugorji led her to travelling the world, and carrying out healing services with a Benedictine Abbot.

Then in 2012 her strong, independent, and very private mother was diagnosed with cancer. Stoic and determined that it wouldn't change her the 'c' word was not even spoken, let alone discussed. This was how she coped, if she didn't say it, it didn't exist. However, tragically not long after she started undergoing treatment, her husband died expectantly.

Everyone copes with grief in their own way, and now alone after many years of marriage, the author's mother remained strong and controlling. In this honest and sometimes heart rending book the author, through her recollections of this terribly sad period of her life gives her reader a real insight into the strong character her mother was. Forthright, not suffering fools lightly, and certainly not being told what to do, or when to do it. I have a mother much of the same ilk and I am full of admiration for the way the author handled the multitude of events which occurred, and yet stayed loving and caring.

It was Ann Marie's belief in God which was her strength, and this enabled this wound healer to face her greatest challenge yet. Because in caring for her mother and coming to terms with tragic events in her own life she embarked on a different journey, a journey of the spirit.

Through God and the teaching of the bible Ann Marie learnt to accept who she was, and come to the realisation that finding spiritual happiness is a life's journey. That knowledge she imparts in this book, teaching the reader that the paths which they travel along in life are their own uniquely special journey. Along the route of life they will be tested, and will gain strength in accepting God's will, even if they don't understand it at the time. This epic spiritual journey is one which must be travelled alone. It is not about what others think you should do, or impressions you are given, your unique life events make you who you are, and the repercussions on your life evolve and change as you do. Depending on what life throws at you, these challenges empowers you to develop strengths, understanding, and happiness. It is easy in life to blame others when things don't go as expected, get angry, put up a guard, however once you learn to listen to God, and take time to pray and talk to him, amazing things will be revealed, and you will realise that it is in your power to find true happiness, and inner peacefulness.

In conclusion, Ann Marie has in this beautiful story shared a hard, yet very special time of her life with her readers. Within its pages is a very clear insight into the strength needed emotionally to care for someone with a terminal illness.

Available from Amazon

Billy Gogan Gone Fer Soldier
Roger Higgins
Travelers' Tales
9781609521370, $14.98, 522 Pages

This book is the sequel to the author's first book, Billy Gogan: American, in which orphan Billy is sent from Ireland to America on the eve of the 1844 Irish Famine. Living by his wits, and doing what he has to, to survive, Billy quickly learns to grow up, establishes a life in Gotham, and eventually becomes an American citizen. However, after the tragic death of his good friend and companion Mary Skiddy, and the Great Fire of New York, it is a reflective Billy who, aged 16 decides to join Uncle Sam's army, and this is where the second book really begins.

For anyone with an interest in this period of history this book will, I am sure be compulsive reading. The author uses a blend of real and fictional characters to make this an excellent history book, with clear maps and outstanding information on the movements of American army as they fought against the Mexicans in the American-Mexican war. However this book has one very important element which makes it stand out against other similar history books, and that is Billy Gogan himself.

Through his eyes, as a member of the Fourth Infantry we see a soldier's life in the raw, no holds barred. We are with him as he watches his friends die, sometimes terrible deaths, feel his pain as he clears away the bodies, picks up their letters to loved ones and wipes their blood of his clothes. We read throughout this book numerous examples of his and other soldiers loyalty to their adopted country as they carry out unspeakable acts in order to win battles, on the commandments of their leaders.

Because of the way this book is written the social history of the time is an integral part of the story. It is fascinating to discover what life was like for those civilians who travelled with the soldiers, and as a result, whose lives became interlaced.

The author has, in this outstanding book, through the character of Billy Gogan, chronicled the battles which took place during this period of American history in a very human way. The very real hope on both sides from the soldiers and common people, that war would not occur, then the horrors which resulted when it did.

In summary, in writing this book, the author Roger Higgins has produced an excellent story, well researched, wonderfully detailed, and totally compelling reading.

Available from Amazon:

I Wish I Were a Fairy Tale: A Story Illustrated With Cakes
Crystal Walters
9781546273585, $19.43, 34 Pages

This wonderful children's book captivated my three year old granddaughter's imagination straight away.

As soon as you see the front cover you just know that this book is going to be something different, but it isn't until you start turning the pages and entering the magical world of fairy tales that you realise just how wonderful it is.

Enchantingly, it is written in rhyme and very uniquely illustrated. The author's passion behind the book is evident, not only in its content, but also by the fact that the story is illustrated in cakes, icing and frosting! On the front cover and throughout every page, all the settings and figurines for the different parts of the story were hand made by her, and were real, delicious cakes.

Haven't we all wished we were in a fairy tale, having adventures in a magical place, and that we could be a princess, meet a unicorn, fly in a hot air balloon, or sail the seas with pirates?

Well in this story a little girl and her puppy travel into fairy tales. There they meets mythical creatures like mermaids and dragons, and visit classic immortal characters like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Then as the moon rises they travel with the Sandman into other children's dreams, bringing them to life as well.

The fairy tales we hear as children stay with us throughout lives and deep down we never forget the magic of them, and the people who have read them to us. I really liked the size of the font, for children learning to read it is clear and encouraging, and also thought it is a wonderful introduction into the joy of poetry.

The authors loving childhood shines through in the writing and love she has put into creating incredible book. I am sure it will grace bookshelves, and be held by many little hands for years to come.

Available from Amazon:

Susan Keefe, Reviewer

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Midwest Book Review
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